It has been one full year since a mound of earth situated a few hundred metres away from our ancestral house in Kashmir became the most important site of our lives. We run to it the first thing in happiness and sorrow, in victory and defeat, for peace and strength. The mound of earth marks the grave of Sayed Abdul Rahman Geelani. Lovingly known as SAR among his friends, to us he was Abbu, our beloved father.
Abbu left us at the age of 50, suddenly and much too soon, on 24 October 2019. The shock of his untimely demise is still fresh. It was unimaginable for us because we had always known him as an invincible hero who triumphed death repeatedly in the short span of his adult life. The sentiment, as we in the family came to know later, was shared equally by many of his friends and colleagues whom he had worked with and inspired over the years.
He lived his life as a teacher, an educator and a tireless defender of human rights who cared and spoke fearlessly for the rights of the most oppressed. In particular, it was his awareness of the situation in Kashmir, and his concern for justice and the right to self-determination of his people, that made him the person he was and live the life he did. Even when he moved out of Kashmir to study in the 1990s, a tumultuous period of militancy, he dreamt of returning home, to serve and teach. But the prevailing political situation in Kashmir was not conducive for his return, so he took up a teaching post as a professor of Arabic at the University of Delhi. In the later part of the decade, the family joined him in the city. We were five and nine years old at the time, son and daughter respectively.
Our life in Delhi was going fine until 14 December 2001, when it was upended by a doomsday development. Abbu was arrested by the dreaded special cell of the Delhi Police, falsely accused of involvement in the attack on the Indian parliament. Thus began the darkest period of our lives. But it also made us stronger than ever and taught us important political lessons at a very tender age. While he was locked away, a spiteful media trial villainised him as a terrorist. It seemed that Indian democracy had pronounced its verdict even before the actual trial in its own court was over. Why else would our regular vegetable vendor suddenly refuse to sell to a seven-year-old boy, if not because he saw our father being labelled a terrorist in the news and believed it to be true? Similarly, our local phone booth operator refused to let us make calls to our family in Kashmir. Such events started becoming routine, and we were forced to shift to a Muslim ghetto where our family could live in relative anonymity.
In 2002, a lower court in Delhi sentenced Abbu to death. Our hearts sank in terror and foreboding. But we were lucky. With the support of family and friends, both in Kashmir and Delhi, and a defense campaign organised by members of civil society, we regained our strength and courage. He was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in 2003, which was then upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005.