Why the Controversy over Afzal Guru’s Hanging Refuses to Die


This question assumes acute relevance after recent events at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). A meeting called to mark the anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru by another group has led to the JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar being arrested on charges of sedition.
Afzal Guru was hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack case. While pronouncing sentence, the Supreme Court of India admitted that there was no evidence to show that Afzal Guru was a member of any banned organisation nor had any of the 80 prosecution witnesses said that Afzal was associated with any terrorist organisation.
The judgement states, 'The incident which resulted in heavy casualties, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied (only) if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender.'   We have to ask ourselves whether this kind of ‘satisfaction of the collective conscience’ can be a reason enough for ending somebody's life, in a civilised society?
Are there not to be even questions raised over this judgement? It would be a disservice to Indian democracy if we all assume the collective guilt of an unquestioning silence.
Afzal Guru did not receive a fair trial. He was not allowed to have a lawyer of his choice. Neither did the court hear his version. He was made to accept his crime under duress and threat by the police. Simply put, he was made a scapegoat.
The truth is, if he had not been hanged, a ‘feeling’ would have prevailed that India was or is not able to take strong action against the perpetrators of the attack on Parliament (2001). Somebody needed to be hanged and it was the misfortune of Afzal Guru that he was the most vulnerable among the four who were made the accused in the Parliament attack case.
The then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah had sharply criticised the execution of Afzal Guru, saying clearly that it would reinforce the sense of alienation and injustice among Kashmiri youth. He asserted that the decision to hang Afzal Guru was more political than legal. It is this doubt over Afzal's hanging that persists even three years after his hanging. That is the reason why for some persons, he is even called a martyr.

There are people associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who would like to eulogise Nathuram Godse. Some even want to build a temple in his name. For those who would like to worship Nathuram as a hero, there can be no objections to others who consider Afzal Guru a martyr.
The NDA II regime has already termed the event(s) on JNU campus (having such a meeting to discuss the execution) as anti-national as there were some objectionable slogans raised.  It is time we asked some hard questions.  What will be considered to be more anti-national — ideologically motivated and uncritical defence of the hanging of a person whose crime was not conclusively proved or merely raising pro-Kashmiri and pro-Azadi slogans? It is this simmering sense of injustice done in the case of Afzal Guru (his hanging) that is reverberating in the form of slogans which (this time) happened to be raised at the JNU meeting.
It remains important to question the hanging of Afzal Guru so that no more such incidents occur in future.  
The right to free speech is under threat within Indian democracy today. The threat is posed from communal fascist forces. There are people associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who would like to eulogise Nathuram Godse. Some even want to build a temple in his name. For those who would like to worship Nathuram as a hero, there can be no objections to others who consider Afzal Guru a martyr.
The authorities are also suggesting that the permission for the event was withdrawn just before it was to take place. This is a time-tested tactic. A similar thing happened when a reputed journalist was recently invited to speak at Allahabad University on invitation of the Allahabad University Students' Union President Richa Singh on January 20, 2016. The Vice Chancellor there also withdrew the permission at the last moment.
I would like to ask a question to the current ruling dispensation and their aggressive champions. Those who have made it their business to assume sole defence of ‘nationalism’, the torch bearers of desh bhakti.  Did they take any permission to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992, an incident that remains a blot on our constitutional, secular ethos and which has, forever and seriously, compromised India's internal security?
Or, (did they seek permission) before they killed Mahatma Gandhi? Or, when they allegedly carried out bomb blasts twice in Malegaon (2006, 2008), in Hyderabad (Mecca Masjid Blasts, May 18, 2007), then in Ajmer (October 10, 2007) and in the Samjhauta Express (February 18, 2007)?
Or, did the NDA I government led by Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the centre take even their own Defence Minister (George Fernandes) into confidence, not to mention Parliament, before testing nuclear weapons in 1998, an act which adversely affected and worsened South Asia's security environment?
For those associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) who believe, that by being in the seat of government, they have un-checked, arbitrary powers which includes dictating what others should or should not do; preventing ‘others’, even violently, from carrying out their activities, the next elections will surely bring a rude shock. The people in this country have never tolerated tyrannical ways. Hitler may be a hero for the RSS but he is not for the masses in India.
The treatment meted out to journalists and JNU students and professors at the Patiala House court yesterday, on February 15, 2016, by lawyers associated with the RSS, is shameful. If the violence resorted to by terrorists and naxalites is condemnable how can the police and the ‘nation’ stand spectator to hooliganism indulged in by the Sangh parivar members? No other mainstream political organisation(s) exhibit the kind of lawlessness that organisations associated with this supremacist right wing ideology do.
They and their ideological associates have allegedly committed serious crimes; like murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and have facilitated an atmosphere within which Rohith Vemula was forced to commit suicide, in addition to innumerable incidents when they are guilty of threatening and intimidating actions against people who simply do not agree with their ideology. This nonsense should not be tolerated in a democracy even if a price has to be paid for it. The RSS is hurtling this country towards a state of emergency which can only lead to civil war and anarchy.
The people who brought BJP to power with a thumping majority in 2014 must rethink their support and mandate. Is this party that is even fit to rule for five years?  Stalwart socialist leader Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia once famously said that “Live communities don't wait for five years” (the term of Parliament).  Today, these sharp and sagacious words must show us the way.
(Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay awardee for emergent leadership has trained in Mechanical Engineering but has been working on social justice issues; he is co-founder of Aasha)



Related Articles