By Malik Aamir
‘No words can describe the pain. It was like a bolt from the sky.we are still locked in that moment. We’re still struggling to reconcile with that moment,
Wasn’t it just yesterday? Spring announced itself in Delhi. The sun was out, and the slaw took its course. Just before twilight Afzal Guru, prime suspect in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, was secretly hanged, and his body interred in Tihar jail. The world’s biggest democracy did not even have the courtesy to inform his family. In a moment of rare unity India, or in the least its major political parties, the Congress, the BJP and the CPM, came together as one (barring a few squabbles about delay and timing) to celebrate the triumph of the rule of law.
With obvious electoral gains in mind, the Congress government went after soft Muslim targets. And the BJP was happy to make vociferous demands for the hanging of Muslims accused of terrorist acts while calibrating its stance in other instances. This was political cynicism at its worst. How long, the question is, will the people of India turn a blind eye to such cynicism?
Instead of whipping up and pandering to mob demands, the Indian state ought to be pursuing peace by fostering coexistence. But that would need a modicum of wisdom sadly lacking in the rulers in New Delhi.
Let me recapitulate the whole saga. The Government of India in a top-secret operation hanged a Kashmiri Muhammad Afzal Guru, on February 09, 2013, in New Delhi’s infamous Tihar jail. Guru, held to be a suspect in connection with the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 was buried in the jail premises. It was not a mere hanging but a judicial murder aimed at gaining political objectives. New Delhi executed Guru despite having accepted the recommendation to put moratorium on capital punishment during its Universal Periodic Review in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 21st session, in September 2012. The evidence against Guru in the case was entirely circumstantial and was based on a confessional statement extracted by the police under duress. This was, however, conveniently set aside by the Supreme Court of India.
The apex court in its judgment had admitted that there was no evidence of his direct involvement but had termed the execution as necessary to “satisfy the collective conscience of the society”. This ruling itself speaks volumes about the conviction and the punishment being political. Legal experts believe that Guru was not provided with a counsel of his choice and adequate legal assistance, as a result of which his entire trial was prejudicial and unfair. The court-appointed junior lawyer was not for defense of Guru but for assistance of the court. He did not visit his client even once in jail, not summoned any witnesses in Guru’s defense and did not cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.
Ironically, the Indian government went ahead with its premeditated plan of sending Guru to the gallows, despite the fact that a petition filed by his wife for repeal of his death penalty was pending in the Supreme Court. Moreover, he was given the punishment out of turn as judgment on death sentences of many other accused was to be taken before his. Guru was also denied the right of review after his mercy petition was rejected by the Indian president.
The Government of India did not stop here.
It did not bother to inform the family members of the victim about the decision in advance so that they could meet and talk to him for one last time. And , rubbing salt into their wounds, they were not handed over his body, which was buried inside the jail, depriving the family of performing Guru’s last rites. Even the residence of the family members was put under siege to prevent people from expressing solidarity with them.
All these facts make it amply clear that hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru was a political stunt taken by the Congress party in view of the General election to be held in India the following year. Like the execution of prominent Kashmiri liberation leader, Muhammad Maqbool Butt, in February 1984, Guru’s hanging holds a message to Kashmiri: they would continue to be made sacrificial lambs for political games in the so-called largest democracy of the world. The saga doesn’t end here. Following the hanging, New Delhi has been resorting to subject the people of occupied Kashmir to collective punishment by imposing curfew from time to time, putting the entire Hurriyet leadership behind the bars or under house arrest, arresting hundreds of youth and using brute force on peaceful protests against. The use of brute force has already led to the killing of many innocent people and injuring of scores of others.
However, the Indian collective conscience is indifferent in this case where victims were of similar faith and ideology; Muslims, Pakistanis and Kashmiris. A nation that calls itself secular and democratic is tangled in the corruption of the pre-partition conscience, which remains a threat to its own survival and integrity. Now that Afzal Guru has been hanged, I hope the ‘collective conscience’ has been satisfied. Or isthe cup of blood still only half full?
India’s actions against Kashmiris expose its claims of being a democratic country. The international community must hold New Delhi accountable for its actions and pressurize it to return the mortal remains of Afzal Guru to his family to at least give the family some solace.
The author practices Law at the Lower court, Srinagar and can be reached at: [email protected]