Afzal Guru hanged: From “collective conscience” to collective punishment

The execution of Afzal Guru by hanging represents all that is wrong with Indian politics, media, judiciary and its gullible people – whose conscience was supposed to be assuaged by hanging a less than five-feet tall Kashmiri man in his early forties.

People in the Kashmir Valley were deep asleep while police and paramilitary forces moved like ghosts in the dark, erecting barricades on the streets and surrounding the townships; dogs were barking at their peak – it is said they feel incoming dangers much in advance because of their sixth sense.

This was the usual scene during ’90s in the Valley – known not only for snow capped mountains and crystal clear waters but also for the bloody conflict that has claimed more than sixty thousand lives in last two decades – during crackdowns when men would be rounded up in a school ground or an open field, their houses searched and belongings thrown all around the place by the Indian security forces.

On Saturday morning, however, a larger catastrophe struck the Kashmiri people, and it hit them hard, irrespective of their political leanings. Mohammad Afzal Guru, 41-year-old fruit businessman, convicted for his ‘role’ in Parliament attack, was executed by hanging in Delhi’s Tihar jail – which saw second hanging of a Kashmiri after 29 years – the first one being of Maqbool Butt.

afzalHis native village, Mazbugh in Sopore town – once famous as Chotta London (little London) – was surrounded by armed forces from all sides and it is being said that such was the clampdown that even birds stopped their flight to the village. Thousands of mourners from adjacent villages defied the curfew as they marched towards Guru’s home to express their condolences and solidarity with his family – an essential part of Kashmiri culture.

Police fired their guns and dozens of people were injured, few of them critically. Cable TV was shut down, Internet services were snapped and in many parts of the Valley, even the electricity supply was interrupted. This was, going by the local administration, done to prevent any deterioration of law and order situation following the hanging of Guru. Not only this, police visited newspaper office late at night on February 9th and ordered them not to print for the next day.

Three people have so far died while dozens other injured as youth defied curfew at many places across the Valley. On the second day of the strict curfew, two youth died by drowning after being chased by Central reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Sumbal area in North Kashmir’s Ganderbal district – incidentally the constituency of the state chief minister.

12-year-old Obaid Mushtaq succumbed to injuries in Srinagar’s SKIMS hospital while his friend Sajad Ahmad who received a bullet in the head is still battling for life. At least, four people were wounded as police and paramilitary troops fired tear gas shells and live bullets to disperse an angry crowd, which Mushtaq and Ahmad were part of, in Wateragaam near Sopore town on Sunday.

There are people claiming that the situation is calm. To them, one would say: Yes, it is calm but it is an enforced silence. You break a nation by restricting them inside the four walls of their houses and then you claim peace and calm.

While the feeling among Kashmiris is that Guru was denied a fair trial and was implicated in Parliament attack case, the unabated curfew and the use of brute force for four consecutive days is only fuelling the alienation among the young generation. As a friend rightly pointed it out: “ We can tweet or express our frustration through blogs and writing, what about youth who don’t have access to Internet and such facilities. They are not allowed to express their feelings by the administration, which I am sure will be expressed in the form of another militant movement quite akin to what happened after execution of Bhat in 1984.”

The execution of Afzal Guru by hanging represents all that is wrong with Indian politics, media, judiciary and its gullible people – whose conscience was supposed to be assuaged by hanging a less than five-feet tall Kashmiri man in his early forties.

Now we have our chief minister making rounds of Indian TV channels to salvage the situation by distancing himself from the decision to hang Guru. I wouldn’t call his decision to give green signal (only if we assume he was even consulted) to the Union government to hang Afzal a political blunder because politicians and leaders commit blunders, but honestly speaking, only few people in the Valley see any political acumen in Omar, a heir of Abdullah family, which has been sustaining on the ‘Abdullah’ name.

By hanging Guru, Indian government has shown its utter disregard for peace in Kashmir and expressed in loud terms that peace talks and working groups are just eyewash. And sitting on the clemency petition of Guru for more than half a decade, it has shown that the move was just a wait for the right opportunity. And it couldn’t have come at a better time when the rise of BJP’s Narendra Modi had started to threaten its existence.

The population, which was already horror-struck at the execution of Guru, has been denied their basic rights – right to venture out of their homes. It is no hidden fact that Guru didn’t get fair representation when the trial court convicted him. He was a surrendered militant, like thousands of others in the Valley, trying to live a normal life. In Delhi, he was trying to establish his business, but everyone in the Valley believes, and rightly so, he arrest, conviction and execution were all politically motivated – and their rights trampled.

As if it wasn’t enough to flame passions, his body has been buried inside the jail premises, his family not allowed to see him last time. The sentiment in Kashmir is clear like its crystal clear waters – India used the execution for political gains (precisely to satisfy the conscience of right wing voters) at the altar of another generation of Kashmiris who – busy in building careers – might have unintentionally forgot the past sufferings.  Even Omar has said: “Afzal Guru’s execution has re-enforced at one point that there is no justice for them (Kashmiri youth) and that to my mind is more disturbing and far more worrying than the short term implications.”

The man, who was just doing his business in Delhi away from the abuse of Special Task Force (STF) – infamous for extrajudicial killings of civilians – has, because of unfair trial and shoddy investigations and shrouded execution – been made a martyr and an ideologue for Kashmir’s next generation.

It has equally set a dangerous precedent in India where coalition politics is becoming more diverse with every day. The political parties, for safeguarding their vote banks, can go to any extent with the help of judiciary, which is acting more like Khap Panchayats.

Otherwise, how can the highest court of a nation that claims to be the world’s largest democracy, award death sentence to a man just on the basis of “satisfying the collective conscience of the country”, especially when there was no direct evidence of his involvement in the attack?

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