Mohd Afzal Guru A life rendered ‘extinct’


 

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  • Outside Tihar Jail No. 3 in New Delhi soon after Afzal Guru was hanged on February 9.
  • Afzal Guru being taken to court on December 17, 2002, a day before he was awarded the death sentence.

The right to counsel begins from the moment of arrest. From the time Afzal Guru was arrested in 2001 to the filing of a charge sheet in court, he had no lawyer—a fact that goes against the Supreme Court’s own observation on the need for defence counsel. By A.G. NOORANI in Frontline

DRAVINDER SINGH, Deputy Superintendent of Police, exposed himself in an interview in 2006. It merits quotation in extenso. Afzal Guru yielded nothing on interrogation by Vinay Gupta of the dreaded Special Operations Group (SOG). “But I requested Vinay not to release him and send him to my camp Humhama (Budgam district). That is how I know Afzal. I did interrogate and torture him at my camp for several days. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhereHis [Afzal’s] description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his arse and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation. We tortured him enough for Gazi Baba but he did not break. He looked like a ‘bhondu’ those days, what you call a ‘_______’ [an Urdu swear word for naive or easily duped persons] type. And I had a reputation for torture, interrogation and breaking suspects. If anybody came out of my interrogation clean, nobody would ever touch him again. He would be considered clean for good by the whole department.

“Q. In the light of allegations by Afzal, do you think that you may have been used?

“It is a difficult time for me. I would expect my superiors to clear my name. But it is so that nobody from my department has come forward so far….

“Q. Then why is your name figuring in Afzal’s letter and his wife’s accounts?

“I am being victimised for having worked in SOG, for being very nationalistic. What am I getting in return? Bad name as a conspirator.… It’s really unfortunate.… Also, to be candid with you, nobody would ever forget having been interrogated by me.”

This “torture specialist’s” admission must be read with his revealing use of a swear word for a naive, gullible man. Afzal Guru was not called a crook, which he would have been if he was really guilty, and he would not break under torture. He had to be killed. This interview will be published in the next edition of Penguin’s 13 December.

As for the other two police officers: “In 2008, on March 20, ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] Rajbeer Singh was shot dead by his friend and partner, Vijay Bhardwaj, a property dealer of Gurgaon, over a dispute on ‘investments’ he made with the realtor. In his statement, the accused, Bhardwaj, confessed, among other things, that he was unable to repay Rajbeer the money invested in shoddy land deals and the gun used in the killing, with apparent marking ‘E-8256’, was given to him by Rajbeer Singh to help recover money from his business clients. During the media trial of the Parliament case held at Lodhi Road, he snubbed Afzal Guru for speaking something contrary to what he had been directed to. This was noted by Shams Tahir Khan, reporter of Aaj Tak who later testified to it before the court. The most unfortunate thing is that the trial court believed Rajbeer’s version when many details of his dubious and illegal dealings were already in public domain” (Abdur Majid Zargar, Kashmir Times, March 5, 2013).

Citing first information reports, Sama Bhat reported “Shanti Singh is in jail” on charges of custodial killing (Kashmir Life, a Srinagar weekly, February 24, 2013). It is such men who created the “circumstantial evidence”. Afzal Guru was sent around and the people he met testified against him—they were themselves in police custody.

Only a skilled and courageous lawyer could have exposed the forces that organised such a prosecution. The right to counsel begins from the moment of arrest. From the time of his arrest by the police on December 14, 2001, until their filing of a charge sheet in court, Afzal Guru had no lawyer. On January 19, 2002, when he was produced before the designated judge S.N. Dhingra under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) who was to try him, he was asked whether he would be engaging a lawyer. He gave the only answer a financially ruined man could—No. It was the court’s duty to name one for him.

Dhingra, who was also an Additional Sessions Judge, Delhi, appointed, on May 17, a lawyer, Seema Gulati, as amicus for him. This was a wrong step.Amicus curiae are appointed to assist the court, especially when rival sides will not bring out the whole truth. On May 17, 2002, Seema Gulati “appeared on behalf of Afzal. She conceded that a prima facie charge was made out against him even though she could have challenged the charges. The court records of 5 June 2002 show when charges were framed she made vital concessions and admitted certain documents so that those documents were taken into evidence without formal proof. These concessions resulted in dropping of several important prosecution witnesses which meant Afzal could not undo the damage of these concessions made on his behalf but without his instructions and without thought to the consequences to him. And then Seema Gulati gave an application stating that she does not want to defend Afzal. That was on 2 July 2002—barely a week before the trial was to begin. She took up [S.A.R.] Geelani’s defence for a professional fee” (Nandita Haksar, pages 184-85).

One Attar Alam was appointed but he “was not willing to act as amicus”. The Supreme Court conceded that Afzal Guru “was without counsel till 17 May 2002”, but it said nothing important had happened until then. But this was during the crucial stage of investigation, torture and confessions. On July 1, 2002, Seema Gulati sought her discharge from the case “citing the curious reason” that she had been engaged by another accused, Geelani, to appear on his behalf, for a fee, of course. One Neeraj Bansal, her junior, was thrust on Afzal Guru.

Afzal Guru objected on July 8 and sought the services of a Senior Advocate. But counsel he named were unwilling. “Neeraj Bhansal was therefore continued in view of the fact that he had experience in dealing with TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, POTA’s predecessor].” Thus did the Supreme Court brush aside its own observations on the need for defence counsel and acquiesced in a brazen wrong. It is for the accused to select his counsel, not for the court to impose one on him because it considers him an expert. Afzal Guru objected to Bansal the very day he was appointed, July 12, 2002. He continued all the same thanks to Judge Dhingra though Bansal himself wanted to quit. He never met Afzal Guru, never asked to meet him. Of the 80 prosecution witnesses, only 22 were cross-examined, mostly inadequately. Judge Dhingra evidently was not concerned about hearing the defence. That the Supreme Court ignored a monstrous wrong in the one case of Afzal Guru speaks for the justice he received. It can be confidently asserted that no other court in any other democracy in the world would have acquiesced in such a wrong. This is exactly what the Magistrate trying Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt did, that is, imposed on them a lawyer they did not want.

