On this day 5 years ago, Kashmir woke up to being curfewed to the hilt and a shocking news, as across the other side of Himalayas ‘the collective conscience’ of a whole nation was satisfied with a verdict. Congratulatory messages galore across India, as both right and left celebrated the decision.
Arundhati Roy, in her article for Guardian, says, “What are the facts? On 13 December 2001 five armed men drove through the gates of the Indian parliament in a car fitted out with a bomb. When challenged they jumped out of the car and opened fire, killing eight security personnel and a gardener. In the firefight that followed, all five attackers were killed. In one of the many versions of the confessions he was forced to make in police custody, Guru identified the men as Mohammed, Rana, Raja, Hamza and Haider. That’s all we know about them. They don’t even have second names. LK Advani, then home minister in the BJP government, said they “looked like Pakistanis”. (He should know what Pakistanis look like right? Being a Sindhi himself.) Based only on Guru’s custodial confession (which the supreme court subsequently set aside, citing “lapses” and “violations of procedural safeguards”) the government recalled its ambassador from Pakistan and mobilized half a million soldiers on the Pakistan border. There was talk of nuclear war. Foreign embassies issued travel advisories and evacuated their staff from Delhi. The standoff lasted months and cost India thousands of crores – millions of pounds.
Within 24 hours, the Delhi Police Special Cell (notorious for its fake “encounter” killings, where suspected terrorists are targeted in extrajudicial attacks) claimed it had cracked the case. On 15 December it arrested the “mastermind”, Professor SAR Geelani, in Delhi, and Showkat Guru and his cousin Afzal Guru in Srinagar, Kashmir. Subsequently, they arrested Afsan Guru, Showkat’s wife. The Indian media enthusiastically disseminated the police version. These were some of the headlines: “Delhi university lecturer was terror plan hub”, “Varsity don guided fidayeen”, “Don lectured on terror in free time.”
Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar Jail in the wee hours of February 9, 2013.
Elsewhere in the newsrooms, the dynamics of capital punishment and its consequences were debated; not whether the victim was given a fair trial or not. As the current chief minister (Mehbooba Mufti) and her father openly said, “Gandhi’s India has become a ‘Banana Republic’ with this decision”, we bust the myths that a common Indian believes are true regarding Afzal Guru and his hanging.
1. Afzal Guru was involved in the parliament attack.
No, he wasn’t. He didn’t even commit that attack. All the attackers were killed in the gunfight that followed the attack.
In Afzal’s confession, he admitted to being a facilitator of the attack. He claimed that he was asked to carry out the task by members of the militant organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammed. He stated that a Jaish-e-Mohammed militant, Tariq, had asked him to take the five gunmen to Delhi and to provide them with everything that they needed in order to carry out the attacks. Afzal claimed that Tariq was not the real mastermind behind this operation but a senior militant called Gazi Baba who is also known as Shah Nawaz Khan.
Afzal Guru later disowned the confession and stated that he was forced to confess lies in front of the camera. The Supreme Court deemed it as inadmissible evidence. Afzal also stated that he was forced to do so by Indian special forces (STF) from the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
2. Where was Afzal during the Parliament attacks then?
Afzal wasn’t even there. He was in his flat; unaware of what was happening. He was taken by STF. Everything that could go wrong for Afzal, went wrong.
The Delhi Police said that Afzal and Shaukat(another accused) were arrested in Srinagar based on information given to them by Geelani following his arrest. The court records show that the message to look out for Shaukat and Afzal was flashed to the Srinagar police on December 15 at 5.45 am. But according to the Delhi Police’s records Geelani was only arrested in Delhi on December 15 at 10 am—four hours after they had started looking for Afzal and Shaukat in Srinagar. They haven’t been able to explain this discrepancy. The high court judgement puts it on record that the police version contains a ‘material contradiction’ and cannot be true. It goes down as a ‘disturbing feature.’ Why the Delhi Police needed to lie remains unasked, and unanswered.
3. Afzal Guru confessed his crime on record.
No, he was forced to do it. Repeated torture in the prison by the Indian police made him confess. He was incarcerated in a high-security prison, with no access to the outside world, and no money to hire a lawyer professionally. Three weeks into the trial the lawyer appointed by the court asked to be discharged from the case because she had now been professionally hired to be on the team of lawyers for S.A.R. Geelani’s defence. The court appointed her junior, a lawyer with very little experience, to represent Afzal. He did not once visit his client in jail to take instructions. He did not summon a single witness for Afzal’s defence and barely cross-questioned any of the prosecution witnesses.
During the course of this ‘media confession’, a curious thing happened. In an answer to a direct question, Afzal clearly said that Geelani had nothing to do with the attack and was completely innocent.
At this point, ACP Rajbir Singh shouted at him and forced him to shut up, and requested the media not to carry this part of Afzal’s ‘confession’. And they obeyed! The story came out only three months later when the television channel Aaj Tak re-broadcast the ‘confession’ in a programme called Hamle Ke Sau Din (Hundred Days of the Attack) and somehow kept this part in. Meanwhile in the eyes of the general public – who know little about the law and criminal procedure – Afzal’s public ‘confession’ only confirmed his guilt. The verdict of the ‘collective conscience of society’ would not have been hard to second guess.
The police and authorities worked well to arrest all the accused in the terror attack.
4. The judge found Afzal guilty on concrete evidence.
Not at all. Since it was done on collective conscience a narrative driven by a vicious media defamation campaign.
