NEW DELHI: Indian authorities locked down the Kashmir Valley and placed the region under a near-total communications blackout on Thursday after the death of iconic pro-independence leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Geelani, who died on Wednesday at the age of 92, had been a thorn in India’s side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the merger with Pakistan of the part of Kashmiri territory administered by India.
The veteran politician and former chief of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference was jailed for nearly 10 years starting in 1962 and was often restricted to his home in Srinagar after that.
“My father expired at 10 p.m. and then restrictions were imposed,” Geelani’s son, Naseem Geelani, told Arab News.
The family and supporters of the Kashmiri resistance icon had planned to bury him at the main Martyrs’ Cemetery in Srinagar, but his body was forcibly taken away by security forces.
“We have many relatives in different parts of Kashmir and I told the security forces to let us wait until morning for the burial, but they applied force and said the burial had to be done as soon as possible,” Geelani’s son said.
“They snatched the body, and when women resisted, they misbehaved and forcefully took the body at 3:13 in the morning.”
The family was also barred from the funeral, as Geelani was buried by police at a local graveyard in Hyderpora area, some 300 meters from his home.
“It is really very sad,” his son said. “Since everything was already shut, a decent burial could have been organized in the presence of family and friends. Last rites are important from religious points of view.”
Security forces came into action immediately and started barricading Srinagar — the main city of Kashmir — after the news of Geelani’s death emerged on Wednesday night and local mosques told people to come to the streets to offer their final respect.
Kashmir Police Inspector General Vijay Kumar told the media on Wednesday night restrictions would be imposed across Kashmir and the internet “will also be snapped and nobody will be allowed to disrupt peace.”
Officials would not comment on how long the restrictions will be in place.
To many in Kashmir, the situation is reminiscent of the “black day” of Aug. 5, 2019, when New Delhi abolished Article 370 of the Constitution, ending Kashmir’s autonomy. For months, the region’s entire population was placed under lockdown and a communication blackout amid a crackdown on political activity. Hundreds of political leaders were also arrested.
“Thursday almost felt like Aug. 5, 2019, when Kashmiris were made prisoners in their own homes for months,” Srinagar resident Aijaz Ahmad told Arab News.
Geelani was an icon of Kashmiri resistance and undisputed leader of the APHC, which is the umbrella organization of most pro-independence Kashmiri groups.
“In the past three decades, he has emerged as a symbol of resistance,” Srinagar-based political and international affairs expert Siddiq Wahid told Arab News.
He said Geelani’s legacy would continue and the political space he had created would not die with his passing. The hasty burial showed a “sense of insecurity on the part of the government,” Wahid said.
“It is not possible to crush the sentiments of the people and the sentiment is what it is. When the sentiment is not allowed to be displayed, you build pressure where the air has nowhere to go and I think that is the danger of it.”
Widespread anger was felt as Indian authorities blocked people from paying their last respect to Geelani, an icon of defiance against India.
“There is a lot of anger among the people and the denial of political space to express their political views further alienates people in the valley,” Srinagar-based journalist and political analyst Altaf Hussain told Arab News.
“Geelani was, at present, the tallest leader of Kashmir.”