The hanging of Afzal Guru, a local Kashmiri, has convinced many youngsters in J&K that the Indian state is ready to trample on their rights. There is open talk of rebellion on the internet. “Guru is martyred. Welcome to another 30 years of war,” says a Facebook post.
This is especially because of the perception that Afzal was not given a fair trial and executed by the Congress to appeal to Hindutva votes in 2014.
Scores of Kashmiris are in jails or in hiding after the 2010 ‘street intifada’. Silence over 125 civilian deaths due to police and CRPF action hasn’t helped. Police has filed FIRs in only 20 cases, while even minors have been punished in stone-pelting incidents.
At the political level, things are not moving forward. The New Delhi-Srinagar dialogue remains stalled for the past many years. Afzal’s hanging now ensures Hurriyat will stay away from talks at least for a couple of years. Polls due in Kashmir late next year.
Despite statements and promises, AFSPA continues to remain in force across the Valley and there seems little hope that the army will agree to any withdrawal, even partial. A complete withdrawal would have been a big confidence-booster.
The rise of Hindu terrorism and Hindutva across the country makes many Kashmiris sceptical about a safe future with and in India.
Kashmir has now got its second empty martyr’s grave. And somehow, the mere fact of it being empty gives it more resonance—as if an echo chamber has been added to that other one lying vacant, that of Maqbool Bhat. The one reason why Mohammed Afzal Guru’s body was not handed to his family was the fear that his grave would become a rallying point for anti-India sentiments in the Valley. That effect is all the more palpable in absentia—with his body lying secured and quarantined in a grave in Delhi’s Tihar jail. The hasty, early morning hanging of Afzal Guru has become a new inflection point in the Kashmir story—its violent history of estrangement and anger.
A little over a year away from assembly elections in the state, Kashmiris are glorifying Afzal as “a martyr of the nation”. Three days after his execution, they have dug him a grave next to Bhat’s at the Martyrs’ Graveyard Eidgah in Srinagar. And placed an epitaph similar to the one on Bhat’s: “Shaheed-e-Watan Mohammed Afzal Guru: His remains are lying with the Indian government as a trust of Kashmiri nation, and we await its return.” The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder too had been executed in Tihar—on February 11, 1984—and it’s next to him that Afzal now lies buried. Bhat’s hanging had marked a watershed in the history of Kashmir as a full-blown insurgency had broken out in the region five years later, with thousands of youth idolising him.
In Srinagar, so paranoid was the state machinery of history repeating itself that it tried to forestall it. The police removed his epitaph on Tuesday night, only to replace it a day later, fearing wider protests. On February 9, the day of the hanging, funeral prayers were held for Afzal across the Valley despite a strict curfew. Anti-India protests have not dimmed even five days after the event—a grim reminder of the 2010 agitation. An indefinite curfew in place since Afzal’s hanging has not quelled it. Three young men have already lost their lives.
How this climate of anger will play out is a big question for the state government. In the long run, it’s the spectre of a spurt in militancy that will haunt J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah and most Kashmiris. Many are apprehensive that Afzal’s controversial hanging will reinforce the feeling of alienation among Kashmiris, with another generation turning towards militancy and pushing the Valley back into its recurrent nightmare.
Even Omar, despite his patchy record in handling mass psychology in Kashmir, seems to instinctively sense something is horribly wrong this time. “Like it or not, this has reinforced the point that there is no justice,” Omar had said in the aftermath of the hanging. “We will have to deal with how we can change that sort of alienation.” And then, also, that the immediate fallout was security-related and “far less challenging than the long-term effects”.
The nervy state’s worst-ever three-day censorship on local media hasn’t helped things either. Newspapers (about 50 hit the stands in Srinagar every day) suspended publication, citing orders from the authorities despite no written order being produced. And a population of seven million, cooped up indoors, remained virtually disconnected, with cable as well as mobile network and internet blocked.
It didn’t stop social networking sites from being flooded with talk of rebellion. At the forefront are young, educated, tech-savvy Kashmiris who have grown up amidst conflict, nurse a deep sense of alienation and bear a grudge against the Indian State.
“Afzal Guru is martyred. Welcome to another 30 years of war,” said Omar, a young doctor, in his Facebook post. “It was February then (when Bhat was hanged). It is February now. This is not the time to whip up passions, because the seeds for a fresh revolution have perhaps been sown by the oppressor itself,” said another post. These youngsters have replaced their profile pictures with slogans like ‘I am Afzal, hang me’, the background black, as a mark of protest.
