The decision to hang Afzal Guru leaves many questions on the investigation unanswered. The feeling of alienation in the Valley is likely to deepen.
It is inappropriate to talk in the same breath about the hanging of Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist caught red-handed in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and that of Afzal Guru on Friday for the attack on Parliament in 2001.
Union Home Secretary R. K. Singh’s statement that Guru’s wife had been informed of his hanging by speed post was contemptible. The TV channels would have woken her up with this rude shock… that is before both cable and Internet were cut off in many parts of the Kashmir Valley. I can already hear outraged voices about terrorists having rights and not the families of the victims of that attack. Of course, the attack on Parliament was a heinous and outrageous crime, and rightfully interpreted as an attack on the soul of India. Of course, law and justice too had to take their course.
But the manner in which the entire police investigation was done: the number of times Guru was made to give and change his statements, including the one naming the five terrorists who were killed on the spot; how the courts had repeatedly dug holes in police investigations; the Kashmiri “surrendered militant’s” abject failure to get decent legal representation in the initial stages; and, above all, how the “mastermind” of the attack, S. A. R Geelani was acquitted by the higher court, leaves many questions unanswered.
Over the years, as there have been strident voices to “quickly hang Guru”, human rights activists such as Arundhati Roy and others have pointed out — not only after the hanging, but from 2006 onwards — the Supreme Court’s observation that the evidence against Guru was only circumstantial. Dismissing his appeal, the apex court said as in most such conspiracies, there wasn’t “direct evidence” against Guru, and then went on to pronounce a questionable and widely criticised premise that this attack “had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender”.
Repercussions in Kashmir
Those of us who have travelled to Kashmir — experienced firsthand the alienation of the Kashmir people, often not without justification — are fearful of the repercussions of Guru’s hanging in the Valley. And also the manner in which it was done. Kasab was a confirmed fidayeen, who mowed down innocent people, but Guru’s case was different.
Getting involved in the Kashmiri secessionist movement, like many Kashmiri youth, he too crossed over to Pakistan in 1990, but soon returned disillusioned, surrendered, was often picked up and tortured by both the STF and BSF, and used by them. According to Guru’s wife Tabassum, once they demanded a bribe of Rs 1 lakh to release him, which she paid by selling her jewels.
More important, in an article titled “A wife pleads for justice” in The Kashmir Times in 2004, she contended he had not get a “fair trial”, was “totally undefended in the trial court”, and charged that the police had forced him to “falsely confess before the media. They humiliated him, beat him, tortured him and even urinated in his mouth. I feel deep shame to talk about these things in public but circumstances have forced me. It has taken a lot of courage for me to put all this on paper but I do so for the sake of my child (Ghalib) who is now six years old.” She talked of the “communal bias” of the trial judge and wrote: “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities that is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement (of militants) even if they are not involved. By making people into informers they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents.”
How many in the rest of India know this reality of Kashmir? Her final desperate plea was of “a Kashmiri woman who is losing faith in Indian democracy and its ability to be fair to Kashmiri Muslims.”
A political game?
These words are being recalled here because, now that the bloody cries for Guru’s hanging have been satiated, “our collective conscience” needs to ask some tough questions. Was justice really done? When one accused was freed and others got life imprisonment or a reduced sentence, was his hanging justified? And that too without his family being allowed to meet him or informed?
Note how the BJP and rest of the Sangh Parivar are saying triumphantly that the UPA Government was compelled to finally act because the Congress is getting increasingly panicky about the rise of Narendra Modi and the growing clamour to make him the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate.
J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, sombre on Day 1, expressed anger the next day and quizzed the Centre about the haste, not informing Guru’s family and seeking answers on the “selective hanging” of only some of those facing death penalty. He said he was extremely worried about the long-term repercussions this would have in Kashmir, where an entire generation might grow up identifying with Guru and resenting the Indian Government.
Social media angry
On Twitter, the resentment of some youngsters was evident within minutes of the story breaking. Sehla Rashid’s tweets were telling enough. “His trial was unfair. So was his execution. So will be his burial. Kashmiris will protest, be shot at. God bless #Kashmir”
Her second tweet said, “Oh great nation, now that Afzal guru is hanged, please also hang Army men who have killed Kashmiris in cold blood.”
Sameer Bhat @sameerft said: “Why shut the cable in #Kashmir cowards? What happened to democracy and freedom of speech crap?
But much more scathing was this tweet from Rana Ayyub, responding to Modi’s tweet on better late than never. “Narendra Modi says der aaye durust aaye. Sir, we are waiting for the day u are indicted for the genocide in Gujarat. Will say the same.”
But at the end of the day, the buck stops with the UPA Government. If it is perceived that the decision to hang Guru was taken before the Budget and the 2014 elections only to prove that India is not a “soft state”, a section of Indians still with the UPA — despite the plethora of scams, because they are uncomfortable with the BJP and its ideology — will be alienated.
Much more important than the political positioning is what will happen in the Valley. The separatists in the Valley have already got a shot in the arm.
Thankfully, a section of the media has refused to join the “celebrations” and raised tough and scathing questions on the whole trial, role of the police and even the judgment.
If Guru got more punishment than he deserved, Ghalib, like his father, might once again cross over the border. Who can blame him… and what other choice have we given him?