by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1434)
The February 9 hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, in India’s notorious Tihar Jail, has touched a raw nerve in Kashmir. Even fair-minded Indian writers, among them Arudhati Roy, have described it as a judicial murder.
Two days before Kashmiris observed “Martyr’s Day” to commemorate the murder by hanging of Maqbool Butt on February 11, 1984, India executed another innocent Kashmiri. Muhammad Afzal Guru was hanged in India’s notorious Tihar Jail in the early hours of February 9 after an appeal for clemency by his wife to Indian President Parnab Mukherjee was rejected. In violation of its own procedures, the Indian government neither notified his family prior to his hanging nor handed Guru’s body over to his relatives. Instead, he was hurriedly buried in the compound of the Tihar Jail where three months earlier, Ajmal Kasab was hanged and buried. There was no doubt about Kasab’s involvement in the Bombay attack of November 2008.
Guru’s case, however, was radically different. While “convicted” for the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, he was not involved in the attack. All five attackers were killed in the gunbattle that ensued at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power. An extremist party, it has close links with Hindu fascist outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). For once, all Indian political parties were united in celebrating the murder of another Kashmiri that they had branded a “terrorist.” Jail authories, meanwhile confirmed that Guru was completely composed and at peace with himself before being led to the gallows. They were astonished at his composure, something rarely seen with people about to be executed. In an opinion piece in the Delhi-based daily, The Hindu (February 10), Arundhati Roy wrote: “Even though the man was dead and gone, like cowards that hunt in packs, they [Indian political leaders] seemed to need each other to keep their courage up. Perhaps because deep inside themselves they know that they all colluded to do something terribly wrong.”
Aware that the judicial murder of another innocent Kashmiri will inflame passions in Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Indian-Ocupied Kashmir, asked whether this was a case of “selective execution.” Continuing with his rhetorical statement, he asked why the Indian government had not executed the killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi or Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh but had shown such enthusiasm for executing a Kashmiri against whom there was only circumstantial evidence. Even the Indian Supreme Court judgment said the evidence against him was circumstantial since Guru was not involved in the attack and that he was picked up from a fruit market in Srinagar later. The court said in its judgment: “As is the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no direct evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy.” But then setting aside legality, the court went on: “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” What happened to the principle of “beyond a reasonable doubt” before convicting a person to the extreme punishment of death?
Professor Anuradha Chenoy from the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi was quoted by the Inter Press Service (IPS) about Guru’s trial: “Yes, there was politics involved at every stage and it was indeed a political trial rather than a judicial trial.” The Indian professor admitted that there are many loopholes in the Indian judicial system. “The Indian lower courts and judiciary as a whole look at some cases in a typical fashion: if they treat somebody as an enemy, they look at his case with that perspective only; and not on merit,” she said. “It is well known that Guru did not get a fair trial.”
The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) was so concerned by the now routine hangings taking place in India — Ajmal Kasab last November and now Afzal Guru — that it urged the Indian government to “end this distressing use of executions as a way to satisfy some public opinion.” HRW South-Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement that Guru’s hanging “makes it more urgent for India to reinstate its previous informal moratorium on executions as a step towards abolishing the death penalty.” The HRW’s statement about “satisfying some public opinion” was a reference to part of the Indian Supreme Court’s judgment where it said: “the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” Even the Indian Supreme Court it seems has succumbed to mob hysteria. Pity the Kashmiris that have to face daily humiliations at the hands of Indian occupation forces and are killed routinely. Now they have to face mob verdict from the highest court in India!
Not surprisingly, Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control expressed outrage when news of the secret hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru broke out. Kashmiri as well as Pakistani leaders condemned the execution as judicial murder. Aware that the hanging would evoke strong reaction in Indian Occupied Kashmir, the Indian occupation forces clamped down curfew on the entire Kashmir Valley with much stricter enforcement in the capital city Srinagar as well as Sopore, the hometown of Guru. The homes of all Kashmiri leaders were also surrounded by troops to prevent them from venturing out to mobilize the people to protest this latest Indian crime. Even so, news of the hanging spread like wildfire.
While Chairman of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC), Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and another veteran APHC leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani were put under house arrest in Delhi, they both strongly condemned Guru’s hanging and described it as an attack on the collective conscience of the Kashmiris. The APHC in a separate statement issued in Srinagar urged the people of Kashmir to observe four days of mourning and demanded the shifting of Guru’s body to Kashmir for proper burial in accordance with Islamic teachings, the Kashmir Media Service reported. The statement went on to say that the execution of Guru was linked to the coming general elections in India, adding that the shedding of Kashmiri blood for victory in the polls was not acceptable. In the protests that ensued, two people were shot dead and scores injured by Indian troops on the first day.