Mohammed Altaf Khan, 63-year-old former schoolteacher and one of Bhat’s close aides, better known by his nom de guerre Azam Inqilabi (the great revolutionary), says he has “not even an iota of doubt” that Afzal’s hanging would incite a new generation of Kashmiris to pick up arms.
“Thousands of young Kashmiris came out on the streets during the 2008 and 2010 agitations,” he says. “They were convinced that non-violence would force India to find a permanent solution for Kashmir. But by hanging Afzal, Indians have sent a clear message that they are rash and brash in their decisions when it comes to Kashmir. India has literally instigated one more of our generations to become mujahideen. It will not happen tomorrow, but I can say without any fear of contradiction that Afzal’s hanging has sown the seeds of another armed revolution.”
For many in Delhi, Inqilabi’s statement may appear as rhetoric, an exaggeration, but there are plenty of signs on the ground that evoke a sense of foreboding. For instance, scores of Kashmiris, in their teens and 20s, are either in jails, or in hiding or making rounds of police stations after the 2010 ‘street intifada’. Fuelling the anger is the Omar Abdullah government’s inexplicable silence over the cases of 125 civilian deaths in police and crpf action during the agitation. The police has till date filed firs only in 20 cases despite court intervention, while even minors have been punished for participating in stone-pelting. Since the new year, the government has also been reopening old cases against former militants in its bid to control the dissent.
Police sources say that after the 2010 agitation, at least two dozen young men joined militant groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The actual number could be much more. Unlike the ’90s, things are shrouded in secrecy. At times, even the families are caught unawares. Militancy may no longer be an option with the new generation of Kashmiris, but yes, Afzal’s hanging is likely to heighten the Kashmiri alienation. The implications would not be immediate, as some tend to believe, but they will be there. We can only keep our fingers crossed.
Kashmir’s former director-general of tourism and prominent political commentator Mohammed Ashraf too says a Kashmiri “takes his own time to react”. “Maqbool Bhat was hanged in 1984. Kashmiri boys started crossing LoC for arms and training from 1987 onwards, and we then had 1990. Similarly, this hanging too will have a long-term impact and we may see another eruption after a couple of years.”
Indeed, PDP chief spokesperson Naeem Akhtar thinks the very fact that Kashmir hasn’t erupted on expected lines is worrying: “Kashmir has been a place which would erupt even on minor issues. Afzal’s hanging has delivered a sense of defeat among Kashmiris, more dangerous in the long run.”
Back in Afzal’s native village Seer Jagir in Sopore, soldiers of 22 Rashtriya Rifles guard the only entrance—a wide steel gate. Near the gate, an instruction board lists the dos and don’ts of passing through the small village. Some years ago, on the roof of the Sadbhavana school built by the army in the village, soldiers had written in bold letters: “We love humanity.” A few metres ahead, though, another had this chilling warning: “One bullet, one terrorist.” So much for goodwill.
Born into an affluent family of apple merchants, Afzal would have been a doctor by this time, perhaps living comfortably and in prosperous obscurity somewhere in West Asia, like many Kashmiri doctors, rather than making it to the headlines if things hadn’t gone awry. As someone who once crossed over the LoC to fight the Indian State but who later also surrendered, it proved difficult for authorities to believe he had come entirely clean.
“Afzal wanted to live quietly with his family, but the STF (the notorious counter-insurgency wing of the Kashmir police) would not allow him,” his wife Tabassum wrote in her appeal to the Indian government in 2004. “Afzal was to leave his home, family and settle in Delhi again. He struggled hard to earn a living and he had decided to bring me and Ghalib to Delhi. Like any other family, we dreamed of living together peacefully and bringing up our children, giving them a good education and seeing them grow up to be good human beings. That dream was cut short when (Afzal was arrested in the Parliament attack case).” This dream will now never be. It was cut short in a way Tabassum, like many others, could never have imagined—coming to know of her husband’s execution on television news, being denied even the grace of a last meeting.