In its final judgment on the case, apart from the now famous statements about “satisfying collective conscience” and having no direct evidence, the supreme court also said there was “no evidence that Mohammad Afzal belonged to any terrorist group or organisation”. So what justified that military aggression, that loss of soldiers’ lives, that massive haemorrhaging of public money and the real risk of nuclear war (remember, foreign embassies issued travel advisories and evacuated their staff)?
Was there some intelligence that preceded the parliament attack and the arrest of Afzal Guru that we had not been told about? If so, how could the attack have been allowed to happen? If the intelligence was accurate and infallible enough to justify such dangerous military posturing, don’t people in India, Pakistan and Kashmir have the right to know what it was? Why was that evidence not produced in court to establish Afzal Guru’s guilt?
5. Kashmiris often say this ‘Media Defamation Campaign’. What do you mean by media defamation campaign?
A perfect example is that of Iftikhar Gilani, a senior journalist and S A Geelani’s son-in-law who was arrested soon after Afzal’s hanging.
In the hours after Afzal Guru’s execution, officers from the Special Cell of the Delhi Police detained a senior journalist and locked his young children into the bedroom of his flat before finally releasing him.
Iftikhar Gilani, who works for DNA, is the son-in-law of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. In 2002, he was arrested by the Special Cell on false charges of violating the Official Secrets Act and held in Tihar jail for several months before the then government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee ordered the police to drop the case.
I owe my living to journalism for the past two decades in Delhi. It was ridiculous on the part of the authorities to behave like this. I am so scared. I have tried my best to raise my children in an atmosphere of peace and compassion. I have no idea what I should do to prove myself as a peace loving and law abiding citizen,” said Gilani.
6. How are you damn Kashmiris involving Muzaffar Rather to this case? If Afzal was innocent arguably, Muzaffar is a terrorist for sure.
Muzaffar Rather, a bright student, disappeared at the age of 13. According to his parents, Muzaffar was even afraid of the dark. A decade later, his parents found out that Muzaffar was arrested with two other militants of LeT. The news of Muzaffar joining militant ranks came as a shock even to his parents.
Muzaffar has been living most of his life in Indian jails. In December last year, he and his family were hopeful of his release as he had spent over a decade in the prisons.
However, in January this year out of nowhere, he was awarded death sentence on charges of ‘waging war against the state’. Everyone fails to understand why.
“He was just a kid, a teenager when he left. We fail to understand why he received such a sentence,” a family member says. “Even if he had crossed over and was carrying fake currency, as we are told, how can that invoke such a harsh punishment? And that after spending more than a decade in jail.” he added
7. Afzal had all the support from Indian Judiciary
Afzal Guru was never given a fair trial and he was not represented by any lawyer of his choice because lawyers were not willing to take up his case. Even the most important witnesses were not cross-examined.
He had also given details of his case to Human Rights and Civil Society organizations. He also said how Delhi police had blackmailed him from time to time. He had not seen his lawyer or his family members for six months. “I saw my family at Patiala House Court but only from afar. I gave names of four lawyers to plead my case. Court judge S.N. Dhengra said they could not plead my case. The lawyer given to me by the court filed many prosecution papers without telling me which were accepted and at the end of the day he began pleading the case of another accused and not mine. The court appointed Amicus quadric. He was not appointed to defend me but to help the court and he never met me. Initially I didn’t have a lawyer available,” is what Guru had told the correspondent.
No direct witnesses were available in this case from the early beginning. It maintained his death sentence on the basis of circumstances. It was perhaps for the first time that such a high ranking court said this in its judgment.
For five months, from the time he was arrested to the day the police charge-sheet was filed, Mohammed Afzal, lodged in a high-security prison, had no legal defence, no legal advice. No top lawyers, no defence committee (in India or Kashmir), and no campaign. Of all the four accused, he was the most vulnerable.
8. Afzal has had a terrorist past
Afzal was a regular medical student in Kashmir. He too was a part of a wave in which thousands of Kashmiris joined millitant ranks, but he returned. He wanted to live a normal life but was never allowed to. He established a small shop in which he would sell medical equipments but he wasn’t given a chance. Forces would often pick him up for interrogation.
Afzal’s surrender was treated as a crime and his life became a hell. Can Kashmiri youth be blamed if the lesson they draw from his story is that it would be insane to surrender?
He had been repeatedly tortured by security forces with false allegations and how, on days, after he was given electric shocks by the dozens, he would return home and not be able to stand straight. He tells the reporter:
“Tabassum witnessed both my physical and mental wounds. Many times I returned from the torture camp, unable to stand, all kinds of torture, including electric shock to my penis.”
9. Even if Afzal wasn’t an actual terrorist. But he supported acts of terrorism
No. Afzal repeatedly in his interviews denounced such cowardly acts. Neither was he himself a part of any such attack (as proved above, with reference), neither did he enjoin the same.
“I have already issued a statement in this connection through my counsel N.D.Pancholi. I have condemned the blast as a barbaric and cowardly act. No religion permits the killing of innocent persons. Such cowardly and inhuman acts must be condemned by all. I am disturbed that my name has been unnecessarily dragged in this connection. Some agencies/groups are playing dirty games by falsely involving my name. This is not for the first time. It has become routine that whenever such blasts take place, my name is sought to be dragged in, in order to malign me, to cultivate public opinion against me.” he said in an interview
“Oh I didn’t know this before.”
Glad that it had made sense to you, so can we please come together on humanitarian grounds. At least we can campaign for his mortal remains to be returned home.
PS: Thousands of Kashmiris are languishing in Indian jails as political prisoners. Most of them cannot afford legal fees, let alone be hopeful of justice being served.
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Further reading and reference:
1. Afzal Guru Interview
2. The Very Strange Story of the Attack on the Indian Parliament
3. ‘And His Life Should Become Extinct’