I was a dreamer and still am,” says Mushaal Mullick. “Challenging, thrilling and adventurous things have always attracted me.” This 25-year-old Pakistani is married to Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of one faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Malik, 45, is a former militant and well-known separatist leader.
It was hard work for her to win permission to marry him, and it has not been easy since. It is difficult for her to get a visa to visit Kashmir and her husband. When she is here she also faces his critics and protesters. Yet she is finding a public role for herself — not in politics.
Mullick wants to help revive the handicrafts of Kashmir. Whenever she is in Kashmir, she says she meets artisans to show them how to sell their products and keep traditions alive, even as machine-work crowds out their exquisite handiwork. She says she plans to organise exhibitions of the artisans’ work in Srinagar, New Delhi and Islamabad. She hopes this will broaden the artisans’ reach and allow potential buyers to see their work.
She is also trying to change labour policies. Most craftsmen work on an ad hoc basis and survive on daily wages. A further source of stress for them is that, during curfews and protests, workshops shut down, which leaves the artisans without work or pay. Mullick says she has long-term plans to raise funds which will be used to set up looms owned by the artisans themselves.
“Why should the artisans of Kashmir get killed or suffer?” she asks. “I plan to broaden their vision and encourage them, as I myself am an artist” — she has painted since childhood — “and understand the sensitive nature of such people. Kashmir has such rich heritage and I intend to explore this positive side of Kashmiris, and promote it to raise their morale.”
This includes supporting research on shawl-making, tila-embroidery, papier mâché and carpet-making. She also runs an NGO which focuses on women’s rights, orphans, and animal rights. She holds exhibitions of her paintings and donates the proceeds to charity.
Mullick was born into an affluent intellectual family in Lahore, raised in Islamabad and educated at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics. Mullick and her brother were given every luxury. “As a child, I enjoyed trekking, riding, arm-wrestling, camping — all things that require a lot of energy and spirit.”
She was still a child when her father died. Her mother is a former secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League women’s wing and executive member of PML’s Central Executive Committee. Mullick lives with her mother in Islamabad — because, given visa troubles and politics, she is only occasionally able to see her husband in Kashmir. She describes her mother as her source of strength. She needed that strength on February 22, 2009, the day of her engagement, when her fiancé was arrested under the Public Safety Act. She put up a brave face, she says, but it was six months before she was able to marry, in August.
Abuse and threats are a feature of her life with Malik. “We have faced many challenges since our engagement. Scandals were published that gave a negative picture to our union.” In January 2010, when the JKLF head was visiting New Delhi to give a lecture on Kashmir, he faced protesters hurling abuse. In February 2011 the couple was harassed in Delhi outside the house where they were staying. During a visit to the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, they were attacked with shoes and bottles. “What really hurt me,” says Mullick, “was that a religious place was used for protests against us.”
The attacks have not deterred Mullick. “On the brighter side,” she says, “we received countless prayers and love from the people, which really gave us immense happiness. Love has no barriers and that is something I believe in. The soul unites and then God sets the path.”
The two met in June 2005 in Islamabad, she says, at a high-profile luncheon. Malik was in Pakistan to gather support. He was reciting an Iqbal Bano ghazal as she entered the room. “His rendition had a very powerful impact on me,” she says, “and I felt that this man was genuine about his cause. In our case, it was completely a spiritual love, it was old-fashioned romance.”
Both were introduced formally. Before leaving for Kashmir, Malik one day telephoned her. “We were both very formal, until he blurted out, ‘I am in love with you.’ Totally shocked,” she says, “I quickly hung up, and as the days rolled on, I mulled over what to do. A month later I had a dream in which my family approved our marriage and I realised that this is my fate. I called Yasin the very next day and he was very excited.”
After Malik left for Srinagar, they kept in touch online, because calls to Pakistan are not allowed. It took four years for the marriage to happen. “We encountered many hurdles,” she says. “First, I was too young. Second, I had to know more about his life. Third and most important, my family had to be convinced.” The age difference of 20 years had become an issue, apart from his risky life and health. Both families met during a Haj trip, and that is when the marriage was formalised.
Mullick supports her husband’s cause. Last month, Malik was arrested for, it is alleged, attacking a police station in Srinagar. She says he has to undergo a crucial surgery this month, so she is trying to be with him. “So as long as I get the visa,” she says, “I will be in Kashmir.”