Srinagar: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq broke down and wept on the pulpit of the historic Jamia Masjid when he addressed the worshippers on Friday, September 22, the first time in more than four years after he was allegedly put under house arrest at his Srinagar residence.
Amid the chanting of verses from the holy Quran, the senior Hurriyat leader was overwhelmed by emotions when he faced hundreds of charged supporters and followers at the mosque located in downtown Srinagar, which used to be a bastion of separatists.
Struggling to control his emotions, the Mirwaiz removed his spectacles and took out a white handkerchief from his pocket to wipe away the tears welling up in his eyes, while his supporters sitting in front of the pulpit urged the devotees to calm down.
On Friday morning, security forces pulled back the two vehicles deployed for more than four years at the main gate of Mirwaiz’s residence in Nigeen locality of Srinagar, and the Hurriyat leader’s white SUV, a Mahindra Scorpio car, was allowed to proceed towards the historic mosque in the afternoon.
This came after the J&K administration on Thursday conveyed verbally to the Mirwaiz that the curbs imposed on him were being lifted, days after the Hurriyat leader knocked on the door of the J&K high court against his “illegal house arrest” for more than four years.
As the news of his release from house arrest spread in Kashmir on Friday morning, crowds began to swell in the Nowhatta locality where the 14th-century mosque is located. Officials said additional J&K Police and central security forces were deployed to prevent any law and order problem.
Outside the mosque’s main gate, hundreds of enthusiastic and emotional supporters, including children, women, and elderly, started gathering to get a glimpse of the Mirwaiz. Some of them were raising slogans in favour of the moderate Hurriyat chairman.
“It is a day of great joy. Today is better than the day of Eid for me,” said a jubilant woman supporter of Mirwaiz, who couldn’t be identified immediately.
A few women supporters could be seen crying while some were holding garlands in their hands to welcome the Mirwaiz, even as security forces carried on frisking people to thwart any untoward incident.
As Mirwaiz arrived, hundreds of people swarmed his car from all sides, making it difficult for the Hurriyat leader to come out and proceed towards the mosque.
In a sea of people, the supporters of Mirwaiz could be seen ushering him towards the back gate, which is reserved for religious leaders and clerics who deliver sermons and lead the prayers at the historic mosque.
Lined along the path to the back gate, more people were waiting with garlands to greet the Mirwaiz who appeared calm and stoic. “It was an uncontrollable situation. The air was suffocating and at one point I feared that there was going to be a stampede,” a journalist who was covering the event, said.
Amid massive pro-Islam and pro-Mirwaiz slogans like ‘Choice, choice, Mirwaiz’, the moderate Hurriyat chairman made his way towards the gate with some of his supporters, who had failed to get close to him, hurling their garlands on him before he entered the mosque.
In his sermon, Mirwaiz briefly touched on the issue of the reading down of Article 370 by the Union government and also advocated “peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue” while recalling the events under which he was allegedly put under house arrest by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.
“It is a very emotional moment for me,” Mirwaiz said, addressing the worshippers for the first time in more than four years. “To be away from you for such a long time has been very difficult for me. But you my people are my strength that helped me in go (sic) through this trying time.”
In a statement, Mirwaiz said that India, Pakistan and China are parties to the Kashmir issue “which has to be addressed and resolved”. “This is a fact. International community has ratified this too,” he said, adding that the events in Jammu and Kashmir after August 5, 2019, have left “absolutely no space for us or for the expression of our opinion and aspirations and our concerns”.
“This (Kashmir issue) is a human problem for us the people of Jammu and Kashmir, not a territorial tug of war. As PM (Narendra) Modi rightly said, this is not an era of war. We have personally suffered for pursuing this route,” Mirwaiz, whose father was assassinated on May 21, 1990, said in the statement.
“We are not so-called separatists or peace disrupters but realist resolution seekers. We have always believed and participated in efforts of resolution (of Kashmir issue) through an alternative to violent means which is dialogue and reconciliation,” Mirwaiz, who has participated in Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, added.
After the Friday prayers were over, Mirwaiz was ushered out into the compound of the mosque where a large crowd of his supporters had gathered to see him. The moderate Hurriyat chairman could be seen greeting them before departing the mosque.