From Behind The Walls

In March 2011, the History Department of Kashmir University organized a three-day seminar on ‘Tradition and Dissent in Indian History with special reference to Kashmir’. About this seminar, in this column I had written that   majority of the speakers both from outside as well as from the Kashmir University during three days deliberations had remained engaged in ancient Kashmir history and religious philosophies born and nursed in the land. And most of the speakers had avoided talking about the contemporary Kashmir history.’ In this galaxy of historians, I was an odd man out, I had been asked to make a presentation on “Dissent in the Contemporary Kashmir- 1846- 1947”. 

For me the seminar was a rewarding experience as it enabled me to understand that Kashmir has been a part of the sub-continental-Muslim narrative much before the Muslims of the state had risen against brutal rule of the Maharajas. And articulated their grievance in a 17-point memorandum presented to the Viceroy of India during his visit to Srinagar in 1924. Besides revealing to me that Kashmir had also started bracing with the  pan-Islamists movements in early part of twentieth century as reaction to revivalist Hindu movement- a bigger manifestation of which sacrilege of Khanqah Mo’alla and a Muslim Shrine in Islamabad Anantnag. The study had also   enabled me to relook at the birth of the Kashmir Dispute and deconstruct the much orchestrated ‘dominant discourse’ that timidity is in the DNA of Kashmir. History does tell us that at a every critical juncture people of the land have risen against brutal control and cruelty.     

I was reminded of this seminar when a friend suggested me reading a ninety-four page Urdu book titled as “The Last Testament of Muhammad Afzal Guru” with a critical eye. The book was released at a largely attended function on 21 September 2013 in a Hotel Srinagar. During past twenty years, many a prison diaries narrating deplorable conditions inside the jails and the sufferings of the inmates and political detunes were published.  Some of them made best sellers. Of all Kashmir “militants” during past one decade, he was much in news- a lot had been written about his “involvement” in attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001. The incident   had brought two nuclear powers of South Asia to the brink of a nuclear war. Moreover, in the history of India and Pakistan, it had caused one of the longest military standoff, where over a million soldiers of the two countries confronted each other eyeball to eyeball. “The army buildup had cost India US$3.3 billion and to Pakistan $1.4 billion.” With this amount, the two countries would have established many hospitals and schools. 

Many leading intellectuals, lawyers and writers in India vociferously challenged the fairness of his trial and raised their voices against his hanging. Couple of authors including 1998 Man Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy wrote very long articles in Indian and foreign journals accusing the government of framing him in the case.  Roy’s latest book on Guru, the Hanging of Afzal Guru: And the Strange Case of the Attack on Indian Parliament’ provides an incisive reading into his trial and the attack on parliament.  Having read most of the piercing and revealing stories about the hanged militant, the booklet authored by him, notwithstanding   having been written a couple of months before he was sent to gallows did not cause much of curiosity in me-  I had preferred  to read it some leisure hour- that rarely comes in meeting the deadlines.   

 In fact it were some sentences in the introduction to the Guru’s  book written by Dr. Muhammad Shafi Khan, Shariti- a prisoner in the Srinagar Central jail sentenced for life that aroused  curiosity in me about the book. In his introduction, he writes that Guru had made pen and paper as his companions but he did not use them for writing elegies. He did not use his pen for recounting his sufferings during his twelve years detention nor did he complain against the system of justice but instead he chooses to address to people of Jammu and Kashmir in general, youth and intelligentsia in particular. 

I have no idea about the author’s political ideology before his splashing the newspaper headlines- reports suggested that at one point of time he belonged to the cadres of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and subscribed to its political outlook.  The book however suggests that during his long incarceration the author was engaged in serious studies.  He had studied Maulana Rumi and Allama Iqbal- he quotes these two great poets profusely in this booklet but had also turned a serious student of Sigmund Freud,  Karl Marx and Saiyed Qutub.  It transpires that he did not only study works by Mahatma Gandhi but also critiques on Gandhian philosophy.  

Going through the book, I felt that author during his detention has been deeply influenced by the literature of Saiyed Abu’l Ala Mawdudi and more particularly by his first major book Al-Jihad fil  Islam. Mawdudi wrote this book at young age in 1929, many years before founding of the Jamat-e-Islamia. This book to quote Dr. Saiyed Vali Reza Nasar, author of the “Vanguard of Islamic Revolution”, was inspired by ‘anti-Muslim campaign launched by Hindu revivalist parties  the Mahasabha and the Arya Samaj- this campaign for reconverting unwilling low caste converts from Islam to Hinduism was known as Shuddi campaign.’ Vali Nasar writes that Mawdudi’s this book was not “only a response to Hindu challenges to Islam following assassination of Sharadanand- the founder of Muslim hate campaign but was also prologue to lifetime of religious effort- and his idea of Islamic State.’ ..He had seen this as a ‘panacea to all problems facing the Muslims.’ 

Guru’s book laced with quotes from Iqbal at times reads like a book written by Saiyed Ali Shah Geelani. At many places it  reads like a note of introspection. While blaming Kashmir intellectuals and intelligentsia of dissipating their time and energies in fruitless discussion he calls upon them to provide a roadmap to people for taking them out of morass and disappointments… It is duty of intellectuals and men of letters to end uncertainty in Kashmir he writes and not   of the inexperienced young minds (P 75).

One may not agree with the arguments and ideology pleaded by the author but the book written behind the high walls of jail overall provides an insight into the mind and thinking of Afzal Guru