Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Shah Geelani talks about his family background, hardships he faced to attain education and his journey from a north Kashmir hamlet to Srinagar. In an exclusive interview to Greater Kashmir Senior Editor Javaid Malik, Geelani reveals how he first became a reporter then a teacher and a politician.
Q. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD?
I was born in a small hamlet Khonus located on the border of Sopore and Bandipora in north Kashmir on 29, September 1929. I belong to a very humble background. My father used to work as a seasonal coolie and earn Rs 10 monthly. But during those days Rs 10 meant a lot. We had goats and hens in our home. Despite poverty we used to live a peaceful life. My father was uneducated but he wanted his children to get education. He sent my elder brother Syed Meerak Shah Geelani to a Maktaba (religious school) at Hardshiva village in Sopore run by late Syed Sonaullah Shah. My elder brother got religious education there. Shah Sahib was an expert of Arabic language. We were three brothers and two sisters. My parents lost their first son soon after he was born. Otherwise we would have been six.
Q. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR SCHOOLING DAYS?
I got my initial education at Botengo primary school. We had to walk up three to four kilometers to reach from our village to Botengo. Our teacher was Pandit Nitayanad. He was a noble soul used to teach us with love and affection. Students used to give him one kg rice and eggs as fee. Master Nitayanand despite being a Pandit used to teach us Deeniyat (Islamaiyat) and other books. He knew Urdu, Arabic, Persian and other languages. He was a very good teacher and used to love his students. Memories of old days are very sweet. No doubt there was lot of poverty but there was lot of love, affection and humility; people used to respect each other. There were no fights, no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and colour. I have spent my childhood in a very peaceful environment. We were so poor that we couldn’t afford to buy the books. We used to depend upon on the books of our classmates. I secured third position in Primary school. There was no Middle School or High School nearby our village. I had to join a High School in Sopore to pursue my further studies.
Q. ANY INCIDENT OF HIGH SCHOOL WHICH YOU STILL REMEMBER?
I got slapped twice when I was in my High School. Once I plucked a flower and I was punished. Second time I was slapped when I was in class VI. I was the monitor of my class. Our form teacher late Habibullah Wani of Nadihal Bandipora went to principal’s office to discuss some issue. When he returned there was lot of noise in the classroom. He became very angry and slapped me saying, “You are the monitor of the class. It was your responsibility to maintain discipline.” I still remember these two slaps. I used to get Rs 3 as scholarship in Sopore High School as I had secured third position in Primary school.
Q. WHERE DID YOU PURSUE YOUR HIGHER STUDIES?
My story is very heartrending. I have written about it in my autobiography Wular Kinarey. I had to cover 18 miles everyday to reach the school. I had to leave very early. My elder sister got married in Dooru and I started staying in her house so that I am able to reach the school on time. Till VIIth standard I pursued my studies from Sopore High School. In class VIIth incident took place. Late Muhammad Din Fok from Lahore visited one of their relatives at Sempora late Ghulam Muhammad Khadim, he was also from Lahore. Late Mubarak Shah, elder brother-in-law of my sister, used to work in the Nursery of Khadim Sahib. One day Shah Sahib took me along where I met Muhammad Din Fok. After meeting me, Fok Sahib told Shah Sahib that I am very sharp and he would take me along to Lahore and get me admitted in a good educational institute. He took me along but instead of sending me to some school he sent me to his elder daughter’s house at Muzang as a domestic help. I stayed there for one year and I just kept on weeping as I was in a shock. My brother-in-law, Abdul Aziz Shah was an employee of Women’s college Lahore. Even my elder brother got appointed in the same college and I returned to Sopore after both of them intervened. I took admission in Baba Yousuf School in Sopore but I couldn’t complete my education there. After sometime my elder brother Meerak Shah Sahib came home and took me along to Lahore. I again got chance to complete my studies in Lahore. First I tried to commit holy Quran to memory, but couldn’t do it fully. Then I got admission in Oriental Night College where I did my Adeeb-e-Alim. During daytime we used to get religious education and in night we used to attend the college. Most Kashmiri students used to go to Lahore to pursue their studies. It used to be the centre of education for Kashmiris. Hafizullah Shah, elder brother of the former DGP of JK Ghulam Hassan Shah, used to be in Lahore. I would stay with him there. He led the prayers in a Mohalla Geelania. I have stayed in a Masjid at Lal Kuan. In Lahore every Masjid those days was equipped to provide religious education to youth.