The family had been persecuted even after Afzal’s arrest and subsequent conviction. Police and army raided their home countless times, forcing them to abandon it for almost one year. “For one year we were not allowed to see Afzal. We handed over his surrender certificate given by the BSF to a Supreme Court lawyer who later denied receiving it,” Tabassum had said. “Will you speak out at the injustice my husband has faced? Will you speak out on my behalf? I am, of course, fighting for my husband’s life, for the life of my son’s father. But I also speak as a Kashmiri woman who is losing faith in Indian democracy and its ability to be fair to Kashmiri Muslims.”
Tabassum had visited Afzal in Tihar in November 2012. “The meeting was a routine one. Afzal gave no indication that his days were numbered. His only worry was the future of (his 14-year-old son) Ghalib whom he wanted to become a writer,” Afzal’s cousin Yasin Guru said. He pours scorn on Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s statement that Afzal’s family was informed about his execution via speed post—the missive reaching them two days after the hanging. “I wonder how a country that boasts about its democratic credentials can be so stone-hearted,” says Yasin.
There’s across-the-board sympathy for Afzal largely because of the belief that his conviction rested solely on circumstantial evidence. Says Lalit Magazine, a Jaipur-based Kashmiri Pandit, “Whatever little faith I had in India’s justice, I have lost it completely (after Afzal’s hanging). I am sad and shocked. Votebank politics has prevailed over justice and fair play.”
There are lots of other voices questioning the timing of Afzal’s execution. The timing is symbolic—it took place two days before Bhat’s death anniversary. The choice of date of Afzal’s hanging was deliberate, many Kashmiris say. Like every year, pro-freedom groups had already called for a black day on Bhat’s anniversary. The Indian government could not have been ignorant of it. They think Indians wanted to send a clear message to Kashmiris: ‘We don’t care for your sensitivities. You are a helpless people, unwilling to accept your defeat.’” Afzal’s family, meanwhile, is asking only one question: “Didn’t he deserve the right to see his family before his execution?”
It has been eleven days since Afzal Guru was hanged, and Sopore is in mourning. The apple orchards encircling the town stand bare in the winter freeze, the temperatures at shivering point even during the day. The town itself is crawling with the CRPF and the army, as always. They are everywhere: in the alleys, on the streets, around the main square. As we go past the only entrance to the village Afzal Guru is from, Seer Jagir, scores of local policemen and riot-control vehicles can be seen camped out at the only playground the town has. It looks like an island of sorts, with the army at the centre and the river Jhelum around it.
We park our car outside Afzal’s ancestral house. A black banner, alongside another bearing the face and legend ‘Shaheed-e-Watan Afzal Guru’, flutters in the icy wind on an otherwise sunny February day.
A young boy appears on the terrace of the double-storey house. But Ghalib, Afzal’s only child, disappears just as soon. Not wanting to intrude on his grief, we decide to leave him alone. But before we can move any further, we hear an angry voice scream out: “What more do you want? You have all killed my husband. You hanged an honest man to fulfil the conscience of your people. You have taken away everything I had. Leave us alone….”
It’s Tabassum, wife of Afzal Guru. It hasn’t been long since the news of her husband’s hanging on February 9—after having spent seven years on death row—filtered in through television channels. The same ones showing ministers and politicians congratulating themselves on television cameras for sending a terrorist to the gallows. The Government of India letter bearing the news arrived two days later, well after the execution. The hanging was a secret, but the grief is public. And Tabassum is inconsolable: “You are all butchers,” she continues to scream at us. “You killed him without any evidence and reason. You killed him for your politics and your games. Why have you done this to me?” The question hangs in the empty air; we do not have an answer.
Surely even a terrorist deserves the benefits of a legal system till the very end? The state had made its decision, but Tabassum, like many others, was left wondering whether Afzal was given a fair trial. As she speculates a future without her husband, Kashmir speculates about its future in the aftermath of the hanging.
People have gathered in the upstairs drawing room. Cousins, brothers, uncles, other relatives, they are all here, talking in groups. Just the, there is a call from the local PDP leader and an animated conversation breaks out. The party, a family member informs us, has been making overtures to Tabassum.
Aijaz Guru, Afzal’s elder brother, is angry. “No one supported him,” he says, “be it Kashmir’s politicians, separatists or anyone else. They all abandoned him. Now everyone is playing politics in his name, drawing mileage out of his death. Everyone is gaining at the cost of a poor Kashmiri’s life.”
