“Afzal Guru is the son of Kashmir; people will decide his burial place”

Protests outside Afzal Guru’s home in Jagir, Sopore on Feb. 13, 2012.

By Fahad Shah

Sopore, Indian-Controlled Kashmir

Without letting him to see his family one last time before he was killed, on February 9, 2012, Mohammad Afzal Guru, born on June 13, 1967, was hanged and buried in the Tihar jail of India at 8 am.

A day before I arrived in Kashmir. The first thing I was told next morning was “Afzal Guru has been hanged.” I had nothing to say. Looking at the Congress policies in past, I knew that the Indian government will do it someday before the elections to side line the BJP’s NaMo campaign.

I first came to know about Guru in Dec. 2001 when he was arrested in connection with the attack on the Indian parliament. He was convicted by the courts for the attack. Later, I read his case and was surprised to find that his role was not of involvement in the attack. He was a Kashmiri who had gone to the other side of Line of Control for arms training in 90s, after studying medicine for a few years, to fight against the Indian rule. The rule of India which has left countless scar marks on Kashmiris. The denial of justice puts salt on the scars that have become deep wounds now.

In 2002, I was very young to understand the politics but I could understand well what “role did Guru play in the attack”. When the court’s verdict came out and a date was scheduled for his hanging there were protests in Kashmir. Stone throwing started in several parts of the Valley. A stone in Kashmir doesn’t fly from one place to other without a statement.  The statement, it makes, has always been the expression of strong dissent and a demand of right to self-determination.

The stones people threw in 2002 didn’t change India’s policy towards Kashmir. They did hang him despite the protests by Kashmiris and several other people globally and despite that he didn’t get a fair trial. After eight years we see a new generation throwing stones, for he has been hanged. Several times we cross stone throwing spots on roads and find pieces of glasses and a layer of stones on roads.

On February 13, five days after Guru’s hanging, I left from Srinagar to visit his home in Sopore- 5o kilometres north of Srinagar. While driving on the Srinagar-Varmul highway my colleagues and I came across through several check points. We did pass on. Near Palhallan Pattan it was as if war had been declared. The only humans we could see were Indian paramilitary forces. We reached Sangrama and moved towards Sopore. Though, we could never reach Jaagir village- where Guru’s family lives, by road. We had to walk a few miles and then cross the river and then entered the house.

A two-storey mud-brick house is Guru’s home. The house was surrounded by villagers. Most of them were young. A makeshift tent outside the house, on the banks of the river Jehlum, was filled with men. Youth were sitting outside the tent. Another small tent was inside the house compound for women. We were not allowed to talk to any women. A loudspeaker placed on a truck was playing religious sermons and Naats (praise to God and Prophet). I asked a young man, staring at me, “How the curfew has been here?”

He replied, “We have not seen what is going on outside this village since the day of hanging. People are angry. At evening army comes and takes a round of the village.”

Guru’s wife was sitting somewhere, we didn’t know, and is not able to speak to anyone. A family member, Yaseen Guru, has been appointed to talk to the people and press. “They (India) are supposed to return the belongings of Afzal Sahib. But the first issue is his body,” Guru told us in the tent, surrounded by a large gathering of people.

The family has been demanding India should return his body and that shall be buried in Kashmir. Yaseen says that it is the people of Kashmir to decide where the body will be buried. “Afzal is not from Guru family now; he is the son of the soil, Kashmir. He deserves the place of burial where people have thought to bury him,” said Yaseen.

Guru’s lawyers ND Pancholi and Nandita Haksar (who have withdrew from the case now), on behalf of the family had sent a letter to Tihar Director General Vimla Mehra demanding handing over the body to the family.  The letter said, “They (the family) would like to be able to offer prayers at Afzal’s grave when they come. They have requested that you initiate the procedures on their behalf for taking his body back to Kashmir…They would like that you keep Afzal’s belongings in a safe place after making an inventory which should be handed over to Afzal’s lawyers.”

