February 9, 2017. The ritual of reciting Quran has just concluded at the residence of late Muhammad Afzal Guru in north Kashmir’s Sopore, some 45 miles from Srinagar. His widow Tabassum and son Ghalib are holding hands in prayers as a group of Maulvis, and others present at the condolence meeting, pray for peace to the departed soul. Usually, such special prayers are held at graveyards, but this is the tale of helpless bereavement.
When Guru was secretly hanged in Tihar Jail on the morning of February 9, 2013, he left behind his mortal remains and some personal belongings including a copy of Quran, a radio, a pair of spectacles and clothes at the prison in the national capital. But the government returned none of these. While his body was buried in the prison complex, his belongings continue to be under seizure.
In a civilised society, that too the one which happens to be world’s largest democracy, death is supposed to end all revenge, avenge or punishment. But Guru seems to be the convict whose imprisonment didn’t end even after execution. His execution sounds similar to that of another Kashmiri convict Muhammad Maqbool Bhat who was executed and buried in Tihar on February 11, 1984 on charges of murder.
While Bhat was a bachelor, Guru left behind a family, who is struggling. For Tabassum and Ghalib, who couldn’t even get a glimpse of their family head before his execution, Jagjit Singh’s popular Ghazal written by Anand Bakshi aptly describes their pain: Ik Aah Bhari Hogi, Humnay Na Suni Hogi, Jaatay Jaatay Tumne Awaaz to Di Hogi!
Interestingly, Guru was fond of poetry and this was why he named his son after the legendary Urdu poet Mirza Azad Ullah Khan Ghalib. But the son has very few memories of association with his father. Ghalib, now a class 12 student, was only a toddler when his father was arrested for attack on the Parliament in 2001.
Ghalib says he will never forget the day when he met his father for the first time. It was an emotional scene in New Delhi’s Tees Hazari court in 2004. Guru had sought permission to meet his family for a while. Finding his father shackled from neck to feet, the little boy had initially cried. But Guru instantly removed his specs, and kissed and cuddled his son.
Tabassum recalls that all of a sudden, Ghalib stopped crying and for the first time uttered ‘Abu’, an adorable name for fathers among Muslims in the subcontinent. “Thereafter, Ghalib would often cry that he wants to meet Abu, but I was helpless,” Tabassum told InUth during an exclusive interview.
In the subsequent years, the jail authorities granted some ten meetings to Guru and his family. The last one being in August 2012. Five months later, one fateful morning, the mother-son duo woke up to know that Guru had been hanged secretly and buried.
Tabassum says she “at least expected” that New Delhi would return “Afzal Sahib’s body and belongings”. But then, while Indian government’s stand on Guru’s case is an open book, the role played by mainstream and separatist leadership in Kashmir is equally exposing.
In the wake of Guru’s execution, the Hurriyat Conference had pledged to get back his mortal remains, while a special forum was constituted in this regard. Four years on, the separatist leadership annually releases a ritualistic statement on Guru’s execution, which looks like more of a ‘copy and paste’ assertion that “Guru’s mortal remains will be brought back.”
The opposition National Conference and Congress, on the other hand, prefer silence over the issue. This is presumably because the twin parties were in power when Guru was hanged and thus were well informed of the secret execution.
Back then, Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti had also extended “every support” for “Guru cause.” She had pledged to launch a door-to-door campaign to “awaken Kashmir on injustice with Shaheed Guru.” As of now, despite being the Chief Minister, Mehbooba is silent.
It seems that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. For Guru’s widow and son, it has been an unending struggle to get back his remains and belongings. “Frankly speaking, Afzal Sahib is a Shaheed (martyr), someone who is heavenly alive and doesn’t need humanly prayers for his well being. But then, being humans these are our human desires, exactly as we struggle to get back his mortal remains, his belongings, his copy of holy Quran, his books, his radio, his specs, his clothes!”