A thin man joins the gathering at this point, quietly listening to the discussion around him. Afzal’s younger brother Hillal is less concerned about the politics outside, he thinks there is more that is being played inside. “No one used to come here,” he says. “Tabassum has been living with her parents for the last few years. Now they have gathered here for the mourning of my brother, but all that is going on in here is politics.” People have already started making money in Afzal’s name, Hillal says. Local politicians have started dividing the family on political lines. “No one is telling the real story. It was only Tabassum who fought for her husband. Even I am not in a position to help her. I am a poor man and it is hard to survive here.”
Afzal and his brothers have led completely different lives. Elder brother Aijaz is a prosperous timber merchant, his prosperity evident in his impeccable attire. Hillal looks, and is, less prosperous. They had not kept in touch much over the last few years, but Afzal’s death has brought them together. “People are planning a rally,” says Aijaz. “Thousands will gather for it and march in protest. I hope the situation doesn’t get out of control.” He’s willing to fight for justice for his brother but at the same time maintain a safe distance from the politics. “I am an Indian,” Aijaz is quick to emphasise. “I am a businessman who has nothing to do with separatism and I have been living separately from the family for the last 15 years.”
Meanwhile, the drawing-room discussion veers towards the JKLF from whom Afzal had disengaged but which ex-miltant badge he had to wear the rest of his life. The JKLF, family members say, should not be allowed to get any mileage out of the hanging. The PDP has approached them, but the family is confused by the direction they should take. The National Conference too has approached Afzal’s wife, but there are no takers for them in this house of mourners. Chief minister Omar Abdullah may cry himself hoarse saying he was kept in the dark, but no one’s willing to grant him benefit of the doubt.
A group of villagers has gathered outside. “He (Afzal) was different from the others in his family,” they tell us. “He was a good student, a kind person and an honest man. He was influenced by the idea of an Azad Kashmir.” Younger brother Hillal could not agree more: “He was not like us. He believed in Islam and humanity. He used to read a lot and think about the future of Kashmir, our people and culture.”
Her anger dissipated for the moment, Tabassum too offers a few glimpses into their married life. She says Afzal was a gentle man who wanted to lead a simple life. “I will always be proud of being his wife, nobody can change my belief,” she says. She also declares that all the letters Afzal is said to have written to the separatists are actually fake. “He never wrote to them. All that has surfaced in his name is nothing but a gimmick created by separatist leaders for their political gains.” In one such letter to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Afzal is said to have claimed that he was ashamed that his family had asked for a mercy petition as he wanted to die a martyr. Tabassum claims Afzal never wrote such a letter. “He never apologised for the mercy petition,” she insists. The family categorically maintains that most of the news about Afzal is simply not true and has been planted by different political agencies. “But there is no point in talking about it now,” says Tabassum resignedly. “Why are these questions being raised only after my husband’s death? How many people know about the kind of torture he had to endure in Delhi? Will we ever know under what circumstances he was forced to make a statement in front of the media?”
The family insists we avoid talking to Ghalib, Afzal’s teenage son. He was robbed of the simple pleasures of growing up on his father’s lap, listening to him tell stories, or even poems. “My son will follow the same path as his father. Become a good, kind and honest man like him. His father is now a hero, he too will become one,” says Tabassum, determination momentarily overshadowing the grief in her voice. Ghalib may be young but perhaps he’s not entirely unaware of how his father’s death marks an important chapter in the Kashmir saga.
Prof S.A.R. Geelani, who was accused with Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain in the Dec 13, 2001, Parliament attack case, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2003. He tells Panini Anand why he’s shocked by the Afzal hanging.
Do you think that by hanging Afzal, the government has made him a hero for Kashmir?
The way the government has dealt with him; he is the hero for everyone in Kashmir. He is our martyr, our hero.
Two hangings in three months. Some people put Kasab and Afzal on the same level.
How can anybody do this? What kind of perverted mind equates the two?
What do you think about the timing of his hanging?
I feel it was nothing but a political decision. Look at the way in which the Supreme Court worded its judgement. The sentence the court used is: “to satisfy the collective conscience of the society…” This is a political language, not a legal language. It’s clear that law doesn’t want him to be punished; there are political considerations which want this man to be hanged.
When you say, it was a political decision, are you hinting at the hardline stance of the ruling Congress party?
