Afzal Guru’s Hasty Execution – A Setback to Peace Building in Kashmir

Adfar Shah

Kashmir Valley – the bruised paradise was simmering with rage and as usual unpredictable, peace deficit and active on the volcano of hostility after Afzal Guru was hastily executed in Tihar Jail last year. The ramifications of the mass unrest and shaping up of the geography of anger, set the peace process ablaze by clouding the paltry gains secured  so painstakingly after enormous all-round efforts after  over the last few years, that too in the blink of an eye!  It certainly would  not be out of place to argue here that even the shocking Khanyar Shrine burning incident (Dastgeer Sahab’s shrine mysteriously being set ablaze on 25th June, 2012), or later the protests over the blasphemous and anti-Islamic American video, or even the most recent incident of the Rock Band row (an unnecessary hue and cry caused over the Kashmiri Muslim girls’ only Rock band- ‘Pragaash’  and the Grand Mufti’s Fatwa against it) and now the Army’s unceremoniously dumping the Pathribal case, though disturbing the fragile peace somewhat, generally speaking, all these incidents were not too severe, affecting and upsetting the social equilibrium as Afzal Guru’s hasty hanging has done!

The blistering criticism that ensued over this grave issue was fuelled by the secret execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru – one of the main accused in the heinous attack on the Indian Parliament in which there were some fatal casualties. Executed in secrecy on 9th February, 2013 in Tihar Jail, without even allowing the accused to meet his family for one last time before his death, it gave rise to an agonizing moral debate about a plethora of issues including the lack of prior information about the planned date of execution. Apparently this was done post-execution and the letter containing news about Guru’s hanging, was received after two days of his execution i.e. on 11th February, 2013, thereby rightfully posing certain moral questions and revealing the nature of our democracy. Not only this, even the burial of Afzal Guru’s body (that right should at least have been given to the family) in the jail premises with hardly any intentions of returning the body/remains even one year later to his family living in a remote hamlet (Dubgah) of north Kashmir’s Sopore area sent a strong shiver of abhorrence down the collective spine of Kashmiris and once again practically nullified the peace efforts of so many architects of peace.

Afzal’s hanging proved too costly for the precious peace process in Kashmir and again brought the Valley back to the pattern of violence of yesteryears. The peace efforts made earlier were brutally wasted and vanished in seconds after the news of Afzal’s hanging reached the conflict ridden valley; with it returned the feeling of being discriminated against and alienated in India for Afzal was hanged even before the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s and Beant Singh’s assassins, equally guilty of crime and dastardly acts of violence. Thus the feeling of and the chasm between “They and Us” (Indians & Kashmiri’s) manifested itself once again and the senseless and unreasonable imposition of restrictions on the streets (indefinite curfew along with virtual siege imposed round the valley by the State) also reappeared- even before news of the execution became known – throwing everybody into sheer confusion and a state of disenchantment, pain and discomfiture. Afzal’s execution in such a fashion hit hard the collective conscience in the valley, though they say it satisfied the same outside Kashmir. One wonders how do they (the power elite) define collective conscience and does the collective conscience really cherish capital punishment in the world’s largest democracy? The situation today is testimony to the fact that hardly anybody cares about peace, the return of normalcy and the innate sensitivities of the masses here.

Even today a great deal seems to be done practically on the ground in many respects, though the Centre has been channelizing ample funds/packages for general welfare, employment, etc, from time to time; however, we still see a considerable chasm to be bridged even in the developmental facade and the security situation among the three divisions of the State, not to talk of other States in India. The Valley suffered and continues to suffer in the worst possible way, be that life security, dignified living, peaceful atmosphere, developmental works, unemployment, etc,. Also the Centre still has not been fully able to understand the local sensitivities and collective psyche in this part of the country. Perhaps the reaching out has not been adequate (though substantial) and that is why the vulnerable and the most estranged section of the Kashmiri society today, i.e. the youth, feel highly alienated, labeled, discriminated, ignored, impoverished and restricted , thus reacting with violence whenever the circumstances turn unbearable and beyond endurance.

Though people’s reactions or protests are crushed most of the time now, the dissent continuing  shows an increasing trend be that manifested in  people’s  protest marches, outbursts via social networking sites or their exhortations for just action on Kashmir’s plight in gatherings, meetings, seminars, etc,. However, the pity is that the conscious section of society (especially those in power) is yet to ponder over the situation seriously, resulting in the status quo of an acute socio-political chaos. Also there seems to be no one really bothered or in any haste (India, Pakistan, UN or the Kashmiri leadership for that matter) to look for ways in which the Kashmir issue can be tackled within a diplomatic, mature and sustained framework, as per the people’s aspirations here. The current public rage or  violent scenario or the collective dismay over prevailing uncertainty, is the fallout of a collective battered psyche which unless and until properly comprehended, empathized with and treated pertinently by keeping in view the contextual sensitivities or people’s anger or panic (not fulfilling even  Afzal’s last wish of meeting his family) will never lead to peace on its own, in this part of censored India where the SMS ban still continues; cell phones turn abruptly dysfunctional on important national celebrations or in sensitive times, giving people a sense of being treated as an enemy by their own State. If we are serious about peace, we have to ensure that just treatment is meted out and spare no one who is guilty be they the Pathribal culprits or any security personnel involved in HR violations.

