As Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged inside the infamous Tihar jail on February 9, 2013, I called India’s well respected human rights defender and activist Gautam Navlakha on his mobile phone to know his reaction on the execution.
I vividly recall what Mr. Navlakha told me. “When you don’t allow a person a fair trial and a chance to defend himself, you are actually being unfair,” he said, adding that “in a way, it was a judicial murder.”
Yes, precisely so. Many Indian lawyers and conscientious activists have said so on record many a time.
Nandita Haksar, noted human rights lawyer and author, in her book ‘The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism’ gives a detailed account of how Afzal Guru was (mis)treated inside the notorious torture centres and jails, and how he was made a victim.
“After all, in order to understand Afzal’s story, one would have to practically know the history of insurgency and counterinsurgency in Kashmir. And history cannot be presented as evidence in a court of law. Afzal was a victim of history,” Ms Haksar writes. (‘The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism’ p 185)
She writes that a police officer, DSP Davinder Singh, ordered Guru to confess to being in touch with militants and having weapons. When Guru denied possessing any weapons, the author says that “he was stripped naked and put in freezing water and given electric shocks.”
“…Afzal was forcibly made to drink water and given electric shocks for three hours by an inspector called Shanti Singh, while the officer (DSP Davinder Singh) watched. Petrol was poured into his anus and chillies stuffed into it and he was kept in that state the whole day,” (The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism p 184/the details of the torture were written in a letter by Guru to his lawyer in the Supreme Court, Sushil Kumar, and the letter was later published in a pamphlet.)
Another fact that is in the public domain already is Davinder Singh’s admission that he indeed tortured Afzal Guru. Mr. Singh made this confession in an interview to CNN/IBN, one of India’s television channels.
The murky details of police extortion have been very well documented by Ms Haksar in her book. Guru wanted to live a normal life after his surrender, but the police and agencies manufactured a “terrorist” in him.
After Guru’s rearrest, Ms Haksar notes, that he was taken to the police station of the Special Cell at Lodhi Road. It was precisely there that he learnt that he had been accused of conspiring to attack the temple of India’s democracy.
“He (Guru) was beaten, tortured and humiliated. It was the holy month of Ramzan and the policemen urinated into his mouth, telling him he could break his fast with their urine. He was also forced to have anal sex with his cousin Shaukat,” the author writes in her account.
One of Afzal Guru’s letters written to Nandita Haksar is also revealing in many ways. It sends shivers up and down one’s spine. The 10-page letter written in English in Guru’s own handwriting is part of Ms Haksar’s book.
At the very outset, Guru writes that for him applying for President of India’s clemency was a “simple formality”.
“The petition to the President of India being a constitutional procedure and simple formality (for me) was never (meant) for publication or campaign. Same happened with my letters which were personal to the lawyer or others. This is simply in your own language a breach of Trust,” Guru writes to Ms Haksar.
Guru also mentions how his letters became raw material for various campaigns and with the result his immediate family had to pay a cost. He also accuses the Indian intelligence agencies of manufacturing differences between him and his brother.
“…Due to this my family was terrorised and traumatised by state security agencies and also central agencies in different ways,” Guru writes, adding that “the police stations have become slaughter houses.”
Guru had lost faith in the Indian judicial system, its media and the so-called democracy. He was aware of his vulnerabilities, treated them as his strength, and was mentally ready to pay a heavy cost. His philosophical thoughts in his letter reveal a lot about the incarcerated man who knew very well that he would not get justice from the Indian courts.
“I am fully aware about the eventualities and consequences regarding my vulnerable family members but the deeper fact about life is that we all are vulnerable when we are part of sensitive subject,” he writes.
It is unimaginable how shabbily the man was treated inside Tihar jail. The jail authorities would not allow his family members to meet him for more than 20 minutes in spite of knowing that they come to see him all the way from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district and could afford to visit Tihar only twice or thrice a year.
But the courage displayed by Guru’s words in his letter is moving. In his letter, Guru gives his opinions on varied subjects, which include religion, faith, apartheid, oppression, radicalism, Kashmir conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thoughts of the noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky, and uncontrolled deforestation (losing of the green gold) in Kashmir, etc.
“I don’t bother whether Modi or the people of India called me terrorist or criminal. Indeed, I am a terrorist against (for) those who terrorise and humiliate the common helpless people,” he writes.
Narendra Modi, then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections, had expressed his joy over Guru’s execution. “Better late than never,” he had tweeted.
Guru was hanged till death on February 9, 2013 inside Tihar jail and buried there. His mortal remains have been denied to his family. Ghalib, Guru’s son who passed his class 10 examinations with flying colours recently, wants the mortal remains to be given to the family.
It is highly unlikely that Ghalib’s wish will ever be fulfilled in a place where people are killed for sport, citation, awards, monetary rewards, citation and also in the ‘national interest’.
Guru was a victim of a conspiracy. His arrest a ‘masala’ for India’s obedient press. And his hanging a recipe to satisfy “the collective conscience of 1.2 billion Indians.”
I also recall words of Jammu and Kashmir’s former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Immediately after Guru’s hanging, the junior Abdullah said on record that Kashmir’s entire new generation will from now onwards start identifying with Afzal Guru. Another matter that he did very little to save Guru from the gallows.
On the legal front, it appears that Guru may have little or no hope left. After all, India’s Apex Court had upheld his death sentence to “satisfy the collective conscience of the society/nation”.
It must also be noted that India’s legal expert, Harish Salve, had a different take on this contentious subject. In his Guest Column for India Today, Mr. Salve had urged people not to “romanticise the macabre”.
All said and done, Guru makes an important point in his letter addressed to Ms Haksar: “the constant humiliation and trauma will enhance and ignite the heat of conflict.”
The new generation of Kashmiris may not tread the path of armed uprising again, as they did five years after the hanging of Maqbool Butt in 1984. But the seeds for the renewed resistance on political and intellectual front have already been sown!