Sopore: A year after Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged and buried in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, his wife Tabassum Guru says he never regretted having joined the “freedom movement of Kashmir,” and that she hopes the people of Kashmir continue efforts to bring back his mortal remains. Tabassum spoke to the Kashmir Reader, her first interview to a Kashmir-based publication since Afzal’s hanging. Excerpts:
Kashmir Reader: You were not allowed to meet Afzal before he was taken to gallows. What did he say when you met him the last time?
Tabassum Guru: I met him in August 2012 when his mother had undergone a surgery. He talked to me normally, like any husband talking to his wife. We talked about his mother, about me, about my work, and about the difficulties in the life. He also talked to our son Ghalib. It was a routine visit.
KR: Did Afzal use to talk about Kashmir?
TG: He talked about the situation in Kashmir, about people of Kashmir, about stone-pelting etc every time I met him. His conversations were always like that of a man who has been separated from home for long.
KR: It is often said that Afzal didn’t want Ghalib to visit him in Tihar Jail. Is that true?
TG: We used to communicate with Afzal frequently through letters, and whenever we asked him for a meeting, he never said no. And he would first ask for Ghalib, and then for me. We usually met him on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan when the relatives are freely allowed to meet the prisoners in Tihar for some hours. He never said that Ghalib shouldn’t meet him. Rather, he used to wait for us anxiously.
KR: Afzal was not allowed to talk to anyone in jail. Did he ever express to you the suffocation he may have been feeling?
TG: Allah had made Afzal a person who wouldn’t express his sufferings to even his wife, realising that it may depress me. In jail, he kept himself busy in books, prayers, and reading the Holy Qur’an, not letting himself to be suffocated by the solitary confinement. He often told me that he was watched over through four CCTV cameras installed in his cell except in the toilet area, and that everything he did from coughing to changing clothes was being watched over, but he never lamented before me. We learned about his sufferings in the jail from the released prisoners.
KR: Did Afzal express any last wish when Supreme Court maintained his death penalty?
TG: Afzal didn’t believe that he would be hanged. When I met him at the time Supreme Court had pronounced death penalty against him, he was smiling. His younger brother asked him to make a last wish or something, but Afzal laughed, and asked his brother, “Do you believe that I will be hanged?” Then Afzal turned to me. He used to call me Mokhti out of love, and he said, “Mokhti, what do you feel. Will they hang me?” I replied “No. He (your brother) has lost his senses.” Then he turned to his younger brother, saying, “Look what my wife is saying.”
KR: So Afzal never believed that he would be hanged?
TG: He used to say, “Till now they haven’t been able to get rid of the burden of hanging one Maqbool Bhat, they can’t afford to hang me.” He believed New Delhi would let him rot in jail, but won’t hang him, and that they would have executed him early if at all they were to hang him.
KR: Did Afzal regret being part of the ‘freedom movement’ in Kashmir?
TG: In our meetings (in jail), and also in his letters, Afzal used to remind me of my friend whose husband was arrested on the second day of their marriage, and the next day his throat-slit body was recovered from a stadium. Afzal always asked me to derive courage from the sufferings of my friend and the pain she had gone through. He always maintained that we are oppressed. He said if we don’t act, our younger generations would suffer, but if we struggle, our younger generations would be able to live happily. He never regretted being part of the freedom movement.
KR: Soon after your marriage, Afzal was imprisoned for some time and then the parliament attack happened. You were very young then. Have you ever regretted being his better half?
TG: Never in my life. In fact, it was Afzal who always said, “I am thankful to you for joining me in all my sufferings, and for running from pillar to post for me.” He was the one who made me realise how much I had suffered; I myself lost count of my sufferings while striving to save his life.
KR: You and Afzal lived together for a brief while, and you have said that he wanted to live a normal life. What was his idea of a normal life?