Anthony Lewis, who died on March 25, wrote in his classic Gideon’s Trumpet that Gideon had pencilled his petition “in the form of a pauper; as a poor man”. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously, speaking through Justice Hugo Black, that “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hailed into court who is too poor to hire a lawyer cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him”, counsel he approves (Gideon vs Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963)). The Indian Supreme Court has followed this ruling, but in the one case of Mohammad Afzal Guru, it denied that right. It is an absolute right that no court can deny on the specious ground that no harm was done after all. The test laid down in the leading case Powell vs Alabama (287 U.S. 45) was “effective aid in the preparation and trial of the case”. It concerned a black charged with rape (1932).

Police officer’s grave lapse 

Two oddities reflect the farce. On December 19, 2001, Assistant Commissioner of Police Rajbeer Singh took over the investigation. On the same date, the draconian POTA was applied to the case. The next day, Afzal Guru was interrogated. Three accused—Afzal Guru, his cousin Shaukat, and Geelani—were said to have desired to confess. He informed Deputy Commissioner of Police Ashok Chand of this and was asked to produce them on the following day, December 21. Geelani refused to confess. Afzal Guru was produced; a “confession” was recorded after formal cautions. The confessions were sent to the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate on December 22. But alone among the four accused, Afzal Guru was paraded before TV channels in the very office of the Special Cell at Lodhi Road, New Delhi. Rajbeer Singh was present and intervened at one stage. Shams Tahir Khan, principal correspondent of Aaj Tak, one of the TV channels summoned to interview Afzal Guru, bravely deposed as defence witness on October 10, 2002.

Afzal Guru had said that Geelani was not involved. The witness said: “It is correct that accused was told by ACP Rajbeer Singh not to say anything about S.A.R. Geelani. By that time my interview had already been concluded and NDTV persons were interviewing. Rajbeer had requested not to telecast the line stated by accused about Geelani. So when this interview was telecast on 20th December 5 p.m. that line was removed but when this was rebroadcast in our programme 100 days after attack this line has not been removed and is in the interview.

“Question by Afzal: I put it to you that Rajbeer had not simply told me but shouted at me not to say anything about Geelani? Ans.: It is correct.” The Supreme Court merely expressed surprise at Rajbeer Singh’s profession of “ignorance about the media interview”. But in the very next sentence the court explained it away: “We think that the wrong step taken by the police should not enure to the benefit or detriment of either the prosecution or the accused.” Why not? This is of a piece with the Supreme Court’s approach to the case. Rajbeer Singh’s gross lapse exposed him completely.

There was another factor—the Ministry of External Affairs gave evidence behind the accused’s back that the trial court readily accepted. Nandita Haksar records: “The proceedings of 14 January 2002 show that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) filed an application asking permission to file ‘secret and other documents for keeping in sealed envelope’. The learned judge ordered: ‘Ahmad is directed to place the documents in sealed envelope and keep the same in safe custody under his lock.’” Was this the secret source of the learned judge’s information that he could confidently accuse Pakistan of involvement in the attack without any evidence on record? (page 71).

Each of the three courts made its own distinctive contribution to emotive rhetoric that should be out of place in judicial reason. The trial judge Dhingra said of the defence’s criticism of a prosecution witness who was “Only 5th/ 6th Standard pass for translating Kashmiri conversation to Hindi. Language is not monopoly of educated and elite class. A child starts learning mother tongue while sucking milk of her mother. A person educated up to 5th or 6th standard may be knowing his mother tongue much better than a graduate or postgraduate, who after acquiring knowledge of English starts forgetting his mother tongue and can speak only in Hinghlish, Chinglish or Kashinglish. Tulsidas, Kabir, and several other contemporary personalities had no little formal education but had command over language and produced great ‘works’. Being a fruit seller is no sin. Today we do not understand the dignity of labour and look upon persons earning livelihood by labour as low class. If India is 10th among the most corrupt countries, it is not because of these poor people but because of some other class of people. The witness could not understand English words in the conversation because of lack of knowledge of English language but he understood Kashmiri and Hindi well and translated the conversation to Hindi properly.”

The 392-page judgment of the Delhi High Court, delivered by Justices Usha Mehra and Pradeep Nawajog on October 29, 2003, has the same patriotic fervour. “After the unfortunate incident, this country had to station its troops at the border and large scale mobilisation of the armed forces took place. The clouds of war with our neighbour loomed large for a long period of time. The nation suffered not only an economic strain but even the trauma of an imminent war.”

In the Supreme Court, Justice P. Venkatarama Reddi said on behalf of himself and Justice P.P. Naolekar. “The gravity of the crime conceived by the conspirators with the potential of causing enormous casualties and dislocating the functioning of the government as well as disrupting the normal life of the people of India is something which cannot be described in words. The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation,and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender. The challenge to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India by these acts of terrorists and conspirators can only be compensated by giving maximum punishment to the person who is proved to be the conspirator in this treacherous act. The Appellant (Afzal Guru) who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct. Accordingly, we uphold the death sentence” ((2005) 11 SCC 760). Even the prosecution did not allege that Afzal Guru was “bent upon repeating” what was alleged against him. There was not a tittle of evidence to that effect. Why did the Supreme Court jump to this conclusion?

Emperors and dictators of the lower breed have proclaimed that a particular person’s life be rendered “extinct”. In all history no judge has ever used such language. In civilised countries judges pronounce the death sentence with great reluctance, regret and, in extreme cases, controlled indignation. Never exultantly, in a spirit of vindication or in brazen populism. This passage has been widely criticised, but the question it squarely raises is overlooked. How fair and detached in their evaluation of the complex facts and the law can be judges who are capable of using such language as this? The least which the Supreme Court ought to have done was to order a retrial.

Contrast all this with these words by another judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Radhakrishnan: “A criminal court while deciding criminal cases shall not be guided or influenced by the views or opinions expressed by judges on academic platforms. The views or opinions expressed by judges, jurists, academicians, law teachers may be food for thought. Even the discussions or deliberations made at the State Judicial Academies or the National Judicial Academy at Bhopal, only update or open new vistas or knowledge for judicial officers. Criminal courts have to decide the cases before them examining the relevant facts and evidence placed before them, applying binding precedents” (OMA vs State of T.N., (2013) 3 SCC 440 para 22). Popular feelings stand on a lower footing than academic writings. How did their Lordships discern the people’s “collective conscience”? It is a purely subjective appraisal influenced by their own feelings.