There has always been a Hindutva lobby within the Congress party. It’s nothing new. Look at the recent Gujarat elections. Ahmed Patel was nowhere to be seen. Wasn’t it the Congress party that opened the gates of the Babri Masjid for worship by the Hindus? For the last couple of years, innocent Muslim youth across the country have been jailed. Had they not facilitated, the Babri Masjid would have not fallen. The Congress is misusing the UAPA and AFSPA. There are many shades of Congress party which come out from time to time as and when required for political benefits. I don’t see any difference between Congress and BJP. They are two sides of the same coin.
What about the state leadership? The day Afzal was hanged, many Kashmiri leaders were in Delhi. Don’t you think that the state’s political leaders and the government were taken into confidence before hanging Afzal?
The Jammu & Kashmir government is like a puppet. Remember the day when Kasab was hanged? The secrecy was maintained. Go and see what Omar Abdullah tweeted then. He said that if this can be done in secrecy, others could be done as well. He was hinting at Afzal Guru. There is no reason not to believe that he was not aware about it or rather, knew about it.
In 2006, Farooq Abdullah warned of serious consequences in the valley if Afzal was to be hanged. My feeling is, Omar Abdullah was taken into confidence on the matter. Why didn’t Omar fly a chopper for the family of Afzal, so that they could meet him for one last time? Seeing the unrest in the valley, Omar is singing a different tune now. I believe other mainstream parties were also taken into confidence on the Afzal issue.
You were one of the co-accused in this case. How do you see this punishment?
The Supreme Court acquitted me, otherwise I too would have faced the same punishment as Afzal Guru. It is completely inhuman what they have done to Afzal. This country prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy but today they have shown not even the basic human values. They have disregarded the basic human values; forget about the larger issues of a democratic system. The family was not informed. A small son was not allowed to see his father for the last time. My stand on Afzal’s case is very clear from very beginning that he never got a fair trial; never ever. People say that there was a trial process. Of course, there was— from trial court to high court and then the Supreme Court— but it was completely flawed and a farce. The judgment is presumptuous. He gave requests at least five times, seeking legal aid. He gave the names of the lawyers. Neeraj Bansal was made his counsel. If you see the records, you will find that Neeraj Bansal gave an application to the court saying that he doesn’t want to be Afzal’s advocate. The court asked him to do the job for assisting the court. So, he was not fighting the case for Afzal, he was assisting the court. It is completely a case of justice denied and today I can say that an innocent man was hanged.
How do you think the media has handled the issue?
Hitler had one Goebbels; today governments have many Goebbels in the form of the electronic and print media. They go on lying to the people till they are convinced that what they hear is the truth. They say that we should have respect for the courts, but do they have? The Supreme Court has declared the confession by Afzal illegal but they are showing it repeatedly even after his death. I mean, they are like vultures who want their pound of flesh from a dead man. Even the so-called security and other experts—I mean what kind of society do they want?
What is happening in Kashmir now?
In Kashmir, the message from the government is hard and harsh. The youth will get a message that there is no option; you can be heard only if you have a gun in your hand. No institution is going to help you. It’s only possible when you snatch your rights by using power. And it will bring disaster, not only to Kashmir but to the entire country. There was a different generation when Maqbool Bhat was hanged in 1984. Now, the Kashmiri youth is more informed, aware and literate. They are not like us; they are listening to the bullet fire and blasts since they were in the wombs, day and night. They are born under the shadow of the guns.
Will it affect the peace process and confidence building in Kashmir?
I pity the politicians for their narrow vision. They can’t see beyond the 2014 elections. They couldn’t see the disaster the hanging would bring to the people of Kashmir and this country. Today, it has been confirmed that Kashmir will never get justice from the Indian system.
While Afzal was innocent, you were acquitted. who are the perpetrators of the Parliament attack? Who are the culprits?
That is the question I have been raising since my release. If you see Afzal’s statement in the court, he has pointed a finger at the agencies. Everyone is talking about national security but nobody has bothered to look into those areas, role of agencies. I am shocked to see this. I was the first person to demand a white paper on this issue; the governments have never come up with it.
After Home Ministry’s offer to handover Afzal’s belongings to the family, will the family collect his belongings from Tihar and offer prayers at his grave?
