Indian Kashmir separatist leader buried in night-time funeral

Srinagar (India) (AFP) –


Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony as Indian authorities imposed a lockdown across the troubled Himalayan region.

The uncompromising campaigner against Indian rule in Kashmir died 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 Thursday at a cemetery near his home in the main city of Srinagar, a police source told AFP. Only a small number of his relatives were present, including two of his sons, the source added.

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

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

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

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

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.

But police said no one in the Kashmir Valley would be allowed to leave their homes.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was among the first to pay tribute to Geelani, tweeting that he was "deeply saddened" at the death of the "Kashmiri freedom fighter" who had been under house arrest for most of the past 11 years.

Geelani had been ill for several months with heart and kidney problems.

Khan said that Geelani had "struggled all his life for his people and their right to self-determination. He suffered incarceration and torture by the occupying Indian state but remained resolute."

He declared a day of national mourning in Pakistan.

- Separatist thorn -

Geelani had been a thorn in India's side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory's merger with Pakistan, which controls its own section of Kashmir.

He also pursued his separatist calls as a member of the Kashmir assembly.

Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Geelani, shown here in 2012, had spent much of his life either in jail or under house arrest
Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Geelani, shown here in 2012, had spent much of his life either in jail or under house arrest Tauseef MUSTAFA AFP/File

The veteran politician was jailed for nearly 10 years after 1962 and was often restricted to his home after that.

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

He rejected any notion of direct talks with the New Delhi government unless it formally "accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory" and stopped describing the region as an "integral part of India".

Indian governments of all political colours have insisted on sovereignty over Kashmir.

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

His hardline stance also had critics in Kashmir.

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."

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

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

India has been struggling to bring normal life back to Kashmir after it cancelled the region's semi-autonomous status 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.

Separatist leaders said it was to punish the Muslim population.