Why Does Kashmir Witness Eerily Quiet Roads On Feb 9th, Every Year?

It has been four years since I last saw how the day of someone’s death anniversary  – who, for some is a ‘martyr’ and for others, a ‘convict’ – looked like in my hometown, a place some 15 km away from Srinagar and about 40 km from where Afzal Guru lived in North Kashmir.

In my locality, and in the rest of the Valley, however, people only see him as a ‘martyr’.  There is no second opinion about it, and if there is, I haven’t come across one so far.  

It has a lot to do with a set of ‘facts’ that people in Kashmir accept and believe and those who see them through the same prism.

Whether Afzal was a terrorist, or just a surrendered militant, whose life was made hell by repeated harassment, will be, to a large extent, decided by the outcome of the investigation.

For example, in a letter from Tihar Jail to his lawyer Sushil Kumar, Afzal wrote, “I was entrapped by the Special Task Force of Kashmir in the Parliament attack case. Here in Delhi the designated court sentenced me to death on the basis of a special police version which works in nexus with the STF, and also came under the influence of mass media in which I was made to accept the crime under duress”.

He also named some high-ranking police officers who allegedly threatened, tortured and extorted money from him, and most importantly, he talked about the event that would later cost him his life on February 9th, in 2013.

“One day, Altaf took me to Davinder Singh (DSP), who told me that I had to do a small job for him. I was to take a man to Delhi as I was well aware of Delhi and had to manage a rented house for him. I did not know the man but I suspected that he was not a Kashmiri as he did not speak in that language. I was helpless to do what Davinder told me and I took the man to Delhi”.

According to Afzal, Altaf Hussain, whom he called the ‘broker’ between his family and Davinder Singh, was the brother-in-law of a Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ashaq Hussain of Budgam.   

This February 9th, too, I wasn’t home to witness what I used to otherwise, a complete shutdown, which, if I describe, looks like a day when transport is off the roads, shops shuttered, educational institutes are either closed or without students (this time it happened to be a Sunday). And some people, if the circumstances allow, sit on shop fronts, while the security forces, man the entries of the several hamlets of my town, and the main market.

In other words, it is just another day, added to the laundry list of days, that people in Kashmir have been made to witness for decades, for one reason or the other.

And now, with the arrest of DSP Davinder Singh of Jammu and Kashmir Police, who was caught with two wanted militants en route to Jammu on January 11th, it seems that a new chapter is being written in the already complex Afzal story.

DSP Davinder Singh of Jammu and Kashmir Police, who was caught with two wanted militants, en route to Jammu on January 11th, and subsequently arrested.

Whether Afzal was a terrorist, or just a surrendered militant, whose life was made hell by repeated harassment, will be, to a large extent, decided by the outcome of the investigation. Currently, Davinder Singh, along with the other four accused has been sent to 15-day judicial custody. 

In Kashmir, however, it won’t make any big difference. But, maybe, we at large, and our judiciary, will learn a lesson; that in anticipation of ‘satisfying the collective conscience of society’, we should be very careful, next time, in deciding whether one has the right to live or not.

And if on this February 9th, you saw the same things again in Kashmir: eerily quiet roads, shops shuttered, fear, and other inexplicable things, then know, that people still believe, what they used to believe; that it was unfair to hang Afzal Guru, whose mortal remains are yet to be returned to his family.

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