Guru’s death & Kashmiris’ anger

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It is impossible to ignore questions being raised regarding legitimacy of capital punishment awarded to Afzal Guru. These are based on the view that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Guru had planned the terrorist attack against Indian Parliament in December 2001. Despite their being legal doubts about Guru deserving capital punishment, his hanging earlier this month exposes a very serious lapse in the Indian system. It exposes the degree to which political pressure can influence crucial judicial decisions.
Even if it is accepted that Guru was a party to the conspiracy, because of which Parliament was attacked by terrorists in December 2001, it cannot be ignored that he was not caught red-handed. Guru was not present at the site. Even if one of the terrorists, who had participated in the attack against the Parliament, had been awarded capital punishment, it would not have been questioned on any legal ground. None of them survived the brief battle with security forces. Guru was arrested later and charged with involvement in a conspiracy to attack India.
Moreover, the questions being raised regarding Guru’s capital punishment have no validity regarding the execution of Ajmal Qasab, a few months ago. Kasab was charged with the terror strikes in Mumbai (2008). His presence in Mumbai with weapons was telecast innumerable times. He was there when the terrorist operations were taking place.
It would be incorrect to justify capital punishment for Guru by citing the example of that awarded to Qasab. The two cases are totally different. During the course of legal proceedings, even the judiciary has at times commented on their being insufficient evidence against Guru. At one point, Guru did confess to the crimes he was charged with. However, later, he withdrew his confession, a fact that was noted by the judiciary.
While Qasab was literally caught red-handed at the scene of a terrorist-operation, the same point cannot be made regarding Guru. His case can also be compared with that of alleged criminals who have been charged with having gang-raped and murdered a girl in a moving bus last year. Protesters against this crime have demanded capital punishment for the accused. Before her death, the girl had identified the criminals and had given a statement against them. However, despite there being apparently a strong case against the criminals, the authorities are busy conducting their investigations. There remains a possibility of their being acquitted within a few years from now because of lack of sufficient evidence. Even if they are held guilty, prospects of their facing capital punishment are viewed at present as fairly dim.
In contrast, it seems that Guru was denied a fair trial. One is forced to wonder as to what was the reason which prompted President Pranab Mukherjee to send Guru’s file back to the Home Ministry for reconsideration. The file was returned to him within two months this January. Subsequently, Mukherjee did not waste much time in sealing Guru’s fate. If he had wished, he could have refrained from taking any action on Guru’s case for as long as he wished to.
There is no denying that terrorists’ attack on the Parliament was a dangerous attack on Indian democracy. However, this does not justify awarding capital punishment in the absence of sufficient evidence against Guru. The case would have been different, as mentioned earlier, had he been actually caught conducting the terrorist operation.
Perhaps, if the parliamentary elections were not round the corner, Guru may still have been alive in Tihar jail (prison). Had Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde not provoked a controversy recently over his comments regarding “Hindu terrorism,” Guru may not have been hung. Guru’s death has certainly silenced the parties which had been blaming Congress for being “soft” regarding terrorism. This adds credence to the view that Guru’s death by hanging was decided more by political reasons and less by legal factors. If political pressure led Guru to gallows, one is forced to deliberate on whether the legal proceedings in India are decided by politics or by law?
Guru was an Indian Kashmiri. Undeniably, his death has led to tension in the Valley. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has voiced anger and opposition regarding Guru’s death sentence. He has adopted this approach more out of political necessity. Omar has no other option but to give greater importance to sentiments of Kashmiris, who seem fairly agitated against capital punishment of Guru. Omar could have voiced the same opinion earlier too.
Tension in Kashmir has exposed yet another face of Indian politics. Thousands of Kashmiris have been targeted by bullets for decades. Even today, an ordinary Kashmiri’s life is held at stake by guns. Innocent Kashmiris have been labeled as terrorists innumerable times. However, ever since the Indian media have started paying serious attention to this issue, there has been a notable decline in this trend. The Kashmiris’ opposition to Guru’s death also indicates their attempt to assert that even today they remain deprived of a fair trial, justice and freedom to fully exercise their democratic rights. Capital punishment for Guru, from their angle, is a proof of Kashmiris being denied their rights. When it is election time, Kashmiris have started coming out in increasing numbers, displaying their courage to exercise their right to vote. They are guided by the hope of receiving their due share in Indian democracy. But if Guru’s death was decided by political factors, it only indicates the manner in which a Kashmiri Muslim’s life is still played with in the capital city.
Certainly, Congress has scored a political victory by defying its rival party, Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) charge that it was not taking serious action against terrorism. The decision to hang Guru, it seems, has totally deflated this charge of BJP. Now, BJP has been forced to deliberate on a new electoral strategy against Congress. But then, this brings us to square one. Was the decision regarding Guru’s capital punishment taken to silence BJP?
Sadly, wrong decisions, including capital punishments devoid of substantial evidence provide opportunity to elements bent on creating tension in the country. In Guru’s case, the Valley has been affected. Restrain has been exercised on local media and other means of communication to prevent the situation from turning volatile. This further proves that till today, Kashmiris are not able to fully enjoy their democratic rights. If Guru’s capital punishment was decided by political factors then the Congress-led government has erred by giving Kashmiris a reason to be agitated. Where Omar’s opposition against Guru’s death is concerned, it may be viewed as his attempt to control the situation in Kashmir. His anger and opposition has not prompted to break his party (National Conference) from the Congress-led coalition, that is the United Progressive Alliance. Against the backdrop of these factors, it only seems that Guru was not given a capital punishment on legal grounds but was made to face it as a sacrificial goat by parties giving greater importance to their political urge.

Author can be reached at: [email protected]

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