Afzal Guru hanging: Is India's collective conscience satisfied?

Fahad Shah
Fahad ShahFeb 09, 2016 | 09:01

Afzal Guru hanging: Is India's collective conscience satisfied?

Three years ago, on this day, Kashmir was under siege. The government had imposed undeclared curfew and anything that moved was suspicious. The word had come in advance that Afzal Guru - a former Kashmiri militant, who was convicted in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, will be hanged early in the morning.

Guru was hanged in the morning but police, paramilitary and army were all prepared in advance to lock down the civilian population of the Valley. As a journalist, the first thing that came to mind was: how can we reach Sopore - the apple town where Guru's family lives. There was no point of even trying, yet we did but failed on the first day.


In the next few days, I, along with some friends went to Guru's house twice and met his family members. The road that led to the village had iron spikes and barbed wires in rows. I was driving but had to park the car on the banks of river Jhelum, cross the river in a boat and walk a few miles to the house.

That day every journalist followed the same path. The second time, Guru's son Ghalib sat next to us and spoke about his father.

Kashmir after the hanging

The government knew that the uproar in Kashmir against the hanging would be massive, thus curfew. In the afternoon, a police officer told me that he was surprised when his officer texted him that Guru will be hanged in a few hours. "I couldn't feel my legs. India shouldn't have done it and that too in secrecy," he said.

At dawn, a newspaper hawker, in Lal Chowk, was told by a policeman that "no one will be able to buy your papers today. Everything will be shut."

For over a month, there were protests and stone pelting in which 350 civilians and 150 cops were injured, and four were killed. This doesn't look like an uproar considering it is Kashmir. But there was a change - unseen, developing within Kashmir's youth.


Since 2013, the anti-India sentiment grew at a large level among the youth. The escalation in the process of well-educated young boys picking up arms against the state has roots in Guru's hanging.

Kashmir is a very complicated issue and an unexpected place. One fails to imagine what tomorrow could be like. A day before Guru's hanging, I had arrived in Srinagar from Delhi and everything felt normal. For the next one month, it wasn't the same Kashmir anymore.

Larger impact on Kashmir

This happens in the Valley two ways - one is at a smaller level and another larger. The smaller outcome of this hanging was a month-long protests but the larger outcome has just started taking roots. The rise of militants in South Kashmir's forests is not unexpected for someone who understands the Kashmir conflict. We knew the larger implications of a hanging would be like this.

On 11 February 1984, when Maqbool Bhat was hanged in the same jail and his remains never returned, its larger implications were felt after four years when the city's telegraph office was bombed. His party, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) that was only political earlier had now become armed. Since then it never stopped.


For Butt's mother, whom I met two weeks later, it was the same athing all over gain. "I was at home when I heard that Afzal Guru had been hanged. It was the same day for me as it was the day of Maqbool's hanging," she told me.

Guru's hanging only revived the same sentiment decades after and will be in people's mind for decades to come. Misreading Kashmir's situation has been a very common factor for politicians and "parachute experts" who observe it from Taj Vivanta.

Has the conscience satisfied?

The Congress-led UPA government didn't inform the world - not even Guru's wife Tabassum and son. He was allowed to write a letter - that also reached his wife days after the hanging. Buried in the Tihar jail compound, Guru's body, or anything he was carrying in jail, was not handed over to the family.

All this was a result of one judgment: "to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation." No one can say if that satisfaction was felt by the nation. There were protests and meetings of solidarity to the Guru family. Many in India felt the pain of this family and even opined that legally, the case against Guru was weak and that he became a pawn in the larger politics of the country.

Last week, Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri author and journalist, wrote that false stories of solidarity are being spread in Kashmir. At the end, he asks Muslims to stop engaging with his community on what happened in 1990. "Do not tell us that you were equally helpless," he wrote.

Who will be the judge and the jury? But he was right in quoting Primo Levi, "there exist a thousand ways to manifest one's solidarity with the oppressed. Propagating the falsehood of warmth is not one of them."

I wonder if the solidarity with Kashmir's present or those protests against Guru's hanging were "falsehoods of warmth." The tragedy of Kashmir is that it has become many things over the years. And within those many things lie buried the sentiments and courage of its people.

Nothing can be forgotten. Neither what happened in 1990 nor what has been happening from 1990-2016. The simple principle, like in any conflict, that applies to Kashmir is one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.

Last updated: February 10, 2016 | 11:22
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