JNU’s 9 Feb ’16 Meet Celebrated This Maqbool? A Daughter Recalls
It is exactly a year since the big showdown at JNU.
Last year on 9 February, JNU was rocked by protests over the individual death penalties of Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru.
We bring you the story of a family that suffered directly as a consequence of the actions of Maqbool’s terror outfit.
Ravindra Mhatre, an Indian diplomat in Birmingham, was kidnapped and killed by JKLF’s UK arm the Kashmir Liberation Army (KLA). Their demand for the release of Maqbool Butt had been turned down by the Indira Gandhi government.
Mhatre’s 13-year-old child lost her father, his wife has never really recovered from the loss. It’s 33 years since the tragedy. This is what Mhatre’s daughter Asha D’Souza told us a year ago as she recalled the horror that they went through.
How Maqbool Butt's Gang Ruined Innocent Lives...
Before tragedy struck the Mhatres in the form of Maqbool Butt & JKLF, it was a beautiful love story. Ravindra Mhatre, an Indian diplomat, fell in love with the sister of the girl he had gone to ‘see’ for his brother. And the ‘girl’ he was besotted with, was a doctor.
Through a telegram, he consented to the proposal brought forth by the girl’s parents. They got married and had a daughter.
Perfect family picture, wouldn’t you say? Yes, until the then-death-row convict, Maqbool Butt’s, terrorist gang ruined it all.
In an instant, Mhatre’s 13-year-old child lost her father, and his wife never really recovered from the loss.
Asha D’Souza nee Mhatre recounts to The Quint the horror of how her father – the affable, helpful and honest diplomat – was kidnapped by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)-Kashmir Liberation Association (KLA) men from Birmingham in the UK, on 3 February 1984.
3 February 1984
Deputy Commissioner Baldev Kohli was away in London attending a farewell reception for Dr Syed Mohammed, the Indian High Commissioner, who was due to retire in a few days. Forty-nine-year-old Ravindra Mhatre – the assistant high commissioner – was in charge of the Indian Consulate in Birmingham.
Mhatre had planned to rush home for a dinner party that he wanted to take his wife and daughter to. He was also carrying a cake for his daughter’s birthday the next day. He purchased the cake, and boarded a bus towards home... Only, he never made it there.
Maqbool Butt’s Gang Kidnapped Mhatre
Ravindra Mhatre’s wife and 13-year-old daughter were frantic. They were worried that he may have met with an accident and may not be able to make a call to his family.
It shook their world to discover the next day that he had been kidnapped by members of an outfit called Kashmir Liberation Army – an off-shoot of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front that Maqbool Butt had founded.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front – which was waging a bloody, separatist campaign with its base in Birmingham and its foot soldiers in Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir – claimed responsibility for the abduction. As the price for Mhatre’s release, it demanded, among other things, the release of JKLF prisoners in India, including the group’s founder, Maqbool Butt, who was then lodged in Tihar jail.
Who Is Maqbool Butt?
Butt, who was one of the most high-profile Kashmir separatist-terrorist leaders of that time, had been arrested in 1966 for leading an ambush of an Indian security patrol in Kashmir. He had escaped to Pakistan by digging a tunnel from the Srinagar prison.
Arrested again in 1976 and facing the death sentence for his earlier crime, Butt filed a clemency petition, which was under consideration even until 1984, when the JKLF abducted Mhatre and demanded his release.
The JKLF gunned down Neelkanth Ganjoo (on November 4, 1989), the judge who pronounced the death sentence for Maqbool Butt. Without a break, February 11 – the date of Butt’s execution – has been a holiday for the separatists’ calendar in Kashmir since 1990.
6 February 1984: Mhatre’s Body Found on Highway
Mhatre’s wife – worried and anxious – could not handle the news of his death, says Asha Mhatre, their daughter. She collapsed with the strain and had to be heavily medicated to cope with her loss.
Thirteen-year-old Asha took the reins. She tells The Quint about how the newly-teenaged girl had to grow up in a hurry. She talks fondly of her father who always wanted her to excel and be happy.
The family returned to India but life was never the same again. Mhatre’s death was not so much the loss of a breadwinner, as it was a colossal loss in terms of an extremely loving and hands-on father. A wonderful life had just been wiped out by a brutal act of terror. A set of near-octogenarian parents had to brave the loss of an illustrious son. The wife – Shobha Mhatre nee Pathare – who thought her love story was eternal, had to accept that her husband had been snatched away from her. For no connection to Maqbool Butt, a girl stepping into her teens had to learn how to live without a father.
No Forgiving Maqbool, But I Won’t Let This Ruin Me: Asha
Asha looks back at the ghastly episode in 1984 as she speaks to The Quint. Now known as Asha D’Souza Mhatre, she is a successful Corporate Manager.
Mhatre’s memory still disturbs her mother, says Asha. There are no pictures of him in their house in South Mumbai. Most pictures of the man who conveyed his assent to the marriage proposal of Shobha Pathare with a telegram saying – YES. REPEAT, YES – are missing from Shobha and Asha’s shared home.
And Did the Gruesome Act of Murder Save Maqbool?
Hell no! News reports say that the South Block had gone into a huddle, but that was not over whether to consider Maqbool’s cronies’ demands, but over how to buy time till Mhatre’s location could be figured out by Scotland Yard.
Sadly, someone, somewhere, bungled... and the frustrated JKLF/KLA men shot Mhatre, probably on 5 February. His body was discovered with two shots to the head, on 6 February 1984.
The Indira Gandhi government is believed to have refused to negotiate and after Mhatre’s death, President Zail Singh turned down Butt’s mercy plea.
On 11 February 1984, less than a week after Mhatre’s body was found, Maqbool was hanged to death.
Mhatre’s daughter tells The Quint how Indira Gandhi flew down to Mumbai personally, solely to meet the ageing parents of the diplomat the country had lost. She held the old mother’s hand and said:
Gandhi expressed apology for not being able to save Mhatre, but explained to the grieving parents how it was important not to trade with terrorists.
(With inputs from Poonam Agrawal, Abira Dhar, Kirti Pandey and Vatsala Singh)