Crude and cruel manner in which Afzal Guru was hanged and the inhuman attitude of the authorities in dealing with its immediate aftermath will continue to haunt the moral conscience of the Indian establishment for a long time. It took the country’s highest seat of justice—Supreme Court of India—two months to unburden a small portion of that national liability when it ruefully acknowledged (evidently wilful) ‘omissions’ committed by the institutions of the state, in the national capital, in fulfilling the prescribed mandatory requirement of providing prior information to the family relatives of the condemned convicts. The wording of the fateful observation made by the two-judge bench of the SC, in the course of urgent hearing of a set of writ petitions, did not mention specifically the Guru case even as it went on to exhort that ‘a situation like that in Jammu and Kashmir should not arise’. The context of the observation was resoundingly loud and clear.
Afzal Guru was sent to the gallows in indecent haste, short-circuiting his last option to seek reprieve and keeping his family in the dark. As if to add insult to the injury, the union home ministry had shamelessly sought to justify its position by saying that the letter to the family had been sent by mail. The family in Kashmir received it two days after Guru was hanged and buried in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
The SC bench held an urgent hearing late in the evening on Sunday at the residence of one of the judges and stayed the execution of eight petitioners whose mercy petitions, like that of Guru, had been rejected by the President of India. It was this crucial last opportunity that was arbitrarily denied to Guru and which ultimately paved the way for his injudicious hanging.
Significantly, while the bench refrained from specifying Guru’s case even as it found it necessary to pinpoint gross lapses committed in its handling, the Chief Justice of India, replying to questions at a different function in New Delhi, evasively said that ‘past issues should not be raked up again.’ He however, underlined the significance of the mandatory requirement of the families of the condemned convicts being informed well in time for a last meeting.The union law minister when questioned on why that requirement was violated in Guru’s case vaguely replied that he was not required to go into past cases.
It does not need any extraordinary intelligence to fathom the uneasiness within the central government establishment when questioned about the highhanded manner in which the Guru case was handled. But all this posturing is meaningless because the damage, indeed immense damage, has already been done. The chronic trust deficit between the people of Kashmir and rest of the country has sharply aggravated as a result of the aftermath of Guru’s hanging. The unavoidable impression in Kashmir is that Guru had been singled out for such inhuman treatment because he was a Muslim and a Kashmiri. The range and depth of this estrangement is evident in that even the so-called mainstream political camps including that of the Congress-National Conference coalition had to fall in line and be counted.
Deep rooted emotional wounds inflicted on the Kashmiri psyche would continue to ooze so long as New Delhi is seen to be acting so maliciously. As of now, it appears that nobody out there in the national capital has had inclination or compassion to look back and attempt some sort of course correction. Guru happened to be the last convict, so far, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President and who was hastily sent to the gallows. The President has since rejected over a dozen more similar petitions but the affected convicts have been provided judicial reprieve, at least for now. How else to explain this glaring discrimination other than interpreting it as a calculated, wilful ‘teach-the-lesson’ act of vengeance? Counting the cost has never been a concern of anyone but a handful of powerless do-gooders. And that is the root of India’s problem in Kashmir.