The family’s demand is that Afzal’s body should be handed to them—to enable them to conduct the last rites. Prayers can be offered from anywhere; sitting in Kashmir or any other place. As far as his belongings are concerned, they belong not only to his family but to Kashmir. They are a treasure now.
by Dr Shabir Choudhry
On the morning of Saturday 9th February 2913, Mohammed Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar Jail of New Delhi and buried inside the Jail. This undesirable action was carried out only two days before 29th death anniversary of Maqbool Butt, who was also hanged in the same jail on 11 February 1984.
It was not the first time a Kashmiri leader was executed in unsatisfactory manner and buried without handing the body to the relatives. Afzal Guru, whether guilty or innocent is no more with us, and let us pray that Almighty bless his soul.
Afzal Guru was accused of masterminding the attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, in which 14 people lost their lives. All five attackers were killed on spot. India accused the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group for this attack which has links with some officials of the Pakistani establishment. Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain Guru were sentenced to death in December 2002 for planning and providing logistic support for the attack. On appeal the sentence of Shaukat Hussain Guru was reduced to 10 years; and he was released on 30th December 2010.
In the same case, two other people, Delhi University Lecturer, SAR Geelani and Afshan Guru, wife of Shaukat Hussain Guru were acquitted due to a lack of evidence. What that suggests is that there must be some evidence against Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain Guru. Afzal Guru was to be executed on 20 October 2006, but after his wife’s clemency appeal to the President of India, it was put on hold. On 3 February 2013, the present President of India Pranab Mukherjee rejected the appeal, hence the execution of the accused.
It is not common in India to hang people for murder. Since 2004, only two people have been executed. Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was executed in November 2012 for his involvement in the 2008 Bombay attacks; and Afzal Guru for his involvement on the attacks on the Indian Parliament.
One may not say that Afzal guru was completely innocent man; but he certainly did not deserve a death sentence. In one TV interview he acknowledged his role in the incident, which was limited to providing logistic support and weapons. He also acknowledged that he went to Pakistani administered Kashmir as a JKLF man for training; and he later on established links with Jaish E Mohammed. One Important point here is that Afzal Guru was not part of the team that attacked the Parliament. He did not kill anyone, although he had some supportive role in the incident. People who are directly involved in murders, at times, do not get death sentence, and question arises why Afzal Guru had to be hanged? Why his sentence could not have been changed to life imprisonment?
Timing of the hanging and the way it was carried out, and what they did to his body speaks volumes about callousness of the authorities. If he had to be sentenced to death, why he had to be hanged two days before the death anniversary of Maqbool Butt, when feeling are running very high; and anti India feeling are at its peak? Why his family was not allowed to meet him before executing him? Above all, why his death body was not given to his family?
Is that not clear breach of fundamental human rights, and against ethics and morality? Is this not to rub salt in wounds of the suffering people? Is this not a message to angry and frustrated people of Kashmir that their sentiments, dignity and honour were not important to the authorities?
What that indicates is that some people don’t want any kind of peace or normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, as Kashmir dispute has become a big business and a valuable source for winning public support or diverting attention from other important issues. One Kashmiri journalist today phoned me and asked my views about this incident. I expressed my serious anger, concern and strongly opposed this action; and called it a breach of fundamental human rights.
He agreed with me, but added that Afzal Guru was not innocent, as he had some role in the incident – he provided weapons which were used to kill people; but he should not have been hanged. He also agreed that his body must have been given to his family. He said: ‘Choudhry Sahib the Kashmir dispute will never be resolved. One condition for a plebiscite is normal situation; and those who are in position of power always ensure that the normal situation does not prevail in Jammu and Kashmir State’.
Commenting on the incident General secretary of CPI(ML) Liberation, Dipankar Bhattacharya said: “Faced with growing popular opposition and resistance one very front, the Congress party and the UPA government are desperately trying to appease the BJP and the communal-fascist brigade.” 2
Arun Dhati Roy writes: ‘Like most surrendered militants Afzal was easy meat in Kashmir — a victim of torture, blackmail, extortion. In the larger scheme of things he was a nobody. Anyone who was really interested in solving the mystery of the Parliament Attack would have followed the dense trail of evidence that was on offer.
No one did, thereby ensuring that the real authors of conspiracy will remain unidentified and uninvestigated. But now that Afzal Guru has been hanged, I hope our collective conscience has been satisfied. Or is our cup of blood still only half full?’ 3
The Supreme Court judgment says the evidence is circumstantial: “As is the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy.” But then it goes on to say: “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”
Already demonstrations on both parts of the divided State have started. Whereas, demonstrations on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir have become violent; demonstrations on the Pakistani side were peaceful and despite government support numbers were limited to few hundred people. Fearing demonstrations as a result of Afzal Guru’s hanging the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir imposed a curfew, but hundreds of people still came out resulting in some injuries.
