A Gandhian who died Unknown, My Gandhian Grandfather – Waheed Ur Rehman

As a child, growing up in Pulwama , a fruit farming district in South Kashmir,  I spent many of my formative years in the company of my grandfather, Haji Ab Rehman,  in a spacious home filled with a large and loving extended  family.  I was the grandson  who liked to rush to replenish his hukka when the water ran dry. Filling up his hukka gave me the opportunity to linger by his side, stay close to him, listen to his rich resonant voice and drink in the stirring political discussions of the day, that he and his friends engaged in. I did

 My grandfathers’ compassionate, inclusive, farsighted vision for civil society and democracy has guided me throughout my life, from my earliest childhood memories until the present day.  I hope to continue on his path.

Haji Ab Rehman Para was a kisaan, a grower of apples and cherries, a  shepherd  and a reputed social leader of our area. His journey in life has been unbelievable belonging, as he did,  to a poor family owing a small patch of land, with a hardworking wife and seven children  He worked diligently across the country promoting the apple business and was among few people who literally raised his apple crops year after year, in south Kashmir.  Through his perseverance and business acumen, he became prosperous. He provided well for his wife, children and extended family at the same time  as he also never failed in his generosity towards those genuinely in need.

When I come to think about it,  there is a lot of fake religion in our Valley.  There are many people in our Valley who are pious and  pray.  They talk religion but they don’t walk religion.  They don’t practice what their faith teaches them.  In other words, they just give lip service to their religion.

In contrast, Haji Ab Rehman Para walked religion in his every step.   For example, he was far ahead of his time in his views on social emancipation of women. I remember him as a man of eloquent words, but more than his words, my grandfather was a man who put his thoughts and ideas into daily practice, on behalf of girls and women. Ab Rehman Para had an unshakeable conviction about the absolute necessity for education of girls.  He acted to promote gender equality, he promoted women’s empowerment in Pulwama and beyond.

Significantly, his sense of gender fairness began at home. He treated his daughters and sons equally. He distributed his property amongst his four daughters according to religion entitlements which hardly anyone does in Kashmir, giving them equal access to land and property rights, and equal opportunity for education.  His passion for equality did not stop with his own daughters and sons.   He was a champion of girls’ education. He established a school in 1970 which is now Higher Secondary school for girls in Naira village of Pulwama district. My grandfather remained very humane socially and politically all throughout his long life.  He was excited by new ideas and open and receptive to divergent political views.  He thought it was valuable to discuss and debate so that people could solve their own social and economic problems by becoming active in the political process.  He remained a steadfast and committed  nationalist, even when political turmoil that inclined towards separatist sentiment, accompanied by violent street protest, was increasing.

His outstanding contribution has been the strengthening of level and of peace and nonviolence, at the grassroots level. On numerous occasions, he received death threats.  He and his sons were attacked and held hostage many times but these cowardly and violent acts never bent or broke his spirit.. He never hated the gunmen who threatened his freedom or restricted his movements, however, he deplored the growing culture of gun violence throughout the Valley.

I remember vividly the year 1996.  The date was 2 Oct,  Gandhiji’s birthday.  On that day I saw him on the  road outside our home,  holding a packet of sweets in his hand and surrounded by dozens of children.  He distributed sweets to children and after some time he came back into the house. I remember thinking to myself  My Daadu never gave me sweets.   Daadu was a strict  man in his own home who did not engage in frivolities.  .  I asked him Why are you giving sweets today to all the street children outside?  He replied,  “Today is Gandhiji’s birthday I wanted to teach these children to remember this day because it will them a feeling of love towards this day,  as they got their favorite thing.” He honored Gandhiji at the same time as he was thinking about building a new generation that would be inspired by Gandhi’s ideals.

Meanwhile many other street children came to our gate learning Haji sahib was distributing sweets.  Daadaji went back outside to the gate and said to them, “Children I have finished distributing all the sweets I bought,  but next time, in fact on Independence Day, 15 August I will have more mithaai to give you to you.”

