Last August, on the eve of Eid, Afzal Guru wrote a letter in Urdu to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Hurriyat leader. The candid letter laid bare the mind of the Parliament attack convict—his views on religion, politics, the Kashmir conflict and India's judicial process. Here, THE WEEK brings you excerpts from a translation of the dispatch India has not yet seen.
Here in Tihar Jail, all prisoners from Kashmir—prisoners of war and conflict—believe the Kashmir issue is an international dispute. The government of India not only persecutes us but also torments our families by entangling them in litigation.
The media acts as the mouthpiece of the government and the intelligence agencies. A national daily painted a distorted picture of me, my faith and my family. It said I got acquainted with Quran only in jail and that we were actually Brahmins.
The jail superintendent and I occasionally discuss the Kashmir issue. I have told him clearly that demilitarising Kashmir is only the first step towards resolution. I told him that my hanging will not end the conflict.
The sessions court, the High Court and the Supreme Court have declared me as an accused in the Parliament attack case. Now the Congress has also done the same. The December 13 attack on Parliament was a direct result of the Kashmir conflict. My hanging will not stop such attacks.
I am ashamed that my family has filed a mercy petition. I apologise to my people. It was unwise of me to file the petition. I got carried away by the insistence of my friends and sympathisers.
Indian forces persecute and humiliate the Kashmiri people; it continues to be the worst kind of terrorism. This state-sponsored terrorism has made the honour of our daughters and mothers unsafe.
Since 2009, I have relentlessly tried for my transfer from Tihar Jail to Srinagar. I wrote to the home department, but they refused. I was told the government of Jammu and Kashmir had refused to accept my transfer. Newspapers quoted Omar Abdullah saying that the government had received no jail transfer application of Afzal.
I had prepared a petition myself for transfer but that, too, has been pending with the Supreme Court for the past one year. I argued that the court had sentenced me to death and not life imprisonment; and, therefore, I should either be hanged or be shifted to Srinagar till the government takes a final decision on me.
I read in the newspaper that Abdullah had expressed fears that I might be hanged. I have always, especially in the fasting month of Ramadan, been praying to Allah to grant me the death of a martyr.
Afzal Guru heard the news of Ajmal Kasab's execution on the radio, which had been his constant companion in Jail No. 3 in Tihar. He showed no nervousness or fear—the convict in the 2001 Parliament attack case had become almost a fakir in the cocoon of his faith. And he was desperate to assert his religious identity, which was quite a transition for a man who had enjoyed music, poetry, ghazals and sports in his younger days.
“I learned Quran at the age of six, studied tafseer [commentary on Quran] and read Maulana Maududi's Al Jihad Fil Islam [Jihad for Islam] when I was only 14. It is a distortion to say I got acquainted with Quran only in jail,” he writes in a letter from jail to sepratist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Maududi is an ideologue of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and Kashmir. His followers in Pakistan had participated in the Afghan wars. Though Afzal joined the moderate Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front after dropping out of medical college, his interest in Maududi reveals the hard-liner in him. “In the last 21 years, more than a lakh people in the land of chinars have given their blood to nurse the tree of Towheed [oneness of God],” he writes.
The stress on Towheed, around which the Islamic faith revolves, gives a peep into Afzal's mind and how his faith shaped his ideas about life and the struggle in Kashmir. “The attack on Parliament is linked with the Kashmir conflict. Such attacks and resistance in Kashmir will not end by hanging Afzal,” he writes. The letter hints that Afzal was planning to write a book or had already made some progress.
Though Afzal writes in the letter that seeking pardon was an “unwise decision” that he took on the “insistence of friends and relatives”, he clearly wanted to live. “This support [from the people of Kashmir] has truly given me a new hope that I may still live and be able to see my son grow up,” he said in his mercy plea to the President.
Afzal had escaped a death warrant six years ago. It was issued on September 20, 2006, and the hanging was to be carried out on October 20. The one-month gap gave Tabassum, his wife, enough time to seek the President's mercy.
Two weeks after Kasab was hanged, Afzal's lawyer N.D. Pancholi met him in Tihar. “I told him Kasab had been hanged,” recalled Pancholi. Afzal kept quiet for a while and then told Pancholi to move the Supreme Court on the question of delay if his petition was rejected. A long delay in carrying out a death sentence is a valid reason for seeking pardon and reprieve under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution. But the government gave his counsel little time to react to the warrant that sent him to the gallows.
Afzal's execution was carried out a week after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy plea on February 3. Inmates of Jail No. 3 were moved out the day before the execution and Afzal was informed only a few hours before. He was taken aback for a moment, but regained his composure soon, and remained calm.
On February 9, “He performed his ablutions, took a bath and offered the pre-dawn prayers,” said a source. Then Afzal was in the company of the jail staff till the final moment. He left behind some clothes, spectacles, books and the radio set.
Afzal's family has demanded that they be given his body and belongings. On February 11, Gulam Muhammad, his father-in-law, gave the deputy police commissioner of Baramulla an application requesting his body and possessions. “We want to bury him in our ancestral graveyard where his father, mother and younger brother are buried,” said a relative.
In Srinagar, a grave was dug for Afzal with an epitaph reading ‘Shaheed-e-Watan, Shaheed Muhammad Afzal Guru'. Kashmir has another empty grave—that of JKLF leader Maqbool Butt—waiting for its occupant for the past 29 years. Butt was hanged in Tihar on February 11, 1984. Afzal was buried next to him in Tihar.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he was informed about the decision to hang Afzal only the night before. Reports, however, suggest he had been in the loop. A few days earlier, Omar and his father, Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, were in Delhi. Some reports say Omar had suggested that the execution be carried out on a weekend in Chiliakalan, the peak winter period of 40 days started on December 20, expecting the harsh weather to stifle protests.
Top rungs of the Army, the Central Reserve Police Force and the J&K police also knew about the decision. Security forces were mobilised a few hours before the execution. People returning from mosques, just before the dawn, were surprised to see the security forces patrolling the streets in Kashmir. Most of the roads in Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara, Budgam and Anantnag were closed with barbed wire.
When the news arrived, people flocked to mosques and offered prayers for Afzal. The crippling restrictions forced more than 60 lakh people stay at home, with little supplies. Cable television and the internet were cut.
Thousands of people from Sopore and nearby villages, however, marched to Seer Jagir, a village on the banks of the Jhelum, where Afzal was born and brought up. Thousands could not make it because the security forces stopped the traffic into the village. Many people reached the village by boat. The village had descended into a gloom. “Tabassum and her son, Ghalib, were inconsolable,” said a villager.
The villagers have fond memories of Afzal's childhood. “We used to play together and have fun,” said Afzal's friend Molvi Bashir, a teacher. A neighbour said he still remembered how Afzal used to float on rubber a tube in the Jhelum.
Though protests broke out across Kashmir, measures taken in anticipation ensured there was no violence. In Sumbal, two people drowned when a boat carrying protesters capsized while being chased by the police. In Watergam in north Kashmir, a boy was killed in a firing by the CRPF.
Interestingly, Afzal's hanging happened when senior separatist leaders were not in Kashmir. Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were in Delhi, and Yasin Malik, whose JKLF claims Afzal as one of them, was visiting his wife and daughter in Pakistan. Malik staged a token hunger strike outside the press club in Islamabad, which was also attended by Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
Afzal's father-in-law had snubbed the separatists who had tried to cash in on Afzal's arrest. He once confronted a senior separatist leader and asked him not to politicise Afzal's name. Ironically, Afzal's execution has done exactly that.