I was woken up by a call at nine on the morning of February 9, 2013. “Afzal Guru has been hanged in Tihar Jail”, said the voice on the other side. This was something that almost every Kashmiri knew would happen one day – but no one thought that it would come so soon and so suddenly. There were no good-bye calls to his wife, or words of love and wisdom for his son, and no blessings from his mother. He died amongst strangers. The great nation was happy, justice had been served, and a strong point was made. The bad guy met his fate in the gallows and the good guys rejoiced in their achievement.
I hung up the call and tried going back to sleep, thinking how could they not have analyzed the impact of this action in the valley ahead of time?
The rest of the day was filled with news channels airing debates, exclusives, interviews – and a few showing concern for how this would affect the lives of common Kashmiris. What transpired in Kashmir afterwards was a strict curfew, restriction of movement, stone pelting – and the usual response by the security forces to control the situation by the use of force.
I remembered a conversation that I had a few years earlier, with a friend who was visiting Kashmir. Afzal Guru’s case was still going on at that time although the loopholes in the case were becoming increasingly evident. During the course of conversation, I asked him what he thought would happen here in Kashmir, if Afzal was hanged? His immediate response was – “I am afraid if our (un)wise leadership think it’s a good idea to hang the poor guy, we might be facing a very motivated generation of children who won’t think twice before killing or getting killed.” The latter part came true with an increase in local youth joining militancy, and Burhan Wani becoming the new face of insurgency on social media. Though this rise can’t be ascribed directly to Afzal Guru’s hanging – at the same time, it can’t be denied that the youth saw this hanging as a message that the rule of law comes secondary when the state and centre deals with Kashmiris.
“Afzal Guru hanged: What did we learn?” – this was the caption that was being flashed again and again on one of the news channels for some time.
We learnt that the protests in 2008 were unexpected, those in 2009 were a fallout of 2008 – while the protests in 2010 simply resulted from a failure on the part of those in power to listen. But the authorities did succeed in breeding hatred in kids – by arresting them and showing them a side of the law that would make them immune to human emotions or regard for life. From playgrounds and school rooms they were taken to lockups and court rooms, where they learned the meaning of the word ‘torture’ . It is no surprise, therefore, that many of them left the lockup as changed individuals – and picked up guns to fight the state.
There were people analyzing the outcome of the hanging and its effect on Kashmir in the newspapers and on television, but, for a common Kashmiri like myself, it became clear that they had no idea how profound the impact of Afzal’s hanging would be in Kashmir.
If hanging Maqbool Bhat ignited the flame of the first insurgency in the Valley – how could anyone think that hanging Afzal Guru would not do the same?
Afzal Guru’s case that was debated, dissected and followed by many. It was a case of resistance in the making all these years – children in Kashmir grew up hearing about it, watching it on television, hearing prominent lawyers calling the whole case a ‘sham’. Now that Afzal is no more and his family has been denied the right to lay his body to rest, a new chapter has opened in Kashmir’s book.
The ‘collective consciousness‘ of the people has made Afzal Guru a ‘martyr’.
It has made it possible for the conflict to stay alive in the Valley. The money will still flow, politics will still be played, people will still remain angry and mothers will still lose everything. Maybe all of this won’t happen tomorrow, next month or next year – but somewhere, the anger and the hatred will spill onto the streets time and again. The trial of Afzal was a ‘media-trial’ that gave reason and motivation to a new generation of Kashmiri youth to see India as the ‘oppressor’ who should be fought until death. It’s no mere coincidence that there has been a spike in militancy-related incidents in the valley in the last few years. The conflict is not resting merely on support from across the border anymore – a vast majority of militants are home grown and locally trained – and, at some level, most of them saw Afzal Guru’s hanging as a sign to pick up arms and fight the state.
This post was originally published here. Republished on YKA by the author.