But Dadaji himself could not wait until Independence Day!  A few months after Gndhiji’s birthday,  on Jan 26, Republic Day, I found my grandfather once again,  roaming the streets with children following him,  distributing sweets right and left. Republic Day was and is a day of tension in the Valley. On this particular occasion, I was afraid as I watched and gauged the reactions of some of the passersby who appeared resentful and even hostile towards Dadaji’s open show of celebration of Republic day.   Fearing violence, I remonstrated with  Dadaji :

 “Come back home please.  What you are doing here will have repercussions on our family. Dadaji, replied vehemently “In that case, Waheed, leave my house, you coward.  My grandfather was adamant, stubborn and difficult to face even in ordinary situations.    However,  I did not leave. I stayed right there and began to make preparations to go to bed.  As I was going to sleep in his room,  he started speaking to me.  He addressed me, “Wahid you will not be killed, nor me, as long as  Allaha is with you.  Do not be afraid.   I have a conviction within me and let me float the same convictions about women’s education, women’s equality, nonviolence, nationalism,  to the outside world for all the years that I live.  After my death, you and your sisters and brothers decide whether you trust my convictions or reject my convictions. That night he told me many stories of his life, stories of hardship and success.  I listened and learned.

He discussed his ideas with all he met. I remember elections were very close in 2002.  Militancy was at its height.   Regardless of the violence, he campaigned door to door,  preparing and encouraging people especially women to cast their  vote. He encouraged them to vote not for any party but simply to participate in the electoral process.  On that election day, by late evening some people threatened him for getting out the vote. To the people who threatened him he replied “Nothing doing.  You people please keep out of it.  I ‘ll do this myself, Don’t interfere.” Watching him hard a work it, trying to get every voter to the polling booth,  I experienced a life-changing moment.  I began to understand the meaning of political activism. I became inspired by his efforts. I learned at first hand, about the basic importance of  voter participation in elections to further democracy.  I did not learn this lesson siting in a lecture hall in college,  but from the lips and eyes and hands of  my grandfather. I began to participate in what was happening and started learning the practical process of grassroots level organization and mobilizing the vote during assembly elections. My efforts paid off.  Finally the process caused a ripple effect in Pulwama & Shopian and brought electoral success.

Although he subscribed wholeheartedly to the Congress (Mufti’s) platform and remained his worker from the beginning,   I repeatedly heard him stating that anyone who comes to this area for political campaigning should be welcomed and respected. This was his demonstration of his humanity, his inclusion of all political views to make a strong democracy in the Valley.

There were some crucial terms I always failed to understand during infancy but now as a young adult with a passion for politics,  I look back and realize what a man of commitment he was for the nation, for a party, for a society and for a family. His straight speaking became  a problem for us many times and threats were also made During the restive 90’s once,  unidentified gunmen knocked on the door  and demanded a ransom of Rs. 80,000, Haji sahib said to masked gunmen “I do not have any money.” In response the cordoned the house and tried to open fire, during this other family members made hue and cry – and people in surroundings came  to the rescue just in time. The gun men fled to escape a beating by our enraged neighbors.

Another time, a local militant knocked on our front door,  AK 47 in hand.   He said to my grandfather,  Haji Sahib I came to know about the issue I felt sad, so I came for solidarity.”  Haji Sahab replied smiling “You were the man who came for extortion at gun point.”  The gunman was speechless at my grandfather’s feareless frankness, and left saying “No,  no, do not blame me.”

 Earlier one evening, my father, who was the second son of Haji Sahib, was picked up by a local militant who demanded an exdtortion amount of one lakh rupees.  Again our family rejected the extortion threat but this time haji sahib called all local logistics providers and warned that if my father was harmed in any way, he, Haji Sahib, would donate his entire property to Defense and leave Kashmir forever.  He further stated that Defense forces would  not spare anyone who  committed acts of extortion at gun point and looted people at gun point.

