Feature: ‘We are orphaned’: Young Kashmiris travel for hours to see Gilani’s grave

Gafira Qadir

Waseem Mir left home at 1:30 am — three hours after he received the news of Kashmir’s most prominent resistance leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani’s death on his WhatsApp — to participate in his funeral prayer. However, he couldn’t.

Two kilometers short of Gilani’s residence in Hyderpora, he returned home after he saw a large number of the Indian forces personnel blocking the roads. Mir said he was restless all night. “I had already resisted for three hours and now after trying and returning back, I could only wait till morning,” he told The Kashmir Walla, while waiting in the neighborhood.

Mir left early in the morning to visit the graveyard – nearly 300 meters away from Gilani’s residence — where Gilani was buried at dawn by a limited group of relatives and a heavy contingent of the government forces. Mir was now waiting for hours in a neighboring area.

“We tried everything, every street but they didn’t allow us,” he said.

Accompanied by his friend, a resident of Nowhatta area of downtown Srinagar, Mir met people like him from several districts of Kashmir. All of them were trying to find ways to offer funeral prayers at their “big leader’s” grave.

“We will not leave, no matter what. We will do what we have come here for,” he said.

Since last night, Hyderpora has appeared like an open-air prison where every street and alley is blocked with concertina wires and barricades. Despite the restrictions, Mir is not the only one who has found his way to reach as close to Gilani’s residence.

Umar Wani rode seventy kilometers on his bike from his home in south Kashmir’s Shopian district to see Gilani’s final rites. Adding that Gilani has given his youth and life for Kashmir, Wani asserted that he is not “dead”; “he is a martyr. He is immortal,” he said. “Everybody will become Gilani.”

“I am his big fan,” he said, adding that his passion had forced him to leave his house at around 5 am as he rode through one alley to another, dodging the checkpoints. “We were really scared but we managed to reach here somehow,” Wani said. “We had to.”

Wani was also accompanied by his friend and was not planning to leave for Shopian before offering prayers at Gilani’s grave. “I will sit here and try to proceed to the graveyard every day but I won’t leave,” he said. “Till everyone doesn’t see his grave, none of us will be at peace.”

A group of four more boys were in lingo, awaiting a glimpse. “I don’t feel like eating anything,” one of them said.

Wani further added: “There are more people in other areas. Some are from Kulgam too.”

The state officials imposed curfew across Kashmir and snapped nearly all lines of communications, except the fluctuating government-owned BSNL networks. “They are scared even after Gilani’s death. They will be scared forever,” he said.

Gilani was a veteran Kashmiri leader who resisted India and earned mass support over the years. Born on 29 September 1929 in Zurimanz village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, he was previously elected as the member of parliament before giving up on electoral process after the rigged elections of 1987.

Gilani later went on to serve as the chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of pro-freedom parties in Jammu and Kashmir. However, he announced his resignation last year as Hurriyat Conference chairman due to his medical condition.

Last night, at 10:30 pm, he passed away following a prolonged illness at his home, where he was kept under house detention for most of the last decade.

Soon after the news of his death spread on social media, messages of condolences from locals to former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan came on Twitter.

The videos and photos of Gilani’s residence and grave were also shared widely on the internet wherein heavy deployment on the roads of Hyderpora could be seen and the people digging the grave for Gilani.

For Mir, the 26-year-old youth from downtown, “Gilani is [otherwise] just like any other human being but he is the main icon of the Azadi”. “We will wait here till the night and if they will still not allow us, we will spend the night here,” he said.

At the checkpoint, near the alley, which leads towards Gilani’s house, Mir was stopped and told that Section 144 (which prohibits gathering of 4 or more people) was imposed.

“How would we know when you have snapped our communication?” he asked a paramilitary forces’ personnel.

Mir last met Gilani in March 2021 and saw him as weak and old, wearing a pheran – a loose cloak and a white skullcap. “I felt bad to see him like that,” he said. “He was a lot for us. We have been orphaned.”

Waiting in desolation, Wani said in anguish that “everyone in Kashmir will become Gilani”. “He was with freedom; so are we. It’s our fundamental right,” he said.

“My heart is aching a lot,” he said, sobbing. “I would not even cry this much on my father’s grave as I did over [Gilani’s] death.”

His family has no idea that he had reached Srinagar because, he said, they wouldn’t have allowed him. “And now we will not return without seeing his grave,” Wani said. — Courtesy The Kashmir Wala

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