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India/Pakistan: Democracy’s Noose Kept Afzal Guru Hanging

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ART-024-2013
March 05, 2013

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

India/Pakistan: Democracy’s Noose Kept Afzal Guru Hanging, Till Death

Avinash Pandey*

He had to die. Die, because a nation wanted him to, or so were we told by the Supreme Court of the nation. He had to die to satisfy the collective conscience of the nation, the court added for a good measure. So, he did die, nay, hanged till death. His body was left hanging for a full thirty minutes after the levers were pulled, we were told by a media that was less reporting on the incident and more speculating on it.

The media had turned this somber occasion of a death into cannibalistic carnival reminiscent of a 20-20 cricket match on the anvil. They told us everything about the last moments of the one condemned to death. Most of it was later found to be completely false. They told us how uneasy the convict on the death row was on the eve of his hanging only to be rebuffed by the jail officials next morning who told us how calm and composed he, in fact, was.

Whether the collective conscience of the nation was satisfied or not was the only question they did not bother to find answers for. They paraded the family members of the victims of the attack the death-convict had allegedly masterminded and they interviewed political leaders asserting that India would not take an attack on its very heart lying down. They looked around for visuals of those celebrating the hanging, almost all of them clad in saffron scarves while waving the Indian tricolour and inflicted the same on the nation that has started to express itself through the likes of Arnab Goswamis screaming on the television sets.

They did, still, not try to find out where, and in whom, the conscience of the nation resides , forget making efforts to know if it was finally satisfied or not. They did not need to bother to, for they had delivered their judgement far ahead of the courts and were now merely getting disgusted with delay in hanging the convict. The delay, for them, was symptomatic of all that was wrong with India, their India to be precise. They had been questioning the delay incessantly. Their ‘nation’ wanted to know when the convict would be hanged.

The convict, by the way, had a name. His name was Afzal Guru. He was a citizen of India. Yes, in case we forgot, as the mainstream media wanted us to, he was a citizen of India. He was entitled to all the rights a citizen, any citizen of India has. None of his rights, including the right to life with dignity unless taken out by due process of law, were respected by the nation. He was denied a fair trial as many of the legal stalwarts of the country believe.

Now, he was robbed of his dignity even in death. He was hanged in utter secrecy, a secrecy that baffled even the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Let’s make no mistakes though. Mr. Singh was not upset at “the hanging” but at the “circumvention of basic human parameters”. Basic human parameters, for the uninitiated, mean nothing more than the fact that his family was not informed about his hanging and was not given a chance to meet him ‘one last time’.

The fact that Manmohan Singh is known for being upset after the illegalities have been committed and the benefits reaped by those under his immediate supervision is beside the point. Remember his stand on stone pelting in Kashmir, the very same state Afzal came from. He was upset then too and demanded maximum restraint from the security forces who showered bullets on those who pelted stones. He talked of humane policing. He told all and sundry how much he valued the lives of Indian citizens, even the Kashmiris. P Chidambaram, his subordinate who was directly in command of the security forces, ordered maximum crackdown on the protesters meanwhile without upsetting the Prime Minister anymore. He had already exhausted his quota of being upset about the issue.

Afzal Guru’s case, however, was a different one. Here was a man hanged not for absolute legal reasons but to satisfy the ‘collective conscience of the nation’. The evidence against him was circumstantial at best, not enough for hanging someone even for those with an absolute belief in capital punishment, forget those like us who oppose the death sentence as a residual barbarity in modern times. He was given death sentence nonetheless.

The conscience of the nation was not satisfied. It did not want him just to be given a death sentence. It wanted the death warrant signed and executed as soon as possible. Afzal Guru, the man, had been converted into an issue, an emotive one on top of that. The nation, read Bharatiya Janata Party was baying for his blood. They had to, for everything about the wretched fellow served the BJP’s purpose. He was a Muslim and a Kashmiri. He was accused of being involved in the conspiracy (we cannot write conspiring as there is no concrete evidence for that till date) to attack Indian parliament.