Hearing this my father was released by late night. During this game of life saving lakhs and thousands  were being given to gunmen and life went on. I remember although being a nationalist how he used to debate and justify his nationalism with militants openly during peak of militancy- many militant commanders came to convince him but he tried to persuade them to give up violence as a political strategy. Now, two decades later, many Pulwma and Shopian residents remark that yes haji sahab carried a vision of shunning the violence but we failed to understand him in the 90’s.

Another day, I remember some local militants came to our home late at night.  I was preparing for class 8 exams. Suddenly, I heard someone rattling the window. I got up thinking my brother was outside. I opened the door and found 4 armed men who pushed their way inside and wanted to find a room to sleep.

At this point, one of them asked me “Whose  house is this?”

I said Haji sahib’s. He is in his room now” The armed men discussed briefly among themselves and decided “ Oh is he here, in that case,  no, no let’s not stay here!”  They walked right out again, telling their fellow militants  to also vacate our house., I was puzzled and I asked “Why, what happened?”  Their leader said I have heard from many that he starts discussing openly the issue and is not afraid but I will not be able to face him. So  let’s not stay here.  This youth was a former engineering student who has consistently denied that he came to our place that night, looking for a room to rest!

He always used to invite opposite direction people and provoke them by raising many issue were they also where wrong and not being blamed for. The story is very long but the crux is that a moral character of a person should be consistent and not fluctuating one, so was he.

Being simple, talking small but always polite and working for constructive social and political change was his life’s mission. He promoted women participation in all fields and appreciated young girls playing positive roles in society and like we say charity begins at home, he adopted this gender equality right in his own home with his own family.

A girls school, women college or any engagement involving women was his priority, in many social family disputes as a veteran citizen his decision and advice to any women was encouraging and supportive of their rights. He supported remarriage and see women equally as worthy as a man, although living in a conservative society.

Another story I remember when Task Forces knocked on our door in 2001 and cordoned the house, panic went across the area we thought some militants are hiding inside and even we do not know. Then came a inspector rank officer who said, “Salam haji sahib he said with fully armed and guards along, he stood for while and then began appreciating Haji sahib for being a courage’s person and finally said we came to know some militants had come to your house way back, some  2 years ago, and you gave them food and provided them lodging.

We denied and he said I have full info and came to detain your son. We were shocked and demanded amnesty and he went on saying and blaming – finally he gave a time of week and said to deposit one lakh rupees at my camp in Pulwama. To avoid  confrontation we said ok. The next day we went door to door, meet various senior officials — DC, ADC other bureaucrats, all claimed to be helpless. Now, outside DC’s office was the residence of Syed Bashir a local politician who’s now a PDP MLA, we apprised him of the issue.  The MLA accompanied  us to SSP’s office who was an IPS Officer and he said do not worry I will sort it out.

This was another story  humiliated a proud nationalist but my grandfather never gave up.

Earlier on another occasion, my elder uncle who was a teacher in a Government school was detained by a BSF commandant at a BSF camp.  His name was Sharma.  This commandant labeled our family as supporting militants. We went to many corners and nothing yielded, uncle was tortured daily by commandant and food was also denied finally asking for a amount of 2 lakhs and we settled out on one lakh. This time also challenge to Haji sahib was what is this being done to a nationalist family who is well known to security agencies and he said it was an individual mistake and not of institution. His love for nation was not hindered by these actions but grew more as I see personally. He reminded to me what he did in 1980’s when militancy was on peaks and Indian National Congress has to host a tri color on independence day at main chowk pulwama, this was the time when Congress men were treated as untouchables in Kashmir as conveyed by NC a regional Political Party, Haji sahab said Mir Qasim then Congress President to take the assignment and I ensured that flag was hosted in the middle of chock in a militancy-prone area.

