SYED Ali Geelani’s death removes from the scene one of Kashmir’s most respected and tenacious freedom fighters, one who suffered decades of persecution but didn’t compromise on his commitment to Kashmir’s liberty. Controversial but universally respected for the refinement of his personality and dedication to his mission, Geelani was anathema to India because of the clarity of his views. He didn’t equivocate nor did he temporise and made his views clear when he declared publicly on behalf of the people of Kashmir: “We are Pakistanis.”
He was ill and wanted to go abroad for medical treatment, but at least once the Indian government denied him a passport because in the form he left the space for nationality blank since he didn’t believe Kashmiris were Indian. The US, too, didn’t give him a visa for medical treatment. His grit annoyed not only India, which accused him of sedition, confiscated his money and kept him incarcerated for the last several years; even some Kashmiri leaders opposed what they thought was Geelani’s hard line.
However, the paladin that he was, Geelani wasn’t ambiguous about his calling. The Kashmiris, he believed, should not only throw off the Indian yoke, their state must be part of Pakistan. He spurned every move by the occupying power for talks and insisted New Delhi must first admit Kashmir to be a disputed territory and agree to a plebiscite as laid down in various UN resolutions.
It would be self-delusionary for India to believe that Geelani’s death will put an end to the struggle by the people of Kashmir for freedom. The criminal decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2019 to alter the status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir has boomeranged on the Hindutva government and served to steel the Kashmiri people. Geelani had repeatedly declared he was not India’s enemy, that Pakistan and India should have friendly relations but that was not possible without solving the Kashmir issue — a cry in the wilderness given the BJP government’s hubris.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2021