The immortal classic on the point is Lord Mansfield’s pronouncement in the celebrated case of John Wilkes in 1770. “I wish popularity; but it is popularity which follows, not that which is run after; it is that popularity which sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble means. I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong upon this occasion, to gain the huzzas which come from the press. I will not avoid doing what I think is right, though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels; all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of deluded people can swallow” (4 Burrow 2527 at page 2562; 98 Eng. Rep. 327 at page 347; 19 St. Tr. 1075 at Col. 1112-3).

He said also: “The Constitution does not allow reasons of state to influence our judgments… we are bound to say ‘fiat justitia, ruat caelum’ [let justice be done though the heavens fall].” When did an Indian judge in the Mansfield mould last sit on the Bench?

#India- Abolish the #deathpenalty- #Humanrights


Rajeev Dhavan – India Today 

TAGS: Afzal Guru | Death penalty | Congress |Sushilkumar Shinde | BJP |Veerappan
Afzal Guru
Afzal Guru

When people kill it is homicide. When the State hangs, it is legicide. When terrorists kill, it is collective murder.When terrorists are killed, it is justified as counter-terrorism. When innocents are massacred, it is genocide. When the great empires of the day kill thousands of innocents it is called collateral damage for the greater glory of the world.

Afzal Guru’s hanging was celebrated as national pride to symbolise that India and the Congress party had not gone ‘soft’. This was to offset the BJP’s electoral campaign against the UPA’s soft state. To the cynic and the thoughtful, Afzal’s hanging became a political farce about collective revenge, national honour and electioneering for 2014. If his hanging was a deterrent for terrorists in the Valley or otherwise, the facts belie the truth. If a chain of hangings are to follow, why talk of mercy?

Discourse

Is India clear about the death penalty, state killings by hanging, mercy petitions and legicide? Years ago mandatory death sentences were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. From 1980-83, the new formula was death in the ‘rarest of rare cases’. Given shrill polities and social clamour for death, are we returning to de facto mandatory death sentences while retaining the de jure ‘rarest of rare’ clausula? Recently on 2nd March 2012 Justices Alam and Desai opined that mandatory death sentences for all under the Narcotics Act were contrary to the Constitution’s due process and civil liberties. The BJP wants mandatory death sentence for all terrorists. Unable to contain the political implications of this clamour, the Congress has joined the ‘mandatory’ bandwagon.

Omar Abdullah took a pragmatic, not a principled, view that death for Afzal would shake up Kashmir. Instead it shook up Hyderabad! Parliament dare not make death sentence for terrorists or rapists mandatory. It would be struck down. Instead this is achieved through politics, inciting people and numbing the conscience of the President.

The Parliament attack occurred on 13 December 2001, and Afzal was arrested on 15 December 2001. The High Court acquitted two accused, Geelani and Afsan, and on 4 August 2005 the Supreme Court convicted Afzal to death and awarded 10 years for Shaukat. President Pranab denied mercy on 3 February 2013. After six hurried days, he was executed. The quality of mercy was not just strained but ignored. Both Kasab and Afzal were hanged within days of the Presidential rejection of their mercy petition – ignoring the right to approach the courts to challenge the rejection.

Indeed, in 2013 the Karnataka High Court stayed the execution of Saibanna while it examined the legality of the presidential rejection. Recently, the Supreme Court has stayed the execution of Veerappan’s aides until it heard arguments on the rejection of mercy.

Afzal

Afzal had no such chance. Afzal’s wife was informed of the death two days later – by speed post, sent a day before the execution! Home Secretary R.K. Singh said his family was informed. Indira’s killer’s family met the condemned before execution. Mr. Singh deserves suspension and Minister Shinde removal for his outrageous defence of secrecy.

But the body? Surely the family have a right to the body rather than a State burial. They had, and have, a right to a namaaz-e-janaza. Or is Afzal to be damned in the life hereafter? Don’t quote Prison Rules. The government’s alleged fear is that his tomb will symbolise martyrdom. Who can prevent that? Or a memory stone in his honour at Sopore? Would the army crush it to pieces? Why punish Tabassum, Afzal’s wife? Unmarked graves and unceremonious cremations was British policy that ill becomes a post colonial republic. Give Tabassum the body.

Punishment

Innumerable convicts await death row – a death in itself. Unwise Law Minister Ashwin Kumar, who knows little law, seemed more concerned with speed than justice. In Bachan’s case (1980) the court factorised both the aggravated crime (public interest) and individuating of concern for the criminal (mitigating justice) as separate live elements in sentencing. The former could not drown out the latter. Recently on 20 November 2012, Justices Lokur and Radhakrishnan exposed the sentencing error in looking at the crime and ignoring the criminal totally. This is the flaw in the Machi decision’s (1983) ‘rarest of rare’ test which seems to be on everyone’s lips as they look at the crime and ignore the criminal. The Supreme Court has now exposed a dozen of its own errors in this regard. What we have done is shocking: restored the mandatory death penalty by the back door.

The presidential mercy has become a farce. Mercy petitions are not a will-of the-wisp. They have developed a culture of killing. Imagine the Justices Radhakrishnan and Misra’s distress on reading a trial judge’s advocacy of slashing, beheading, lynching and death sentence as the only way to eliminate crime. That too, in a judicial verdict. This is the state we have reached. A UN report states that over 150 countries have abolished or do not use the death penalty. Building on earlier resolutions, in 2012, the General Assembly resolved for no more death penalties – supported by the African Republics Tunisia, Niger and South Sudan. Even Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia abstained rather than vote against.

One last comment: Judges should straighten out the law. Parliament should abolish the death penalty. Tihar should deliver Afzal’s body to his wife Tabassum.

– The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinion of the newspaper.

Read more at:http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/abolish-the-death-penalty-afzal-guru-upa-veerappan-aides/1/251575.html

 

Condemn the highhanded, authoritarian attempts of the notorious Special Cell’s attempt to seize the phones of Prof. SAR Geelani


COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

185/3, FOURTH FLOOR, ZAKIR NAGAR, NEW DELHI-110025

 

18/02/2013

Condemn the highhanded, authoritarian attempts of the notorious Special Cell’s attempt to seize the phones of Prof. SAR Geelani, the President of CRPP!

Condemn the continuing harassment of Prof. SAR Geelani since the illegal execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru! 

