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Kashmir on the boil after Guru’s hanging

Kashmir Valley is on edge after the news of Afzal Guru’s hanging broke on Saturday morning, as pro-resistance Kashmiri leaders condemned the action while some labelled it “open oppression against the people” of disputed Jammu and Kashmir.

Mohammad Afzal Guru — convicted by the Indian Supreme Court in connection with the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament— was hanged inside Tihar jail at 8 AM on February 9. Maqbool Butt, a well-known Kashmiri resistance leader who was declared guilty for killing a bank manager in North Kashmir, was also hanged to death in the same jail 29 years ago.

And just as Butt’s body was buried inside the jail to avoid violent clashes, the same was done for Guru.

India’s President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected Guru’s clemency plea (filed by his wife Tabassum in 2006) on 23 January, 2013. After Ajmal Kasab, Guru is the second individual linked with “terror activities” to have been awarded the capital punishment under Mukherjee’s tenure.

Omar Abdullah, the beleaguered Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, confirmed that his government was kept in the loop regarding this decision. Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the principal opposition in Jammu and Kashmir, has also condemned the hanging while launching a scathing attack on the Omar-led coalition state government.

Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who are presently in New Delhi, have been placed under house arrest.

Many in India, including politicians from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), are upbeat over Guru’s hanging. The BJP leaders welcomed the decision of hanging Guru but questioned why it took so long. Awarding or abolishing the capital punishments is actually a Catch-22 for India’s 66-year-old democracy.

Narendra Modi, projected by some quarters as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the upcoming Parliamentary polls in 2014, expressed his joy over Guru’s hanging by tweeting: “Better late than never.”

While the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government in New Delhi may have been successful in building its image of “no soft pedalling on terror” by rejecting the mercy pleas of both Kasab and Guru, there is a serious concern in some sensitive circles whether it was about time to abolish the death penalty in India, a country which aspires for a bigger role and responsibility in the world affairs in the near future.

Gautam Navlakha, a prominent human rights defender based in New Delhi, voiced his serious concern over death penalties in general and Guru’s hanging in particular.

“We are against the death penalty. It has been our demand since day one that the capital punishment should be abolished in India. In a way, the decision to hang Afzal Guru, I think, is a ‘judicial murder’,” Navlakha told on the phone. “When you don’t allow a person a fair trial and a chance to defend himself, you are being unfair,” he added.

Meanwhile, the authorities have placed the entire Kashmir Valley under strict curfew. Reports say that loudspeakers were used in the summer capital, Srinagar, and other important towns of the Valley to announce and clamp curfew.

Section-144, which prohibits assembly of more than four persons, is imposed in certain sensitive parts of the Valley. People have been urged to stay indoors, but reports regarding the spontaneous protests from North Kashmir’s major towns like Baramulla and Sopore continue to pour in.

Hundreds of people had started marching towards Doabugh, Guru’s home town in North Kashmir and incidents of rock throwing and clashes with the Indian police were also reported from some areas of Indian administered Kashmir.

The Indian Supreme Court had sentenced Afzal Guru to death in 2002. According to the Indian authorities, Guru was found guilty of “facilitating” the attack on India’s Parliament in 2001. Nine people, including security guards and officials, were killed in the attack.

Delhi Police had also claimed to have recovered a cash of one million INR from Guru’s possession, which according to them was being given to him to help Jaish-e-Muhammad JeM militants to launch the attack.

However, Guru’s family and friends and many resistance leaders in Kashmir reject the police claims, saying that he was not given a “fair trial”.

Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI), the socio-politico-religious party in Jammu and Kashmir, has strongly condemned the act of hanging Guru. “The hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru in Tihar jail mysteriously is an expression of extreme despotism and tyranny by the Government of India which the JeI vehemently condemns, considering it an open oppression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said the Jama’at’s chief spokesperson, Advocate Zahid Ali in an e-mailed press release.

“The action has deeply hurt the sentiments of more than one crore Kashmiris in particular and the Muslim population in general,” the JeI statement added.

Many in Kashmir are demanding that the mortal remains of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt be handed over to their families in Kashmir.

Sajad Lone, the pro-freedom-turned pro-India politician, is one among them.

“Mortal remains of Afzal Guru belong to this land. As a Kashmiri, not as a politician, I think Guru’s mortal remains should be given to his family,” Lone told Indian television channel CNN-IBN.

An anti-India armed uprising had erupted in Kashmir only five years after Butt’s hanging in 1984. It remains to be seen whether Guru’s hanging has actually sown the seeds for a “fresh anti-India revolution” in Kashmir, as many in Kashmir believe it may have already done so.

The writer is a professional journalist with international experience. He has worked as editor at Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has also contributed features to the BBC web. Feedback at [email protected].

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