The big test will be on 11 February. Despite the curfew, people will come out in thousands; and that could result in serious clashes resulting in loss of valuable lives and damage to property. I hope common sense prevails and the authorities do not show heavy handedness; and let angry people protest peacefully and express their sentiments.
This incident will remain controversial, as some will claim he was innocent, others will say he was part of the terror project and was rightly executed. Some will say he had some role in it but did not deserve death sentence. Whether innocent or not, but by hanging Afzal Guru India has provided another prominent martyr to the Kashmiri Muslims. Afzal Guru is dead, but he will live as a martyr, and will boost anti India sentiments. My fear is that some groups will claim that they have no hope for justice; and that will provide new recruits for violence and terrorism.
Democracy’s Noose kept Afzal Guru hanging, till death
by Avinash Pandey
He had to die. Die, because a nation wanted him to, or so were we told by the Supreme Court of the nation. He had to die to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation, the court added for a good measure. So, he did die, nay, hanged till death. His body was left hanging for a full thirty minutes after the levers were pulled, we were told by a media that was less reporting on the incident and more speculating on it.
The media had turned this somber occasion of a death into cannibalistic carnival reminiscent of a 20-20 cricket match on the anvil. They told us everything about the last moments of the one condemned to death. Most of it was later found to be completely false. They told us how uneasy the convict on the death row was on the eve of his hanging only to be rebuffed by the jail officials next morning who told us how calm and composed he, in fact, was.
Whether the collective conscience of the nation was satisfied or not was the only question they did not bother to find answers for. They paraded the family members of the victims of the attack the death-convict had allegedly masterminded and they interviewed political leaders asserting that India would not take an attack on its very heart lying down. They looked around for visuals of those celebrating the hanging, almost all of them clad in saffron scarves while waving the Indian tricolour and inflicted the same on the nation that has started to express itself through the likes of Arnab Goswamis screaming on the television sets.
They did, still, not try to find out where, and in whom, the conscience of the nation resides , forget making efforts to know if it was finally satisfied or not. They did not need to bother to, for they had delivered their judgement far ahead of the courts and were now merely getting disgusted with delay in hanging the convict. The delay, for them, was symptomatic of all that was wrong with India, their India to be precise. They had been questioning the delay incessantly. Their ‘nation’ wanted to know when the convict would be hanged.
The convict, by the way, had a name. His name was Afzal Guru. He was a citizen of India. Yes, in case we forgot, as the mainstream media wanted us to, he was a citizen of India. He was entitled to all the rights a citizen, any citizen of India has. None of his rights, including the right to life with dignity unless taken out by due process of law, were respected by the nation. He was denied a fair trial as many of the legal stalwarts of the country believe.
Now, he was robbed of his dignity even in death. He was hanged in utter secrecy, a secrecy that baffled even the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Let’s make no mistakes though. Mr. Singh was not upset at “the hanging” but at the “circumvention of basic human parameters”. Basic human parameters, for the uninitiated, mean nothing more than the fact that his family was not informed about his hanging and was not given a chance to meet him ‘one last time’.
The fact that Manmohan Singh is known for being upset after the illegalities have been committed and the benefits reaped by those under his immediate supervision is beside the point. Remember his stand on stone pelting in Kashmir, the very same state Afzal came from. He was upset then too and demanded maximum restraint from the security forces who showered bullets on those who pelted stones. He talked of humane policing. He told all and sundry how much he valued the lives of Indian citizens, even the Kashmiris. P Chidambaram, his subordinate who was directly in command of the security forces, ordered maximum crackdown on the protesters meanwhile without upsetting the Prime Minister anymore. He had already exhausted his quota of being upset about the issue.
Afzal Guru’s case, however, was a different one. Here was a man hanged not for absolute legal reasons but to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the nation’. The evidence against him was circumstantial at best, not enough for hanging someone even for those with an absolute belief in capital punishment, forget those like us who oppose the death sentence as a residual barbarity in modern times. He was given death sentence nonetheless.
