Paradise on Fire: Syed Ali Geelani and the Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir.
By Abdul Hakeem.
Leicester: Revival Publications.
pp265. PB. 2014. £12.99
Two foremost freedom fighters of modern times include Yasser Arafat of Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Imam Shamyl of Dagestan and his efforts to resist Russian encroachment in Chechnya. If one were to add a third, it would be Syed Ali Geelani’s popular resistance against Indian occupation of Kashmir. How strange that these three tragic and long-standing political tragedies have been directly supported and sustained by three leading global powers, namely the United States, Russia and India, and all in the name of national interest, freedom, democracy and human rights?
The book under review is an interesting study of the Kashmiri people’s popular resistance against Indian hegemony through the life and struggle of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whose heroic efforts to liberate his people from political subjugation has turned him into a powerful symbol of Kashmiri freedom and self-determination.
The author of this book is an Indian writer and researcher, writing under the pseudonym of Abdul Hakeem, because ‘If I did not, the Indian Government would detain me for sedition; the intelligence agencies label me a ‘Pakistani agent’; the police harass and the security forces torture me; the media would demonize me and the judiciary convict me. Also the society would, by and large, isolate me and my entire family. I must state the obvious that these components of Indian establishment, individually or collectively, are not naïve. They will not do any of the above to me for writing this book. They will instead implicate me for some state-orchestrated violence or any other trumped up charge. In future, I will gladly reveal my identity if ever India behaves constitutionally and practises secular democracy.’ (p xii)
Consisting of a foreword, sixteen short chapters, appendix, endnotes and bibliography, this book is, in the words of the journalist Lauren Booth, ‘…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. I pray that people from every part of the world will respond to this call and join the Kashmiri people in their non-violent resistance to oppression and occupation.’ (p viii)
Born in a small hamlet of Khonus near Sopore in northern Kashmir on September 29, 1929, young Geelani’s father struggled to maintain his family on his meagre wage of 10 rupees a month, but he was determined to provide a decent education to his children. At primary school Geelani learnt Urdu, Arabic, Persian and other languages under the tutelage of a Hindu pundit. After this, he completed a theology course at Oriental Night College before joining University of Kashmir where he completed a degree in Urdu and Persian with honours. He then became a teacher and gradually became involved with various local political and religious movements, seeking to free Kashmir from Indian hegemony following the collusion between Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, and the Indian Government in 1948.
Despite Indian promise to offer the Kashmiri people the chance to determine their future through a referendum, this pledge was never fulfilled and, not surprisingly, more than 800,000 Indian troops are now stationed in Kashmir to ensure Indian hegemony is sustained through sheer force and military power.
Being a political biography, this does not provide a strictly chronological study of or survey of Syed Ali Geelani’s life and struggle for freedom. Instead this book is an intermesh of history, biography, popular politics, demography, regional power-play with global politics, diplomacy and strategy.
In the last chapter of the book, the author states, ‘…I do not draw any conclusions from the discourse presented in this book, nor have I any solutions to offer as such. The reason is simple: too many shifting elements, regionally and internationally, are presently in play that will influence outcomes for this ‘paradise on fire.’ (p 218)
This is an important book that focuses on a topic subject, one that is often forgotten and neglected by the world community, and the author deserves credit for highlighting the plight of the Kashmiri people through the life of Geelani.
Unfortunately the book has not been copy-edited carefully as it contains too many spelling mistakes, even so I recommend it to those who are interested in South Asian studies, biography or contemporary politics.
Muhammad Khan, acclaimed author and researcher; he is currently writing a book on Muslim modernism in colonial India.