The street that led to the house of top separatist leader and Hurriyat (G) chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was manned by a large number of police and paramilitary force personnel. Steel barricades had been erected there last night after Geelani’s death. Few meters away in the poshest area of Peerbagh the entry to the local graveyard was stopped by the paramilitary force personnel as the word spread that the separatist leader was buried there. It is for the first time that such scenes have returned to Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 with authorities cutting both the mobile phone and internet services. Only the internet service of state-run BSNL on fixed lines and its postpaid mobile phones remained operational in Kashmir.
Across Kashmir the markets remained shut while a heavy number of government force personnel deployed on the roads prevented both vehicular and pedestrian movement during the day. Spools of barbed wire were laid on the roads and the local residents feared that the situation could deteriorate as tensions soared in the region. The death of the top separatist leader who drew the largest number of crowds was being seen as a big security challenge in Kashmir with the burial being undertaken in the wee hours today amid heavy restrictions. The government had been anticipating pro-freedom rallies and a large number of people turning up at the funeral of separatist leader.
On most of the roads people were seen travelling on foot or hitch-hiking the few private vehicles that plied by. It was late last night that the Peerbagh area where Geelani had been residing, and where he remained under house detention for several years before his death, saw the heavy deployment of police and paramilitary force personnel.
A fruit vendor, Bashir Ahmad Reshi, said that the situation was normal till late evening, but word had already spread that in the area outside Geelani residence his health had deteriorated. “When I came here early in the morning to carry on with the normal routine I came across the heavy deployment of forces. I got to hear from the local people that the security curbs could continue for over a week here to prevent the situation from deteriorating,” he said.
A group of people who left from Geelani's residence said that they had come from the northern Kashmir area of Sopore and were planning to attend his funeral, but were barred by police from taking part. A youth, Ishfaq Ahmad, who identified himself as the separatist leader’s relative, said that even his close family members were prevented from attending the funeral. A girl relative said that the funeral was carried out by the police and the family members were barred from attending it at the local graveyard. She said that some of the relatives were also beaten up as they were resisting the bid by authorities to take away the body. This however couldn’t be independently verified.
The authorities have however said that these restrictions were imposed to prevent any untoward incident. Pro-India leaders including former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, and former Minister and People’s Conference leader, Sajad Lone, have expressed their condolences over the death.
For local Kashmiris, it was for the first time that the security restrictions and the shutdown returned at such a scale in Kashmir since 2019. The incidents of stone pelting have seen a marked decline and the attendance at the funerals of militants was being restricted.
“Administration needs to receive kudos for ensuring that the situation remains peaceful here. There was no untoward incident. The last rites were also carried out in the presence of family members and they have also co-operated in this. With the death, a chapter in Kashmir has been closed,” said, senior BJP leader Ashwani Chrungoo.
Local Kashmiris however said that the restrictions have crippled life in Kashmir and the snapping of internet and phone services has particularly affected their life. “We are witnessing for the first time such severe curbs since the abrogation of Article 370. If the curbs on internet services continue it would severely hamper our online education,” said Nafi Bakshi, a student of class 11 and resident of Ram Bagh.
Shakir Ahmad Reshi, 15, and his younger brother Umer Reshi, were travelling on foot to their residence in the Central Kashmir area of Budgam. Shakir said that they hitchhiked rides to travel the distance of several kilometers from the southern Kashmir area of Anantnag where he works in a hotel. “We left in the morning and our family may have been worried as we were not able to reach out to them after the mobile phone services were suspended here,” said Shakir.