Q. WHEN YOU RETURNED FROM LAHORE DID YOU LOOK FOR A JOB?
Yes of course. Those days late Ghulam Ahmed Ashai was Inspector of schools. I would visit his office regularly. He provided me with a leave chance here and there. My uncle Syed Muhammad Yousuf Shah Geelani led prayers at Lam Reshipora near Bandipora. He is the only Imam in JK’s history who led the prayers at one place for 60-years. He was a very influential man. He took me to late Muhammad Anwar Khan. He (Khan) gave me a letter addressed to Moulana Masoodi, who was the general secretary of National Conference those days. He kept me with him at Mujahid Manzil in old city. Those days Moulana Masoodi used to look after Khidmat newspaper. He asked me to work as a reporter in Khidmat and it was my first full fledged job. In 1946 late Sheikh Sahib raised the slogan of “leave Kashmir” which led to government launching a crackdown on Mujahid Manzil and I had to return to Sopore.
Q. WHEN DID YOU RETURN TO SRINAGAR AGAIN?
Second time I returned to Mujhaid Manzil was in 1947. Moulana Masoodi had come to Handwara and from there he arrived at Watlab in Sopore. Moulana Masoodi was wounded as his arm was bandaged. Those days I was heading a team of labourers who were constructing the Watlab road. I heard that Moulana Masoodi had come to Watlab. I went to see him. One Army officer and late Ghulam Mohidin Sofi were accompanying him. When Moulana Masoodi was leaving I told him that I am jobless. He told me to come to Mujahid Manzil. I didn’t know how to reach Srinagar as there were no resources available with me to reach there. During winters many fishermen from Srinagar used to visit Wular for fishing. I requested the fishermen to take me along to Srinagar and they readily agreed. I reached Mujahid Manzil and saw Moulana Masoodi sitting in the lawn. He saw me and told me “you have come, ok stay back.” I stayed there for four years. I again pursued my studies. I enrolled myself in the University of Kashmir for the course of Adeeb-e-Fazil. In the first convocation of KU I got the degree of Adeeb-e-Fazil. After that I got the degree in Munshi Fazil, Urdu Honors and Persian Honors. I pursued my higher studies under the guidance of Moulana Masoodi.
Q. DID YOU GET A PERMANENT JOB AFTER GETTING THESE DEGREES?
Soon after I completed my studies, Moulana Masoodi told me to join Police Force but I told him that I am not interested in joining the belt force. Ghulam Rasool Danposh and Ghulam Hassan Shah, who later became DGP, also joined the Police Force during those days.
One day Moulana Masoodi called the then Inspector of Schools Syed Tayib Shah to Mujahid Manzil and told him to get me appointed as a teacher. I was appointed as teacher in Pather Masjid Primary School and I got the order in Mujahid Manzil. For one year I worked as teacher in Pather Masjid Primary School. After one year I was transferred to Rainawari High School. During those days Qari Saiffudin, who was associated with Jamaat-e-Islami, used to teach there. Through him I was introduced to Jamaat. From Rainawari High school I was transferred to Raghunath Mandir Middle School Kani Kadal. I stayed there for one year. I worked as a teacher in Srinagar for three years.
Q. YOU REVEALED THAT MOULANA MASOODI HELPED YOU COMPLETE YOUR STUDIES AND GET YOU A JOB. THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU JOIN NATIONAL CONFERENCE?
Moulana Masoodi never told me to join National Conference. He taught me and fulfilled my needs. He taught me like his son. When I was in Raghunath Mandir Middle school I had brought the books for FA and I wanted to pursue English Honours, but unfortunately Moulana Masoodi’s father underwent an eye surgery and he went to attend him. Many Jamaat activists used to come to Mujahid Manzil to meet me. Late Mohiuddin Sofi and other NC members complained to Moulana Masoodi that Mujahid Manzil has become a den of Pakistanis (smiles). After that Moulana Masoodi asked then Inspector Schools late Noorudin Sahib to transfer me to Bomai Middle School close to my native village. It was a big set back for me as I couldn’t pursue my further studies.