 

In a highly reprehensible act the fascist, Special Cell of the Delhi Police made an attempt to seize the phones of Prof. SAR Geelani, the President of CRPP today (18 February 2013) morning at his residence in Zakir Nagar. On being asked by Prof. Geelani as to whether they had any written orders for seizing his phones and if so on what grounds the Special Cell officers maintained that they don’t have such written orders. They insisted that they have verbal orders from their senior officials and they will seize the phones of Prof. Geelani. The Special Cell is putting pressure on Geelani to give away his phones.

 

It should be noted that despite the highhanded attempts of the Special Cell on the 9 February 2013 to forcefully take him away from the highway when he was travelling to be kept illegally at an undisclosed location till late in the night and then enforcing an undeclared house arrest on him for a couple of days, Prof. Geelani has been fearlessly making his observations clear before the media regarding the blatant violations behind the killing of Mohd. Afzal Guru. Most of the interviews came out to be a scathing indictment of the illegal execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru. It proved unequivocally that Mohd. Afzal Guru and his family were not only denied their basic human rights but were also denied justice from the day one of the trial of the Parliament attack case. Prof. Geelani also pointed out that Afzal being a Kashmiri was easy target as the Indian government does not want to politically address the genuine aspirations of the Kashmiri people but only believed in the politics of revenge and retribution.

 

The latest attempt from the Special Cell of the Delhi Police to seize the phones of Prof. SAR Geelani is yet another desperate attempt to gag him and in that process all dissenting voices against such dastardly acts of the Indian state. The Central Home Minister without batting his eyes was brazenly justifying the illegal act before the media insisting that it was necessary to violate laws and procedures to ensure that Mohd. Afzal and his family will not take recourse to law to prevent his execution! The Indian state is desperate to somehow shy away from the increasing instances of indignation being expressed by many legal luminaries such as Fali Nariman, Justice AP Shah, Senior Advocates Sushil Kumar and Kamini Jaiswal and others. Even the then government prosecutor Gopal Subramanium who made a song and dance in the Supreme Court about the need to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ through the hanging of Mohd. Afzal Guru also is on record saying that the basic rights of Afzal and his family were violated in the most inhuman way. Despite such expression of indignation by many prominent citizens, the Indian state and its fascist police in the Special Cell have specifically targeted voices from the people of Kashmir, especially Prof. SAR Geelani who have been forthright in his condemnation. In many a places the police and the fascist Hindu communal outfits have ganged up to brutally beat up and then frame protesting people including students and intellectuals from Kashmir in several cases. This is part of the continuing attempts from the side of the Indian State to gag and suppress the voices of dissent that have arisen from various section of the people, intelligentsia and progressive and democratic sections ever since the illegal execution of Mohd. Afzal Guru on 9 February 2013.

 

We at the CRPP strongly condemn the fascist authoritarian designs of the Special Cell to deny the right to free speech, mobility and freedom of expression of Prof. SAR Geelani. Any such arbitrary and authoritarian attempt of the Special Cell can only invite further condemnation and indignation from the broader sections of the people.

 

In protest,

 

Amit Bhattacharyya

Secretary General

 

Sujato Bhadra

Vice President

 

Ajit Bhuyan

Vice President

 

N. Venuh

Vice President

 

Kaleem Koya

Vice President

 

MN Ravunni

Vice President

 

PA Sebastian

Vice President

 

Rona Wilson

Secretary, Public Relations

 

Does your bomb-proof basement have an attached toilet?


Arundhati Royin Outlook

Magazine | Feb 25, 2013
AFP (From Outlook 25 February 2013)
opinion
Does Your Bomb-Proof Basement Have An Attached Toilet?
An execution carried out to thundering war clouds
l
Also In This Story 

What are the political consequences of the secret and sudden hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, going to be? Does anybody know? The memo, in callous bureaucratese, with every name insultingly misspelt, sent by the Superintendent of Central Jail No. 3, Tihar, New Delhi, to “Mrs Tabassum w/o Sh Afjal Guru” reads:

“The mercy petition of Sh Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been rejected by Hon’ble President of India. Hence the execution of Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been fixed for 09/02/2013 at 8 am in Central Jail No-3.

This is for your information and for further necessary action.”

The mailing of the memo was deliberately timed to get to Tabassum only after the execution, denying her one last legal chanc­e—the right to challenge the rejection of the mercy petition. Both Afzal and his family, separately, had that right. Both were thwarted. Even though it is mandat­ory in law, the memo to Tabassum ascribed no reason for the president’s rejection of the mercy petition. If no reason is given, on what basis do you appeal? All the other prisoners on death row in India have been given that last chance.

Since Tabassum was not allowed to meet her husband before he was hanged, since her son was not allowed to get a few last words of advice from his father, since she was not given his body to bury, and since there can be no funeral, what “further necessary action” does the jail manual prescribe? Anger? Wild, irreparable grief? Unquestioning acc­eptance? Complete integration?

After the hanging, there have been unseemly celebrations. The bereaved wives of the people who were killed in the attack on Parliament were displayed on TV, with M.S. Bitta, chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, and his ferocious moustaches playing the CEO of their sad little company. Will anybody tell them that the men who shot their husbands were killed at the same time, in the same place? And that those who planned the attack will never be brought to justice because we still don’t know who they are.

India has displayed a touching belief in the testimony of a former chief of the ISI, of which the mandate has been to destabilise India.

Meanwhile, Kashmir is under curfew, once again. Its people have been locked down like cattle in a pen, once again. They have defied curfew, once again. Three people have already been killed in three days and fifteen more grievou­sly injured. Newspapers have been shut down, but anybody who trawls the internet will see that this time the rage of young Kashmiris is not defiant and exuberant like it was during the mass uprisings in the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010­—even though 180 people lost their lives on those occasions. This time the anger is cold and corrosive. Unforgiving. Is there any reason why it shouldn’t be?For more than 20 years, Kashmiris have endured a military occupation. The tens of thousands who lost their lives were killed in prisons, in torture centres, and in ‘encounters’, genuine as well as fake. What sets the execution of Afzal Guru apart is that it has given the young, who have never had any first-hand experience of democracy, a ringside seat to watch the full majesty of Indian democracy at work. They have watched the wheels turning, they have seen all its hoary institutions, the government, police, courts, political parties and yes, the media, collude to hang a man, a Kashmiri, who they do not believe received a fair trial. With good reason.