TG: Afzal was a freedom loving person. One day, shortly after our marriage, I and Afzal were walking together, and a soldier threw a pebble towards me from inside a camp. Afzal didn’t react then, but later in the evening, he took two (analgesic) tablets. He had acute headache. I tried to enquire the reason, he turned furious and didn’t tell me anything. But when I insisted, he said, “Did you see how rude they (soldiers) are? He hurled pebbles towards you, and I could do nothing. There will be a time when they will torture our kids, and we would be mute spectators. We are oppressed.”
KR: What then made Afzal give up arms and yearn for a normal life after he had returned from Pakistan-administered Kashmir?
TG: He was discouraged by the way militancy had unfolded. Did you not see how militancy changed? Some became Ikhwanis (government gunmen), some turned disloyal, and those fighting for the right cause were martyred. It dejected Afzal, and he went to New Delhi for studies. He returned in 1997, and we got married in 1998.
KR: You went against his wish to file the mercy petition. What had motivated you when you had witnessed how he was denied a fair trial?
TG: I was initially hopeful that the Supreme Court would do justice with Afzal. There were four person arrested in the (parliament attack) case. Three of them were released while Afzal was given death penalty. I was hopeful that Supreme Court would at least convert his death penalty into life sentence, but it didn’t. I may not have filed the mercy petition, but I had to do it for my son who would ask me tomorrow if I had done everything possible to save his father. I had to do it not for my husband, but for the sake of my son.
KR: Now that all your efforts to save Afzal failed, do you regret filing the mercy petition?
TG: If someone is at the last stage of cancer and doctors say he can’t be saved, we still do our best to save the patient. It was a similar situation for me. Had I not filed the mercy petition, today when Afzal is dead, I may be pondering over ifs and buts. I did what I was supposed to do; hypocrite India failed all my efforts.
KR: Afzal was denied fair trial in the successive courts. Did you approach any lawyer from Kashmir to represent Afzal in Supreme Court?
TG: I and my father went to advocate Mian Abdul Qayoom (president of Kashmir High Court Bar Association). But the lawyers in Kashmir told us that none among them could represent Afzal in New Delhi; that they (Kashmiri lawyers) wouldn’t be allowed to defend Afzal due to political reasons. India was being ruled by BJP (NDA) government then. Afzal gave to court a list of nine lawyers, but none from the list was allowed to represent him.
KR: After Afzal’s execution, pro-India parties have been expressing sympathies with you. They are raising demand for return of his mortal remains. Did any of them help you when Afzal’s case was under trial?
TG: What sympathy? Where were they when our case was under trial? No one talked about Afzal then. Whose door would have I knocked at? And Afzal had strictly ordered me against approaching any politician, like Omar Abdullah, for help. He had told me: “You will face an angry Afzal if you went to any of them (pro-India politicians) seeking their help in my case.”
KR: Were you offered money by New Delhi or the state government after Afzal’s hanging?
TG: No, no one offered us money.
KR: In your interview with Outlook magazine last week, you have accused the pro-freedom camp of not helping you before or after Afzal’s hanging. What is the reason for it?
TG: They only talk. They visited us after Afzal’s hanging, and said they will do this and that. A lot was up to them. They could at least get his mortal remains back. They could have done a lot, but they did nothing. Now they give speeches and sermons.
KR: Did the pro-freedom camp help you in any way when Afzal was under trial?
TG: Had they helped us, we would have got a lawyer to defend Afzal in the courts. But they did nothing. No one came forward to help us.
KR: Is Ghalib aware of what happened to his father?
TG: He is aware of the injustice that consumed his father. He knows that his father wasn’t given a lawyer to defend him in the court. He reads it all on internet. He knows everything from A-Z.
KR: Have you ever narrated to him the story of his father?
TG: Some 40 days after Afzal was martyred, I and Ghalib were sitting in this room here (in Sopore nursing home), and I told Ghalib, “They didn’t let us see your father for the last time.” We were having food then. Ghalib cried, and said, “Mommy, if they would have allowed you an opportunity, did you have the courage to see Abu’s face for the last time and listen to him talk knowing that he was going to be martyred? Perhaps you may have summoned the courage for it, but I could not.”
