It was the evening of the first day of September. A normal day in Kashmir had come to end, and I was having dinner with my family at our home in Srinagar. I received a phone call from a media colleague, informing me that 91-year-old Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the former head of the Hurriyat Conference and the tallest pro-freedom leader in Kashmir, had died. Without finishing my dinner, I left for Geelani’s home in the city’s Hyderpora area. I met a few Jammu & Kashmir Police and paramilitary personnel at the edge of the neighborhood. One police official, in civil dress, confirmed the news of his death to me. He allowed me to head towards Geelani’s home.
Standing outside the walls of his home, I was suddenly reminded of the uprising in the summer of 2016, which followed the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani. Having been in house arrest for years, Geelani had led a slogan campaign against the Indian administration’s crackdown in Kashmir from the confines of his residence. He painted on his wall: “Go India Go Back.”
On the night of his death, the walls were quiet. Street lights had been turned off, shrouding his home in darkness. Personnel from the special-operations group of the police were cordoning off his home with concertina wire. When they saw me, they asked why I had come. I said that I was a journalist, but they asked me to leave, even chasing me towards the main road. Meanwhile, more police vehicles arrived. One policeman took out his baton while insisting that I leave. Soon, the Indian state ensured that sun did not rise in Kashmir before Geelani was buried.
Over the next few hours, Hyderpora became a fortress. As Geelani’s family and relatives remained confined inside his residence with his body, the presence of security forces outside swelled, preventing anyone from leaving or entering the area. The Indian Army, J&K Police, the Central Reserved Police Force and the Border Security Forces—all showed up. One police official told me that around seven hundred personnel had been deployed to only 500 square meters in Hyderpora, around Geelani’s home. When I shot a video of the personnel arriving, a police official asked me to delete the footage. Barricades and concertina were going up across the Valley. By around midnight, Vijay Kumar, the inspector general of police in Kashmir, announced strict restrictions, including suspension of mobile and internet services.