Q. WAS MOULANA MASOODI YOUR ROLE MODEL?
I was very much impressed and inspired by the personality of Moulana Masoodi, his honesty, his simple way of living. He was very intelligent, dedicated, and a perfect gentleman. The biggest quality he possessed was that he used to live a very simple life. He was well educated, great scholar and a teacher.
Q. AFTER BOMAI MIDDLE SCHOOL WHAT WAS YOUR NEXT DESTINATION?
I worked in Bomai Middle School for four months. During those days there was an Intermediate College in Sopore. Late Jalaluddin Mufti used to be principal of that college. He knew me as he used to come to Mujahid Manzil. A vacancy of Urdu and Persian teacher fell vacant in the college. Mufti Sahib recommended my name for the post and I was transferred to Intermediate College Sopore where I stayed for nearly six year. This period was very crucial for me as it gave me exposure. I used to address congregations in Masjids. During those days I was reading the literature of Jamaat-i-Islami and I used to convey it to my students in my lecturers. After six years I was transferred to Dangerpora High school.
Q. WHAT MADE YOU JOIN JAMAAT-I-ISLAMI?
I was inspired by Jamaat’s ideology and the principles of the party. I was made the basic member of Jamaat-e-Islami in 1952 when I was in Bomai. After I was transferred to Dangerpora I used to come to Sopore and address Friday congregations. Those days late Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad was heading the state. His local MLA late Abdul Gani Malik didn’t like my activities. My speeches about resolution of Kashmir issue and Islam made him uncomfortable. I was transferred to Nadihal Bandipora but I didn’t join my new place of posting. First I went on a long leave and then I resigned in 1959 and joined politics fully. When I was posted in Sopore I was made Amir-e- Halqa. After I joined Jamaat fully I was made Amir-e-Zilla of Kupwara and Baramulla. I was arrested for the first time on August 28, 1962. I remained behind bars for 13 months on the charges of raising Kashmir issue. In 1964 I was made general secretary of Jamaat.
Q. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT MOI-E-MUQADAS MOVEMENT?
Moi-e-Muqadas movement started on December 27, 1963. On that very day I was in Bandipora and I got a message there I rushed to Sopore as there was lot of tension in the town. People of minority community were shaken. The first thing I mentioned in my speech at Sopore was that we should follow the teachings of Hazrat Muhammad Prophet (SAW) and need to bear it in mind that we should not harm the minorities. It eased the tension in the town and provided confidence to members of the minority community.
Q. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR ENCOUNTERS WITH LATE SHEIKH MUHAMMAD ABDULLAH?
Late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah along with his friends had come to see habitation around Wular. I was very young those days. One of our relatives late Abdul Ahad Shah was wearing a Kashmiri cap but it was very dirty. He (Sheikh Sahab) told him if you don’t have soap you should still wash your cap. I still remember his words. Next time I saw him was in Mujahid Manzil. Muhammad Hussain Chisti told me that a vacancy has fallen vacant in the Press and I should approach him (Sheikh Sahib). As soon as he saw me he asked me “Do you know English” I told him no. He said, “Leave then.”
Q. ANY SUCH INCIDENT, WHEN YOU CONFRONTED SHEIKH ABDULLAH?
In 1979 we had held a conference of Jamaat at Gol Bagh in Baramulla and passed a resolution that Kashmir is a disputed region and people should be given their right to self determination. Next day there was a board meeting in Baramulla and Sheikh Sahib in his inaugural speech said that some people hold conferences on the name of religion and pass resolutions that Kashmir is disputed. I was sitting in front of him. Soon after he finished his speech I took the mike to present my point of view. Mubarak Shah stood up and said it’s a board meeting we are not here to discuss politics. Shariefuddin Shariq and Ghulam Rasool Bahar stood up to oppose me, but Sheikh Sahib showed his magnanimity and asked them to sit down and let me speak. I spoke for more than one hour and he listened to me very patiently.
Q. TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR STINT AS AN MLA?
I contested first elections in 1971. It was parliamentary election. I was nominated by Jamaat to contest elections from Baramulla. We were winning but lot of rigging took place and we lost. Those elections were held during G M Sadiq’s regime. I was first time elected to Assembly in 1972. After I was elected to Assembly I along with other Jamaat members staged a walkout on the very first day to protest against Governor not presenting his address in Urdu, the official language. We always used to oppose the bills brought to legalize liquor. On many occasions I was forcibly evicted from the Assembly.