Edit/Op-Ed

Afzal Hanged, Democracy Buried

Iqbal Ahmad for BeyondHeadlines

”I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it and making a habit of it, for spilled blood never sleeps.”

These were the parting words of Al-Malik al-Nasir al-Sultan Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known in history as Saladin(1138-1193), Sultan of Egypt and Syria who captured (1187)Jerusalem and defended it during the Third Crusade (1189-1192),to his son aI-Zahir shortly before his death.

No one should expect Omer Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir to be as wise as that of Saladin but what he was trying to say after the execution of Afzal Guru, was somewhat similar to that.

While talking to some Indian news channels he said, “Whether you like it or not, the execution of Afzal Guru has reinforced that point that there is no justice for them and that to my mind is far more disturbing and worrying than the short-term implications for security front.”

Photo Courtesy: www.thehindu.com

Afzal Guru, the 43-year-old resident of Sopore in Kashmir and the Parliament attack (13 Dec, 2001) convict was secretly hanged and buried in Tihar jail of New Delhi at around 8 am on Feb 09, 2013, where he had been in solitary confinement for 12 years.

Guru’s wife and son were not informed.

R.K.Singh, the Indian Home Secretary told the press, ”The authorities intimated the family through speed post and registered post, the Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] police has been told to check whether they got it or not”.

On denying Afzal’s family chance of a very last meeting Omer said, ”I find it very difficult to reconcile myself to a fact that we executed a person who wasn’t given the opportunity to see his family for the last time… There is something wrong in the system if we are sending information [of execution] through Speed Post [as per jail manual norms] in this era. We could have easily got the family to meet him in Delhi and kept it a secret.”

Omer further said, ”Generations of Kashmiris will identify with Afzal Guru”.

I fully agree with Omer that there are many things wrong in the system but when he says generations of Kashmiris will identify with Afzal Guru and not with the moderate, liberal, articulate, media savvy young Chief Minister coincidentally almost of the same age as that of Afzal Guru, then something is wrong with the honourable CM as well.

Omer said he was informed, about the plans to hang Afzal Guru, on Fiday night around 8 pm. Then the question arises as to what did he (Omer) do to either postpone the execution which was beyond his capacity or at least arrange last minute meeting with the family members.

The answer is given by my friend and a seasoned Kashmir watcher Seema Mustafa.

She wrote on her facebook wall, ”Omar Abdullah was having dinner at a posh Delhi restaurant the night before Guru was executed.”

Omer’s police and Delhi’s paramilitary personnel spread out through the Valley imprisoning people in their own homes. The massive clampdown took away the Internet and mobile services for many.

Afzal was buried near Jail No. 3 of Tihar, right next to the grave of Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Butt who too was hanged in Tihar.

Butt, a Kashmiri separatist leader, was hanged on the 11th of Feb, 1984 in Tihar jail for the murder of an Indian intelligence official and a bank manager.

He was also accused of indirectly responsible for the death of an Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in the UK.

On 03 February, 1984 Ravindra Hareshwa Mhatre, a senior Indian diplomat was kidnapped while he was on way back to his home in Birmangham. A little known groups, named Kashmir Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the abduction and demanded release of Maqbool Butt in exchange besides one million pounds as ransom money. The demand was outrightly rejected by Indian government and two days after his abduction, on 05 February, his body was found by the police in a farm.

The killing of the diplomat shocked New Delhi and at a very high level meeting that was held late that evening, with Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister in the chair, it was decided to send Maqbool Butt, then lodged in solitary confinement in a high security zone of Tihar jail, to gallows.

Valley based journalist Zafar Meraj writes, ”Kapil Sibal, then a reputed Supreme Court lawyer and now a member of the Indian Cabinet, appeared on behalf of the petitioner(brother of Maqbool Butt) and pleaded that the execution of Maqbool Butt was in gross violation of all prescribed laws and norms as the basic requirement of confirmation of his death sentence, awarded by Sessions court, had not been fulfilled. He produced before the court the certificate of the Registrar of the state High Court. But that was not to be. The Attorney General of India, who represented Union of India, took out a piece of an unsigned paper, claiming that to be the confirmation of death sentence by the state High Court. Hon’ble court took cognizance of the Attorney General’s paper and dismissed the petition without any further argument.”

What a coincidence when Maqbool Butt was hanged, Omer’s father Farooq Abdullah was the CM of J&K and Kapil Sibal appeared on Butt’s behalf. When Afzal Guru was hanged Omer is the CM and both Farooq and Sibal are members of the Union Cabinet.

It may look strange but in actuality it is not.

The first political family of Kashmir especially after the Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord of 1975, is the custodian of the interests of the Indian State, in the troubled state.

On paper they may be democratically elected representatives of the people of J&K but primarily their mandate is to safeguard the interests of the Government in Delhi.

Coming back to the execution of Afzal and its immediate after effect, in Delhi almost all Kashmiris were targeted. Journalist Iftikhar Gilani was detained by the notorious Special Cell personnel, even his family members were not spared by the police. Prof SAR Geelani, another accused in the Parliament attack case who was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court, was also picked up by the Special Cell and taken to unknown locations.

Arundhati Roy, booker prize winning writer and human rights activist wrote in the Guardian, ”Rightwing Hindu nationalists distributed sweets to celebrate the hanging, and beat up Kashmiris (paying special attention to the girls) who had gathered in Delhi to protest. Even though Guru was dead and gone, the commentators in the studios and the thugs on the streets seemed, like cowards who hunt in packs, to need each other to keep their courage up. Perhaps because, deep inside, themselves they knew they had colluded in doing something terribly wrong.”

Reacting to the way Afzal Guru was executed Nitya Ramakrishnan, a senior lawyer who defended Shaukat Guru and Afshan Guru in the Parliament attack case from the trial court up to the Supreme Court wrote, ”A constitutional republic that is insecure about letting a man in chains say his final goodbyes is something that we all need to worry about. A state that is paranoid about democratic opposition, but will succumb easily to demands for abridging due process concedes the first round to the terrorist.”

One of Afzal Guru’s close relatives described his anguish and pain in these words, ”They(India) are claiming to be the biggest democracy… They don’t have the courage to give us his body,”

Yes, India is the biggest democracy but Indian democracy stops at Pir Panjal range and unfortunately Afzal Guru(lived) and his family live on the other side of the range.

Or would it be more appropriate to say along with the burial of Afzal Guru in Tihar, Indian democracy was also silently buried.

RIP! Indian Democracy.

(Iqbal Ahmad is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.)

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