Indian authorities impose harsh clampdown after Geelani – an icon of disputed Kashmir's resistance against Indian rule and a leader who became emblem of region's defiance against New Delhi – died late on Wednesday.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani Geelani, an uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir, had been under house arrest for the past 11 years.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani Geelani, an uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir, had been under house arrest for the past 11 years. (AFP)

Kashmiri pro-freedom icon Syed Ali Geelani has been buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony as Indian authorities imposed a harsh lockdown across the troubled Himalayan region.

The uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in Kashmir died late on Wednesday at the age of 92 following a long illness, and thousands of police personnel were deployed soon after to try and prevent unrest in the disputed territory.

Geelani was buried at 4:30 am on Thursday at a cemetery near his home in the main city of Srinagar, a police source told AFP news agency. 

Geelani, the most outspoken critic of India who spent some 15 years in jail or under house arrest, had wanted to be buried at the Martyrs Cemetery in Srinagar. But Indian authorities rejected that request.

"At about 3:00 am, police barged inside our home and took our father's body," one of his sons, Naseem Geelani, told AFP.

"We insisted that we would perform his funeral after morning prayers and bury him according to his wish at the Martyrs Cemetery."

Police officers "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."

"We basically took control of the arrangements," a police official said.

Residents said authorities acted out of fear of mass mourning turning into massive civil unrest.

"Troops are everywhere, there are barbed wire blockades on every main road," said one.

READ MORE: Geelani leaves a legacy of unflinching commitment to the Kashmir cause

Uncompromising campaigner

After the death became known, announcements were made from loudspeakers of the main mosque near Geelani's residence asking people to march towards the house.

Police appealed for people not to go out on the street.

Geelani, an uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, had been in jail and under house arrest for the past 15 years. 

He had been ill for several months.

READ MORE: Top Kashmiri leader asks Pakistan to withdraw from peace pacts with India

Pakistan announces day of mourning

Geelani had been a thorn in India's side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory's merger with Pakistan. 

He also pursued his pro-freedom calls as a member of the Kashmir assembly.

Over the years, he had repeatedly said no to any talks with New Delhi, asserting that "India can't be trusted unless it calls Kashmir a disputed territory, demilitarises the region and releases political prisoners for a meaningful dialogue."

As news of Geelani's death spread, condolences poured in from Pakistan. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a day of mourning and said that Pakistani flag will fly at half mast in a show of respect to the Kashmiri leader. 

Under Khan, Geelani was in 2020 awarded the "Nishan-e-Pakistan," Pakistan's highest civilian honor, an award earlier received by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and Queen Elizabeth II.

"We in Pakistan salute his courageous struggle & remember his words: "Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humara hai (We are Pakistani and Pakistani is ours)," Khan said in a tweet.

Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Kashmir, said on Twitter: "We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness and standing by his beliefs."

A sainted figure in Kashmir

The veteran politician was jailed for nearly 11 years after 1962 and often restricted to his home after that.

Since his youth Geelani had been a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest political-religious organisation in Indian Kashmir that was banned by the Hindu nationalist government in 2019.

Geelani was a staunch critic of the sporadic but failed attempts at dialogue between India and Pakistan — both nuclear armed — who fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir and came close to a fourth one in 2016.

A sainted figure in Kashmir, Geelani's popularity catapulted to near reverence after 2008, when the region witnessed mass civil uprisings and he emerged as a prominent resistance leader among the new generation of Kashmiris. 

In the years that followed, hundreds of youths were killed by Indian forces in street protests.

As civilian defiance against Indian rule picked up, Geelani, along with two other top anti-India politicians, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who remain under detention, formed "Joint Resistance Leadership" in 2016. 

The group challenged India's sovereignty over Kashmir and sought to give direction to people’s anger.

During Kashmir's recent years of civilian protests, the slogan "Na Jhukne Wala Geelani! Na Bikne Wala, Geelani! (Geelani, the one who doesn't bow and can't be bought!)" became almost a war cry on the streets. 

He was widely venerated by Kashmiris, who gave him a monicker of "Bub," which means "the father."

"While his death has come from natural causes, we must remember the immense physical and psychological toll that his continuous detention and torture took on his health," said Stand With Kashmir, a US-based Kashmiri diaspora-led international solidarity group.

"Without doubt, Geelani was emblematic of our defiance of India that began in 1990," said Siddiq Wahid, historian and former vice chancellor of a Kashmir university. 

"That is his legacy."

Annexation of Kashmir

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

Kashmir has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent divided the territory between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Kashmir's fury at Indian rule has long been seething. After a series of political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiri activists launched a full-blown armed revolt against Indian rule in 1989.

India describes the armed rebellion as Islamabad’s proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism. Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle and support the rebel goal that the territory be united, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India has been struggling to bring normal life back to Kashmir after it annexed the region and divided it into two centrally controlled territories in August 2019.

A security clampdown imposed at the time saw mobile internet services cut for more than a year. Scores of political leaders were detained and many are still not free.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the move was intended to bring peace and prosperity to Kashmir.

Pro-freedom leaders said it was to punish the Muslim population and change Kashmir's Muslim demographics. 

READ MORE: Why Geelani, the unrelenting symbol of Kashmiri resistance, stepped down

Source: TRTWorld and agencies