The issue of real and grass root level empowerment and mass emancipation is still not visible. The blot of human rights violations, accompanied by the issues of bad governance, have actually impoverished the ‘feel secure’ psyche and peace building over here. The public is embittered as the nameless mass graves issue is still unanswered, fake encounters are still to be responded to in a just perspective and the displaced populace is yet to return home.

On the developmental front, we have examples from other States like M.P, U.P, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, etc, where despite political upheavals, corruption or riots, empowerment is coming to surface gradually in terms of growth, power decentralization at the grass root level and the kind of power which common masses enjoy or feel by themselves. But such a growth story or situation is not witnessed in this part of the globe. On a priority basis, there is a need to adopt policies which suit this landscape of conflict and start from security to private sector growth. People here demand peace and urge the Centre to deliver first the ‘feel secure’ psyche to common Kashmiris and then talk about MNERGA or Panchayati Raj or inclusive growth programmes. They must first revoke the controversial security laws (PSA, AFSPA) and then expect high voter turnouts in the true sense. They should first bring a common Indian and an oppressed Kashmiri on an equal plane and equal opportunity and then think of uprooting the secessionist tendencies or thinking about a practical perception management over here. They should first deal with Kashmiris in a humane manner and then expect people to eulogize about the world’s largest democracy or be a part of it genuinely.

Despite the much hyped Panchayati Raj elections, there is hardly any actual power at the grass roots level. Even these elected Panchs and Sarpanches have strong (clear) political affiliations and have been merely elected for they belong to mainstream political parties. Even these Panchayat members live in fear as their security and issues of safety are as yet another unresolved dilemma that has been haunting the state but without any practical solution so far. The power decentralization here has proved to be nothing but a simple rhetoric of a successful Panchayati Raj system but actually a futile exercise and yet other inter-party war of an indigenous power hungry cluster.

The major impediment to development and progress is the lack of  the sense of security, ample sources of livelihood, developed private sector, right to expression and right to protest for one’s rights and, above all, good governance that could have brought all those culprits to book who are responsible for massive human rights violations in the State since 1989 and rehabilitating those who lost their property (Pandits community) or dear ones in bloodshed(common Kashmiri’s) and delivering justice to one and all and creating transparency in every sense (corruption free State). The fact of the matter is that everything lies with the Centre that needs to address the public grievances here, if it is really sincere about Kashmir.

On one hand, the suppression and subjugation has to be understood in terms of the brutal atrocities committed against unarmed civilians, rampant, unaccountable and rage induced arrests, mishandling of crisis every time and lack of addressing the sensitivities of different sections of the society, especially the youth who are never listened to and, above all, the lack of development in the State.

On the other hand, the incessant demand for Azadi (the sentiment portraying freedom) ,whose graph was declining till the recent past but the three summer unrests  – Amarnath Land Row in 2008, Shopian double rape and murder case row in 2009, as well as The Machil Fake Encounter Row in 2010), including the current myopic vision displayed by the government in Afzal’s case, has started yet another period of uncertainty and siege in  Kashmir Valley besieged by unfortunate incidents and the vagaries of an unkind fate. Azadi has, candidly speaking, multiple dimensions and interpretations here, though to hardliners it simply means freedom from India  or to be completely independent and to a few fools it means even annexing to Pakistan but to the larger reasonable section it means a genuine autonomy to be granted to the State, keeping the State’s vulnerable geography in view and treating autonomy as a tangible possibility rather than thinking of bifurcation or trifurcation of the pluralistic State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Unfortunately the steps to build peace in the region are not keeping pace with the demands of the situation at the moment. Merely engaging people in commissions, house arrests of the separatist camp day in and day out, politics of submitting reports, demanding probes, establishing different committees or the much hyped and delaying tactic of employing the interlocutors (led by Shri Dilip Padgonkar) to assess the grass root situation and to engage with the Kashmiri leadership for talks and to understand the whims and aspirations of J&K’s diverse ethnic communities, etc, all proved to be nothing but a series of delaying tactics.. History is testimony to the fact that so far many probes and round tables have yielded nothing except talks or conferences or newspaper articles. The delaying politics even could have been a fertile tactic but the distressing panic and violence, targeting innocent masses and continuing bloodshed has turned the State into a Police state or a chaotic military zone and far deadlier than the Auschwitz of Hitler, where every Kashmiri feels himself as the inmate of an endless chaos. The continuing tumultuous situation has brought the State to the brink of devastation, trust deficit and general hatred for policy makers, commissions, dialogues, etc,. Such a situation calls for an immediate but serious intervention without any more deliberate delays.

