Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a top separatist leader in Indian-administered Kashmir, has died at the age of 92 after a prolonged illness.
Geelani, who quit politics in June last year, died at his residence in the main city of Srinagar on Wednesday night.
He was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony on Thursday as Indian authorities imposed a lockdown across the Himalayan region. Only a small number of his relatives were present, including two of his sons, reports said.
A police official had told Al Jazeera on Wednesday night that only family members and a “few neighbours would be allowed to take part in the funeral”.
Troops deployed, restrictions imposed
Geelani headed a hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a separatist alliance that rejects Indian rule and demands a merger of Kashmir with Pakistan. He long rejected any dialogue with India over the future of the region.
After the region’s August 5, 2019 abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to Kashmir, Geelani was confined to his house due to his weak health.
His family said the elderly politician had been ailing for years and had been under house arrest for the last 12 years after leading several anti-India protests.
In the hours after his death was announced, large contingents of police and paramilitary troopers in riot gear were deployed outside Geelani’s home. Restrictions were imposed across the region and mobile internet services were down.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both in its entirety. Many Muslim Kashmiris support the goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Indian officials describe the Kashmir rebellion as Pakistan-sponsored “terrorism”. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict since the armed rebellion against Indian rule erupted in 1989.
Kashmir’s former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, offered her condolences over the leader’s death.
“Saddened by the news of Geelani sahab’s passing away. We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness and standing by his beliefs,” Mufti tweeted.
Kashmiri novelist and journalist Mirza Waheed said Geelani will remain an “enduring icon of resistance to tyranny”.
Rest in peace, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
You will remain an enduring icon of resistance to tyranny. pic.twitter.com/hhUjdPyHw3
— Mirza Waheed (@MirzaWaheed) September 1, 2021
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also paid tribute to Geelani and said the country would hold a day of mourning.
“Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Syed Ali Geelani who struggled all his life for his people & their right to self-determination. He suffered incarceration & torture by the Occupying Indian state but remained resolute,” Khan wrote on Twitter.
“We in Pakistan salute his courageous struggle & remember his words: ‘Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humara hai’ [‘We are Pakistan and Pakistan is ours’]. The Pakistan flag will fly at half-mast and we will observe a day of official mourning.”
Last year, Geelani was awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, the Nishan-e-Pakistan, an award bestowed upon the likes of Nelson Mandela, Richard Nixon and Fidel Castro.
Pakistani cricket legend Shahid Afridi also tweeted in tribute.
“The fight for Kashmir’s freedom has taken so many of our elders who have carried the weight of this movement for decades,” he wrote. “May we carry on their courage and legacy.”