The Man Who Says No To New Delhi

How defiance made Syed Ali Geelani relevant in Kashmir

01 September 2010
Syed Ali Geelani on the grilled-in staircase in his home in south Srinagar.
Syed Ali Geelani on the grilled-in staircase in his home in south Srinagar.

ON THE MORNING OF 12 JUNE 2010, Rubina Mattoo, a 40-year-old housewife, stood outside her two-storey house in Saida Kadal in central Srinagar. The neighbourhood was drowned in deafening wails. A grieving circle of family, relatives, and neighbours filled the lawn. A large procession of men walked in, carrying a wooden coffin. In it, Rubina’s slain son. She had cried through the long night, wailing, beating her chest, pulling her hair, and singing eulogies for her dead child. “Walo maine maharazoo (Come my beloved groom),” she cried, “maenz heath ha chesai payaraan (I am waiting for you with henna).”  On 11 June, her 17-year-old son, Tufail Mattoo, an 11th standard student, was returning home from a private tutor when his head was hit by a tear-gas shell fired by police to quell a protest.

A group of women stood on the Mattoos’ balcony, straining themselves for a glimpse, tears rolling down their faces. Across the lawn men carrying the coffin on their shoulders burst into chants: “We want freedom! Punish the murderers!” A group of Mattoo’s teenage friends stood sullen, silent; others, staring, prepared for the burial. Rubina couldn’t believe her son was dead. She kept repeating that a few days previous her son had chosen a car to buy. Tufail’s father, Muhammad Ashraf, looking dazed on the patio, was chewing his nails. “I was in Bombay,” Ashraf said, “I didn’t know I would come home to bury my son.”

Kashmir exploded in anger. Thousands of young men took to the streets with rage in their steps in condemnation of the killing, shouting slogans of independence. Indian troops and police opened fire on them in response. Protests followed killings and killings followed protests. A curfew was imposed and defied. In the two months since Mattoo’s death, 60 young Kashmiri protesters have been killed by police and paramilitary bullets. As of 19 August, the last one to die was a nine-year-old boy who was shot at Harnag on 10 August in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Doctors confirmed it was a bullet that pierced his skull and damaged his brain. The Jammu and Kashmir government dealt with the uprisings by using even more force. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah sought help from the army, who marched through the streets of Srinagar. But the resentment continued to burn. Kashmir resonated with the old refrain: Azadi!—Freedom. The boys continued to come out into the streets, defiant, with stones in their hands.

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    Mehboob Jeelani  is a former staff writer at The Caravan. He is currently studying for an MA in journalism at Columbia University.

    Keywords: Kashmir Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani Sheikh Abdullah autonomy Azadi Hizbul Mujahideen UN plebiscite resolution Jamaat-E-Islami POK insurgency human rights abuses Pervez Musharraf