Geelani’s role in the Kashmir movement

Book: Paradise on Fire: Syed Ali Geelani and the Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir
Author:Abdul Hakeem
Publishers: Revival Publications, UK
Year:  2014
Pages: 265
ISBN: 9780953676842.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikandar  

The present roots of Kashmir conflict go back to the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 by the British, the birth of the Kashmir dispute being a British colonial legacy. The dispute is among the longest unresolved issues in the United Nations list demanding a permanent solution. The dispute since then has consumed thousands of innocent Kashmiri lives who became cannon fodder in the raging fires of violent tussles between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Meanwhile, the state remains divided between the nationally hostile India and Pakistan. The people of Indian administered Kashmir have never reconciled with India. Despite the conditional accession, that was never ratified by the masses, resistance against the Indian rule, that Kashmiris term as a “military occupation”, has never died.

The resistance has witnessed many phases over these decades. The resistance has been both violent and non-violent, with its own dynamics and contours. It has been represented by various leaders who prefer to title themselves as freedom fighters. Syed Ali Shah Geelani is one such leader who demands the right of self determination for Kashmiris as promised to them by India under various United Nations resolutions. They also demand a referendum as promised by the UN that would end the political instability.

The book under review tries to document the role of Syed Ali Geelani in the resistance movement. In his Foreword, Lauren Booth writes, “This book, then, is the story of one man’s self sacrifice told through the struggle of an entire people. Paradise on Fire is a call to the conscience of humanity” (P-viii). The author, Abdul Hakeem, being an Indian Muslim writing under a pseudonym because of the threat of arrest, detention and conviction for “sedition” by the Indian government  (P-xii) for documenting struggle and role of Syed Ali Geelani, does a commendable job that no Kashmiri has yet undertaken in English language.

Abdul Hakeem invokes a comparative methodology of understanding and studying the Kashmiri freedom struggle by drawing parallels between South African, Bosnian and Kashmiri resistance movements. He tries to compare Nelson Mandela, Alija Izetbegovic and Syed Ali Geelani and their contribution to resistance movements in their countries. Hakeem compares their role, legacy and contribution by citing various excerpts from their books.

The first chapter provides an overview of the dispute and its genesis. Then, under various chapters, he describes the role of Geelani in opposing the Indian role over Kashmir. He describes Geelani’s stance regarding the Indian state, its occupation and cultural aggression that is now threatening the Muslim identity of majority of inhabitants of Kashmir. He also describes the demographic change that India is systematically managing on the pattern of Israel in occupied Palestinian territories and how state terrorism is responsible for the atrocities against the Kashmiri Muslims.

Hakeem brings forth Geelani’s views about Indian Muslims regarding Kashmir dispute. Geelani laments the condition of Indian Muslims who are a target of state terrorism too, but is resentful about their role regarding Kashmir, because they have rarely shown their solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims in their hour of need. Hakeem documents Geelani’s views regarding the Pandit (Hindu) minority of Kashmir, most of whom have migrated from Kashmir valley. The role of Geelani during the insurgency and counter-insurgency has been documented, too, while bringing out innumerable atrocities against the cadre of Jamaat-e-Islami at the hands of security forces as well as their hired counterinsurgents. Geelani being a member and leader of Jamaat had to suffer too at the hands of State agencies and irregular counterinsurgents.

The stance of Geelani on the elections held in the Indian administered Kashmir, peace process between India and Pakistan, the Kargil conflict and other issues has also been discussed by the author. The last chapters deal with the leadership of Geelani during the non-violent Intifadah from 2008-2010. The book tries to document the role of Geelani in the resistance movement. However, Hakeem has filled the chapters with details that overshadow role of Geelani and even push it into oblivion. There have been two books written in Urdu about Syed Ali Geelani, by Sarwat Jamaal titled Qissaaey Dard (The Tale of Agony) and Dr Shafi Shariati titled Qaid-e-Inqlaab: Ek Tarikh, Ek Tahreek (The Leader of Revolution: History and Movement), that provide details about Syed Ali Geelani’s political engagements. Particularly, Dr Shafi Shariti’s book does it admirably. But Hakeem’s book is the first of its kind in English.

Unlike Shariti’s, Hakeem’s book, despite its thorough documentation of various aspects and dimensions of the Kashmir issue, fails miserably to document the life and role of Syed Ali Geelani objectively that could merit it as a well-researched political biography. Geelani has authored more than 30 pamphlets and books, but Hakeem doesn’t seem to quote from them. Hakeem has not used the exhaustive list of Geelani’s books as a primary source. Thus he fails to explain Geelani’s political views and stance, their evolution and his approach to electoral process, of which he previously was a part, but is now his vehemently opposed to it. Geelani’s role in the armed insurgency and his criticism of it and his embracing pacifism and the reasons for this change have not been analysed at all.  

His prison dairies have not been consulted, except one that has been given space in footnotes. Hakeem either seems ignorant, or not too-well versed with Urdu language as Geelani has written all his books in Urdu and only few pamphlets have been translated into English that give a peripheral insight into his ideology. The influence of Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi and Allama Iqbal on the thinking process of Geelani has not been taken into account despite the fact that Geelani has written two books about the poetry of Allama Iqbal and its Islamic roots. Geelani’s stance of considering Kashmir as primarily a religious issue has not been deliberated. Also, undue credit has been given to Geelani about being a pioneer of the resistance movement, whereas the reality is that Geelani did not pioneer the present resistance phase that started in early 1990s. Also, undue credit has been given to Geelani about starting the Intifadah of 2008-2010. The reality is that Geelani failed miserably to take advantage of the Intifadah and channelise the energy of youth to make India budge from its rigid stance on Kashmir.

Also, in certain places the book is full of grave errors. “Sheikh Abdullah had called his political party the Muslim Conference, but following his imprisonment from 8 August 1953 to 8 April 1964, he renamed it as the National Conference” (p-23). This statement is utterly wrong; Muslim Conference was changed into National Conference in 1938, not because of imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah. Also this statement about Aasiya Andrabi, founder and chairperson of Dukhtaran e Millat (Daughters of Faith), being influenced by teachings of Geelani (p-99) is utterly false and Hakeem has not provided any reference for this generalisation.

Overall, the book can be read to have secondary source information about Kashmir issue and Syed Ali Geelani. Even though Hakeem has sifted through a lot of resources and books, he has failed as a researcher to highlight Geelani and his contribution to the freedom struggle in Kashmir that should have been his primary concern. The book needs to be rewritten in order to do justice to the  personality of Syed Ali Geelani. However, it needs to be acknowledged that this is the first endeavour in English at writing a political biography of a major Kashmiri resistance leader.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2015 on page no. 21

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