Oppression does not last
These were the words in the Kashmiri language Syed Ali Gilani said to his journalist granddaughter Ruwa Shah, who narrated her story on Aljazeera news.
Mr Geelani was born on September 29, 1929 in a village called Zurimanj in Bandipur tehsil, now known as Sopore tehsil in Baramulla district. The village was along the Wuler lake and he later wrote his autobiography titled ‘Wuler Kinaray’. His father was allegedly a labourer in the canal and irrigation department. After his initial education he travelled to Lahore, the vibrant city, for further studies. One account places his stay in Lahore at the madrassa in the iconic Masjid Wazir Khan in Lahore. He returned to Srinagar after completing his education in theology, Islamic jurisprudence, Persian and English to join as a teacher in a public school initially and later at an intermediate college. During the ‘Quit Kashmir’ Movement of 1946 he came into contact with Moulana Sayed Masoodi, a top leader of the pro India National Conference of Kashmir.
Mr Masoodi took a liking to the young Geelani and appointed him as a reporter for the newspaper “Khidmat”. He also met Maulana Saadudin, then chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Jammu and Kashmir in 1949, and finally joined the jamaat formally in 1952 to continue till 2003. Syed Ali Geelani quit government service in 1959 to devote full time to his work as a political activist and was appointed chief of Kupwara and Baramulla district by the party. His continued commitment to the cause of Kashmir and Islam earned him the position of secretary general of the Jammu and Kashmir Jamaat-i-Islami.
Syed Ali Geelani was first arrested in 1962 on charges of raising the Kashmir issue, and subsequently was incarcerated for almost 27 years on and off. It was in Ranchi jail where he was diagnosed with renal cancer in 2003 and this was later operated to remove one kidney. Since 2008 he had been constantly under house arrest. Mr Geelani was elected to the constituent assembly in 1972, 1977 and later in 1987. His struggle for the right of self determination of the Kashmiris was undeterred by arrests and political victimisation by the Indian government. On his first day of the assembly session, he walked out for not being allowed to speak in Urdu, the state’s official language. In the 1987 polls, which were allegedly rigged, his votes were counted twice to “make him lose” but he still came out as a winner. Following this Geelani, along with three others were jailed when the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed in 1992 to bring almost 30 pro freedom parties under one umbrella, Geelani represented Jamaat-i-Islami.
On November 29, 2010 Mr Geelani, Arundhati Roy and Varavara Rao were charged with sedition under 6 different acts. This was the result of a seminar they conducted in New Delhi titled, ‘Azadi—The Only Way’ on October 21, 2010. August 2004 saw Mr Geelani and his associate Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai launch the ‘Tehrik I Huriyat’. Tehreek-e-Hurriyat fulfilled the vacuum created in resistance politics as the party spread across Kashmir with its dedicated workers who spread literature written by Geelani.
Geelani’s uncompromising stance boosted his popularity graph among the youth especially and his support extended all over state. His defined goal of freedom was clear in his speeches which was missing in other leaders. Geelani emerged a prominent face when Kashmiris held mass civil uprisings post 2008. It was the first time when both factions of the APHC, civil society and business organizations led a movement when large tracts were transferred to a Hindu shrine board. The next year, he launched the “demilitarisation movement” and in 2010, when three civilians were killed in a fake encounter along the LoC in Machil area of Kupwara district, a mass uprising was triggered. Geelani was at the forefront. The turn in the situation came in 2016 after the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani at the hands of Indian security forces.
Geelani, along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, issued week-long calendars asking people to hold protests. Aug. 5, 2019, saw the Indian government revoke Article 370 and other related provisions from its Constitution, scrapping the country’s only Muslim-majority state with its autonomy. It was also split into two federally administered territories. He was a keen reader and a progressive man who wrote over 30 books; on his jail terms, his ideology, and Iqbal’s vision of Islam and Muslims, translated into Urdu from Persian. Geelani sahib has had a towering impact on the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.