The month of massacres is over. January has passed with remembrances of numerous massacres perpetrated by the “Republic” of India, and before them the Dogra regime, in different years right from the insurgent 1990s. Come February and we have memories again. Memories of two Kashmiris executed to satisfy the “collective conscience” of Indian society. Memories of two other Kashmiri souls sent packing off from this world by a despotic state. Memories of two men who hanged their necks higher than the Indian democracy rather than bow before it. Memories of two victims of a fallible and farcical judicial system. And above all, memories of two sacrifices which aroused generations of Kashmiris towards the path of independence.
There’s an uncanny similarity between the two persons as to how their revolutionary careers shaped up and how they ended up being victims of the so-called “largest democracy” in the world. Maqbool Bhatt and Afzal Guru, both crossed the border infuriated by Indian atrocities in Kashmir and incited by the love for their land. Both were disillusioned by the exaggeration of Pakistan’s perpetual support to the cause of Kashmir freedom. Whereas Maqbool Bhatt was put to death for conspiring against the Indian state, which if alternatively put up, he was fighting for the liberation of his occupied homeland, Afzal Guru was framed and dragged into the dark world of murky state power even when he had denounced violence as a means and chosen to live a simple and peaceful life.
Maqbool Bhatt, popularly known as Baba E Qoum, was a resident of Trehgam village in district Kupwara. The ordeals of Kashmiris moved him from a young age.. He faced arrests on both of the sides of LoC on the charges of being an “agent” for the other nation. This ambiguous identity lead him to forge an independent identity for his people and thus laid the foundation of armed struggle in Kashmir. The special POTA court cognitively upheld his death sentence and finally Maqbool Bhatt was sent to gallows on February 11, 1984 with public opinion considering his execution as a revenge for killing of Ravindra Mahatre, an Indian diplomat in England.
Afzal Guru, a resident of Doabgah village in Sopore, was an MBBS turned trained/surrendered militant who clamoured for livelihood out of pharmaceutical industry. That the Delhi Special Police Cell extracted forced confession from him, regarding the Parliamentary attacks of 2001, has been testified by the recent accusations of fabricated arrests against the unit. His trysts against the criminal charge of an attack he never knew of and against the trial process itself, ended on February 9, 2013 after rejection of his wife’s mercy plea by the President. SAR Geelani, a co-accused in the case who was later acquitted, rightly remarked that Afzal Guru was made a scapegoat in a case the state itself had no clue of.
The executions were not the end of it. The Indian state refused to provide the mortal remains and belongings of both the martyrs to their relatives on the pretext of possible demonstrations in Kashmir. The state did not even provide the families with a last meeting with their heroes. They were kept in dark about the exact date of hanging. This despotic behaviour of India made them the only such cases after the Lahore Conspiracy Case where Bhagat Singh and his comrades were hanged and their bodies destroyed by British government. By doing so, India implemented this British policy vis-a-vis Kashmir and proved that it is the hereditary offspring of a colonial empire.
In both of these executions there is an important connection with the Abdullah family. History will never, for sure, forgive the family for inflicting much pain on Kashmiri people. It was Farooq Abdullah, the incapable doctor-turned-politician, who consented to the hanging of Maqbool Bhatt in 1984. Years down the lane his well-qualified son, “young” and “suave”, was taken in confidence when Afzal Guru was sent to gallows. As a preparatory measure, the youngest Gupkar Czar enforced strict curfew across the valley and also ensured internet blockade. With the hanging of these two men, the centre’s proxy in Kashmir played it’s part willfully, choking people’s voices and hampering their movement. Let the Czars of Kashmir endure the fate of their crimes.
Nonetheless, both Maqbool Bhatt and Afzal Guru have achieved an iconic status in Kashmir where everything related to them is a valuable treasure. Maqbool Bhatt’s mother still remains tagged “mother of the movement”. Afzal Guru’s son passed the recent board exams successfully. Sudden ecstasy filled up the valley so much that people forgot the toppers and bestowed praises upon the young boy. There are empty graves in Mazaar E Shuhadaa, the martyrs graveyard, waiting anxiously for their mortal remains to be buried beneath the land they loved.
The cases of Maqbool Bhatt and Afzal Guru stand out for the simple reason that their execution was influenced by public opinion of the largest democracy in the world. They say the trial process of Afzal Guru was unfair. But truth be told, there was at least a shabby process in his case. Else the Indian state kills and disappears Kashmiris at will without the families knowing their whereabouts. There have been more than 8000 such cases in Kashmir till date.
How did the families suffer and cope up with the loss of their dear ones is beyond imagination. Like Afzal Guru’s wife who sold her jewellery and his scooter to try and secure her husband’s release. Where we succeeded is remembering them for two days every year. And observing hartals on these two days. Where we failed is inheriting what they actually stood for. And owning Maqbool Bhatt, hypocritically, as recently as 2000s.
Every year, these days in February, we are reminded of two persons whose dead bodies scared a mighty military state. They scared the state when alive. They continue to do so after death. They were jailed when alive. They are imprisoned in death too. Every year these days, two empty graves in Srinagar crave for the mortal remains of these two martyrs. The wait continues…