SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian authorities enforced a security lockdown and a near-total communications blackout for a second straight day in disputed Kashmir on Friday after the death of Syed Ali Geelani, a top resistance leader who became the emblem of the region’s defiance against New Delhi.
Geelani’s death at age 91 on late Wednesday and the ensuing crackdown on public movement and communications by Indian authorities highlighted the turmoil seething just below the surfacein the Himalayan region of achingly stunning beauty.
Wearing flak jackets and riot gear, armed police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled streets in Srinagar, the region’s main city, and ordered residents to stay indoors.
Razor wire, steel barricades and perpendicularly parked armored vehicles blocked some streets and roads in the city as officials anticipated anti-India protests after weekly congregational Friday prayers.
With multiple ailments and under house arrest for years, Geelani was quietly buried by Indian authorities without any family members present after police snatched his bodyearly Thursday, his son, Naseem Geelani, said.
Police in a statement denied Geelani’s forcible burial and called it “baseless rumors” by “some vested interests.”
Pakistan, India’s archrival, which administers a part of Himalayan Kashmir, observed a day of mourning on Thursday and condemned Geelani’s non-public burial.
Geelani spearheaded Kashmir’s movement for the right to self-determination and was a staunch proponent of merging Kashmir with Pakistan. For many in Kashmir and beyond, he was an enduring icon of defiance against India. Successive Indian governments often dubbed him a hard-line politician.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but rule only parts.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.
India describes the armed rebellion as Islamabad’s proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism. Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle and support the rebel goal that the territory be united, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the raging conflict.
Tensions flared in the region in 2019 after New Delhi stripped Kashmir’s semi-autonomy, scrapped its statehood and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. Authorities have since brought a slew of new laws, which critics and many Kashmiris fear could change the region’s demographics.