Kashmir protest: Is India in denial?

Published: February 10, 2015
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Afzal Guru. AFP

Supporters of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a separatist party, throw stones at Indian police during a protest in Srinagar (Reuters) Afzal Guru. AFP

The controversial hangings of two Kashmiris inside Delhi’s Tihar Jail, in less than three decades at crucial junctures of Jammu and Kashmir’s political history (1984 and 2013), may have satisfied the collective conscience of the Indian nation but has ended up further distancing and alienating a majority of Kashmiris from the idea of India.

Only five years after the hanging of Mohammad Maqbool Butt, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in Tihar on February 11, 1984, a popular anti-India armed uprising broke out in restive Jammu and Kashmir.

The second execution was of Mohammad Afzal Guru, on February 9, 2013. It remains to be seen whether Guru’s hanging has sown seeds for a “renewed revolution” against India in Kashmir.

Many believe that India has been reluctant to hold a meaningful and credible dialogue with the Pakistani and Kashmiri leadership regarding the political conflict of Kashmir and has put a complete halt on all Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s). CBM’s may have already intellectually radicalised a section of the educated and conscious youth in the Kashmir valley.

Whatever the case may be, both events did change Kashmir’s political and social landscape in more than one way.

Guru’s execution took place in strange circumstances; at a time when the Kashmir militancy was perhaps at its lowest ebb in 2013. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Party (UPA) wanted to prove a point to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) to believe that it was not soft on terror, since it was being accused by the latter during the 2014 Indian parliamentary elections. Therefore, they took a high-risk decision to hang Guru in February, 2013.

It was largely believed that the Congress committed this “blunder” while keeping an eye on the Lok Sabha Elections – thinking that a message had to reach the common Indian voter that Sonia Gandhi-led Congress had “zero tolerance” for terror related activities.

The Indian Supreme Court had sentenced Guru to death in 2002. According to the authorities, he was found ‘guilty’ of ‘facilitating’ the attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001.

However, there was always a question mark on the manner in which Guru’s trial was conducted. His family, friends, and many resistance leaders in Kashmir have been maintaining that Guru was not allowed a “fair trial”.

Even some Indians like Gautam Navlakha, a New Delhi based human rights defender, had voiced similar concerns over capital punishment, in general, and Guru’s hanging, in particular. Navlakha had stated that,

“It has been our demand since day one that capital punishment should be abolished in India. In a way, the decision to hang Afzal Guru, I think, is a ‘judicial murder’.”

Guru’s family members were not allowed to meet him before his hanging on February 9, 2013. His corpse was not returned to his family members. Many individuals in Kashmir continue to demand that the mortal remains of both Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt should be handed over to their families in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, in one of its press releases, pro-independence JKLF paid rich tributes to Butt and Guru, stating that,

“(The) struggle and martyrdom of the father of the Kashmiri nation, martyr, Mohammad Maqbool Butt, is a glorious chapter of our history that will always guide us through the tough journey of freedom struggle. Martyr Mohammed Afzal Guru, by kissing gallows, showed us the way to stand tall before tyranny. The Kashmiri nation cannot forget their sacrifices.”

Muhammad Yasin Malik, the JKLF chief, made passionate appeals to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to observe a complete shutdown strike every year on 9th and 11th February. It is expected that there will be a positive response to Malik’s call, which also stands endorsed by the chairman of a faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The JKLF also plans to take out a march toward the UN Observer’s office in Srinagar with a memorandum demanding that mortal remains of both Guru and Butt should be returned to their family members.

At least five Congress MLAs from the Jammu and Kashmir constituency, known to be close to the former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, have said that not allowing Guru’s family members to meet him before his execution was a mistake, which is now proving to be a major source of embarrassment for the Congress.

These members of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly include GM Saroori, Vikar Rasool, Haji Rashid, Mohammad Amin Bhat, and Gulzar Wani; these members signed a statement demanding Guru’s mortal remains to be returned to the family, the local media reported.

There appears to be unanimity in regard to the demand of the return of the mortal remains of the duo.

Even Sajad Lone, the pro-freedom turned pro-Indian politician, has been one among those who echo similar demands. In an interview on CNN-IBN, an Indian television channel, in February 2013, he stated:

“Mortal remains of Afzal Guru belong to this land, Kashmir. As a Kashmiri, not as a politician, I think Guru’s mortal remains should be given to his family.”

Engineer Rasheed, MLA Langate, has always been vocal about this demand. When Guru was hanged in February 2013, all main pro-resistance Kashmiri leaders had condemned the action calling it “oppression against the people of disputed Jammu and Kashmir”.

Interestingly, many in India, particularly the politicians bearing allegiance to the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were buoyant over Guru’s hanging.

They had welcomed the decision to hang Guru and in fact questioned why it had taken so long to do so.

Most notably, Narendra Modi, then as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 parliamentary elections, had expressed immense joy over Guru’s hanging on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/300083464890372098

Which translates as,

“Better late than never”

Nevertheless, the multi-layered reality of the electoral process in Kashmir and the unexpectedly high voter turnout in the 2014 Assembly Elections led the people of the Kashmir Valley to begin their dissent against the political status quo in the region known on several important occasions.

Anti-India protest demonstrations in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and spontaneous shutdowns on August 15 (India’s Independence Day), January 26 (India’s Republic Day), October 27 (the day Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar in October, 1947) and February 9 and 11 (hanging anniversaries of Butt and Guru) all add credence to this fact.

With respect to situation on the ground in Kashmir, Indian politicians and strategists can’t afford to live in denial forever. The sooner they realise that dialogue on Kashmir needs to be resumed, the better.

Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani

The author is a writer, journalist and political commentator from Srinagar, the South Asian Journalism Programme (SAJP) scholar 2015, the first Kashmiri to be selected as Munich Young Leader 2014. He has also served the Deutsche Welle, in Germany, as an editor. He tweets as @gowhargeelani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.