He went virtually unrepresented in the lower court during the most crucial part of the trial. The court-appointed lawyer never visited him in prison, and actually admitted incriminating evidence against his own client.  (The Supreme Court deliberated on that matter and decided it was okay.) In short, his guilt was by no means established beyond reasonable doubt. They have watched the government pull him out of the death row queue and execute him out of turn. What direction, what form will their new cold, corrosive anger take? Will it lead them to the blessed liberation they so yearn for and have sacrificed a whole generation for, or will it lead to yet another cycle of cataclysmic violence, of being beaten down, and then having ‘normalcy’ imposed on them under soldiers’ boots?


Afzal Guru family weren’t given the President’s reasons for rejecting his mercy plea. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook 25 February 2013)

All of us who live in the region know that 2014 is going to be a watershed year. There will be elections in Pakistan, in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We know that when the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, the chaos from an already seriously destabilised Pakistan will spill into Kashmir, as it has done before. By executing Afzal Guru in the way that it did, the government of India has taken a decision to fuel that process of destabilisation, to actually invite it in. (As it did before, by rigging the 1987 elections in Kashmir.) After three consecutive years of mass protests in the Valley ended in 2010, the government invested a great deal in restoring its version of ‘norma­lcy’ (happy tourists, voting Kashmiris). The question is, why was it willing to reverse all its own efforts? Leaving aside issues of the legality, the morality and the venality of executing Afzal Guru in the way that it did, and looking at it just politically, tactically, it is a dangerous and irresponsible thing to have done. But it was done. Clearly, and knowingly. Why?

I used the word ‘irresponsible’ advisedly. Look what happened the last time around.

Kashmiri youth have seen Indian democracy at work now, and believe its institutions have sent a man to the gallows without a fair trial.

In 2001, within a week of the Parliament attack (and a few days after Afzal Guru’s arrest), the government recalled its ambassador from Pakistan and dispatched half a million troops to the border. On what basis was that done? The only thing the public was told is that while Afzal Guru was in the custody of the Delhi Police Special Cell, he had admitted to being a member of the Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). The Supreme Court set aside that ‘confession’ extracted in police custody as inadmissible in law. Does what is inadmissible in law become admissible in war?In its final judgement 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 Mohammed 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 be allowed to happen? And 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?

In the endless debates around the Parliament attack case, on this, perhaps the most crucial issue of all, there has been dead silence from all quarters—leftists, rightists, Hindutva-ists, secularists, nationalists, seditionists, cynics, critics. Why?

Maybe the JeM did mastermind the attack. Praveen Swami, perhaps the Indian media’s best known expert on ‘terrorism’, who seems to have enviable sources in the Indian police and intelligence agencies, has recently cited the 2003 testimony of former ISI chief Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, and the 2004 book by Muhammad Amir Rana, a Pakistani scholar, holding the JeM responsible for the Parliament attack. (It’s touching, this belief in the veracity of the testimony of the chief of an organisation whose mandate it is to destabilise India.) It still doesn’t explain what evidence there was in 2001, when the army mobilisation took place.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept that the JeM carried out the attack. Maybe the ISI was involved too. We needn’t pretend that the government of Pakistan is innocent of carrying out covert activity over Kashmir. (Just as the government of India does in Balochistan and parts of Pakistan. Remember the Indian army trained the Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan in the 1970s, and six different Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE, in the 1980s.)

A few days back, Pakistan test-fired a nuclear missile of short range, for use on the battlefield. And Kashmir police published N-survival tips.

It’s a filthy scenario all around. What would a war with Pakistan have achieved then, and what will it achieve now? (Apart from a massive loss of life. And fattening the bank accounts of some arms dealers.) Indian hawks routinely suggest the only way to “root out the problem” is “hot pursuit” and the “taking out” of “terrorist camps” in Pakistan. Really? It would be interesting to research how many of the aggressive strategic experts and defence analysts on our TV screens have an interest in the defence and weapons industry. They don’t even need war. They just need a war-like climate in which military spending remains on an upward graph. This idea of hot pursuit is even stupider and more pathetic than it sounds. What would they bomb? A few individuals? Their barracks and food supplies? Or their ideology? Look how the US government’s “hot pursuit” has ended in Afghanistan. And look how a “security grid” of half-a-million soldiers has not been able to subdue the unarmed, civilian population of Kashmir. And India is going to cross international borders to bomb a country—with nuclear arms—that is rapidly devolving into chaos? India’s professional war-mongers derive a great deal of satisfaction by sneering at what they see as the disintegration of Pakistan. Anyone with a rudimentary, working knowledge of history and geography would know that the breakdown of Pakistan (into a gangland of crazed, nihilistic, religious zealots) is absolutely no reason for anyone to rejoice.The US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Pakistan’s official role as America’s junior partner in the war on terror, makes that region a much-reported place. The rest of the world is at least aware of the dangers unfolding there. Less understood, and harder to read, is the perilous wind that’s picking up speed in the world’s favourite new superpower. The Indian economy is in considerable trouble. The aggressive, acquisitive ambition that economic liberalisation unleashed in the newly created middle class is quickly turning into an equally aggressive frustration. The aircraft they were sitting in has begun to stall just after takeoff. Exhilaration is turning to panic.

The general election is due in 2014. Even without an exit poll I can tell you what the results will be. Though it may not be obvious to the naked eye, once again we will have a Congress-BJP coalition. (Two parties, each with a mass murder of thousands of people belonging to minority communities under their belts.) The CPI(M) will give support from outside, even though it hasn’t been asked to. Oh, and it will be a strong state. (On the hanging front, the gloves are already off. Could the next in line be Balwant Singh Rajoana, on death row for the assassination of Punjab’s chief minister Beant Singh? His execution could revive Khalistani sentiment in Punjab and put the Akali Dal on the mat. Perfect old-style Congress politics.)

But that old-style politics is in some difficulty. In the last few turbulent months, it is not just the image of major political parties, but politics itself, the idea of politics as we know it, that has taken a battering. Again and again, whether it’s corruption, rising prices, or rape and the rising violence against women, the new middle class is at the barricades. They can be water-cannoned or lathicharged, but can’t be shot or impriso­ned in their thousands, in the way the poor can, the way Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Kashmiris, Nagas and Manipuris can—and have been. The old political parties know that if there is not to be a complete meltdown, this aggression has to be headed off, redirected. They know that they must work together to bring politics back to what it used to be. What better way than a communal conflagration? (How else can the secular play at being secular and the communal be communal?) Maybe even a little war, so that we can play Hawks & Doves all over again.

