Indian authorities have imposed a security lockdown and cut telephone and internet services in the disputed Kashmir region following the death of separatist leader and politician Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
A veteran of Kashmir’s separatist movement, Geelani died late on Wednesday at his home in Srinagar, his family said. He was 92.
The most vocal Kashmiri separatist leader, Geelani spearheaded a decades-long struggle for the right to self-determination for the region that has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1947.
He had been battling lung and heart ailments and remained bedridden for the past two years at his home, where he had been under house arrest since 2010.
His son Naseem Geelani told media outlets security forces “barged” into their house at around 3am and forcibly “snatched” the body, performing the Islamic washing rituals and burial without the family present.
He was buried before dawn at a local graveyard, despite his last wish that he be laid to rest at Srinagar’s main martyrs graveyard, Mr Geelani said.
There was no immediate response from the authorities on the allegations.
No media coverage of the funeral rites was allowed and journalists were physically barred from reaching the graveyard. Local newspapers, which have been heavily censored since 2019, made little mention of his death.
Indian authorities have been apprehensive that any public mourning over his death may lead to civil unrest in the restive region, where anti-Indian sentiment runs deep.
Tens of thousands of military, paramilitary and police forces fanned out onto the streets of towns and cities across the Indian-administered territory overnight on Wednesday, blocking roads with barbed wire and erecting steel barricades.
“Police and paramilitary troops are using megaphones to announce a curfew across the city,” Srinagar resident Imran Wani told The National by phone, moments before mobile and landline telephone services were shut down.
Internet services were also shut off to hamper any attempt to organise public gatherings to mourn Geelani’s death.
The veteran separatist insisted that India and Pakistan should allow Kashmiri people to choose their future in accordance with the United Nations’ 1948 resolutions that called for a referendum in the region, although he himself was a strong supporter of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief after Geelani’s death, calling him a Kashmiri “freedom fighter” who “struggled all his life for his people & their right to self determination”.
Mr Khan announced a day of national mourning and said Pakistan's national flag would be flown at half mast in tribute to the leader.
Geelani served three times as a legislator in the state assembly but remained a strong voice against the Indian administration. He spent nearly 10 years in jail since the 1960s as a result of his hostility to Indian rule in Kashmir.
Geelani also led the Jamat-I-Islami in Kashmir, an Islamist group whose members participated in the revolt against Indian rule since 1989.
He was also a founding member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an amalgamation of social, political and regional separatist groups that in 1993 became the political face of Kashmir’s armed rebellion against Indian rule.
But Geelani broke away from the group in 2003 and formed his own - Tehreek-e-Hurriyat - after a dispute arose when some leaders from the conference entered into direct talks with New Delhi. He had been a strong opponent of dialogue with New Delhi until it formally "accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory” and adheres to the UN resolutions.
Geelani had great influence over Kashmiri youth and led mass agitations against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016 before New Delhi launched a harsh crackdown on separatists in the region.
Last year he stepped back from politics and appointed his close aide, Ashraf Sehrai, as the head of his Hurriyat faction. But Sehrai died earlier this year and the group has remained without a leader since.
New Delhi imposed direct rule over Kashmir in 2018 and in 2019 revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, dividing the Muslim majority state into two federally-administered regions.
The move was followed by months-long curfews and the world's longest year-long internet blackout.
Thousands of people, including former chief ministers and politicians, were also arrested, some of whom remain in custody.
New Delhi has banned all gatherings, including during religious festivals in one of the world’s most militarised regions and tightly controls the region’s population through draconian civil and military laws.