It was 8:00 AM, 9th February, 2013 when Muhammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, was sent to the gallows at the infamous Tihar Jail, Delhi for his alleged role in the prolific Indian Parliament attack, which brought both the nuclear armed nations on the verge of yet another deadly war. Five unidentified gunmen attacked the Indian Parliament in Delhi on 5th December, 2001; the names of the gunmen have not been ascertained as yet. Twelve people died, including the attackers, while fifteen were injured in the brief but brazen assault, which could have been catastrophic had the parliamentarians or high profile personnel been killed or injured, perhaps making the war inevitable. Among the accused, an alleged key conspirator Afzal Guru was arrested on 15th December, 2001 from Indian occupied Kashmir, being implicated in the attack for facilitation of the assailants.
Guru was not provided a lawyer till May 2002 since his arrest. The key evidence against Afzal Guru was his own confessional statement from which he retracted after seven months; an intriguing aspect of the trial was the absence of his counsel at the time of his confession, raising doubts regarding its veracity. Later, Guru revealed to his counsel Sushil Kumar about the reality of his confessional statement taken in duress, for which he was threatened to admit his role or face dire consequences with his family at stake. Vinod, the journalist who interviewed Guru for Tehelka.com, quoted him being severely tortured and electrocuted by the Indian officials to coerce him into confessing his role in the attack. Charges were framed against Guru and other three accused Kashmiris SAR Geelani, Shokat Hussain and Afshan Geelani on 4th June, 2002, and death sentences were awarded to all convicts on 18th December, 2002. SAR Geelani and Afshan Geelani were later acquitted of all charges on their appeal, while Shokat Hussain’s death sentence was turned into ten year imprisonment, while the verdict for Afzal Guru remained unchanged. All mercy pleas to the Indian Prime minister and President were turned down on various occasions as well; however, Shokat Hussain was acquitted on 30th December 2010 from Delhi’s Tihar Prison due to his positive conduct during imprisonment.
The final mercy plea was rejected by the Indian President on 3rd February, 2013 and Guru was sent to the gallows on 9th February 2013 in a secret manner, where no one was informed about the hanging, including Guru’s family, not before and not even after. His body was buried at an unmarked location within the jail premises, depriving his family of the funeral rites despite multiple requests. Human rights organizations and common Kashmiris demanded the same and protested despite a three day curfew imposed in the valley immediately after his execution to contain widespread anger and outrage. Ironically, Delhi’s Special Police Cell completed the investigation in only 17 Days, 12 people were accused in the attack, including the five unidentified gunmen, three absconders; two of them were acquitted by the Delhi High Court while Guru and Shokat faced sentences after conviction. Among the 80 witnesses of the Prosecution, none of the witnesses stated Guru’s relation with any terrorist organization or acknowledged his role in facilitation for the Parliament attack. According to the detailed verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Guru, it mentions on page 80 of the document,
There are a few fundamental arguments in the mannerism of this significant case; Guru was not allowed to defend himself according to his due right of legal counsel in the beginning of the case, which would have helped in solving the case long before, in his favor. The verdict against Afzal Guru was based on circumstantial evidence, and nowhere has the Court proved his direct involvement, facilitation or being a conspirator in the alleged attack. It is categorically mentioned in the verdict that his punishment is ‘not based on evidences’, in fact, death is being awarded to him to satisfy the collective conscience of the society.
In a stark similarity and context, another case involving a young Pakistani becomes prominent, Ajmal Amir Kasab was also sent to the gallows for his role in the deadly Mumbai attacks in 2008 after he was allegedly caught during the three day assault by the Mumbai Police. The Mumbai Bar Association barred lawyers from defending Ajmal Kasab through a unanimous resolution, which is against the due rights of any accused until proven guilty. Extremist Hindu protesters forcefully stopped lawyers from doing so. A famous Muslim lawyer Abbas Kazmi, who chose to be the counsel of Kasab, was removed by the court due to his insistence on the cross examination of all the witnesses of 26/11, one after another; three defense counsels were changed during the course of Ajmal Kasab’s case. Ajmal Kasab was also forced to confess, and later retracted from the allegations. The charge sheet in the 26/11 case was filed on 6th May 2009, and the high profile case was wrapped up in only 110 working days, awarding death sentence to Kasab. 477 convicts were on death row in India till December 2012 awaiting execution, but Ajmal Kasab, being the 309th in the list was executed before anyone of them. Ajmal’s counsel and family were kept in the dark on the secret execution, and he was also buried at a secret location.
A book, “Why Judiciary failed 26/11?” is recently published in this perspective by S.M. Mushrif, Ex-Inspector General of Mumbai Police, who also authored “Who Killed Karkare?” where he elaborated Hindutva terrorism behind Mumbai and other attacks in India. In a ground breaking exposure, an Indian political and cultural journal ‘Caravan’ has published an interview of Swami Aseemanand, the prime accused behind Samjhuta Express, Makkah Masjid and Ajmer Blasts in 2007 who is under trial in India. Swami has allegedly named and implicated RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat as the main culprit who sanctioned the attacks which were carried out covertly to glorify the Hindutva ideology, but sadly, the Indian collective conscience is indifferent in this case where victims were of similar faith and ideology; Muslims, Pakistanis and Kashmiris. A nation that calls itself secular and democratic is tangled in the corruption of the pre-partition conscience, which remains a threat for its own survival and integrity.