Syed Ali Geelani
“Hum Pakistani hain
aur Pakistan Humara hai”
A man of few words, Geelani sahib made history as he stood firm as the sole voice of millions of Kashmiris under illegal Indian occupation. He led the freedom movement with prudence and resilience. He was cautious in his approach, and always had a broader perspective in sight, as he espoused the cause of self-determination. He had been a thorn in India’s side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory’s merger with Pakistan. It was all evident from the acts the Indian government took after his death. As soon as news of his death began to make the rounds in the disputed Himalayan region, authorities blocked the internet and deployed hundreds of troops in the main city of Srinagar to prevent a mass funeral procession or protests against Indian rule. The authorities not only shamelessly snatched his body from his family but also disallowed his burial to be held in accordance with his will. He was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony as Indian authorities imposed a lockdown across Indian-occupied Kashmir.
That New Delhi has reacted nervously to 91-year-old Kashmiri freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s death is a fact that is evident from its decision to shut down internet in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir “as a precautionary measure” soon after pro-Geelani slogans and messages about his death were broadcast over loudspeakers from mosques in the occupied valley. Geelani sahib died on September 01 at his Srinagar residence due to geriatric-related ailments, including dementia. He leaves behind two sons, six daughters and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren – along with millions of others, including the Kashmiris from the sub-continent and the worldwide Kashmiri diaspora—to mourn his death. He was, without an iota of doubt, a pro-Pakistan supporter, spearheading a freedom struggle in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades. Not only was Geelani sahib (one of the founders of Hurriyat Conference) the face of Jamaat-e-Islami and a true disciple of the party’s founder Abul Aala Maududi, he was also a three-time MLA in the erstwhile state from Sopore that made him virtually the face of agitation in 2008 and 2010. He had been facing a slew of cases and protracted detention till his death. His passport was seized in 1981 and never returned, barring an exception in 2006 to facilitate him to perform Hajj.
Geelani sahib’s approach to the Kashmir dispute was quite different from those of the Abdullahs, the Muftis, the Lones and others in IIOJK. According to him, for example, India and Pakistan cannot resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally because it’s not a border dispute between two neighbours. No settlement can be reached by ignoring or sidelining the real stakeholders of the dispute, the Kashmiris. In one of his speeches, Geelani sahib publicly announced that although Pakistan is consistently helping Kashmiris diplomatically, politically and morally, it cannot take any decision on the Kashmir dispute on Kashmiris’ behalf. The 2014 elections in the then state of Jammu and Kashmir dealt a serious blow to his popularity and esteem. Although Geelani sahib had appealed to Kashmiris to boycott those polls, which eventually brought Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party to power, there was nearly 60 percent voter turnout, the highest in 25 years. That a tweet of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti says it all is a fact. According to her, “we may not have agreed on most things but I respect him [Geelani sahib] for his steadfastness and standing by his belief…” Prime Minister Imran Khan, Opposition leaders Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, among others, have expressed grief over Geelani sahib’s death. No doubt, Geelani sahib will always be remembered for his life-long struggle against India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, and his fascinating narrative that comprised, among other things, a synthetic account of Kashmir’s political history, geography and resources. Geelani sahib knew well that a struggle is a long and difficult attempt to achieve something as freedom. Surely, he would always be remembered for his perseverance, steadfastness and conduct that was always guided by deep ethics.
Syed Ali Geelani was born on September 29, 1929, in a village on the banks of Wular lake in Sopore area of Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
He remained a staunch opponent of India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and led the Kashmiris’ struggle for their right to self-determination.
Since his youth, Geelani sahib had been a member of Jamaat-i-Islami, the largest political-religious organisation in Kashmir that was banned by the Hindu nationalist government in 2019.
Later on, he founded his own party by the name of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.
Geelani sahib had been a thorn in India’s side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory’s merger with Pakistan. He also pursued his calls as a member of the Kashmir assembly, from the Sopore constituency of Jammu and Kashmir, elected three times — 1972, 1977 and 1987.
The veteran politician was jailed for nearly 11 years after 1962 and often restricted to his home after that.
He also served as the Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a forum of freedom parties in Jammu and Kashmir, from which he stepped down last year.
The writer is a member of staff.