KR: When was Ghalib told about his father’s execution?
TG: I was on duty on the morning Afzal was executed. Ghalib was at my aunt’s home at Khanpora, Baramulla. He was to stay there for three days, but was brought back on the second day only when his father was martyred. On way to home, he noticed that curfew had been imposed, so he asked my brothers the reason for it. First they concealed the truth, then my younger brother told him that his father was martyred. He had cried, and when he reached me, the first word he uttered was “patience”. He said: “Mommy, don’t cry. Whatever Allah does is for our good. Leave everything to Allah.”
KR: How is he coping up with the loss of his father?
TG: He lives with me in this single room. He studies, goes to school. His father was in Jail no. 3 in Tihar, and he has named this room as Jail no. 4.
KR: What did Afzal want his son to become?
TG: Initially, he wanted Ghalib to become a doctor. But some two years ago, when we met him in Tihar, he told Ghalib, “I want you to become an Islamic scholar.” When I asked the reasons, Afzal said, “Doctor’s life is nothing. My son shall become a famous Islamic scholar.”
KR: Is Ghalib inclined to fulfill his father’s dream?
TG: Ghalib has no dreams. He only says, “Whatever Allah thinks is best for me”. He too doesn’t express his feelings. I try to make him speak, but he never shares anything.
KR: Is there a sentiment of vengeance in Ghalib?
TG: He never expresses his feelings no matter how hard I try to make him speak. But he hates New Delhi. Sometime I provoke him by asking if he is send to New Delhi for studies. He angrily replies that “no, I won’t go. I will be reminded of the tragic moments my father spent there.”
KR: How do you look at New Delhi following Afzal’s execution?
TG: I never want to step on that soil again. I wish I am never reminded of the unsuccessful struggle I did in New Delhi to save my husband.
KR: Your husband was victimized for his pro-freedom links. Has his death made you averse to the ongoing movement in Kashmir?
TG: We have given sacrifices, which shall not be wasted. Not just my husband, but all Kashmiris have suffered, and many people here have suffered more than I did. There are parents who lost all three sons they had, and there are people who don’t know where their loved ones are. I want the people to achieve the goal for which we are suffering—azadi.
KR: You have yourself said that there are many couples like you and Afzal in Kashmir. What is your advice to all those suffering couples?
TG: All of them shall have patience. That is all they can do. They will get justice in this world or the next; we must not lose faith in Allah. We will get azadi from India. If not us, if not our children, our grandchildren will breathe in freedom.
KR: Afzal has become a hero for a generation of Kashmiris and his hanging is believed to trigger another ‘90s-like armed insurgency. Would you want that to happen?
TG: It is very much there, already. Freedom sentiment rests in every kid of Kashmir. My neighbour’s son studies in nursery, and he often shouts ‘Hum kya chahtey-azadi’. Even he says that we are oppressed. Even he wants to fight Indian oppression.
KR: New Delhi has closed the debate on return of Afzal’s mortal remains to Kashmir by saying no to it. Have you given up the struggle?
TG: I will struggle for it till my death.
KR: Will you consider the legal course?
TG: Courts and law never helped me. I have no hopes with leadership either. Today, Afzal is perhaps dearer to people of Kashmir than he ever was to me. And I am sure my Muslim brothers will make India return the mortal remains to us.
KR: Any message for people, especially youth, from Afzal Guru’s wife?
TG: Afzal’s last message to us was “Don’t be sad, but be proud of my sacrifice, and respect it.” I have the same message for the people of Kashmir.
KR: Is there a message from you to pro-freedom camp of Kashmir?
TG: Muslims are suffering, not just here but in Delhi like states too. They are rotting in jails, and some families even don’t know their loved ones are imprisoned. They shall be provided legal help.
KR: What is that one special memory of Afzal that you would like to share with the people of Kashmir?
TG: As a person Afzal was compassionate and pious. He never lied to anyone. Whenever I met him he used to sing “Khaak ho jayenge hum tumko khabar hone tak” (I will be dead before you get to know about me). And that is what happened!