The conscience of the nation was not satisfied. It did not want him just to be given a death sentence. It wanted the death warrant signed and executed as soon as possible. Afzal Guru, the man, had been converted into an issue, an emotive one on top of that. The nation, read Bharatiya Janata Party was baying for his blood. They had to, for everything about the wretched fellow served the BJP’s purpose. He was a Muslim and a Kashmiri. He was accused of being involved in the conspiracy (we cannot write conspiring as there is no concrete evidence for that till date) to attack Indian parliament.
What better stick could they, and tens of other amoebic heads the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh clan have, to beat Congress and its politics of ‘minority appeasement.’ Afzal was no more a person languishing in jail for a crime he committed, as per the political doctrine of collective conscience, if not legally as per his own assertion. BJP has converted him into a devil whose dead body would be the hinge on which would turn the discourse of national security.
It was not about national security though, not for the BJP at least. After all it remains the same party which had sent the then Union Minister Jaswant Singh to Kandahar as an escort to the known terrorist Masood Azhar and two others in return for the passengers of ill fated Air India flight IC 814. It was also the same party which had unceremoniously returned the army after keeping it in a forward attack position for almost two years without achieving a single stated objective of the misadventure. The cost of the catastrophic buildup on the borders was astronomical. BJP led NDA had successfully managed to get more than 1500 Indian soldiers killed without fighting a war.
Neither had it anything to do either with minority appeasement or BJP’s newly found love about democratic institutions. It has kept its mouth tightly shut on the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for the assassination of Beant Singh, the then Chief Minister of Punjab. Rajoana, unlike Afzal Guru, has neither sought any clemency nor shown any remorse for the notorious killing even while admitting his role in the same.
Unlike Afzal Guru, further, Rajoana was not hanged even after death warrant being signed as the jail officials returned the same under, allegedly, instructions of Akali Dal-BJP government ruling the state. Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, had himself approached the home ministry asking for putting the decision on hold. The reasons he gave for the demand were simple. He wanted the ministry to respect the sentiments of the people; the sentiments that reflected in Akal Takht, supreme religious body of the Sikhs, declaring Rajoana as ‘Zinda Shaheed’.
The case of Afzal Guru was no different. There were a lot of sentiments attached to him. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, as in Rajoana’s case, had warned the central government about the law and order problems that would have ensued following his hanging. The centre did take notice of all that as it was evidenced from the secret hanging and the immediate clampdown on Kashmiris’ right to protest. The state was put under unrelenting curfew. All channels of communication, including social media were stopped.
No, I am not asking for Rajoana’s hanging. No one with a firm belief in humanity can ask for anyone’s killing, that is a foray of the thousands of murderous Bajarangis of the BJP stable. It is not about Rajoana at all in fact.
It is about BJP and its double speak. And of Congress’ abject surrender to this politics of homicidal hate. Afzal Guru was not convicted for legal reasons. Neither was he hanged for the same. He was sacrificed on the altar of petty electoral gains BJP wanted to make out of his death. And on the altar of the growing desperation of the Congress ridden by a battery of scams and bad governance. It is about the difference between Kashmir and Punjab. And the people living in the states.
It is about the very future of the nation and Congress in it, as well. Congress might succeed, for a while, in puncturing BJP’s Hindutva balloon and emerge victorious in 2014. It is going to lose the battle nonetheless. It is not the first time it is flirting with soft Hindutva politics. It has done that in 1989 by allowing the juggernaut of rathyatras and Shilanyas. It did never come back anywhere close to power in most of north India ever again. It did the same in Gujarat while trying to fight Modi’s Hindutva with Shankarsingh Baghela’s Hindutva. The results are for everyone to see.
If only Congress knew that people prefer originals over photocopies, even when it is all about banality of evil.
I did not know Afzal Guru personally. Neither did I know his wife and son. Today I know them all and my heart goes out to them. With ample help from the BJP, the Indian state has successfully made a hero out of a surrendered militant. With the new vacant grave it has dug in Kashmir for him, it has ensured immortality befitting a martyr on Afzal Guru.
None of it can offer any solace to the bereaved family whose only crime was to be related to Afzal Guru. Nor can it offer any solace to the democracy that has been demeaned by the act. I think of all those Pakistani friends telling me how lucky we are to be a democracy. I had never missed that half-jealous and half-desirous tone of those comments. I don’t know if I would believe them anymore.
Mr. Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to Food Programme, AHRC. He could be contacted at email@example.com