India's refusal to provide a passport to Kashmiri independence leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani after he refused to identify himself as Indian has sparked a row between him and the Indian government.
Geelani, who has been under house arrest for most of the last five years, had wanted to see his ailing daughter in Saudi Arabia but admitted that he did not fill in parts of the passport application, including a question asking his nationality.
“I have left that space blank and have not answered the question of nationality. We live in an internationally-accepted disputed land, so I left the space blank,” Geelani told Anadolu Agency.
The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set the condition that Geelani must first apologise for his "politics and anti-Indian activities and call himself as an Indian."
“If he wants to apply for a passport, he will have to fill the form and declare he is Indian,” India’s defense minister Manohar Parrikar said at a conference in Delhi. “That will be the first round of victory ... All separatists should be made to apply for a passport.”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – which rules Jammu & Kashmir state in coalition with the BJP – had backed Geelani's application, in a move seen as an attempt to win the support of the Kashmiri public.
“I believe that no government can, on humanitarian grounds, deny a father the right to meet his daughter," PDP President Mehbooba Mufti had said Wednesday.
Geelani’s passport was frozen in 1981, immediately after he had returned from a trip to the United States.
Geelani was then allowed to perform Hajj, the Islamic religious pilgrimage, with a special travel document in 2006. He had then been granted a passport in 2007, for medical treatment in the U.S. but was refused a visa, reportedly for "anti-American statements about the Iraq War."
Another blank field in his passport application his biometric details, which he said he could not complete due to being held under house arrest, which prevented him from going to the passport office.
“I am not a free man; I am not being allowed to go to a mosque. How can I do the required formalities when I am under arrest in my house?” Geelani said.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in Indian-held Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far, most of them in Indian Armed force’s counter insurgency operations. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed regions.