The best tribute to him lies in unity which could pave way for a strategy and not in isolated calls for strikes which in turn harm the very people whom they (separatists) claim to represent
Kashmir continues to burn with the rage over the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru. It may be limping back to normality but the way he was executed has hurt the people to the extent that it is not easy to balm the wounds. What was more painful was that his family was not part of the burial and the body was buried in the jail itself. It refreshed the memories of those who had identified themselves with Maqbool Butt in 1984 when he was sent to gallows in the same manner in the same jail.
The debate over the hanging and the way it was conducted has not only heated up in Kashmir but in rest of India as well. This time a rational element among the Indian intelligentsia, academia and media has taken on the government even though majority of middle class have either remained silent or are happy over the development. That should be a big concern for those who see it as a secular nation. The political parties in India are celebrating it the way as if it was the end of terrorism. It was in-fact the Supreme Court’s “collective conscience” theory that tagged an average Indian with this extreme step, which left some people even in the ruling Congress “saddened”. India’s leading constitutional expert and lawyer Fali S Nariman said that the way Guru was hanged was a blot on Indian democracy.
Still there are many people who hold the view that rule of law was supreme and it needed to be established. If that is the case and Guru was hanged as per the rule of law then the question being asked in Kashmir is that why the same law for instance would not apply to those Army officers who were involved in killing five innocent civilians in Pathribal fake encounter in March 2000 to show that the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora was the “handiwork of Lashkar e Taiba”. An inquiry by India’s apex investigation body—Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) found a Brigadier and four other guilty of killing the five civilians. The government resisted their prosecution and Supreme Court did not allow the trial in a civil court. There are many similar cases in which the Army men have been found involved in fake encounters but the law has not taken its course.
REVENGE AND LIFE:
Afzal’s hanging came amid the demand of commuting his death sentence into the life imprisonment. This was the demand from human rights groups, family as well as some mainstream parties in Kashmir. But the government strongly believed that he was a terrorist who attacked the Indian parliament. That means, for the government there was no scope to reform him. But Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar has succinctly put it in Indian Express saying, “Revenge is not Justice”. While writing this piece I came across a powerful quote by a Palestinian writer who decided to move on even after his three daughters and niece were killed in an Israeli attack. The writer Izzeldin Abuelaish said “16th of January, 2009 was the day an Israeli tank killed my three daughters and a niece. I decided that day I won’t hate. With hate you kill yourself, it is a toxin. I decided to move on.” He further added “You save one life, you save the world. You kill one life, you kill the world.” (Courtesy Raza Rumi). In Afzal’s case it was proved that, taking one life only could satisfy the “collective conscience” of over 1.2 billion people.
At the time New Delhi was talking loud about reconciliation in Kashmir giving life even to a “terrorist” was not a big price. In the past we have seen how government has rewarded terrorists who abducted and killed people and raped women but were “honourably” rehabilitated as Legislators and Ministers. Some of them were even given chance to reform as “intellectuals”. Was it because they sided with state and deserved to be rehabilitated this way? This is a question, which merits an answer. Not only has New Delhi polluted the state’s political arena with corruption like this but also it has shown that it is the double standard, which works in case of Kashmir. For example the attack on Parliament was an “attack on temple of democracy” and the law had to reach to final conclusion to deliver justice to nine families who fell to the bullets of attackers on that fateful day. The closure according to government had to come to satisfy the families. But a similar attack was carried on Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1, 2000 in which 38 Kashmiris were killed. The assembly is also part of that temple of democracy. But there is no cry over giving justice to 38 families. Another pertinent question is why to jump to Guru when killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh were ahead on the list. Moreover the latest development is that four aides of Sandal wood smuggler Veerapan were given chance to move to Supreme Court. The perception in Kashmir about how “hurriedly the justice was buried” is not ill founded. It not only has a long history of betrayals ingrained in it but the unfair trial and the subsequent decision to push him to gallows has cemented it further.
RETURNING THE BODY:
As the call for returning the body has grown louder, it has put the separatist leadership to a litmus test. They have again resorted to the calendar of observing strikes. This has been exhausted in the past and had a negative impact on every aspect of life in Kashmir. The common refrain is that such a step to force the opponent to concede any demand in return makes him stronger. Strikes and hartals have worked in the past and to register the protest it can be a short-term plan but in the long term where there is no guarantee of time, such a step has every potential to backfire. At this crucial stage when GoI has made a “big statement of confidence” in Kashmir, all the factions of Hurriyat, JKLF and other groups should work towards unity to finalize a joint strategy to represent the aspirations. Continued strikes won’t bear any result. Ironically when such a question is raised, there is a counter question—what is the alternative. It is up to the leaders to find an alternative like they hold an “authority” to call for a strike to put everything at halt. The alternative lies in unity. As revealed by High Court Bar Association, Afzal too was pained at the factionalism in the Hurriyat. The best tribute to him lies in unity which could pave way for a strategy and not in isolated calls for strikes which in turn harm the very people whom they (separatists) claim to represent.
For New Delhi it is important to note that Kashmir has not reconciled with his death but it has set its course in a more peaceful manner, which needs to be respected. The only way to show the respect is to hand over the body to the family. Afzal has achieved what he was destined to and may be if he continued to be militant with Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front he might have not been in the every household of Kashmir like this. But his family would like to see his grave in Kashmir so that they can find a solace that he was buried in his own soil. Government of India must listen to the stronger demand for returning the body and not fault again on the premise that Kashmir is a place of risks, which they have been playing since 1947 and continue to play even now.
-Courtesy Rising Kashmir-19-Feb-Editorial