By Shamsa Ishfaq
“The more you strike us down, the more we shall rise with renewed determination and vigour. We are in the process of liberating our minds and the days of freedom are in sight”, Syed Ali Gillani.
The first day of September of year 2022 is significant for the fact that it is not just the first death anniversary but also the first year in the history of Kashmir freedom struggle without Syed Ali Shah Geelani – a name that needs no introduction. Late Syed Ali Geelani had not only witnessed partition of Indo-Pak subcontinent but also remained an active participant of the troubled history of this region since very young age of 18. He was regarded as the father of the Kashmiri indigenous freedom movement. He remained all his life a thorn in India’s eye since early 1960s when he began campaigning for the Indian illegally occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) merger with Pakistan.
Mr Geelani’s long and precarious journey for the legitimate cause of Kashmiris started well before the beginning of his formal political career with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in 1952. He left JI in 2004 and founded Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, which became the leading organisation in his faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). He quit APHC as Chairman in June 2020. The revered Hurriyat leader spent more than twelve years of his life in jail; ironically, his first arrest in 1962 was made on the charges of “raising the Kashmir issue”.
Ever since then, he commanded widespread respect among his people for his firm stance on Azadi or freedom of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian shackles, a stance that he has never wavered from. Geelani’s popularity among vast numbers of Kashmiri Muslims rests principally in the fact that he is seen as one Kashmiri leader who has never compromised with India, and who has had to face considerable personal privation, including long bouts of imprisonment, for denouncing what he, like many Kashmiris, regard as India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and its violation on a massive scale of human rights in the region. He staunchly opposed the enactment of Indian draconian law of Public Safety Act (PSA) and openly challenged the then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah when he introduced the stringent Act in the region. The act termed as lawless by Amnesty International as it gave the authority to occupying Indian forces to imprison anyone for up to two years without trial. For a record only, so far 162,000 people in total have been arrested under draconian laws such as PSA and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Killings of innocent Kashmiris, numerous pellet gun injuries, unmarked graves, rape of Kashmiri women and girls, torching of houses etc. are a few means of atrocities continued to be committed by Indian occupation forces and that have been condemned and resisted by the leaders like Syed Ali Geelani.
According to a political analyst Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, “Geelani espoused the (Kashmiri) cause for a long time when Abdullah had “abandoned it”. Syed Ali Geelani’s contributions to Kashmir’s cause can never be defied. Being an ardent supporter of Pakistan has been a major reason behind India’s atrocities against him.
Pakistan’s former envoy to India, Abdul Basit remembers Syed Ali Geelani as “a man of undefeatable resolve and principles who would not tolerate breaking any compromise on rights of Kashmiris”. Today though Geelani Sahab is not among People of Kashmir but the legacy of his resistance in Jammu and Kashmir will continue. It would not be naïve to say that Syed Ali Geelani has succeeded in transferring Kashmir movement in to its younger generation making it immortal.
In the wake of post 2008 massive uprisings in IIOJK, Syed Ali Geelani emerged as prominent face of Kashmir’s resistance movement. In 2009, he launched “demilitarization movement”. In 2016, after martyrdom of Burhan Wani at the hands of Indian security forces, Geelani Sahab along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik organized protests against the brutal action of Indian occupation Forces.
A Srinagar-based Journalist Shah Abbas said Geelani was trying to convince the public that India wanted to bring demographic change in Kashmir for decades. “After India’s 5 August unilateral move… he stands vindicated”. After the Indian government revoked Articles 370 and 35 A from its Constitution, Syed Geelani remained consistent with the struggle prior to revocation of special status. He was put to house arrest after 5 Aug 2019 that he remained till his death on 1 September 2021. Not to mention that Indian government fearful of his stature denied proper burial of great Kashmiri leader and was internationally condemned for this brutal and inhuman act.
Indian authorities are content that daily demonstrations and political activities have come to an end. Ali Gilani’s dead body was snatched from his family and unceremoniously buried in the dark, even against his will. Another resistance leader, Ashraf Sehrai, passed away mysteriously. Almost all major pro-Azadi political leaders were either jailed or put under house arrest. Fifty-six-year-old freedom leader Yasin Malik was sentenced to life imprisonment a few weeks ago. Shabbir Ahmad Shah, Asiya Andrabi, Naeem Khan and several other popular leaders have been persecuted in politically motivated and largely fabricated cases. The list is endless. These people are not criminals by any standard and deserve fair and humane treatment.
India has been committing Human Rights violations in IIOJK since its illegal occupation. About 471 known torture camps, one after every 5 kms, have been identified where 99% of detainees are tortured. While the occupation authorities hold curfews on religious occasions, India right now is bringing radical change in IIOJK’s demographic composition. Nearly 4.2 million non-native Indians, the majority of them Hindus, have been illegally domiciled in the IIOJK. This illegal transfer of population in the disputed territory is a breach of human rights instruments and international law.
In the words of Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board, “It is not too late for the Government of India to take meaningful steps towards creating an inclusive and safe society instead of peddling a false notion of normalcy in the region and encouraging the perpetration of more abuses. Until then, the Indian government’s historical failure to protect the people of Kashmir will keep feeding into this never-ending cycle of abuses and impunity”.
It is for the international community to play its role in facilitating a just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people. Or else the reality in the words of late Syed Ali Geelani, “We (People of IIOJK) will never tire of struggling for our history, for our future, our freedom. We will not forgive. We will not forget”.
Kashmir struggle lives on and with it always lives the resistance leader Syed Ali Gillani sahib!!
Note: The writer is a freelancer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org