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Prof S.A.R. Geelani, who was accused with Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain in the Dec 13, 2001, Parliament attack case, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2003. He tells Panini Anand why he’s shocked by the Afzal hanging.
Do you think that by hanging Afzal, the government has made him a hero for Kashmir?
The way the government has dealt with him; he is the hero for everyone in Kashmir. He is our martyr, our hero.
Two hangings in three months. Some people put Kasab and Afzal on the same level.
How can anybody do this? What kind of perverted mind equates the two?
What do you think about the timing of his hanging?
I feel it was nothing but a political decision. Look at the way in which the Supreme Court worded its judgement. The sentence the court used is: “to satisfy the collective conscience of the society…” This is a political language, not a legal language. It’s clear that law doesn’t want him to be punished; there are political considerations which want this man to be hanged.
When you say, it was a political decision, are you hinting at the hardline stance of the ruling Congress party?
There has always been a Hindutva lobby within the Congress party. It’s nothing new. Look at the recent Gujarat elections. Ahmed Patel was nowhere to be seen. Wasn’t it the Congress party that opened the gates of the Babri Masjid for worship by the Hindus? For the last couple of years, innocent Muslim youth across the country have been jailed. Had they not facilitated, the Babri Masjid would have not fallen. The Congress is misusing the UAPA and AFSPA. There are many shades of Congress party which come out from time to time as and when required for political benefits. I don’t see any difference between Congress and BJP. They are two sides of the same coin.
What about the state leadership? The day Afzal was hanged, many Kashmiri leaders were in Delhi. Don’t you think that the state’s political leaders and the government were taken into confidence before hanging Afzal?
The Jammu & Kashmir government is like a puppet. Remember the day when Kasab was hanged? The secrecy was maintained. Go and see what Omar Abdullah tweeted then. He said that if this can be done in secrecy, others could be done as well. He was hinting at Afzal Guru. There is no reason not to believe that he was not aware about it or rather, knew about it.
In 2006, Farooq Abdullah warned of serious consequences in the valley if Afzal was to be hanged. My feeling is, Omar Abdullah was taken into confidence on the matter. Why didn’t Omar fly a chopper for the family of Afzal, so that they could meet him for one last time? Seeing the unrest in the valley, Omar is singing a different tune now. I believe other mainstream parties were also taken into confidence on the Afzal issue.
You were one of the co-accused in this case. How do you see this punishment?
"It was nothing but a political decision. What they have done to Afzal is inhuman. He has emerged as our hero, our martyr."
The Supreme Court acquitted me, otherwise I too would have faced the same punishment as Afzal Guru. It is completely inhuman what they have done to Afzal. This country prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy but today they have shown not even the basic human values. They have disregarded the basic human values; forget about the larger issues of a democratic system. The family was not informed. A small son was not allowed to see his father for the last time. My stand on Afzal’s case is very clear from very beginning that he never got a fair trial; never ever. People say that there was a trial process. Of course, there was— from trial court to high court and then the Supreme Court— but it was completely flawed and a farce. The judgment is presumptuous. He gave requests at least five times, seeking legal aid. He gave the names of the lawyers. Neeraj Bansal was made his counsel. If you see the records, you will find that Neeraj Bansal gave an application to the court saying that he doesn’t want to be Afzal’s advocate. The court asked him to do the job for assisting the court. So, he was not fighting the case for Afzal, he was assisting the court. It is completely a case of justice denied and today I can say that an innocent man was hanged.
How do you think the media has handled the issue?
Hitler had one Goebbels; today governments have many Goebbels in the form of the electronic and print media. They go on lying to the people till they are convinced that what they hear is the truth. They say that we should have respect for the courts, but do they have? The Supreme Court has declared the confession by Afzal illegal but they are showing it repeatedly even after his death. I mean, they are like vultures who want their pound of flesh from a dead man. Even the so-called security and other experts—I mean what kind of society do they want?
What is happening in Kashmir now?
In Kashmir, the message from the government is hard and harsh. The youth will get a message that there is no option; you can be heard only if you have a gun in your hand. No institution is going to help you. It’s only possible when you snatch your rights by using power. And it will bring disaster, not only to Kashmir but to the entire country. There was a different generation when Maqbool Bhat was hanged in 1984. Now, the Kashmiri youth is more informed, aware and literate. They are not like us; they are listening to the bullet fire and blasts since they were in the wombs, day and night. They are born under the shadow of the guns.
Will it affect the peace process and confidence building in Kashmir?
I pity the politicians for their narrow vision. They can’t see beyond the 2014 elections. They couldn’t see the disaster the hanging would bring to the people of Kashmir and this country. Today, it has been confirmed that Kashmir will never get justice from the Indian system.
While Afzal was innocent, you were acquitted. who are the perpetrators of the Parliament attack? Who are the culprits?
That is the question I have been raising since my release. If you see Afzal’s statement in the court, he has pointed a finger at the agencies. Everyone is talking about national security but nobody has bothered to look into those areas, role of agencies. I am shocked to see this. I was the first person to demand a white paper on this issue; the governments have never come up with it.
After Home Ministry’s offer to handover Afzal’s belongings to the family, will the family collect his belongings from Tihar and offer prayers at his grave?
The family’s demand is that Afzal’s body should be handed to them—to enable them to conduct the last rites. Prayers can be offered from anywhere; sitting in Kashmir or any other place. As far as his belongings are concerned, they belong not only to his family but to Kashmir. They are a treasure now.
A shorter, edited version appears in print