Kashmiri separatist leader Yaseen Malik in court.
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Kashmiri Leader Yasin Malik is Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

An Indian court on Wednesday sentenced Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik to life imprisonment. A National Investigation (NIA) special court in Delhi convicted Yasin Malik in a case related to alleged terrorism and secessionist activities in Kashmir. Earlier on 10 May 2022, Malik pleaded guilty to all the charges framed against him. He had told the court that he was not contesting the charges levelled against him. The charges include sections 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for the terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy to commit terrorist act) and 20 (being a member of a terrorist gang or organization) of the UAPA and sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 124-A (sedition) of the IPC. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had sought the death penalty for Malik.

Who is Yasin Malik?

Yasin Malik is the leader of the banned organization Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). JKLF was the first group to start an armed struggle against Indian rule in Kashmir in the late 1980s. Malik was himself among the first Kashmiris to pick up the gun against Indian rule. However, in 1994, JKLF led by Malik gave up armed struggle and committed itself to a non-violent struggle against Indian rule. Since then, JLKF was mostly involved in mass protests, strikes and signature campaigns. It was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue. The organization was banned in 2019 by the Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist government under an anti-terror law. Coincidentally, the ban had come months before the Bhartiya Janata Party-led Indian government revoked the autonomy of Kashmir.

Also Read: Jammu & Kashmir: a year after the abrogation of article 370

Gandhian or a Terrorist?

During the trial, Yasin Malik claimed that he followed the Gandhian principle of non-violence and was spearheading a peaceful non-violent struggle. “After dropping weapons, I have followed the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. Since then, I have been following non-violent politics in Kashmir,” Yasin Malik said in court hours before the court pronounced the sentence on Wednesday. A report by IANS quoted a lawyer who attended the court proceeding saying, in the courtroom, “Yasin said that if I have been involved in any terrorist activity or violence in 28 years, if Indian Intelligence proves this, then I will also retire from politics. I will accept the hanging. With seven Prime Ministers, I have worked.” On the demand by NIA for the death penalty, he said, “I will not beg for anything. The case is before this court and I left on the court to decide it.”

Earlier during the trial, Malik had protested the terrorism charges against him and said that he was a freedom fighter. “Terrorism-related charges levelled against me are concocted, fabricated and politically motivated,” JKLF cited him as telling the court. “If seeking Azadi (freedom) is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences,” he told the judge.

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It is ironic that Yasin Malik claimed to follow Gandhian principles in his defence. The current ruling party has no love for Gandhi and his principles. It owes its allegiance to Gandhi’s killers. It is no secret that Hindu nationalists sympathize with Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse. Ever since Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in 2014, there have been several incidences in which serving parliamentarians and legislators belonging to BJP have glorified Godse. In the last four years, BJP MP from Bhopal Pragya Thakur has twice publicly referred to Nathuram Godse as a ‘patriot’. Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or National Volunteer Organisation). RSS is the ideological fountainhead of India’s ruling BJP. Most of the BJP’s leaders come from RSS. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is a long-time member of RSS. The organisation enjoys powerful influence over the current government.

What Does Yasin Malik’s Sentence Mean?

Yasin Malik’s sentencing is a win for the armed struggle and a defeat of the non-violent movement in Kashmir. The fact that Malik was sentenced to life imprisonment despite giving up the gun and following a peaceful and non-violent path will raise questions over the relevance of non-violent struggle in Kashmir. As Malik claimed, he has worked with different prime ministers and preferred dialogue over violence. With the sentencing of Malik, the opportunity to pursue dialogue has been reduced.

Also Read: Islam in India: Then and Now!

Pakistan’s Reaction to Yasin Malik’s Sentencing.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that it was a “black day” for Indian democracy. He further added that Yasin Malik is a “valiant freedom fighter”. Similarly, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the sentencing of Malik. The country’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto called the process “a sham trial.” Pakistan’s foreign ministry also summoned Indian High Commission’s senior-most diplomat and issued a demarche. Further, Pakistan’s foreign office stated that the foreign minister had sent the letter to UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet “as part of Pakistan’s ongoing efforts to draw the attention of the international community to the alarming situation” in Kashmir.