The family has rejected that they will visit the grave in the jail to offer prayers. They are demanding that the body should be returned. Rejecting any assistance from the central government or the state government, Yaseen, on behalf of the family said, “There are only two ways: either they (India) tell us to come and take the body. We will go and get it. We don’t need any assistance from the central government or the state government. Second is that they will hand over the body to us. We will not accept any diktat from the central government on anything.”

Another letter which was written by Guru before hanging, addressed to his wife, Tabassum, has reached his home. Tabassum married to Guru in 1998 and have a 13-year-old son, Ghalib Guru. The family has decided not to make the letter’s content public yet as the whole family is in a state of shock. “We have received the letter and that is with the family. Local postman brought it. We have decided not to open it as his wife is in a state of shock. We don’t want to discuss or disclose something which will create more shock to the family,” Yaseen said, adding that they have strong conviction that the letter might have some message for the people of Kashmir too.

The letter will be released after a week. He said that the family will call press and reveal the contents of the letter. While saying so, in the tent, Yaseen received a phone call. A pause in our conversation but a local sitting near us added, “They don’t know what will happen here after this. Who got Maqbool Butt hanged? Farooq Abdullah. Who got him (Afzal Guru) hanged? Omar Abdullah.”

The people of Kashmir and particularly of Sopore are angry of the state government- led by Omar Abdullah. It was on February 11, 1984, when Mohammad Maqbool Butt was hanged in Tihar jail and buried there, during which the state government was led by Farooq Abdullah. His body was not returned ever despite so many campaigns and family pleadings. After Butt’s hanging the armed movement started in late 80s in which the then young generation crossed over to the other side of the Line of Control and returned as trained guerrillas. This time observers and analysts believe that the hanging of Guru will become a catalyst in shaping the young generation of Kashmir, born during late 80s and early 90s.

“Nobody knows what will happen. Allah knows whether his hanging will have any effect. As humans we can speculate things. We never imagined this will happen. It was Allah’s will that after Maqbool Butt’s hanging in 1984, the armed movement started in 90s and now Allah knows what will happen after Afzal sahib’s hanging,” Yaseen said.

In Kashmir the curfew was ordered in the morning of Feb. 9 even before people had woke up. Nobody knew that they will wake up to curfew and Guru would be hanged. According to the Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, he was called by the Home Minister of India, Sushil Kumar Shinde at 8 pm on Feb. 8 and was told about the next morning hanging. He addressed the media in Srinagar after the hanging.

“I have come to know Omar Abdullah was in Delhi on that day. He was aware about the situation. Mehbooba Mufti is claiming now, having political battle on television. When a resolution was put in assembly no body supported it. They at that time managed that affair in such a way that the resolution was not passed. Now they are fighting on television for meaningless issues that have no concern with the family,” said Yaseen.

Afzal Guru’s house in his hometown.

He added that the family requests the people of Kashmir to continue the peaceful protests and continue their sympathy till they reach their conclusion that Guru’s body will be returned. “People have shown their anger. We appreciate the people of Kashmir, conscious Indians and others all over the world. There were protests in different parts of India and also in different quarters of world,” Yaseen said, adding further, “He had great love for the people of Kashmir. So in order to safeguard that love we will continue to demand his body and expect people of Kashmir will protest peacefully. We don’t want more deaths. We know how death impacts the family. We are with all the families that have been martyred.”

On asking about the role of pro-freedom leadership, Yaseen said that if the leaders want to join them they are welcome. “I have come to know leaders are not here. Leaders know how to tackle this situation. We support the calls made by any Kashmiri. We do support Geelani’s call of absentia funeral prayers on Friday, as he is also a Kashmiri,” added Yaseen.

On asking him about the capital punishment he said that people have suffered. “Definitely capital punishment should be abolished.” The people surrounding the tent started chanting slogans of freedom and justice. “Naareh Takbeer, Allah Hu Akbar. We want freedom.”  Amid this Yaseen added, “We wish and pray that this whole movement takes us to the logical conclusion that is the right to self-determination.”

Photographs by Shahid Tantray

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