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Article: Iconic Syed Ali Gilani is no more!

Humayun Aziz Sandeela

Veteran Kashmiri Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Gilani, the face of Kashmiri resistance movement who challenged India’s hegemonic rule over Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir for decades, died on September 01, 2021 while under house detention. He was 92.

Syed Ali Gilani was born in Zainageer area of Sopore town in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district on 29 September 1929. He was educated at Sopore, and finished his studies at the Oriental College, Lahore. Syed Ali Gilani has been viewed as a key Hurriyat leader in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. He remained associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir for most part of his life but later founded his own party by the name of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. He led the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) until late June 2020 quitting the pro-freedom amalgam due to his worsening health condition. He was elected to the Kashmir Legislative Assembly in 1972, 1977 and 1987.

Syed Ali Gilani’s passport was seized in 1981 due to accusations of “anti-India” activities. With the exception of his Hajj pilgrimage in 2006, he was not been allowed to go abroad. He was diagnosed with renal cancer, and advised treatment from abroad in the same year. It was only because of the intervention of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the authorities returned Syed Ali Gilani’s passport to his son. In 2007, his condition worsened, although in the early stages of the cancer, it was life-threatening and surgery was advised. He was set to travel to either the UK or the US. However, his visa request was rejected by the American government and he went to Mumbai for surgery.

On 6 March 2014, Syed Ali Gilani fell ill with a severe chest infection, shortly after returning to his home in Srinagar. He had been under house arrest since 2010. In May 2015, He applied for passport to visit his daughter in Saudi Arabia. The Indian government withheld it citing technical reasons, including the allegation that he ‘deliberately failed’ to fill in the nationality column required in the application.

Syed Ali Gilani spent many years in different Indian jails for opposing Indian rule in the occupied territory. He endured physical and mental torture during his imprisonment. On 29 November 2010, Syed Ali Gilani, along with noted Indian writer Arundhati Roy, activist Varavara Rao and three others, was charged under sedition charges by the Indian government for their speeches at a seminar in New Delhi. The charges carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. After the 2019 Pulwama incident, India took stronger action against pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leaders including Syed Ali Gilani. India’s Enforcement Directorate levied a penalty of Rs 14.40 lakh and ordered confiscation of nearly Rs 6.8 lakh in connection with a Foreign Exchange Management Act case against him.

President Dr Arif Alvi in 2020 conferred Nishan-i-Pakistan, the country’s highest civil award, on Syed Ali Gilani in recognition of his decades-old struggle for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

The continued house arrest for the last over a decade took heavy toll on his health and he developed many medical complications and he breathed his last at his Hyderpora residence in Srinagar.

Syed Ali Gilani in his will had wished to be buried at Martyrs Graveyard, in Srinagar, however denying it the authorities in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir buried him amid tight military siege at Haiderpora in Srinagar. He was laid to rest just few meters away from his residence in Hyderpora, Srinagar.  A small number of people mainly some close relatives were allowed to participate in his funeral prayers and to have a last glimpse of Hurriyat stalwart. Indian army had laid restrictions all across the occupied valley to prevent mammoth gathering on the funeral of Syed Ali Gilani. Several Hurriyat leaders including Mukhtar Ahmad Waza had been rounded up to dissuade people from participating in his funeral or coming out of their homes.

Syed Ali Gilani made a “significant contribution to the Kashmiris’ struggle for their right to self-determination and suffered lifelong persecution at the hands of India. India’s attempt to portray Kashmiri leaders as “terrorists” and then prosecute them through “concocted cases” was a violation of international human rights and international law, including the United Nations Charter and resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly.

The martyrdom of Syed Ali Gilani during house detention authenticates the fears of Hurriyat leaders about their comrades like Aasiya Andrabi, Mohammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Advocate Shahidul Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Fehmeeda Sofi, Nahida Nasreen, Zahoor Ahmed who have been languishing in jails either in India or in the occupied territory and its time United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross should urge India to drop all fabricated charges against political leaders of Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir and provide them complete legal protections, including the right to a free and fair trial.

There is no difference between killing and actively creating the conditions of someone’s death. When a state can’t take care of its own people amid coronavirus scare, how could it ever look after the health of political dissidents it has declared as enemies and imprisoned?  Gilani dedicated his life for Kashmir’s self-determination and its time the Indian government should “release all those detained on political or humanitarian grounds” to create a conducive environment for peace to prevail in the region.

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