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He loved Pakistan more than Pakistanis- Ashraf Sehrai Tribute

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He loved Pakistan more than Pakistanis- Ashraf Sehrai Tribute

Twitter today, is flooded with tweets lamenting the tragic demise of Ashraf Sehrai and coupled with this grief is anger and frustration over how easily heroes like him are forgotten. The following links provide only a glimpse of the aggrieved mourners’ heartbreaking tweets.

While a small proportion of the public remembers its heroes, mainstream media and the rest of the country seems to have turned a blind eye towards the loss of this brave soul. Given his sacrifices and struggles, the apathetic and unappreciative attitude of the country is a cause for dismay and concern.

Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sehrai, commonly known as Ashraf Sehrai was a senior leader of the Kashmiri separatist movement and the elected Chairman of Tehreek e Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir. Born in 1944 in Lolab valley of Indian-occupied Kashmir, he was raised among the freedom fighters of Kashmir. One of his elder brothers, Muhammad Yousaf Khan, was among the men who founded Tehreek e Islami and the other, Qamar ud Din Khan, belonged to Jamat e Islami based in the Lolab area. Both his brothers recognized his charismatic personality and leadership qualities and thus motivated him to take the first step towards the journey he was later to embark on.

He had an exceptional scholastic aptitude and graduated from Aligarh Muslim University. From a very young age, he wrote on social issues and took part in political discussions. He was liked and celebrated among his peers for his political wit and activist spirit, which lead him to become one of the most prominent leaders of Kashmir’s struggle for freedom.

His journey started in 1959, when, encouraged by his brother to do so, he became an affiliate of the famous pro-Pakistani Kashmiri freedom leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who also happened to be a member of Jamat e Islami. Ashraf Sehrai joined Jamat e Islami officially in 1960 and thus began his lifelong struggle, full of sacrifices. In 1965, he spoke up against the repressive rule of Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq (then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir), in a speech that landed him in jail for the very first time. It was after his time in prison that Syed Ali Shah Geelani gave him the name Sehrai, which alludes to his bravery and enthusiasm as an activist.

He was imprisoned again in 1975 for daringly venturing forth to contest in elections and challenge the years’ old dominance of the National Conference. He knew very well that the odds were against him and the rebellious gesture would not come unaccompanied by repercussions, yet he stood his ground. He took a keen interest in training and polishing the youth to be Kashmir’s future leaders and was made the head of the newly established student wing of Jamaat e Islami. He served in this role from 1977 to 1979.

In the following decades, Jamat e Islami started to deviate from the principles that formed the basis of its existence and started bending towards a more passive approach. Being the principled and focused man that he was, Ashraf Sehrai did not give up on the dream of freedom. He was always a Pro Pakistani separatist and remained so till his last breath. He helped his associates establish a new group, named Tehreek e Hurriyat and joined it as the General Secretary in 2004. In 2018, he was elected chairman of the Tehreek e Hurriyat, succeeding Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who quit owing to his health. In the following year, Sehrai lost his son, who had become a militant and fought for Hizbul Mujahideen, in a gunfight against Jammu and Kashmir Police.

In July 2020, Ashraf Sehrai was arrested from his residence under the Public Safety Act, which allows detention to prevent individuals from acting against the state in a harmful manner or from breaching public order and safety. The unjust detention was inhumane as the activist was suffering from respiratory disorders and several other ailments that required medical attention. According to his sons, his family supplied him with medicines every month to the jail that was 200 kilometers away from his home. As the Covid situation in India worsened, prisoners were not allowed to see their families and soon his sons lost all contact with him. Despite his family’s pleas for consideration, in view of his health, nobody was allowed to enquire after him. In his very last interaction with family, Ashraf Sehrai admitted to his deteriorating health. The detainees were not provided with safety measures essential to prevent Covid infection. On the 5th of May, the 78-year-old freedom fighter lost the battle against his disease and succumbed to the inhumanity of the Indian state. He is reported to have experienced breathing stress during his last days.

His life and struggle are inspiring as he chose a path that few have dared to tread on. His legacy deserves to be followed and his tales deserve to be sung, but we have failed him as Pakistanis. Few knew about his contribution to Kashmir’s struggle for freedom and yet fewer care about his sad demise. He spent his life in support of a people who live a life of oblivion. Mainstream media had the most important role to play in educating the nation and making them aware of the struggles of torchbearers who have left us with serious responsibilities but surprisingly Ashraf Sehrai’s brave life and the unjust detention was not amusing enough to make it to the immediate headlines. We are a nation that would rather hear and gossip about the divorce of Bill Gates than speak up for a man who gave up his life fighting for the basic rights of our fellow Muslims. The Prime Minister’s tweet also came hours after the incident and the statement from the foreign office spokesperson did not get the limelight it deserved.

This calls for a serious re assessment of our purpose as a nation and our commitment to humanity.


Seema Shah

Full time mother, part time blogger.

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