J&K: The Man is Gone but Questions Remain

09 Apr, 2013    ·   3877

Shujaat Bukhari on the responses of Kashmiri leadership and civil society in the aftermath of the hanging of Afzal Guru

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

Tension over the hanging of Afzal Guru might have subsided but the scar it has left on the minds of people would continue to haunt the state. Also the embarrassment Government of India had to face at the International level at least over the way the hanging took place cannot be brushed aside easily. In Kashmir, however, we again proved that lack of strategy has remained the hallmark of pursuing the issues with which people have deep connection.

In the aftermath of Afzal’s hanging, besides the strong reaction from Indian civil society and the media (except a few outlets), the issue of Italian marines brought a disturbing message for India as Rome feared that they (Marines) might face the same fate as of Afzal. Analysts have rightly pointed out that Afzal’s secret hanging played an important role in Italy’s refusal to hand them back to Kerala police despite the undertaking given by their Ambassador to India. This did make headlines but only in the context of India being bullied by Italy on the issue. However, the underlying factor was the fear they had about their fate. Consequently the deal was brokered on those lines and India agreed they would not hand over death sentence to them. This in a way confirmed the apprehensions Italian government had. Even the Italian Foreign Minister resigned as he had not agreed to hand over them back to Indian government. Italy’s concern over the marines is worth watching. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano recently pardoned one American air force officer in the abduction case of one Egyptian terror suspect and the media reported that it was done with the  “hope India will follow the steps to pardon two Italian marines who are under trial in India for shooting two fishermen”. Obviously this concern has precipitated only after the world noted, though most of the countries did not make any public statement, that denial of even last meeting to Afzal with his family did not fit within the humanitarian norms. Most of the world is against death sentence and it becomes worse when the hanging is conducted stealthily.

Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court’s earlier verdict that Afzal had to be hanged to “satisfy the collective conscience” of people of India, its two member bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and M Y Eqbal referred to this aspect of maintaining secrecy while staying the sentence of eight convicts on the death row. They did not mention Afzal directly but maintained “the intimation of the execution reached the relatives of the person after his hanging and they could not meet the condemned prisoner for one last time before he was hanged”. This also shows that the cry over denial of a chance of judicial review to Afzal’s family and the manner in which he was sent to gallows had made an impact on the minds of the judges. This was possible only with most of the mainstream Indian media making a forceful case about these critical issues. Though not in elaborate terms, the SC observation does suggest that there is a scope for addressing the issue of body at least with a humanitarian angle.

However, it is worth discussing how the Kashmiri leadership, civil society and the legal fraternity behaved in the aftermath of his hanging. It is a forgone conclusion that Afzal would not come back. But the issue of returning of his mortal remains was the only thing, which could have been taken up in a forceful manner after the Home Ministry rejected the plea made by his family. While the mainstream political parties tried to outwit each other over the issue in the Assembly without any tangible result, the separatists too failed to chalk out a pragmatic course of action. Mutahida Majlise Mushawarat, a loose alliance, which came into existence soon after February 9, had nothing new to offer except the strikes and protests. Realising that the people were fed up with continued strikes and hartals as they only turn out to be a self inflicting tool, they have now taken recourse to Social Media which of course is being used by Kashmiris even otherwise for giving vent to their feelings. As the response to strikes was poor, using social media would definitely be a good way to register the protest.

But two months have passed now, no one in the separatist camp including the Bar Association, which swears by the struggle for “right to self determination”, has thought of moving to Supreme Court. Without looking back at the fact that it was the Supreme Court that had upheld the death sentence to Afzal, this is still the only available forum in “democratic India” where such a case could be pursued. There is no harm in making an attempt to get the body back. But our leadership in the separatist camp is bereft of ideas and does not believe in consultations and rather only taking refuge in hartals which only play a role in certain circumstances and have the power when prompted spontaneously. When being questioned about strategy, the only answer they would have is “suggest alternatives”. It is not the job of a commoner to suggest alternatives but the decision lies with the one who has the authority to call for a strike. Why they did not think about the legal recourse? They could help the family in doing so.

With mainstream parties stuck in thinking about how they could use it in elections and simultaneously bail out Delhi, the separatists lost touch with the ground. They have lost their role as leaders and do not have capacity to show a way to people. It is time for them to introspect and take stock of their relevance on the ground. Mainstream too should shun the political gimmickry, as it does not help Kashmir to grow.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir