VIEWPOINT: Guru's hanging
The manner in which the Kashmiri 'militant' Afzal Guru was tried and secretly hanged in New Delhi's Tihar Jail on Saturday morning and buried in the jail premises unknown to his family says a lot about the rule of law in the world's largest democracy as well as the indigenous nature of the Kashmiri people's struggle for independence.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2013
Guru was not accused of direct participation in the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in which all of the five attackers were killed. The case against him was based on circumstantial evidence produced by the police but contradicted by independent media investigations. And yet confirming the death sentence the Supreme Court of India came out with a unique version of justice, saying that since the incident had shaken the entire nation "the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."
Needless to say, any civilised society's conscience would be satisfied only if an alleged offender's guilt was proven beyond doubt. Even so, civilised societies abhor capital punishment. 97 countries have abolished death penalty because there is a growing realisation that flaws in the justice system can lead to an irreversible act of violence by the state. Guru's trial was full of flaws. Raising serious questions about the fairness of his trial, Amnesty International has pointed out that "he did not receive legal representation of his choice, or a lawyer with adequate experience at the trial stage. These concerns were not addressed."
Guru's wife Tabassum's clemency petition had been pending with the Indian President's office since 2006 when APJ Abul Kalam occupied that office. His successor Pratibha Patil commuted as many as 35 death sentences into life imprisonment, but she kept Guru's petition pending, apparently, because of the politics involved (he was associated with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front), and perhaps also driven by the same sentiments with which the country's apex court sought collective satisfaction through misplaced revenge. Current President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Tabassum's petition on February 6, paving the way for the execution.
India was jubilant. The ruling Congress, its coalition partners, and of course the BJP which had been baying for JKLF man's blood and accusing the government of being "soft on terrorism" all celebrated. The Congress had to demonstrate it was no wimp when it came to dealing with the Kashmiris. That was all the more important at this point given that Indian elections are due next year. And yet everything the world's largest democracy did to satisfy its conscience was shrouded in secrecy, reflecting fear. The condemned man was walked to the gallows without a last meeting with the family, which was to learn about the hanging from television news. The 'speed post' letter sent by the Tihar Jail superintendent to inform his wife in his Sopore hometown arrived two days after the hanging. Home secretary R. K. Singh tried to cover-up the deliberate delay by insisting the family was informed earlier through two letters via the speed post.
It is unclear though what was he really trying to say. Was the speed post not speedy, or the family did not want to see him? His account, though, was negated by J&K chief post master general. According to him, the letter arrived Saturday evening, several hours after the execution, and Sunday being a holiday it could be delivered only on Monday. In any case, it is rather strange that in this day and age, India should rely on the postal department for matters concerning life and death. It was supposed to ensure the family was duly informed and had enough time to travel to Delhi. Then there was the decision to bury Guru in the jail premises and to place the entire Valley under curfew for fear of a backlash of public protests, which happened anyway.
The standard practice in India is to blame its troubles in Kashmir on Pakistan. In fact in its initial reaction to the attack on parliament, the BJP had immediately accused Pakistan of involvement. But the man secretly executed and buried without letting his family perform the last rites, was a Kashmiri. And those venting their anger and anguish against the execution in the Valley are Kashmiris too.
Pakistan of course is a party to the Kashmir question as part of the unfinished agenda of the Subcontinent Partition. It has gone to two full-fledged wars and at least two limited ones over the issue. But the 1989 Kashmiri uprising against Indian rule was entirely indigenous in nature. It is true that Pakistan later jumped into the fray, and actively supported the Kashmiri fighters in every possible way. But it is true also that it could not have done that had the Kashmiris not risen on their own. A relevant example is that of the former East Pakistan. Pakistanis accuse India of breaking up their country through military intervention. The fact of the matter is that India was able to intervene on the side of secessionists because the Bengali people wanted independence from Pakistan.
Islamabad reversed its policy of cross-border intervention a decade ago - duly acknowledged by India's friends such as the US. Still, the Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule has not stopped. The Valley remains in turmoil despite being one of the world's most heavily militarised zones with 700,000-troop presence. An estimated 100,000 Kashmiris have lost their lives, and countless others subjected to worst forms of torture during the last 23 years. There are over 10,000 reported cases of enforced disappearances. What happens to the disappeared is obvious from the recently discovered mass graves. International human rights organisations have also been reporting the use of rape as a weapon of war. Still, the struggle for freedom goes on.
Understandably, it is difficult for India to let go of Kashmir. Arrogance of power reinforces its resolve to keep the state under its control. But people forced to live under occupation tend not to forget or forgive the wrongs of history. Neither power nor passage of time dampens the urge for freedom. To quote just one example, Chechnya has been resisting Russian rule since the late 18th century. Chechens have kept resisting whenever an opportunity presented itself. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they rose again and won de facto independence from the Russian Republic. They made the mistake, however, of seeking further expansion, leading to a second war with Russia, which managed to win back control after a brutal and protracted conflict. An uneasy calm still prevails. The example shows that even after 200 years of rule by a strong state like imperial Russia and its even more powerful successor, the Soviet Union, and its successor the Russian Federation, the Chechen people have not given up their fight for freedom. India would do itself a favour by paying attention to such lessons of history.