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A postcard from Geelani's village

india Updated: Nov 25, 2008 19:37 IST
Peerzada Ashiq

You can take a horse cart to the headquarters of rebellion.



The home of one of Kashmir's oldest separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, lies at the end of a 20-minute dusty and bumpy ride on a single-stretch road from Sopore town in a nondescript village called Dooru.



A snake-like lane from the main road leads to the 79-year-old separatist's ancestral house. There is no security picket to guard the house, nothing unusual. Horse driven carts are still a mode of transportation for most of the residents for the villagers.



Opening the door of the modest two-storeyed house, Geelani's granddaughter Naziya, pursuing her graduation in the Arts, welcomed HT journalists. "Wohh mera nanu hai (He is my grandfather)," she said.



She dusted off chairs on the verandah and disappeared.



There was an uncanny silence at the house. Geelani contested several elections from the same village and headed many poll campaigns from here. He represented the area in the assembly before the insurgency began in 1989.



Since then he has been on the other side of the fence: asking for resolution of a United Nations-mediated and plebiscite-based resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He is an icon for thousands of youth.



Breaking the silence by opening the huge iron-gate, Naziya brought her 20-year-old elder brother Azhar-ul-Haq to interact with the journalists, while hiding a small green polythene bag. She had bought bakery for the guests herself and went inside to prepare tea.



Like any other youth from the village, Azhar-ul-Haq feels for the bad roads, poor infrastructure, growing unemployment and other developmental issues of the village.


"The foundation stone of a receiving station was laid some four years ago. But still it is incomplete. Electricity and roads are two big problems here," said Azhar-ul-Haq, who had bought a computer four years ago and has used it only a couple of time because of the severe power outages.



"I wish politics and development were not related to each other. It is sad that Sopore is being ignored because of its ideology," said Azhar-ul-Haq, a final year student of Arts, preparing hard for his examination later this month.



"Nanu (Geelani) is very strict about studies. Usually, he never scolds…. but if one does not study he is tough," said Azhar-ul-Haq, asking the journalists not to photograph his sister.



But she joins in for the discussion. "We lack everything. No parks, no modern facilities," said Naziya.



Just a kilometre from Geelani's house, the Congress party is busy with its election campaign -- unimaginable some five years ago. Sopore was once known as "mini-Pakistan". It took the Army three months to gain control over Sopore from militants in 1992. Gunbattles left the main Sopore market and dozens of houses gutted.



There is a wind of change this time. In a town which never had more than six candidates, a record number of 28 are running this time. It is to be seen if Sopore will follow the separarists' boycott call, or surprise itself as Kashmiris did in the first round of polling.