The night that Kashmir’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani died

05 September 2021
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir's tallest pro-freedom leader, addressing a rally in Sopore, in 2013. He was a three-time MLA from the Sopore constituency. Geelani died on 1 September 2021, at the age of 91.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir's tallest pro-freedom leader, addressing a rally in Sopore, in 2013. He was a three-time MLA from the Sopore constituency. Geelani died on 1 September 2021, at the age of 91.

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.

In 2016, after the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani, pro-freedom youth in Kashmir began massive protests. Having been under house arrest for years, Geelani led a slogan campaign against the Indian administration’s crackdown on the protestors, from the confines of his residence. He painted on his wall: “Go India Go Back.”. APHC In 2016, after the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani, pro-freedom youth in Kashmir began massive protests. Having been under house arrest for years, Geelani led a slogan campaign against the Indian administration’s crackdown on the protestors, from the confines of his residence. He painted on his wall: “Go India Go Back.”. APHC
In 2016, after the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani, pro-freedom youth in Kashmir began massive protests. Having been under house arrest for years, Geelani led a slogan campaign against the Indian administration’s crackdown on the protestors, from the confines of his residence. He painted on his wall: “Go India Go Back.”
APHC

Shahid Tantray is a multimedia reporter at The Caravan. He tweets at @shahidtantray.

Keywords: Syed Ali Shah Geelani Kashmir Valley Hurriyat Conference Separatism Jammu and Kashmir UN plebiscite resolution
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