Syed Ali Geelani was born in Zurimanj village (Bandipora tehsil), in the Baramulla district of North Kashmir on 29 September 1929. He died on 1st September 2021 while under house arrest (2010 to September 1, 2022) for over a decade. His house remained heavily barricaded until his death. He was denied access to the internet and other communication facilities. Freedom lovers including the Kashmiri Diaspora in different countries have decided to commemorate his birth and death anniversaries in a befitting manner. Geelani’s passport was seized in 1981. Though he suffered from renal cancer, he was not allowed to travel abroad for treatment. Not to speak of a foreign visit, he was not allowed to attend even an Urdu book fair at the Kashmir University. When he died, Indian forces whisked away his dead body and buried it at a deserted place. That’s why Kashmiris regard his death as a custodial killing. In his will and testament, Geelani had wished that his dead body should be buried in Srinagar Martyrs Graveyard.
Even if someone is hanged, his last wish is respected. But in the case of Ali Geelani, the Indian forces did not have the decency to honour Geelani’s wish. Geelani’s family alleged that his body was taken away by the police and buried forcibly. Shortly after the burial, the
administration booked Geelani’s relatives under the Public Safety Act.
Geelani had walked out of the Hurriyat after some separatist leaders sent proxy candidates to fight assembly elections. Unlike many of his Hurriyat colleagues, he also refused to join peace talks with Delhi. Over the years, it would prove to be an astute political move. The peace talks went nowhere. In the Valley, they were seen as a ploy by the Centre to maintain the status quo in Kashmir. He felt Kashmir’s future lay with Pakistan but he claimed the plebiscite could be a
genuinely democratic process whose results may not have gone his way. In several interviews, he said he would accept the results of the plebiscite even if Kashmiris chose India. Geelani was a versatile thinker. He was an austere religious ideologue who held funeral prayers in absentia for Osama bin Laden. He had written 40 books, spoke Urdu, Arabic and Persian, and quoted the poet Iqbal in conversation.
All his life, he articulated his demands through peaceful channels. Geelani stepped down from the leadership of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2020 owing to
differences with his colleagues. He foresaw that India wanted to change the demography of the disputed state. He also realised that India’s draconian laws, meant
for nabbing the timber mafia, were being applied to freedom lovers to stifle their voice. He vehemently opposed these laws, particularly the Public Safety Act. He was a symbol of indomitable resistance. During his incarceration in Indian jails, he was subjected to physical and mental torture. His grandson had been serving as a research officer at the government-controlled Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre in Srinagar. He was dismissed from the government job citing “security concerns”.
Gilani played an active role in the formation of the Muslim United Front (MUF) in 1987 ahead of provincial elections, against pro-India parties, including the National Conference. Only four candidates of the platform, including Gilani, however, managed to secure seats because of rigging. Gilani, along with three other winners, was jailed by India. In 1992, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) was set up. It was meant to serve as a platform of 30 pro-freedom parties. In August 2004, Gilani along with Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai launched Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (Movement of Freedom). Geelani stressed that Pakistan should not show any resilience to India unless India admits in unequivocal terms that Kashmir is a disputed territory.
The writer is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.