CITIZEN GEELANI: Bullets as souvenir

Imagine this. A nine-year-old girl along with her five-year-old brother are thrown into jail and held captive there. Then one day the door of the dingy room, where they are held, is left open. In the facing room their father, who is also under arrest, is walked in. His body is bruised out of torture. His hands are in chains, his feet are in chains. The children are made to have a traumatising look at their father and his condition. They are made to feel their endless helplessness. They can only see their father from a distance. They can’t speak with him and ask him what’s gone wrong with him. They can’t touch him, comfort him or feel him in person. Pretty much same for their father. They are only supposed to see each other and let the trauma and helplessness sink in and do the rest. AS A REMINDER, THE CHILDREN ARE JUST 9 AND 5.

The father, already smarting under physical torture, is forced to go through this emotional torment at the sight of his children in lock-up for a specific purpose: he must confess.

The trauma of being in jail and seeing their father in chains is beginning to define their world view. For all the suffering they have endured, it hasn’t broken them

The children are later released. The father goes through more agony and torture for nearly two years in captivity. The state investigating agencies are at their best and worst in framing the man as a ‘terror mastermind’. A fast track court then orders him hanged for his ‘involvement’ in a terror operation. A lawyer steps in to appeal the decision. The man and his family go through a painful battle in and out of the courts. Four years later, the case crashes. The courts find no evidence against the man to prove his involvement in the terror act. Nice happy ending after all, you might be tempted to think. No.

The man continues to be haunted by the state. One travail after another visits him and his family. He is all but killed in an apparent undercover operation. As a souvenir, he continues to carry the would-be assassin’s bullets in his body – ‘close to his heart’. Fifteen years after his first incarceration, he is sent to the same jail a second time. This time the charge as flimsy as it can be. The evidence as thin as it can be at its thinnest.

What is remarkable about this man is that his conviction in his political beliefs has been unswerving despite the tribulations that continue to follow him. Another person would have found it convenient to retire to a comfort zone. But this man is resilient.

The man doesn’t enjoy the aura to invite much attention. Or maybe people think ignoring him is part of their safety. He hasn’t generated the public sympathy he deserves. Nor the media coverage to tell his side of the story how the state wants to shut him down – literally.

The name is Muslim. The ethnicity is Kashmiri. The political beliefs are the ones the state wants to erase from all public discourses because they represent an alternative reality. And also embody a reality check on the credentials of a democracy to tolerate any debate that challenges the state’s ‘constructed realities’.

No, this is not to make a hero out of Syed Abdul Rehman (SAR) Geelani. He himself doesn’t want to be one. He has been low profile all along in his activism for the release of political prisoners and in advocating Kashmir’s case for self-determination.

He is definite and decided about his political convictions. “My goal is the freedom of Kashmir,” SAR told this magazine in a detailed interview two days after he was recently released on bail from Tihar jail where he was held on sedition charges.

There is something more than luck on SAR’s side that he has survived till now. In the pursuit of “satisfying the conscience of the society” he could well have met the same fate as Afzal Guru. Even after his acquittal, he was sprayed with bullets, three of which are still lodged in his body. He believes the murder attempt was planned by the state. “The Indian state knew about it. In fact it was the state that had hired the killers.” SAR’s attackers were never found which gives credence to the point he is making.

And he knows pretty well how lucky he has been to be alive. “Sometimes I think survival is a miracle.”

He also knows that is not the end of it. “They try to sort of eliminate you through lawful or unlawful means.”

When he got into trouble recently over an Afzal Guru commemoratory function, people found it safe to distance themselves from him. He is somewhat critical of the way people who were close to him but backed out after the state brought a sedition case against him for a speech he never made and the action he never committed. “Today when there was time to stand for freedom of expression and speech, it is unfortunate to see people kneeling before the state,” he told this magazine. “I think they have a difficulty to raise their voices for a person, who is a Muslim, a Kashmiri and talks about the right to self-determination for Kashmir,” SAR elaborated.

SAR is also critical of the pro-freedom leadership in Kashmir. He believes the leadership has been very cautious in its approach. “The leadership is in the mode of electoral politics, not revolutionary politics,” SAR said in a harsh

censure of those who keep on building their personal political fortunes out of Kashmir’s freedom movement and believe freedom can be realised by issuing press notes.

For all that SAR has gone through, his children have seen it up and close. They have been to jail at a very tender age. They have had to battle it out to secure their father. They have seen their father all but getting murdered. They are now maturing up. But one’s thoughts go out to them again and again when you picture the scene of their father paraded before them bruised and in chains when they themselves were being held captive. They obviously could not make sense of all that then because of their tender age. But now, as they told this magazine, they are beginning to read meaning into it. The trauma of being in jail and seeing their father in chains is beginning to define their world view. For all the suffering they have endured, it hasn’t broken them. SAR’s daughter Nusrat sums it up, “One can’t afford to break down. Courage means coming a long way.”

Not many in Kashmir know what SAR and his family have been through. Probably it is the first time he and his daughter share a close-up account of their travails.

SAR is in a way a metaphor for Kashmir. He symbolises the angst Kashmiris have endured and continue to endure as the media and the so-called civilised world prefer expediency over integrity and human concern. Countless men and women and children and families have undergone similar or worse physical and emotional traumas in Kashmir.

The Geelanis have been living in mainland India for over two decades. Suffering and a resilient fight back have become an inseparable part of this family while living in India. This family epitomizes a ‘little Kashmir’, with her countless bruises and indomitable resilience, in India.

SAR is emblematic of Kashmir in person as well. In Kashmir every citizen is forced to keep the bullets of the state close to his heart as a tactic of survival. SAR actually lives with those bullets inside his body. In a half dark, half absurdist oxymoronic tone, SAR told this magazine the bullets pumped into him to kill him can’t be removed. “They are close to my heart,” – a memento from a state that wants him gone.

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