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Final moments of Syed Ali Geelani: a broken door, resisting family, and chaos
Note: This news item is an edited version of a report of Fahad Shah published in Kashmirwala, Srinagar.
On the evening of 1 September, a helper held Geelani’s legs and massaged the 92-year-old man as per his daily routine. Naseem, his younger son who spent his day at work, had reached the residence by 9 pm. He sat by his father, who asked him about his children and the family’s well being.
“His condition was fine, thanks to Allah,” Naseem recalled. “It wasn’t like that he was very unwell and we should have stayed at home.” Naseem held his father’s hand and Geelani firmly held his hand. As Naseem asked him about his health, Geelani replied: “I’m fine, Alhamdulilah.”
Soon, Naseem left for the prayers. After he returned, the helper rushed to Naseem: “Please come quickly, I see something is not fine.”Geelani then suddenly suffered a jerk from shock, Naseem recalled.
By 9:55 pm, Naseem and other family members put Geelani on his bed and put him on oxygen concentrator. “We tried to check his vitals on an oximeter, which didn’t show any reading … not even the pulse,” he said. Then, from years long practice, Geelani’s medical assistant Omar found that the condition “wasn’t good”.
Naseem rushed to call his younger brother, Naeem, and brother-in-law, who arrived quickly. “We were reciting Kalima Shahadat. I was reciting loudly to him,” Naseem told The Kashmir Walla, “and I could see his lips moving. He was murmuring.”
As the clock struck 10 pm on 1 September 2021, Geelani suffered two more shocks and breathed his last. Inna Lillahi wa inna Elaihi Rajioon.
Before the family could grieve, Naseem noticed unusual movement outside his residence. The government forces stationed at his home, who have confined the revered leader to house detention for most of the last decade, “also got to know and they informed their higher officials,” said Naseem.
Naseem frantically telephoned a local hospital that immediately sent an ECG team. Geelani was declared dead. The Director of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Kashmir’s premier hospital, also arrived, “who was informed by the authorites”.
Several calls were made to the family members across Kashmir, urging them to rush to Srinagar. “Many of them tried to come but were stopped at checkpoints. The police weren’t allowing them,” Naseem told The Kashmir Walla.
By now, the news was out in Kashmir. The photographs of the body of “Bab”, or “father” as he came to know among people in Kashmir, were circulated on social media. The government forces rushed to barricade the valley; personnel were deployed on streets, sealing all routes to Hyderpora, where Geelani lived for decades. Press was disallowed. Communications were snapped. And a deafening silence took over Kashmir, yet again.
The long night
In one of the last messages to people, his family said, Geelani wished to be buried next to “martyrs of Kashmir” in Eidgah — next to the hundreds of civilians killed by the government forces in street protests and the militants.The task at hand for the governor’s administration was to avoid the crowd. Supervized directly by New Delhi, the local actors zeroed down on a patch of land. Nobody except a few officers, who were already at his residence, knew the burial spot.
Naseem left to pick his brother’s and own children from their other house nearby. “The police had already put concertina wires in the lane [which leads to Geelani’s house],” Naseem said, recalling the beginning of a long night. “We told them we are his family and they let one car inside.”
The police officers went into the room, where Geelani’s body was kept. Among them was Kashmir police’s chief, Vijay Kumar also who told Geelani’s son that “burial should happen sooner as we have security concerns”.
But the family wanted the relatives to arrive. Naseem told the police’s chief that the family would rather wait till 8-9 am. “There won’t be any issue but at least our relatives can see his face. I told him that restrictions have already been imposed and it will be only our relatives and neighbours,” Naseem recalled saying to Kumar. “No other people can come.”
“The police chief told me that they do not want to create any controversy and there is no bloodshed to which I told him how will there be a bloodshed?”. We are peaceful people while arms are with you, [then] how will we create bloodshed? We will never wish this to happen. We want to do it peacefully and we will cooperate but give us time.”
“The IGP said let us see how much time it will take you. However, an SSP rank officer, who was with him, was more aggressive. He told me to do it within an hour. We asked how was it is possible to do it in an hour?” Naeem recalled.
“And you telling us to bury him in darkness, God forbid, was he a bad person that we should bury him during the darkness of night,” Naeem said he told the police. “We will do it in daylight.”
Inside his home, Geelani’s cold body, wrapped in Pakistan’s flag, as he was staunchly pro-Pakistan and once raised a prominent slogan in a mass rally: “We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is ours”. His body was surrounded by a few relatives, while men, women and children wailed. Some time later, other officers came and insisted to bring the body for burial.
Naseem demanded to speak with higher officers, again. By now, he said, the paramilitary forces were in the courtyard of the house and policemen came into the room, where the body was kept.
Around 3 am, the police came and began to push the door of the room while our family resisted against the police pressure but sooner the clutches of the door broke and it was wide open. They pushed themselves inside with reinforced police contingent and began picking the body, we continued to resist but the forces misbehaved with our women. Naseem’s elder brother, who suffers from heart problems, broke down and told the police, “Either you let us do it ourselves or else go: do whatever you have by using your force.”
At 3:10 am, the police then forcibly snatched and took away Geelani’s body from the room. Both the brothers told The Kashmir Walla that “nobody from the family went out after the body was snatched.We didn’t go out then — they did it themselves. They had already dug the grave, brought a coffin, bathing plank, and shroud.” We got to know the next morning that he was buried in Hyderpora”.