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Ali Geelani — the strongest voice of Kashmir’s freedom

By Asim Hussain
September 01, 2022
Ali Geelani — the strongest voice of Kashmir’s freedom

Death of veteran Kashmiri freedom movement leader Syed Ali Geelani was the singular incident that helped India got a stronger political control over the occupied Kashmir, more than the constitutional amendment revoking the disputed status of Muslim majority state in August 2019 to formally annex and declare the state as part of Indian union.

The 92-year-old Syed Ali Geelani was undoubtedly the most prominent voice of Kashmir’s freedom from Indian occupation. He was a captivating orator, who could leave the listeners under spell of hope and enthusiasm, and had a deep, comprehensive knowledge of Islam, Fiqh and contemporary political affairs. He was considered the most popular political leader ruling the hearts of Muslims and an ardent supporter of the annexation of the Indian occupied state with Pakistan through UN resolutions guaranteeing right to self-determination to the Kashmiri people. He remained firmly committed to his pro-Pakistan stance and never compromised on it, resisting all kinds of pressures, threats and temptations, and always stood out among the crowd of mostly pro-Indian and pro-independence politicians of the Indian-held valley. For Delhi, this stance was his biggest crime, for which he had been victimised all through his life and kept under direct and indirect imprisonment most of the time during the last six decades.

Born on Sept 29, 1929 in a village near Srinagar, he earned graduation and post-graduate degrees from Lahore and joined freedom/ political struggle as a student in mid 50’s. He was first arrested in 1961 leading a rally on charges of inciting on insurgency, violence and anti-state activities. Since then, Indian prisons became his second home where he visited frequently, serving almost half of his remaining life. He suffered harsh physical and mental tortures in captivity, was also poisoned but survived, though lost much of his health and functions of body organs like heart and kidneys. Even failing health could not dampen his courage, iron determination and nerves to lead the freedom struggle almost single handedly for nearly last three decades. He became a metaphor of resilience and Kashmir’s freedom, and was known as having an iron spirit in a feeble body. When not in prison, he remained under house arrest, besieged by large number of Army, para-military and police personnel.

He remained a nightmare for Indian occupant army even after his death. As the news of his death came on September 1, 2001, barricades were erected around his heavily guarded house to bar people from visiting. Curfew was imposed in the valley, suspending internet services. India pressurized his family to bury him in the dark of night, threatening that otherwise army would bury the body at some unknown place, a practice Indian army had been doing with martyrs for many years. His family wanted to bury him in martyrs’ grave yard according to his will, but army and police officials refused it, as a large funeral procession would become another security nightmare for them. Later, the para-military and police officials broke into the house, snatched the body wrapped in green starred cloth, akin to Pakistani flag and thrashed the resisting son Naeem Gilani and nephew Rasheed Shah, besides the women present there. The family alleged that army men didn’t even brought a stretcher and dragged the body on ground as they put it in a van to reach heavily guarded nearby grave yard where he was quickly buried, allowing only his son and nephew to witness. The graveyard was then sealed and a case of sedition and anti-state activities was registered against the family because of using Pakistani flag.

All his life, Gilani waged a courageous, principled struggle for Kashmir’s liberation from India and never backed down from pro-Pakistan stance. He refused to join the "Peace Process" initiated between Pakistan and India under US pressure in early 2000’s, demanding India must recognize Kashmir as disputed first. He was the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a platform of Kashmiri political parties, but majority of APHC leaders joined "Peace Process", leaving Ali Gilani alone. Gen Musharraf was also pushing his four-point peace formula at that time, which was being portrayed as a ray of hope in media. Syed Ali Geelani was allowed to meet visiting Gen Pervez Musharraf in Delhi but he couldn’t come to terms with Musharraf on the issue.

Later, Syed Ali Geelani told media that his stance proved correct. Despite backing by Islamabad and Delhi, the peace process remained confined to media, seminars and conferences, but the disputed and bleeding Kashmir valley that badly needed the peace remained deprived of it and Indian army crackdowns, extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and incarcerations in concentration camps actually increased. Gilani’s popularity among Kashmiri youth increased manifolds as thousands of people gathered outside his house to listen to the address and entire Kashmir would shut down on his call. His name became synonymous to Kashmir’s liberation from Indian occupation and popular resistance movements in the valley. Gilani spent the last twelve years of his life under house arrest as India completely banned his movements and communications, disallowed to offer Friday prayers in the nearby mosque, and even close relatives were barred from meeting him. With fast declining health, Gilani stepped down in favor of his right-hand man Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai as Hirriyet chairman. But Sehrai was immediately arrested and later martyred in Jammu jail three months before his own death. Many of his relatives and aides were killed under mysterious circumstances, including his cousin Hussamuddin Advocate.

Gilani used to communicate with world leaders until India banned him to do so. In a letter to newly elected US president Bill Clinton in 1993, he said “As long as India refuses to accept the basic and inherent right of the 12 million people (of Jammu & Kashmir) to determine their political future and act on UN Security Council resolutions in this regard, this (armed) resistance movement will continue.