Asiya Andrabi, who is currently in NIA custody in Delhi’s Tihar jail, has openly claimed that her brand of separatism is religious in nature.
New Delhi: By the age of 10, it is said, Asiya Andrabi already had a clear picture of her prince charming in mind: A mujahid with whom she could continue pursuing the “holy cause” of azaadi for Kashmir.
The face of women separatists in Kashmir, Andrabi, now 52, has been charged by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) with waging war against India through hate speeches, as well as criminal conspiracy and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), along with two associates.
Arrested in April, the vocal advocate of Jammu & Kashmir’s secession to Pakistan, Andrabi is currently in Tihar jail.
Ahead of a scheduled court appearance on 12 December, ThePrint traces the journey of Andrabi, a self-proclaimed feminist who holds a Master’s in Islamic Studies and idolises an American Jewish convert known for her defence of radical Islam.
Andrabi was born to two doctors in Kashmir, where she was also raised. She founded her all-women separatist group, the banned Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DeM, daughters of the faith), in 1987.
During her days as a student, she stumbled upon a book, Khawateen Ke Dilon Ki Baten (Inner Feelings of Women) by Ma’el Kairabadi, in her father’s library.
The book was a compilation of essays on women who had embraced Islam and worked towards its expansion.
And this was her introduction to Margaret Marcus, an American woman raised in a New York-based Jewish household who flew to Pakistan in her 20s, converted to Islam, and changed her name to Maryam Jameelah.
Marcus, who died in 2012, authored several books espousing Islamic conservatism and fundamentalism, and Andrabi soon found herself poring over her writings.
“This was enlightenment for me,” Andrabi reportedly told NIA investigators in her interrogation. “I followed Jameelah’s writings and also started learning Arabic and started the Darsgah Taleem-Ul- Quran, an institute to promote and support the growth of Islamic thought,” she was quoted as saying.
It was around this time that Andrabi gained recognition as Kashmir’s first woman separatist, delivering speeches, heading protests and holding meetings.
Three years after she constituted the DeM, Andrabi married Mohammad Qasim, a founding member of the Hizbul Mujahideen, in 1990. He is currently in jail.
The couple has two sons, one of whom is said to have pursued higher studies in Malaysia and Australia, a fact that critics have often cited to paint her as a hypocrite.
According to NIA, as the leader of the DeM, Andrabi carried out anti-India activities, inciting Kashmiris towards an armed rebellion against the state with the backing of Pakistan-based terror organisations.
Investigators added that even though she encouraged women to join the DeM for “the sake of Islam and Kashmir’s freedom” and mobilised several of them, membership to the group was based on strict criteria.
Also read: Separatist Asiya Andrabi arrested in Srinagar by NIA for ‘waging war against India’
Criteria for joining the DeM, training
Every woman willing to join the DeM should be less than 30 years old, should have studied in a madrassa for at least five years, should strictly follow the Islamic dress code, should not be a member of any political party, should not be married to either a police or Army man, and should not engaged in the banking sector.
“As part of the training within the DeM, women are made to listen to speeches and read books that show the armed forces in a bad light,” an investigator said.
According to investigators, the DeM also justifies stone-pelting by Kashmiris, calling it “a legitimate act against the Satan forces”, which is how they refer to the Indian Army.
“The message ingrained in members is that a normal Kashmiri has no other means of showing his disgust with the occupational forces, and that it is legitimate for a Muslim to hurl stones at Satan, that Indian forces are Satan,” an officer said.
“To further incite anti-India sentiment, Andrabi once uploaded a video of cow slaughter by her and her followers during the protest triggered by the court ban on sacrifice of animals.”
The NIA officer was referring to a 2015 Jammu & Kashmir High Court upholding the state’s pre-Independence ban on sale of beef.
Andrabi along with her associates is also accused of using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and television channels, including channels in Pakistan, to spread hate messages against India.
The rallying cries
The slogans chanted by DeM members make no secret of their desire for Kashmir’s unification with Pakistan.
“Go India, go back.”
“Kashmir Banega Pakistan Pakistan (Kashmir will become Pakistan).”
“Islam ki Nisbat se, Islam ke taluk se, Hum Pakistani hain, Pakistan Humara hai (By virtue of our Islamic roots, we are Pakistani, Pakistan is ours).”
In an interview with the British daily The Guardian as far back as 2001, she stated that their battle was religious and not political as several separatists state.
“They believe that Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and encourage violence through their anti-national activities,” an investigator said. “We have sufficient evidence against her carrying out secessionist activity and waging war against India.”
Andrabi has also been named in a Kashmir terror-funding case.
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International funding for DeM
As part of their efforts to gather support from the Kashmiri masses, the DeM distributes a pension of Rs 2,000 per month to around 30 to 40 families whose earning members, mainly mujahids, get killed in encounters with the security forces.
The DeM reportedly also donates huge sums to madrassas, encouraging them to give women taleem in Islam.
According to NIA investigators, the DeM mostly thrives on international funding, much of which is pushed in by Pakistan. During the month of Ramzan, the organisation is said to have received huge amounts as zakat (donation).
According to sources, affluent businessmen, thinkers and traders who subscribe to the DeM ideology chip in with big annual payouts. Some of the donors include Ghulam Ahmed, principal of Islam College who recently gave the DeM Rs 5 lakh, and one Farooq Ahmed, a businessman who donates Rs 15 lakh.
Funds, investigators said, also arrive from London, where Andrabi makes frequent fund-raising trips and often holds programmes at institutes and universities in London.
The DeM’s finances are looked after by member Sofi Fehmeeda, one of the two arrested along with Andrabi recently.
‘In regular touch with ISI’
Andrabi, investigators said, regularly consorts with proscribed terrorist outfits from across the border, notably 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Designated a terrorist by the United Nations, Saeed heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
He and his wife Talha are believed to offer Andrabi help with operations in Kashmir. ThePrint has learnt that she spoke to Saeed soon after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, which triggered a series of protests whose aftershocks continue to rattle the Valley.
According to sources, Andrabi is an administrator for as many as 400 WhatsApp groups, and also remains in constant touch with Lashkar-e-Jabbar aka Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Mushtaq. A Sunni supremacist group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is known to mount attacks against the country’s Shia minority.
“Andrabi is also a part of a hardcore Islamic WhatsApp group Dukhtaran-e-taiba, which was started by Saeed’s wife Talha and constitutes 200 people, having strict rules that no one should post anything on it after 10 pm and before 5 am,” a source revealed.
The NIA reportedly also has proof of Andrabi having been in contact with former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to sources, in 2014, Andrabi sent a letter to Sharif stating that Pakistan was not doing enough for Kashmir. To which Sharif replied, “are doing our best”.
The letter was reportedly sent by post. Sharif reportedly even sent a condolence letter to Andrabi when her mother died.
Andrabi is said to be invited to Pakistan every year on 14 August to celebrate and speak on their independence day and, until recently, was in regular touch with former ISI director general Hamid Gul, sources added. Gul died in 2015.
There are also recordings and intercepts that purportedly prove was in constant touch with Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin.