Syed Ali Shah Geelani is no more. According to his spokesman, he passed away at 10 pm at his Hyderpora residence in Srinagar in Indian-occupied and illegally-annexed Kashmir. He was 92.
He had wished last year to be buried at the Martyrs’ Graveyard. After news of his death spread, some policemen took away his two sons and told them that he would not be allowed burial according to his will. Seeing that occupying forces would not let that happen, the sons agreed to bury him at a nearby graveyard, some 300 meters from his home. Family sources say he had purchased two graves in that graveyard a decade ago. It was also decided with the police that the body would be accompanied by family members and neighbours and taken for burial around Fajar prayers. However, around 3 am some elements of India’s occupation forces raided and illegally entered the house, beat up family members and took away the body.
Even in his death, the world’s most populous sham democracy is afraid of Geelani sahib. India knows, as do the collaborators in IOK’s administration, that a proper funeral will pull in thousands from across the occupied land to mourn Bub (father) as Geelani sahib was affectionately and reverentially known.
But this is nothing new nor is this fear and its attendant callousness the sole prerogative of India’s current RSS government. Back in February 2013, when Afzal Guru was hanged, a judicial murder that will forever remain a blot on India’s Supreme Court, Guru’s body was buried in Tihar Jail.
It is a common practice now for Indian occupation forces to refuse to hand over the bodies of Kashmiri freedom fighters — as also those they kill extra-judicially — to their kin, instead burying them far away from their native villages and towns. The reason is simple: every funeral sees thousands come to mourn the departed, chanting slogans of Aazaadi and waving Pakistani flags. It riles, frustrates and angers India, the occupying power.
But the alienation is complete and irreversible. Nothing has worked: not brutal force and draconian laws nor what former R&AW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat called “talking, talking, talking”. He signed off his book by quoting Agha saheb, “You [Dulat] were sent to disrupt the [Kashmir] movement…in the friendliest possible manner”. The Kashmiris have seen through the ploy called dialogue and understand, to quote Dulat again, “as both a tactic and a strategy”.
I met Geelani sahib once, as part of a first-ever delegation of eight Pakistani journalists who traveled by road from Amritsar to Jammu and then to Srinagar in October 2004. My friend and one of his sons-in-law, Iftikhar Gillani, was also present at the meeting, as were many other Kashmiri and Indian journalists. Iftikhar is an eminent Kashmiri journalist and writer in his own right. At the time, while working at Kashmir Times, Iftikhar was also our correspondent for The Friday Times and Daily Times.
We had a somewhat heated debate with Geelani sahib. He was very clearly unimpressed with the idea that the normalisation process in and of itself could help resolve the Kashmir dispute. Later, when in 2006 former General-President Pervez Musharraf presented his four-point formula in a Frontline interview to AG Noorani and it became a hot topic, Geelani sahib was the sole voice in IOK to oppose it. That fact has also been discussed by then-foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri in his book, as also by Geelani sahib himself in his memoire, On the Bank of Wuler. In fact, in opposing that formula Geelani sahib stood alone. Musharraf lost his temper when Geelani sahib not only opposed his four-point formula, but also chided him for killing his own people by aligning with the United States.
But back to that meeting. We felt that he was being unduly sceptical about the gains of the normalisation process. But he was making a subtle point: he wasn’t opposed to the process itself; he just wanted to disabuse us of the idea that normalisation could automatically lead to an acceptance by India of the dispute and its resolution. He was also very clear about what he considered the baseline for any further talks about the Kashmir dispute and presented them as his five-point formula in 2010: one, India should accept, clearly and without equivocation, that Kashmir is disputed territory; two, it should repeal black laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act; three, it should demilitarise the region; four, release political prisoners and, five, punish occupation force’s personnel involved in killing civilians.
He was unwavering in the position he took. The central point was that Kashmir is occupied territory and the dispute must be resolved in and through the UN Security Council resolutions. As for his own choice, he was again crystal clear: Kashmir is Pakistan. He made no bones about it. Compromise was not part of his vocabulary. That was both his strength and, according to his critics, his weakness.
Frankly, after that meeting, my initial thoughts were that he was too uncompromising. But let me confess that over the years I have come round to his view, having seen how India has continued to behave towards Kashmir and Kashmiris. India’s so-called secular-liberal and Left parties kept doing ram-ram while shielding and wielding the knife; the RSS government now wields it openly. That is the only difference between pre- and post-2014.
Geelani sahib knew that; we didn’t really grasp it then. It led to a lot of suffering for him and his family, not just at the hands of an occupying power but also until Musharraf stayed on the scene. But he stood his ground. He was also incorruptible, unlike many other Kashmiri leaders. Dulat’s book presents an unsavoury account of that. Interestingly, when I interviewed Dulat with reference to his 2015 book, Kashmir: the Vajpayee Years, I asked him why he had never met with Geelani sahib. He smiled somewhat defensively and if I remember his words correctly, said, Buss ghalati ho gai, Ejaz Sahib; meiN maanta hooN (I concede that that was a mistake). My own sense is that there were two reasons that meeting never happened: Geelani sahib could not be wooed through money and other perks and he could not be bent.
Now, the Indian state, in occupation of Kashmir, and after snatching his mortal remains, has buried him with just a nephew present at the burial to pay his respects. The Indian state has also ordered a curfew to ensure there is no symbolic funeral procession and no protests. India and its quislings in IOK know that Geelani sahib’s street power has only increased in his death. But what India forgets is a lesson it hasn’t learnt since August ’47: its reign of terror and fear will only further isolate Kashmiris.
Geelani sahib and his compatriot, Sehrai sahib, are both gone. But they are part of Kashmir’s iconography now. May both of them rest in peace.
The writer is a journalist with interest in security and foreign policy. He tweets @ejazhaider