What better solution than to aim a kick at that tried and trusted old political football—Kashmir? The hanging of Afzal Guru, its brazenness and its timing, is deliberate. It has brought politics and anger back onto Kashmir’s streets.

The idea of ‘hot pursuit’ is stupid, pathetic. What would we bomb? Some individuals? Their barracks? Or their ideology?

India hopes to manage it with the usual combination of brute force and poisonous, Machiavellian manipulation, des­igned to pit people against one another. The war in Kashmir is presented to the world as a battle between an inclusive, secular democracy and radical Islamists. What then should we make of the fact that Mufti Bashiruddin, the so-called Grand Mufti of Kashmir (a completely phantom post)—who has made most abominable hate speeches and issued fatwa after fatwa, intended to present Kashmir as a demonic, monolithic, Wahabi society—is actually a government-anointed cleric? Kids on Facebook will be arrested, never him. What should we make of the fact that the Indian government looks away while money from Saudi Arabia (that most steadfast partner of the US) is pouring into Kashmir’s madrassas? How different is this from what the CIA did in Afghanistan all those years ago? That whole, sorry business is what created Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has decimated Afghanistan and Pakistan. What sort of incubus will this unleash?The trouble is that the old political football may not be all that easy to control any more. And it’s radioactive. Maybe it is not a coincidence that a few days ago Pakistan tested a short-range battlefield nuclear missile to protect itself against threats from “evolving scenarios”. Two weeks ago, the Kashmir police published “survival tips” for nuclear war. Apart from advising people to build toilet-equipped bombproof basements large enough to house their entire families for two weeks, it said: “During a nuclear attack, motorists should dive out of their cars toward the blast to save themselves from being crushed by their soon-to-be tumbling vehicles.” And to “expect some initial disorientation as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features”.

Prominent and familiar features may already have been blown down. Perhaps we should all jump out of our soon-to-be-tumbling vehicles.

 

In Tihar, officials feel ‘tinge of sorrow’ #Afzalguru #deathpenalty


10 February 2013 , By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar , tehelka

‘Al vida’, said Afzal Guru to his executioner, who had himself bid him good bye with the same words a few seconds earlier. And then as the executioner pulled a lever, Afzal’s frame hung from the gallows.

“He was dead in a minute, though”, as per the jail norms, the body was kept hanging for a full half hour, said an official who witnessed the hanging. Thereafter Afzal’s body was taken down from the gallows and buried with full religious rites near Jail No. 3, right next to the grave of Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Butt who too was hanged in Tihar.

“But there is a difference between the two. While Butt was a separatist leader, Afzal never spoke about secession of Kashmir from India. In fact, he used to tell us that he had been unnecessarily dragged into this. In fact, he actually believed in ridding India of corruption,” the official added. He spoke to The Hindu on condition he not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

While right-wing activists across the country celebrated Afzal’s execution, in the jail itself there was no celebration. Rather, the staff appeared glum. “He was a pious soul and was extremely well behaved. Even as he was being taken to the gallows, he greeted the jail staff he knew by their first names. The only thing he requested before the hanging was that ‘mujhay ummeed hai aap mujhay dard nahin karaogay’ (I hope you will not cause me pain). And he was assured by the executioner, who himself was overcome with emotion as he kept looking into his eyes as the black cloth was drawn over them, that it would be a smooth journey. And so it was.”

Contrary to some media reports, Afzal was told of his impending execution on the actual morning and not the previous evening.

“The only thing he had in the morning was a cup of tea. But that is because he was not offered any food. Otherwise, he was so normal that he would have had that too.” Initially Afzal was wearing a pheran, or Kashmiri gown. He later took bath and changed into a white kurta-pyjama and offered namaz.

“There have been about 25 executions in Tihar and senior officials [here] have witnessed the last 10, but never have they seen a man so calm and composed on learning the news of his impending death.”

In the last couple of hours of his life, Afzal had the company of some jail officials. And he narrated to them his thoughts about life and death. “He spoke of universal brotherhood and oneness of the mankind; how no human being is bad and how the soul in each one was a creation of the same God. He believed that if you moved on the path of truth, that was the biggest achievement.”

In fact, Afzal was so calm in the morning that he even penned down some of his thoughts, put the date and time on the paper and signed it.

When asked by the jail staff about his last thoughts of his family, on who would take care of them, Afzal said “it was God who looks after each one of us and so would be the case now”.

“His strength came from his spirituality. He was a learned man; as well versed in Islam as with Hinduism. Often, he would tell us about the similarities in the two religions. Some time ago he had read all the four Vedas. How many Hindus have actually done that? You normally rejoice at the end of evil, [but] when a pious soul goes away, it leaves behind a tinge of sorrow,” the official said.

Recalling, how all through Afzal was “joyful” as also “cool and calm”, the officials said in the past they have seen people shiver at being told about their being taken to the gallows. “But here it was just like what we had heard about people going to the gallows smiling.”

Another difference between Afzal and others who were executed for terrorist crimes terrorists, the official said, was that while almost all others had made religious or political cries before being hanged, Afzal just walked the last 100 steps from his cell to the gallows as he normally would and went away wishing those around him.

 

Some Questions for Comrade Karat on Afzal’ Guru’s killing #deathpenalty


To,
Shri Prakash Karat,

General Secretary,

Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Dear Comrade,

Afzal Guru was hanged yesterday in utter secrecy, denied in his last moments the right to meet his wife and children one final time. Denied to him also was the ultimate judicial resort, due to every condemned convict after his/her mercy petition has been rejected.

The entire legal proceedings against Afzal were shot through with contradictions, fabrications and travesties of legal procedure. The Supreme Court bench that finally sentenced him to death did so to ‘appease the national conscience’ despite inadequate evidence of his role in the Parliament attack case.

And yet this is what your colleague in the Polit Bureau Sitaram Yechury had to say to the media on this issue, “I think, the law of the land with all its provisions has finally been completed as far as the Afzal Guru case and the attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned. The issue which had been lingering for the past 11 years has finally completed its due course.”

