Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir and the Democracy of the Gunmen

Dheeraj DeeKay
9 min readSep 12, 2021
Geelani addressing a rally in Sopore 2012. In Kashmir, even the tallest political leaders have eventually fallen from grace, after compromising on the demand for autonomy. Geelani’s unflinching stance won him a steady mass following across the region, across generations.
Image and caption courtesy of Caravan Magazine

You have to read stories from Kashmir. We are every day sold this lie by our media and govt that Kashmir is peaceful, its people are happy but not once do we let them speak on camera and voice their opinions. We recently snatched their statehood from them, we divided their state into three parts, we jailed their political leaders and their journalists for no particular crime of theirs. We jailed them simply on the assumption that they might commit crimes. This was imperialism, the kind we fought against when the British were the imperialist forces. And I say we because we voted this govt to power, it’s we who find exalted meaning in a piece of cloth, more meaning than lives of thousands of humans we are going to affect, we find collective meaning in a piece of land than people living on it for generations, even long before this piece of land got its present name and form.

We have never let these people speak out and inform us of what they want. Each time they sneak somehow and find a way to speak out, we rush with our pellet guns, army tanks, gunmen and barbed wires to silence them. Then our media overwhelms us with boys throwing stones. But they don’t show who they are throwing stones at. It is at gunmen who they see as aliens on their lands. Would you not object to gunmen if they were to invite themselves into your house and order their wills on you? Occasionally, also violate the bodies of people you know and love? Or make them disappear. I guess you will object to these excesses and violence. I guess you will want no such gunmen in your house. I will then call you a separatist because you’re not playing along with my whims. That’s what we are doing with Kashmiris. We think we are cultured, more sophisticated and they are savages who need to be cultured just like the British did with their colonies. But the truth of the matter is, Kashmiris are better than us. They fare better on most human indexes, even better than the national average and our most well to do states (or thought to be well to do’s). Jammu and Kashmir ranked third out of 22 States in terms of life expectancy. Kerala is at the top and UP at the bottom. It is eighth in terms of poverty rate, 10th in terms of infant mortality rate. The Human Development Index is a collective index of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators. Jammu and Kashmir’s Human Development Index stands at 0.68, higher than even States like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Indians are sold this lie that Kashmir is so bad and underdeveloped that its people need saving by New Delhi which is pure deceit to morph and cover the colonist thought and Hindu Nationalist bigotry. Moreover, if Indians looked at Kashmir and probably learnt few things, and emulated them in their states, maybe their lives will turn better.

Some history from New York Times
At the time of the partition, the British agreed to divide their former colony into two countries: Pakistan, with a Muslim majority, and India, with a Hindu majority. Both nations covet Kashmir, which is Muslim majority, and occupy portions of it with military forces.
For decades, an uneasy stalemate has prevailed, broken by occasional military incursions, terrorist attacks and police crackdowns. But on Monday, the Indian government decided to permanently incorporate the territory it controls into the rest of India.
The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a 70-year-old provision that had given autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the Hindu-majority area of Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.
The government also introduced a bill to strip the region of statehood and divide it into two parts, both under direct control of the central government.

Article 370 was added to the Indian constitution shortly after the partition of British India to give autonomy to the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir
Article 370 says that it can only be abrogated with the consent of the legislative body that drafted the state constitution. That body dissolved itself in 1957, and India’s Supreme Court ruled last year that Article 370 is therefore a permanent part of the constitution.

Meaning, Indian government not just walked over a constitutional promise but also went against the wisdom of the highest court of the land. How is that not imperialistic?

