How do you rate an autobiography of a person who is taken asthe national treasure in Kashmir? A person surviving only on half a kidney! A person attacked dozen times by troops and manhandled many times by communal forces; yet remains unfazed. Syed Ali Geelani’s autobiography is a work that traverses the elite history and slashes the notion of victor’s history of the past and the present.
“Stand up,” writes Syed Ali Shah Geelani, when he is taken prison first time in the armed resistance, “I get up and they (troops) throw away my skull cap and thrust hood on to my face. Then they started to rain blows and invectives toward me. Blindfolded my hands are tied behind the back. They continue to biff me (p507).” Geelani was nearly 60 years old when interrogators punched and broke his nose. He was not given any scant respect because of his age and stature. Jail for Geelani was not a new thing, interrogation was. During thedemocratic resistance of Kashmir (1962-89), he was frequently imprisoned for his secessionist views.
While the tallest pro-Indian leader, Sheikh Abdullah, created fear of jails with his supporters repeatedly parroting the lines that prison finally broke his “resolve”, which resulted him to accept the position of Chief Minister after being the Prime Minister of the State. Geelani, on the other hand, inspires resistance members to love the prison as it testsfirmness. It is in prison that one understands himself, comes closer to the reality of theState and oppression. Throughout his book Geelani removes the fear of dungeons.
Respecting Qualities of opponents
Despite ideological differences with the tallest pro-Indian leader,Geelani narrates couple of heart-warming incidents between the two (p255, 269). He is not shy in mentioning that tears came out when he heard the demise of Sheikh Abdullah (p307). In fact the book is replete with many such incidents—be they his tormentors or detractors. He at times philosophise events that would have proven detrimental for him. In prison Geelaniexperiences a shooting pain in the heart. He informs the guard in the morning about this. By the time doctor arrives it is evening. Geelani doesn’t blame the guard or the jail authorities. He philosophically notes down that due to the system of hierarchy the guard has to inform his official and the official has to move toward his superior, who in turn has to seek the permission of higher authorities, and then they have to call the doctors and doctor has to come through locked gates and treat the patient (585). The time lost in these procedures, notes Geelani is not the fault of these people.
Critique of the Tehreek
Despite serving as an MLA, during the democratic resistance against Indian State, Geelani along with his party continued to raise the issue of Kashmir as a pressing political problem. Being a member of legislature Geelani, privy to the assembly function, realises from the beginning that the legislative assembly has little say in the affairs of the State. “Which forum,” writes Geelani, “of democracy we didn’t use. But our democratic voices were silenced through bullets and rifle butts.” (p397).
But armed resistance, notes Geelani, is the last option on which every resistance movement depends for success. However, it requires years of planning and discipline. But in case of Kashmir, bemoans the resistance leader, people followed one another without knowing why(p449). The senior most leader of the Kashmir mentions some fatal errors that armed resistance men carried in the name of freedom. With gun in their hands the youth thought that they don’t need anyone’s assistance or guidance. If only, deploresGeelani, they had heeded the advice of mature political leadership and taken them on board the course of armed resistance would have been different (p446-454). He also laments that if Muslim United Front had not been disbanded there would not have been Hurriyat Conference and the pro-resistance political vacuum that emerged in the early 90s. The author was grilled many times by the armed resistance men for criticising their actions. He was also kidnapped by pro resistance secularist party while undergoing treatment in Soura Hospital (p657).
Insinuations against Geelani
When two prominent pro-resistance voices in the form of Dr Khuroo and MirwaizQaziNissar were murdered the blame was squarely put on the HizbulMujahideen. Hizb was then considered, by a majority of the people, as the armed wing of Jamaat-I-Islami. Geelani writes down that the then HM Chief, Master Ahsan Dar unilaterally declared itwithout consulting Jamaat. While the United Jihad Council Chief and head of HM, Syed Salahuddin, said that HM belongs to the whole Kashmir not Jamaat in particular (p396-97). Writing about the murder of two leaders, Geelani pens down that when he along with the late Abdul Gani Lone went to QaziNissar’s house for condolencewomen sung songs of insinuations. “His brother QaziAman refused to shake hands with me and expressed displeasure on my visit. People present on the occasion glanced at me as if I was the murderer of QaziNissar.” Here Geelani mentions how the slain Abdul Gani Lone cleared the air with his trenchant views. Despite having the luxury of quoting other books to prove that the killing of Dr Guroo and QaziNissar was orchestrated on the behest of Indian troops, Geelani refrains from that.