Sometimes one wonders whether anybody is virtually interested in peace over here or does anybody wish to see Kashmir happy, prosperous and progressive. One wonders for how long the darkness will last and who actually benefits from the prevailing chaos. A practical and a stern way-out is still a utopia and no one really cares about the coming summer, pilgrimage, tourism or of establishing normalcy here. This reflects the Centre’s casual and narrow-minded stance about the State, its people and the problems Kashmiris face every day for no fault of their.

Talking to a larger chunk of well educated youth in the valley, almost all of them feel that Afzal’s secret and hasty hanging proved very fatal for the prospects of peace building in Kashmir. Most of them even feel that Afzal’s hanging didn’t kill him in true sense of the word but turned him into a hero. Many youth clusters believe that India first works hard on peace in Kashmir but when the peace returns, the state commits a blunder every time to wash away the hard earned peace. They believe Afzal’s death sentence could have been commuted to life imprisonment and some believe that even if they (India) executed him, his body should have been honorably returned to his family for a decent burial. Some youth groups are of the opinion that behind every commission, report, talks, interlocutors, are vested interests. People also accuse the Indian media of bias and feel that the media has not revealed the actual truth about the sufferings of the Kashmiri people to outsiders. Also, a majority of the people in the Valley believe that the Centre too wants to keep the issue lingering on, seeing Pakistan’s political and internal instabilities and India seems unwilling to talk on the Kashmir issue to them for both the nations share a bitter history, adding to the prolonging and complexity of the problem of Kashmir issue and sustaining the collective suffering of Kashmiris.

Kashmiris have utterly lost the ‘feel secure’ psyche and Afzal’s execution destabilized Kashmir and washed away the peace prospects in Kashmir last year. The people here feel that the lid (of uncertainty & violence) has been kept open by immature and tricky statements on Kashmir as a political issue. Moreover, the negative stereotyping about Kashmiris, that is almost a culture in India at the moment, has widened the gap between the Kashmiris and the rest of the Indians. Furthermore, the politics over AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) or upon the dilemma of cutting down troops or the Centre’s delaying tactics by a plethora of commissions, enquires, etc, has led to a considerable trust deficit and disbelief in social justice. Also the Centre is inclined to acknowledge its mistake and not in the least apologetic for the all the atrocities and moral travesties committed against Kashmiri’s since 1947, especially from 1989 when armed insurgency started. The gospel truth of the State’s shunning the responsibilities towards its own people, has yielded distaste in the feeling of being a part of the world’s largest democracy. Has the Centre really lost its vision on Kashmir and its complex socio-political problem or the local sensitivities of Kashmir do not matter to it (centre) at all?

Last Word

Though many people believe that the calm will prevail again after this shocking wave tides over, however, I am of  the firm belief that the deceptive calm will prevail, which is perhaps now the routine and has become the destiny of this ii-fated Valley. Afzal’s hanging proved a hasty decision and his burial in jail without informing the family and not handing over the body, has proved too inhuman, immoral and heart breaking. The bitter fact remains that the mass sentiments of Kashmiris have never been respected so far. Such an incident has further lead to the sense of alienation among Kashmiris, especially the youth. First Afzal and then Afzal’s hanging and finally even his body return was highly politicized, which is quite unfortunate. Now when Afzal has gone to the gallows, his body should have been returned to his family as they are too the citizens of this nation. While this narrative of Kashmir’s suffering and sensitivities is being jotted,  pseudo-political analysts and so called Kashmir experts outside Kashmir will spare no opportunity in politicizing the execution row or, for that matter, delegitimizing the voices of dissent in Kashmir. The kith and kin of the parliament attack (December13,2001) victims might have assuaged the grief in their hearts after Afzal’s execution but, the question which stares us directly in the face is, “Was the preamble to the constitution in any way respected in finalizing the discourse in Afzal Guru’s case”? No wonder, political ideals might have finally celebrated their triumph over the democratic ideals. But, then, by awarding capital punishment to a human soul, has the nation really satisfied its collective conscience? As death is never the end of life, the quest remains that, Is India really winning the fourth generation war in Kashmir? I am doubtful.

Both the Centre and State governments need to understand the social fiber of Kashmir and understand the sensitive youth clusters and their aspirations. The Centre should ensure that hard earned peace worked out by various stake-holders must not vanish abruptly by even small mistakes. Afzal was executed but the country should ensure a legal and social system that does not produce more Afzal’s for Kashmir. I believe if we aspire genuinely for peace in Kashmir, all the political prisioners, youth arrested for anti-national activities should be granted a general pardon. I would not say just peace but give equality and sincerity a chance in Kashmir. The question remains, is India really treating Kashmir as an integral part of its nation?

Adfar Shah shuttles between New Delhi and Kashmir writing on South Asian societies and Politics for several publications besides Eurasia Review like Analyst World, South Asian Idea, Countercurrents, Amazons.com, Kashmir Monitor, Kashmir Images and other web portals and newspapers. Adfar is a Sociologist and researcher (at SNCWS, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) who continues to understand the Gender question, South Asian politics, Kashmir in conflict, Military sociology and Indian Military Apparatus, Af-Pak strain and Muslim identity issues. Contact him at adfer.syed@gmail.com

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