This is not a direct appeal for abolishment of capital punishment though it does raise questions on it. Afzal Guru was one of the accused in the 2001 parliament attack. After 12 years, today early in the morning, he was hanged till death.
As justice was buried, there was an outpour of reactions, carefully sorted and handpicked by the news channels across the nation. The ruling party pated its own backs and talked about the need to take this “crucial” step. The largest opposition party, BJP, expressed its “relief” even though it meant that another point on their agenda has been dismissed but nevertheless they criticized Congress for the delay. People rejoicing or expressing relief that finally, “justice” has been done.
Afzal Guru was given the death penalty way back in 2002. It was upheld in 2006 by the Supreme court and then after a series of approval, on the republic day, this year, the President passed the recommendation to depart justice in the country.
Yes, today, justice was buried, it departed. And this does not involve just a questioning of whether this would mean the end of terrorism or insurgency. It has re-iterated questions on the world’s largest democracy to have denied the right to free trial, the right to present his case and the right to prove his innocence.
Afzal Guru was presented as the biggest terrorist in the country, even “bigger” than Ajmal Kasab. And this charge suppressed any voice to counter or question it. There have been several debates on his case on major news channels. However, the debates were mostly on the death sentence and not on the hard facts that render him innocent and another victim of dirty and communal politics.
When in 2006, Afzal Guru’s execution date, time and place was announced, there were widespread protests in Kashmir. The protests involved thousands of men, women and children taking to streets. The protests continued for several days and had also involved several political parties and leaders of the Kashmiri movement for self-determination. There is also a SaveAfzal Guru Campaign that primarily demanded for his right to be heard, to present his story and for justice.
More importantly, let’s focus on the innumerable petitions that were filed by Afzal Guru himself. These petitions were not petitions of mercy. Here are some excerpts from a petition submitted in 2006 to the then President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam:
“It is true that I did not file any petition before you but it was not out of any arrogance or ill will. I had no hope of getting justice. Besides, I was told that my lawyers would be filing a curative petition and I was hoping that I may still get justice from the Supreme Court. But my lawyers did not file any such petition and instead my death warrant was issued.”
“I am aware that there is one other argument being given for hanging me. They say I have not shown remorse or begged for forgiveness. Your Excellency, I cannot ask for forgiveness for something that I have not done.”
I take this opportunity to write to you, the President of India as a Kashmiri because very few kashmiris get an opportunity to be heard.”
In his petition, he narrated the daily experiences of a kashmiri. He had joined the secessionist movement to demand freedom and the right to basic human rights for his people but he himself had surrendered to the Border Security force, only to face a life of torture and indignity. In his petition, he exposed the corrupt and inhuman treatment by the Security Task Force.
One of the allegations that he was charged with was that he knew the people who were involved in the attack. To this, he said:
“It was these officers of the STF who used me and introduced me to one Mohammad who was one of the persons who attacked the Indian Parliament. I do not know who this Tariq was and I did not know what the plot was. I became involved in the conspiracy to attack Parliament without my knowledge, intention or willingness. Your Excellency, I was made a scapegoat by the investigating agencies because they could not catch the real masterminds behind the attack”, petitioned a MBA-degree holder.
In the petition, he exposed the truth of the investigating agencies, the torture and how he was falsely implicated in cases to “crack” the case. He provided his side of the story, the evidence and the loopholes in all the charges that he was accused of. According to him, he was never given a proper lawyer. According to him, out of 80 prosecution witnesses, only 22 were cross-examined by the advocate appointed to “represent” him.
Besides his petition for a fair trial, there is a need to look at the findings and the verdict of the Supreme Court of India. Quoting from several newspaper clippings and the publication “The Afzal Petition – A quest for justice”:
“The Supreme Court did not award Afzal the death penalty because he was the mastermind or because he was involved in killing any of the security personnel or even of actually planting any bombs. The charge sheet did not have his name. The five accused who had carried out the attack were all Pakistanis, though no proof of their identity was produced. Therefore, it is clear than even the prosecution did not accuse Afzal of being involved in the actual attack, killing or planting. Infact, there was no evidence at all that Afzal belonged to any banned or illegal organization. He was acquitted of charges of belonging to any terrorist organization.”
But he was hanged till death with the logic given by the Supreme Court that:
“The incident, which has resulted in heavy causalities, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender”.
He was hanged, said the Supreme Court, to “satisfy” the collective conscience of the society. What conscience is this? Re-iterating the inhuman practices of the past to impart “justice”?
We need strict laws but not the barbaric and inhuman ones. There is also a need to ensure that the innocent do not get targeted. There is a need to check on the corruption and the biases in the legal and judicial proceedings.
Most importantly, we need to strike the roots. Even if Afzal Guru was really a terrorist, we must remember that terrorists are not out of this society, they are a creation of this very society. There is a need to reform the society, a need to attack these forces of inequalities, hatred and religious fundamentalism.
With remorse, I have written this piece. We have “granted” death to a man who may have been completely innocent. But Afzal Guru was not the first person who has met this fate. He was one of the many who has died as a victim of communal and corrupt politics, as a victim of extreme and blinding nationalism and another blot on the ‘secular’, ‘democratic’ republic of India.