There are instant chances of Geelani’s book to be compared with the tallest pro Indian leader’s book“AatishChinar”. While the tallest pro Indian leader presented his own history and form of Kashmiri nationalism which centred around him, Geelani on the other hand draws a half filled chart of resistance. For the tallest pro Indian leader Kashmir was his fiefdom that was to be ruled in accordance with his whims. ToGeelani Kashmir is a fight between oppressor and oppressed in which the latter must have moral uprightness to win the war.By releasing the book in presence of family members of civilians murdered by troops in Surankote and Bijbehara massacres, Geelani dissipates Sheikh’s notion of Kashmir for Kashmiri speaking population only. While “AatishChinar” revealsSheikh’s rodomontade, “WularKinaray”is diametric to that. He at times, in the course of his autobiography, beseeches people to look beyond statistics, of roads constructed, electricity, achievements and progress. Here he writes in the similar vein of AimeCesaire: “I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out.”(Discourse on Colonialism)Geelani too wants to push it into peoples minds that all these “development” are swamp which only gobbles them.
The fight of this man is not personal, against any party or for glory. He had option to be Sheikh Abdullah but Geelanichoose to fight the system that is debauch. His fight is against the tyranny.Against dystopia.Against a system that surgically removed around five hundred thousand Muslims from the Jammu. His fight is against the system whose “emergency administration” was decorating itself for power while the Muslims in Jammu were being marmalised. His fight is against democratic terrorism and secular terrorists. He wants to establish a system based on justice, compassion, equality. A system free of deception and demagoguery, where poor are not considered necessary evil for voting. While Sheikh Abdullah choose to wrap his body in Indian flag Geelani, in his twilight, continues to epitomise resistance.
The author doesn’t forget to mention the events of 1979 when the supporters of secularist Sheikh Abdullah throwed Quran in the drains (231-238).The Jamaat people were relentlessly hunted in many parts of Valley by secularist terrorists. Seeing Geelaniin the Jammu airport, the self-styled “Lion of Kashmir” and the then Chief Minister of the State, Sheikh Abdullah slyly asked: “You are also going. Need security?” Without getting trapped in rabble rousing or rhetoric Geelani quotes Indian newspapers on the rioting that National Conference workers carried out against the Jamaat cadres. The atrocities committed against the Jamaatin 1979 have not been touched in detail by the writers. One of the brilliant writers of Kashmir is starting his book from the same date and perhaps his book will throw a better light on the bestiality of NC party.
At the end the author very rightly raises some disturbing questions. Why secularists and moderates are given privileges and relaxation while the Islamists are hounded? Why do secularists succumb? Islamists stand for truth, against oppression and this is not tolerable for a system that revels on injustices. Islamists don’t send their goons to the homes of those people who write against them. The State fears them as they lead by example. They are not carpet knights. They seldom do work to remain in news. It is a fact that both pro resistance moderates and secularists don’t have an alternate system. Islamists have a system. While the former, if they come to power, will persist with the older system, Islamists will crush the rotten system. It is precisely because of having any alternate system that Islamists are hounded in Kashmir.
Of course there are contradictions in the book as is norm with great personalities. He at one page mentions that there was no democratic ways which they didn’t use but laments that armed resistance was the last option for an oppressed nation. There are glaring factual errors like Mughals ruled for 800 years on Indian subcontinent. Too much attention has been paid to the caste to which Geelani belongs. He has failed to recall some important events: hooting of Indian cricket team; riots in Islamabad at the instigation of former Home Minister of India, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, police revolt, government employees strike for couple of months against the atrocities of troops and burning down of MahrajaGunj market.
The book must be translated in other languages and Urdu newspapers in particular should publish its excerpts from time to time. Its rates should be slashed from 450 to 100 so that it is readily available for maximum people. Although the book is perspicacious itwill not stir the conscience of many.Rather than exclaiming that Kashmir needs Jean Paul Sartre,Geelani himself could have lead by example in not writing an autobiography but a full resistance book on how Kashmiris are exploited. What causes their oppression? Why do Kashmiris go like sheep to their deaths? Why is it that despite 90 thousand people killed, 10000 disappeared and rapes in hundreds, Kashmir continues to remain unresolved? Why is it that despite having a self-criticism movement no radical organisation has come up in Kashmir? Writing autobiography is good for celebrities not for a leader who excels in resistance.