Kashmir separatist leader buried in predawn ceremony

SRINAGAR (India) • Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was buried in a tightly controlled predawn ceremony yesterday as the Indian authorities imposed a lockdown across the disputed Himalayan region.

The uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in Kashmir died late on Wednesday at the age of 92 after a long illness.

Wary of his influence across the Kashmir Valley, security forces were quickly deployed, mobile Internet and phone connections were cut and residents were told to stay in their homes.

Paramilitary units and troops manned barricades throughout the day and the curfew was expected to be extended until after the traditional family mourning ceremonies on Sunday.

Mr Geelani's family said they were not allowed to attend the burial at 4.30am at a cemetery near his home in the city of Srinagar.

Mr Geelani, who had spent much of the last five decades in jail or under house arrest, had wanted to be buried at the Martyrs Cemetery in Srinagar along with other Kashmiri separatists. But the authorities rejected the request, a police source said.

"At about 3am, police barged into our home and took our father's body," one of his sons, Mr Naseem Geelani, said. "We insisted that we would perform his funeral after morning prayers and bury him according to his wish at the Martyrs Cemetery."

Police "snatched my father's body and did not allow anyone from our family to participate in the burial", the son added. "We heard later that police undertook washing rituals for my father's body and had him buried."

The police source acknowledged that security forces "took control of the arrangements".

The official said the family was given choices but did not respond.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was among the first to pay tribute to Mr Geelani, who had been under house arrest for most of the past 11 years and been ill for several months with heart and kidney problems.

Mr Geelani had been a thorn in India's side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the Muslim-majority territory's merger with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. He was jailed for nearly 10 years after 1962, and after that, was often restricted to his home.

Since his youth, Mr Geelani had been a member of Jamaat-i-Islami, the territory's largest political-religious organisation, which was banned by India's Hindu nationalist government in 2019. He rejected any direct talks with the New Delhi government until it "accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory".

All Indian governments since independence in 1947 have insisted on the country's sovereignty over all of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and came close to another in 2016.

Mr Geelani's uncompromising stance also had critics in Kashmir. Former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said on Twitter: "We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness and standing by his beliefs."

Kashmir is one of the world's most militarised zones, with 500,000 Indian security forces deployed in the region.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died since an insurgency erupted in 1989.

The government cancelled the region's semi-autonomous status in August 2019 and divided it into two centrally controlled territories, sparking new anger in the region.

A security clampdown imposed at the time saw Internet services cut for more than a year, while scores of political leaders were detained.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2021, with the headline 'Kashmir separatist leader buried in predawn ceremony'. Subscribe