What better stick could they, and tens of other amoebic heads the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh clan have, to beat Congress and its politics of ‘minority appeasement.’ Afzal was no more a person languishing in jail for a crime he committed, as per the political doctrine of collective conscience, if not legally as per his own assertion. BJP has converted him into a devil whose dead body would be the hinge on which would turn the discourse of national security.

It was not about national security though, not for the BJP at least. After all it remains the same party which had sent the then Union Minister Jaswant Singh to Kandahar as an escort to the known terrorist Masood Azhar and two others in return for the passengers of ill fated Air India flight IC 814. It was also the same party which had unceremoniously returned the army after keeping it in a forward attack position for almost two years without achieving a single stated objective of the misadventure. The cost of the catastrophic buildup on the borders was astronomical. BJP led NDA had successfully managed to get more than 1500 Indian soldiers killed without fighting a war.

Neither had it anything to do either with minority appeasement or BJP’s newly found love about democratic institutions. It has kept its mouth tightly shut on the case of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for the assassination of Beant Singh, the then Chief Minister of Punjab. Rajoana, unlike Afzal Guru, has neither sought any clemency nor shown any remorse for the notorious killing even while admitting his role in the same.

Unlike Afzal Guru, further, Rajoana was not hanged even after death warrant being signed as the jail officials returned the same under, allegedly, instructions of Akali Dal-BJP government ruling the state. Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, had himself approached the home ministry asking for putting the decision on hold. The reasons he gave for the demand were simple. He wanted the ministry to respect the sentiments of the people; the sentiments that reflected in Akal Takht, supreme religious body of the Sikhs, declaring Rajoana as ‘Zinda Shaheed’.

The case of Afzal Guru was no different. There were a lot of sentiments attached to him. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, as in Rajoana’s case, had warned the central government about the law and order problems that would have ensued following his hanging. The centre did take notice of all that as it was evidenced from the secret hanging and the immediate clampdown on Kashmiris’ right to protest. The state was put under unrelenting curfew. All channels of communication, including social media were stopped.

No, I am not asking for Rajoana’s hanging. No one with a firm belief in humanity can ask for anyone’s killing, that is a foray of the thousands of murderous Bajarangis of the BJP stable. It is not about Rajoana at all in fact.

It is about BJP and its double speak. And of Congress’ abject surrender to this politics of homicidal hate. Afzal Guru was not convicted for legal reasons. Neither was he hanged for the same. He was sacrificed on the altar of petty electoral gains BJP wanted to make out of his death. And on the altar of the growing desperation of the Congress ridden by a battery of scams and bad governance. It is about the difference between Kashmir and Punjab. And the people living in the states.

It is about the very future of the nation and Congress in it, as well. Congress might succeed, for a while, in puncturing BJP’s Hindutva balloon and emerge victorious in 2014. It is going to lose the battle nonetheless. It is not the first time it is flirting with soft Hindutva politics. It has done that in 1989 by allowing the juggernaut of rathyatras and Shilanyas. It did never come back anywhere close to power in most of north India ever again. It did the same in Gujarat while trying to fight Modi’s Hindutva with Shankarsingh Baghela’s Hindutva. The results are for everyone to see.

If only Congress knew that people prefer originals over photocopies, even when it is all about banality of evil.

I did not know Afzal Guru personally. Neither did I know his wife and son. Today I know them all and my heart goes out to them. With ample help from the BJP, the Indian state has successfully made a hero out of a surrendered militant. With the new vacant grave it has dug in Kashmir for him, it has ensured immortality befitting a martyr on Afzal Guru.
None of it can offer any solace to the bereaved family whose only crime was to be related to Afzal Guru. Nor can it offer any solace to the democracy that has been demeaned by the act. I think of all those Pakistani friends telling me how lucky we are to be a democracy. I had never missed that half-jealous and half-desirous tone of those comments. I don’t know if I would believe them anymore.

# # #

* Mr. Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to Food Programme, AHRC. He could be contacted at samar@ahrc.asia

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Visit our new website with more features at www.humanrights.asia.

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