On the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government announced a three-day mourning period over the government-sponsored murder of Guru. AJK government spokesman Shaukat Javed Mir said that the Kashmiris would observe three days of mourning and the AJK flag would fly at half mast and all government departments would remain closed.
What was Guru’s crime? He was accused of involvement in the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in which nine persons were killed. Five attackers (Guru was not among them) had stormed the parliament building in Delhi when the parliamentary session had already ended but some parliamentarians were still in the building including then Home Minister L K Advani. A Hindu facist, Advani had mobilized Hindu mobs to attack the Babri Masjid in December 1992. All five attackers were killed. Most informed observers believe that the attackers were dupes used by the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that was in power at the time. The timing of the attack — December 13, 2001 — three months after the events of September 11 — also raised suspicion about the perpetrators and those who were behind them. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the BJP government had tried desperately to attract American attention in hopes of getting Washington to bypass Pakistan for its campaign in Afghanistan. Despite their legendary stupidity, even the Americans understood that without Pakistan’s help, they would not succeed in Afghanistan. Perhaps it was to ensnare Pakistan in terrorism and turn the US against it that the BJP used their RSS allies to launch the attack. Why none of the assailants was captured alive when it was possible to do so also raises questions about Indian motives.
Even though the actual assailants were killed, the Indian government accused four other persons — Syed Abdul Rahman Gilani, a Delhi University lecturer, Shaukat Hussain Guru, his wife Navjot Sandhu (aka Afsan), and Muhammad Afzal Guru — of providing material support to the attackers. Gilani, Shaukat Hussain and Afzal Guru were sentenced to death in 2004 but apart from Afzal Guru, the others’ sentences were commuted upon appeal to the High Court. The appeal was upheld by the Supreme Court. The dismissal of the case against Gilani, who was accused of being the mastermind, raised serious doubts about the veracity of the allegations against Guru. Gilani was exonerated of all charges although the media had already branded him a terror “mastermind.” India’s Zee TV even made a docudrama titled “December 13” based on the police charge sheet! The fast track court set up to try the accused refused to ban the documentary and delivered its verdict a few days later, convicting the four male suspects to death.
Among the many versions produced by the police in charging Guru, his version under police detention was presented as “proof” that he had identified the five alleged attackers as Mohammed, Rana, Raja, Hamza and Haider and was, therefore, involved with them. The Indian police are notorious for extracting confessions under torture. A detainee can be made to confess to anything under the sun. After all, many innocent Muslims were forced to confess to the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts that left 68 dead (February 18, 2007), the Mecca Masjid bomb blast in Hyderabad in which 13 persons were killed (May 18, 2007), and the Malegaon blasts of September 29, 2008 in which six people were killed and hundreds injured. Investigations later revealed that Hindu extremists led by Swami (Hindu priest) Aseemanand and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur were involved. They had the backing of an Indian army intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit who provided explosives to the Hindu terrorists. A Hindu extremist, Tej Ram, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in December 2012 relating to the Mecca Masjid blast.
India’s Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in a statement on January 20, 2013 alleged that the training camps run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were promoting Hindu terrorism. He also alleged that the RSS and the BJP were behind the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blasts. So what happened to the innocent Muslims that were arrested, tortured and jailed for several years? They were released but without being offered an apology, much less any compensation.
Given this sordid history of the Indian police, what credibility can be placed in the forced confessions of Afzal Guru while in policy custody? The Indian Supreme Court subsequently set aside these “confessions” citing “lapses” and “violations of procedural safeguards,” but that did not deter the same court from convicting Guru because “the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender,” even while the “offender’s” guilt was not established in court. Guru had no lawyer except a court appointed junior lawyer who never once visited his client (locked up in solitary confinement in jail), and neither presented witnesses in his defence nor cross-examined any witnesses of the prosecution.
What kind of judiciary would pronounce the death sentence on a man in such circumstances? India, the self-proclaimed largest democracy in the world, of course would do such a thing, especially if the accused is a Kashmiri. After all, Indian occupation forces have murdered nearly 100,000 Kashmiris since 1989; gang-raped more than 10,000 Kashmiri women and thousands of youths have disappeared. Three years ago, more than 8,000 unmarked graves were discovered in Kashmir pointing to the fact that the Kashmiri youth kidnapped by Indian occupation forces were murdered under torture.
Afzal Guru has become the latest victim of Indian state crimes, this one carried out with the connivance of the highest court in the land.