Kashmir’s most prominent resistance leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s cold body, wrapped in Pakistan’s flag, lay unattended at his Srinagar residence. Locked inside a room, the family, including children, stood against the door, to protect his body from the pressing government forces’ personnel.
The family resisted, pushing their weight against the odds of armed policemen, but the door’s clutches broke and it was wide open. “They broke the door and pushed themselves inside. From the other door, more cops came in and they began picking the body,” said Naseem. “We continued to resist and there was highhandedness with women.”
At 3:10 am, in the early hours of 2 September, amid the chaos, the police “forcibly snatched and took away” Geelani’s body from the room. An ambulance was stationed outside the gate.
“The family had no preparations for the burial — the administration had managed everything,” said Naseem. “They had already dug the grave, brought a coffin, bathing plank, and shroud.” His elder brother, who suffers from heart ailments, broke down and told the police, “Either you let us do it or else go: do whatever you have by using the force.”
Then Kashmir’s staunchest anti-India voice and resistance leader, Geelani’s body was whisked away into the darkness – through a lane towards a main road, which was dotted by hundreds of the government forces’ personnel.
Moments before death
On the evening of 1 September, a helper held Geelani’s legs and massaged the 91-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, the staunchest anti-India and prominent resistance leader of Kashmir, suffered two more shocks and breathed his last.
Before the family could grieve, Naseem noticed unusual movement outside his residence. The government forces personnel 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 higher officials,” said Naseem.
Naseem fantrically 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 administration”.
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 word 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, who were laid to rest by a flood of people gathering to collectively mourn.
The task at hand for the governor’s administration was to avoid that. Overlooked directly by New Delhi, the administration zeroed down on a patch of land. Nobody except a few officers, who were already at his residence, knew the burial spot.
Since March 2020, the administration hasn’t given the body of the militants, including top commanders, after the killing to avoid large gatherings at the funerals. Neither the bodies of the civilians killed “in action”. Now, what was Geelani’s destiny?
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. Kashmir police’s chief, Vijay Kumar also arrived at his residence, as Naseem recalls. Standing in the courtyard, Kumar told “my brother [Naeem] that burial should happen sooner as we have security concerns,” Naseem said.
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.”
Naeem Geelani, Geelani’s elder son, a doctor by profession, was also in touch with the police officers. Naeem later told The Kashmir Walla that, to begin with, the police chief condoled his father’s death, a gesture he appreciates.
“The IGP [police chief] told me that they do not want to create any controversial issue and there is no bloodshed to which I told him how will there be bloodshed?” said Naeem. “We are innocent people and 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 it is possible to do it in an hour?” Naeem recalled.
“And you are telling us to bury him in darkness, God forbid was he a wrong person that we have to 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 reiterated to bring the body for burial.
Naseem demanded to speak with higher officers, again. By now, he said, the paramilitary forces personnel were in the courtyard of the house and policemen came into the room, where the body was kept.
“There was chaos in the room when they were pressuring to take away the body,” said Naseem. “We were resisting. A policeman was standing near the switchboard and was turning the lights of the room off. I told him why are you doing it, there are women also here,” said Naseem.
But it was darker outside the room; amid a void of information, the rumors and panic were fast spreading across Kashmir. Journalists, who were stopped a few hundred meters away from the residence, were aloof to the developments.
A broken door, lights out, and a managed funeral
Around 3 am, the policemen reattempted to enter the room, Naseem told The Kashmir Walla. As they forcibly pushed a door of the room, the family resisted pressing against the closed door.
The clutches broke and the door was wide open. “They pushed themselves inside … more cops came in and they began picking the body,” Naseem recalled. “We continued to resist and there was highhandedness with women.”
“After that we could not recognise who was [doing] what and who was hitting whom. There were women as well and we told them [forces] to switch on lights: ‘do you have no shame?’.” The light then returned.
In a video of the incident shared with The Kashmir Walla by a family member, Naeem is heard telling the police: “we cannot participate in this. Do whatever you want to do. You have power, you have authority, we have nothing.”
“May Allah punish you,” a woman told the armed personnel. “Inshallah!” another followed.
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 in separate interviews that nobody from the family went out after the body was snatched. “We didn’t go out then — they did it themselves,” said Naseem. “We got to know the next morning that he was buried in Hyderpora.”
Naeem believes that the government had planned everything about the burial of his father in advance. “They were doing mock drills for the last five years, and it intensified especially after 5 August 2019. They used to do it every month,” said Naeem. “The entire residential area is now surrounded by bunkers. They knew if something would happen that day [death of Geelani] people would come and they can control it from inside.”
The police later in the night issued a statement refuting all allegations of the family that the body was snatched. It said that the police, instead, facilitated the family members to take his body from home to the graveyard and also didn’t let miscreants misuse the situation.
Next morning, Naseem went to see the grave with other family members. “We met some people who had participated in the funeral,” said Naseem. One of them walked the brothers to the grave, now under a siege by the government forces. “He told us that except some locals, many people who participated in the funeral prayers were among them [police and administration].