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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 8 New Delhi February 13, 2016

Decrying Afzal’s Execution is not ‘Anti-National’

Saturday 13 February 2016

by Mohammad Ashraf

An event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on February 9 on Mohammad Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri young man who was executed in Delhi’s Tihar Jail precisely three years ago on February 9, 2013, found two groups of students clashing with each other leading to the police being deployed on the campus to restore order.

The incident occurred at the end of a cultural evening organised by some students (to mark Afzal’s third death anniversary) at the Sabarmati Dhaba against the execution of both Afzal and Kashmiri separatist leader Maqbool Bhat and for Kashmir’s “right to self-determination”. Afzal, as is well known, was executed after a long drawn judicial process (he was on the death row for nearly a decade) having been charged with organising the 2001 Parliament attack case.

This event triggered a major controversy in the electronic media in particular with one TV anchorperson loudly accusing the students who held the cultural evening as “anti-national” parroting the BJP view on the subject since members of the BJP’s students wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, had clashed with those students hurling the same accusation against the latter.

One does not have to subscribe to the views of Afzal or for that matter other Kashmiri leaders, a large number of whom are alienated from India in the Valley, to understand the reasons for their alienation.

One person who had been directly connected with Afzal as his lawyer was Nandita Haksar, the noted human rights activist and advocate. She was also the lawyer for Abdul Rehman Geelani, the Delhi University professor who too was implicated in the same Parliament attack case. Geelani was subsequently released the court having been unable to find strong evidence of his involvment in the attack. Nandita’s book, The Many Facess of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day, has recently been published. In that she brings out her position quite clearly. She writes: “I had ensured that our campaign for his (Geelani’s) acquittal had been in the language of Indian nationalism. The slogan I had come up with was: ‘Defend Geelani, defend Indian democracy’.... I believed that to defend the corrupt police officers of the Special Cell who were trying to frame a Kashmiri Muslim would only undermine Indian democratic institutions, the media, the courts and the entire criminal justice system.” She took the same position while trying to save Afzal from the gallows.

In the book she refers to a meeting held on September 24, 2005 at Srinagar in defence of Afzal, and points out:

“...that September day in 2005 all the leaders,... signed a joint statement:

The judgement of the Supreme Court states that the attack on the Indian Parliament resulted in heavy casualties and has ‘shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.’

We, the people of Kashmir, ask why the collective conscience of Indians is not shaken by the fact that a Kashmiri has been sentenced to death without a fair trial, without a chance to represent himself? Throughout the trial at the Sessions Court Mohammad Afzal asked the judge to appoint a lawyer. He even named various lawyers but they all refused to represent him. Is it his fault that the Indian lawyers think that it is more patriotic to allow a Kashmiri to die rather than ensure he gets a fair trial?....

We resolve to launch a Kashmir-wide signature campaign in support of our demand that the death sentence of Afzal be commuted.

“It was clear that neither Afzal nor the Kashmiri leaders were claiming that Afzal was innocent. Afzal had never feigned innocence, which was why his story had such poignancy. In a letter sent from Jail No 2 on January 26, 2004, he had written:

The magnitude and gravity of my unknowing, unwilling and unintentional involvement in the Parliament attack case was from the beginning emotionalised and magnified by the police through all possible means due to my helplessness and ignorance and unability to manage the suitable legal aid and the police made me scapegoat so as to mask their unability and failure and to make people fool.

“In the trial court, Afzal had admitted that he had helped one of the five militants who attacked the Parliament buy a white Ambassador car for their mission. But he had not taken part in the actual attack and was not responsible for any death.

“Afzal never had a lawyer to represent him right through the trial or during the appeal. The court records show that key witnesses against him were never cross-examined. The reason for this was largely that he and his family were too poor to engage a lawyer and the Kashmiri organisations never bothered to help him at that stage.

“Could Afzal have been saved from the gallows? I believe he could have been. There were many sane voices in India who spole about the wisdom of not hanging Afzal. Even B. Raman, the former additional secretary in the Indian intelligence service’s Researcha and Analysis Wing (RAW), had advised against the hanging of Afzal. The President of India had expressed his views that the death penalty should be banned in India and the president of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, had intervened to save the woman convicted of being involved in her husband’s assassination; Sonia was strongly against the death penalty.”

Several democratic-minded people subsribe to the stand of Nandita while decrying Afzal’s execution. Can all of them be branded anti-national?