Sedition cases were filed against most of our freedom fighters by the then govt of Great Britain since our freedom fighters wanted to overthrow the empire’s hold over the subcontinent. All of them were separatists in their own right since they wanted to cut and declare themselves independent from the British crown. They were all dissenters who did not agree with the version of state and boundary of what was then the British empire. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who died on September 1st, was our separatist leader. He was Kashmir’s tallest pro-freedom leader. He did not agree with New Delhi’s version of the truth. He did not believe in our idea of a nation. And he dissented. For many years, he even participated in our democracy. He was elected as an MLA for three terms by Kashmiris which means there were enough Indian citizens who believed in his version of the truth. SAS Geelani ‘was elected again in the 1987 assembly election in Kashmir, which the Indian government was accused of rigging and which triggered an armed militancy in the region. As the militancy grew, Geelani resigned his seat, in 1989. He became opposed to any participation in Indian democracy, believing it to be a sham — a stand he maintained until his death.’ Geelani was 18 when the partition took place. In the early days of the republic, he was an admirer of the secular Indian republic. His views changed drastically over the years to writing ‘India Go Back’ on his wall in recent years. It isn’t just Geelani who revolted against New Delhi’s version, it is so many Indian citizens who stood by him that disagreed with the ways and beliefs of New Delhi. He was right or wrong, we can have our opinions but in the end, it was his version of the truth and he fought as long as he lived for his truth, and so many Kashmiris rallied behind him. And what did he desire? Geelani all his life advocated for the Kashmiri peoples’ right to self-determination; his personal choice being Pakistan in whose flag his body was wrapped as per his last wishes. “My wish would be to merge with Pakistan but if people Kashmir choose Independent Kashmir, I would be happy. But if people choose India, I would prefer to leave Kashmir,” Shahid Tantray wrote in Caravan. SAS Geelani snubbed leaders of both nations when it came to his stance for Kashmiri self-determination. He never compromised on that. He did not once take arms but for more than a decade now, we kept him confined to his house, we converted his house into a prison, we confined him to sparse movements and interactions using arms, army tanks, gunmen and barbed wires. On the night of his death, ‘seven hundred personnel had been deployed to only 500 square meters in Hyderpora, around Geelani’s home.’ His relatives weren’t allowed to his house, to see him one last time, to pay their respects, journalists were not allowed to cover the sham that was his forced burial by New Delhi’s gunmen. These relatives and journalists did not have guns on them, they were unarmed in contrast to the gunmen on New Delhi’s payroll. “Meanwhile, angered at having been kept from Geelani’s funeral and with the imposed restrictions, protestors gathered in various areas in the city, such as in downtown Srinagar in the Nawa Bazaar area in old Srinagar. Some pelted stones. The security forces fired teargas shells and pellet guns at the protesting civilians. On the evening of 3 September, a teenager sustained pellet injuries across his face and body after security forces opened fire at protestors in downtown Srinagar.” Stones against teargas and pellet guns. And why are they picking stones? After what? Who is making them pick stones? What sort of desperation and frustration must it be that they pick stones knowing fully well that they are picking stones against a group of men with arms, arms they know they will fire, men with pellet guns they know have blinded their people in the past, guns that might now blind and mutilate them? Just pause and think.

A little after midnight on the intervening night of 1 and 2 September, security forces gathered locals at a graveyard in Hyderpora, a few minutes from Geelani’s home, to dig a grave for him. Geelani’s son Naseem said that the police forcefully buried Geelani here, against his final wishes. He said the police broke down the door of Geelani’s home and forced the family to hand over the body. The police later denied forcibly burying him.
Image and caption courtesy of Caravan Magazine

We were least interested in dialogue, talks and democratic means. When and where it mattered most, we abandoned democratic means for colonist muscle and firepower. Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and his father and former Union Minister Farooq Abdullah have consistently blamed Geelani for bloodshed and militancy in Kashmir, these two leaders have been voices of New Delhi in Jammu & Kashmir and yet recently when the time came, Indian govt even arrested those that supported New Delhi in thick and thin including these two leaders. This is true not just of Kashmir but also of Manipur and the north-east and red regions of India wherever people have disagreed with New Delhi’s version of the truth, we have sent gunmen and modern firepower to deal with dissenters. No dialogue. Irom Sharmila was on fast for sixteen years. Did we engage with her? No. And what was she asking? For removal of gunmen from her homeland, removal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 that applies to just the seven states and grants security forces the power to search properties without a warrant, and to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is acting against the state. A similar law exists in J&K too. And when did she start protesting? After the 2 November 2000 Malom Massacre in which ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop by gunmen on New Delhi’s payroll. The victims included Leisangbam Ibetombi, a 62-year-old woman, and 18-year-old Sinam Chandramani, a 1998 National Bravery Award winner. We just don’t engage with dissenters. Look at how we are dealing with protesting farmers who are not even an hour’s distance from Prime Minister’s residence. Forget Prime Minister, not even his cabinet minister has gone and spoken with farmers so far. And they have been in Delhi since September last year. That is New Delhi’s commitment to democracy and engagement with its citizens who disagree with its version of the truth. And most of us do not care because so far our beliefs have always been in sync with New Delhi. We dilly-dally sometimes and spank New Delhi with our comments but when it matters, we cover ourselves in the glorified piece of cloth called tricolour and start parroting the words that are certain to please the bosses in New Delhi.

Many misunderstand democracy as the government of all the people it governs, it isn’t; democracy is a rule by the majority that derives its legitimacy and is tested on the basis of how it treats its minority. And that test, we are increasingly failing each passing day.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani being disallowed from moving out of his home in Srinagar. Photograph by Umer Asif from Kashmir Walla

Read More:

The night that Kashmir’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani died

Final moments of Geelani: a broken door, resisting family, and chaos

2010 profile of SAS Geelani — The Man Who Says No To New Delhi



Dheeraj DeeKay

I Listen. I Speak. I Write. I Do. And That’s Why I Am. Storyteller at large! Oh yeah, also a Programmer, Full Stack Developer when at desk.