‘Law of the land’ has ‘completed its due course’? Is this the official stand of the CPI(M) on the Afzal Guru case? Or is it just Com. Yechury trying to ‘appease the national conscience’ and joining the UPA in harnessing the ‘Hindu vote’?

Surely you and your colleagues in the Polit Bureau have heard that Afzal was unrepresented from the time of his arrest till he made his alleged ‘confession? You may have also perhaps heard of the letter that Afzal wrote to the Judge pleading he had no faith in the lawyer appointed for him by the Court, asking to be represented by any from a list of four lawyers he named. The Court records show that two of these lawyers refused to represent him but there is no information whether the other two on the list were even ever asked.

A lawyer, who had never met Afzal, admitted documents in court incriminating him. Or has your Polit Bureau been watching too many telecasts of his ‘confession’ – considered inadmissible in any court of law – as damning evidence of his guilt?

But never mind. Lack of legal representation for your Party does not seem too major an obstacle in implementing the ‘due course of law’. When elections are looming on the horizon, and your Party’s mass base is dwindling, a little injustice – like the murder of an innocent man- does not matter of course.

If the Congress is fast becoming the B Team of the communal Hindutva brigade should the CPI (M) try to become the C Team? Has your Party learnt nothing from the defeats it has suffered due to similar unprincipled stands it has taken in the past? Are we being completely delusional in expecting a Party named with grand terms like ‘Communist’ and ‘Marxist’ to take a stand different from that of political formations taking the nation fast forward towards all out Fascism?

Sincerely,

Satya Sivaraman

Manisha Sethi

 

A Collaborator in Kashmir #Afzalguru #mustread


  • By: Amitava Kumar
  • PUBLISHED ON MARCH 23, 2010,

“A Collaborator in Kashmir” appears in PEN America 10: Fear Itself.

After flights from Delhi to Jammu and then on to Srinagar, I rode north in a taxi to Sopore, closer to the Pakistan border. I’d come to Kashmir to meet Tabassum Guru, whose husband is on death row in Delhi. But when I stood before her, Tabassum waved me away. She had no desire to meet with journalists.

For his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, Mohammad Afzal Guru was sentenced to death by hanging. Another defendant was condemned to ten years in prison; two others were acquitted. Afzal Guru’s hanging, scheduled for October 20, 2006, was stayed after a mercy petition was filed with the President. In its judgment on his appeal, the Supreme Court had recognized that the evidence against Afzal was circumstantial and that the police had not followed legal procedures. Nevertheless, the judgment stated, the attack on the Indian Parliament had “shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

In response, a group of Kashmiri leaders passed a resolution that read, in part, “We the people of Kashmir ask why the collective conscience of the 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?”

Afzal’s family could not afford a lawyer, and the court-appointed lawyer never appeared. A second lawyer was appointed, but she wouldn’t take instructions from her client and agreed to the admission of documents without proof. Afzal then gave the court four names of senior advocates, but they refused to represent him. The court chose another lawyer; this one said he did not want to appear for Afzal, and Afzal expressed a lack of confidence in him. But the court insisted—which is why the Kashmiri leaders asked whether it was Afzal’s fault that Indian lawyers thought it “more patriotic” to allow a Kashmiri to die than to ensure that he received a fair trial.

Only the naïve assume that the conflict in Kashmir is between fanatical militants and valiant soldiers. The real picture is darker and more complicated. In a system where the conventional economic nodes no longer function, and all resource lines intersect at some level with the security-state, there is a sense of enormous, often inescapable, dependency on those who are clearly seen as oppressors. This has bred complex schizophrenia. The writer Arundhati Roy has written, “Kashmir is a valley awash with militants, renegades, security forces, double-crossers, informers, spooks, blackmailers, blackmailees, extortionists, spies, both Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies, human rights activists, NGOs, and unimaginable amounts of unaccounted-for money and weapons….It’s not easy to tell who is working for whom.”

Tabassum Guru illuminated this murky landscape in the night-flare of a statement she wrote for The Kashmir Times in 1994. “A Wife’s Appeal for Justice” is anguished and unafraid. It tells the story of how the police and the armed forces have turned Kashmiris into collaborators; although the statement is no more than fifteen hundred words long, it starkly demonstrates the costs of military occupation. She begins with her husband’s story.

In 1990, like thousands of other Kashmiri youths, Afzal Guru joined the movement for liberation. He had been studying to be a doctor, but instead went to Pakistan for training. He returned three months later, disillusioned. The Border Security Force gave him a certificate stating that he was a surrendered militant. His dream of becoming a doctor was now lost; instead, he started a small business dealing in medical supplies and surgical instruments. The following year, in 1997, he got married. Afzal was twenty-eight, and Tabassum eighteen.

After his surrender, Afzal was often harassed and asked to spy on other Kashmiris suspected of being militants. (Sartre, writing more than fifty years ago: “The purpose of torture is not only to make a person talk, but to make him betray others. The victim must turn himself by his screams and by his submission into a lower animal, in the eyes of all and in his own eyes.”) One night, members of a counterinsurgency unit, the Special Task Force, took Afzal away. He was tortured at an STF camp.

Dravinder Singh, one of the officers mentioned in Tabassum’s appeal, has been frank about the necessity of torture in his line of work. He has stated that torture is the only deterrent to terrorism. Singh spoke to a journalist about Afzal Guru in a recorded interview: “I did interrogate and torture him at my camp. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhere. His description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his arse and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation.” Azfal’s torturers demanded that he pay one lakh rupees, and Tabassum sold everything she had, including the little gold she had received when she married.

In the statement she wrote in 2004, Tabassum Guru sees her suffering in the light of what other Kashmiris have experienced: “You will think that Afzal must be involved in some militant activities that is why the security forces were torturing him to extract information. But you must understand the situation in Kashmir, every man, woman and child has some information on the movement even if they are not involved. By making people into informers they turn brother against brother, wife against husband and children against parents.”

After his release from the camp, where his interrogators had attached electrodes to his penis, Afzal needed medical treatment. Six months later, he moved to Delhi. He had decided that he would soon bring Tabassum and their little son, Ghalib, to a place he had rented. But while in Delhi, Afzal received a call from STF’s Dravinder Singh, his former torturer. Singh said that he needed Afzal to do a small job for him. He was to take a man named Mohammad from Kashmir to Delhi, which he did, and he also accompanied the same Mohammad to a shop where he bought a car. The car was used in the attack on the Parliament, and Mohammad was identified as one of the attackers.