Our family saw threats from both sides and slowly went passive in overall affairs be it social, political or economical concerns.

But old growing Haji Sahab never gave  up, meeting people, debating, discussing and acting on his commitment. He was known for his honesty in New Delhi Azadpur fruit market and examples of his honesty were made, by many of his fellow merchants and traders. He loved to be a kissan and at the same time to be proactive in socio-political activities, a known and concerned citizen who listened to radio news till late in the evening, always with an eye on the country’s national politics and geopolitical scenario.

His prediction in 2002 assembly election was simply unbelievable because he declared before elections in political arena that even if Mufti gets 5 to 7 seats in assembly, he will be the Chief Minister. People thought he lost his senses because it was simply impossible and when results came out, I saw mobs of people come to congratulate him for his favorite leader came up with 13 assembly seats and everyone saying your predication was astute. During this the Congress – PDP coalition government formation was at stalemate and Haji sahab went to meet Mufti sahib. I accompanied him to Nowgam residence of Mufti sayeed and Mufti sahab said to my grandfather “ what’s next? Are you happy to see the victory and Haji sahab said, “Avoid coming into government. You have done your job but yes I do thank Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee who ensured a free and fair election in Kashmir otherwise it was never possible.  I saw Muzfar Hussain Beigh looking puzzled to hear an old man speaking to a veteran politician of subcontinent & Mufti Sahib said to Beigh by way of introduction,  “He is Haji Ab Rehman Para my old associate.” Leaving the room Haji Sahab said to Mufti “Give my regards to Benazir Mehbooba,  she is passionate and hardworking.”   And we went on home.

What I realize now many years after his death is this: he never demanded recognition for his convictions on the efficacy of nonviolence and women’s empowerment.  My grandfather, ardent freedom fighter that he was,   refused the recognition of a freedom fighter card and supplements given to him by the Indian National Congress. The stories of his integrity and selflessness towards home and country spread across boundaries. In 2007 when I went to Pakistan as a journalist and met a number of people who left Kashmir to join arms training – when I introduced myself to these old commanders. When they learned that I was the grandson of Haji Ab Rehman they treated me respectfully invited me for dinner and tea and said “Give our love to the bold old man.”  One of them said “ I will always love his open conviction of being antiviolence and I respect him still for that.”

Back home I told Haji Sahib about my meeting with his old friends now in Pakistan and he said “ You were just a child when they left home for training and they tried their level best to convince me and similarly I too tried and maybe today  their warm gestures towards  you is their own  realization of what I said and what I stand for always.”

My grandfather continues to be an inspiration and a role model for me. I was fortunate to have someone to always look up to during all the years as a child and now as an adult who tries to carve out a future shaped by his noble example.

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(Waheed Ur Rehman Para, Grandson of Haji Ab Rehman Para, Naira Pulwama)  

2 comments

  1. sahar ansari /

    He is d real hero,hope v also walk in d same way,from today onwards he ill b my super hero,sir whr ever ur i promiss u wt ever i cn do fr society spcly fr women i ill do…..a respectful hats off to u….

  2. mahana jan /

    it is beter to say nothing about Ab Rehman Para, as he is dead. But writing about him in such a manner reminded me how crual he was. He was always with this intention to capture the whole land of the people living there. Ask this to sheik family and the people who live there. capturing the landf of others now shows the fruits, His sons are now seling his land for money and enjoying the life with NC, PDP and others. Ask people how he has such land. He was considering himself judge at one time and when some mistake was done by a women he asked to do such an act which shatan wil never do but he did. when same mistake was done from his family member he remained silent. There re thousands of stories of his crualness.so it is beter to be silent than to say more and amy none like crual wil be in the world and espacialy from his family which is now losing everything even they seling their ancestors land. Now they think by joing zeerat mirs party and pdp wil help them to gain their backed so caled cruilty, which wil never hapen

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