As Afzal waited in Srinagar for a bus to Sopore, he was arrested and brought to the STF headquarters and then to Delhi. There he identified the slain terrorist Mohammad as someone whom he knew. This part of his statement was accepted by the court, but not the part where he said he was acting under the direction of the STF. Tabassum wrote, “In the High Court one human rights lawyer offered to represent Afzal and my husband accepted. But instead of defending Afzal the lawyer began by asking the court not to hang Afzal but to kill him by a lethal injection. My husband never expressed any desire to die. He has maintained that he has been entrapped by the STF.”

When I arrived in Sopore in my hired car, I noticed soldiers on the streets and on rooftops. There had been soldiers in Srinagar, too, but it was different here. We had left behind the painted roadside signs put up by the army and paramilitary units with messages like “Kashmir to Kanyakumari India is One.” In this town, there were only small, often half-finished houses and grimy stores. I got out of the car to ask about the hospital where Tabassum Guru worked.

She was at the cashier’s desk in the Inpatient Block, a tall woman in green shalwar-kameez, her head covered with a dupatta. She said she didn’t want to talk to me. I went outside to call friends in Srinagar, and learned that a week or two earlier two journalists from Delhi had done a sting. Afzal’s brothers had been collecting money for his defense but using the cash to buy property instead. The journalists had brought a spy camera and asked Tabassum if she felt that she had been betrayed by the Kashmiri leadership.

I decided to wait. I had come too far. Patients kept walking up to the entrance of the hospital, and a pony cart dropped off a sick woman. My driver, Shafi, having learned that I was visiting from New York, wanted to know where in America were the World Wrestling Federation’s matches held. We talked for a while, and then went inside the hospital again. A large crowd waited in the area marked Outpatient Block. Most people stood in the corridor, jostling against each other with a feverish energy that required good health. The few chairs were occupied and those who were sitting had adopted postures that suggested they’d been waiting for days. A sign on the wall said: UTILIZE YOUR WAITING TIME EFFECTIVELY—PLAN THINGS TO DO—MEDITATE—DO BREATHING EXERCISES—CHANT A HOLY NAME—READ BOOKS. I studied that sign for a while but felt agitated and decided to tell Tabassum that I was leaving. She nodded and half-smiled, then said goodbye.

From the road outside the hospital, lined with walnut and willow trees, I could see the snow-covered mountains. Shafi was full of ideas about how I might have persuaded Tabassum to talk to me. He said I should have told her that what I wrote would help her husband. But I had seen pictures of mobs in Delhi and elsewhere burning effigies of Mohammad Afzal; activists for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party had exploded firecrackers on the streets outside the courthouse when he was first condemned to death; the print and television media had repeatedly described him as a terrorist mastermind. How could I have assured Tabassum that what I wrote would help?

When the journalists had interviewed her about Afzal’s brothers, Tabassum had said that she had never asked anyone for money to help in her husband’s legal case. She had said, “Mera zamir nahin kehta” (“My conscience doesn’t allow it”). I thought of that statement again when, in Delhi a week later, I watched Sanjay Kak’s filmJashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom), which documents the cost of violence in Kashmir. An indigent woman in a hamlet is asked whether she has received the promised financial compensation from the armed forces for the wrongful death in her family. The woman, her hands beating her breast, replies, “They have snatched my child from my bosom. I’ll eat pig’s meat but not accept compensation from the army.”

Soon after my return from Kashmir to upstate New York, where I work, I read Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul. In his youth, Pamuk wanted to be a painter, and he still saw his city with the eyes of an artist. “To see the city in black and white,” Pamuk writes, “to see the haze that sits over it and breathe in the melancholy its inhabitants have embraced as their common fate, you need only to fly in from a rich western city and head straight to the crowded streets; if it’s winter, every man on the Galata bridge will be wearing the same pale, drab, shadowy clothes.”

Reading those words, I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.

Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewer’s mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers and painted faces of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.

In a travelogue written more than four decades ago, V.S. Naipaul described how out of the “cramped yards, glimpsed through filth-runnelled alleyways, came bright colors in glorious patterns on rugs and carpets and soft shawls, patterns and colors derived from Persia, in Kashmir grown automatic, even in all their rightness and variety…” In Kak’s film, riotous color is glimpsed only when we see tourists donning traditional Kashmiri costumes for photographs, holding pots filled with plastic flowers.

When I think of the melancholy of Afzal and Tabassum Guru, it isn’t color that I seek, but a narrative to give sustenance to their lives. That is what was powerful about the story that Tabassum told: She gave coherence to what had been their experience and the ways it resonated with the experiences of other young Kashmiri couples.

As with Pamuk’s Istanbul, I found traces of Srinagar in a film about another distant place. Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, tells the story of two friends on the West Bank, Said and Khaled, who are recruited to carry out a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. The two young men are disguised as settlers going to a wedding. The would-be bombers get separated at the border, and the plan is called off, instigating some reflection and doubt on Khaled’s part. But Said is determined. We learn about his motivation when, in the company of Suha, a young woman who has just returned to Palestine, he goes into a watch shop, and Suha notices that videos are also available at the shop. These videos show the execution of collaborators, and Suha is shocked. She asks, “Do you think it’s normal that those videos are for sale?” Said replies, “What is normal around here?” Then he tells Suha, quietly, that his father was a collaborator. He was executed.

In Nablus, cars keep breaking down. Nothing works. The houses look either bombed or unfinished. In all of this, Nablus resembles Srinagar. Nablus is also like Srinagar in the ways in which its children are scarred by violence. I’m thinking of Ghalib, Afzal and Tabassum’s son, as well as thousands of other Kashmiris. It is horrifying but not difficult to imagine that many of them will find words to offer as testimony which are similar to those Said, sitting in an empty room, speaks to the camera just before he leaves on his suicide mission:

The crimes of occupation are endless. The worst crime of all is to exploit the people’s weaknesses and turn them into collaborators. By doing that, they not only kill the resistance, they also ruin their families, ruin their dignity and ruin an entire people. When my father was executed, I was ten years old. He was a good person. But he grew weak. For that, I hold the occupation responsible. They must understand that if they recruit collaborators they must pay the price for it. A life without dignity is worthless. Especially when it reminds you day after day of humiliation and weakness. And the world watches, cowardly and indifferent.

 

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