Making of a ‘hero’

Print edition : March 08, 2013

An epitaph for Afzal Guru (left) put up next to that for Maqbool Butt in the main Martyrs' graveyard at Eidgah in Srinagar. Both gr aves remain empty. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Afzal Guru’s family members in front of his house in Sopore. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

For Kashmiris, Afzal Guru is a martyr. For them he is one “who was condemned unheard”.

WHEN Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) founder Maqbool Butt was hanged in the Tihar Jail on February 11, 1984, not many young people knew much about him. However, within five years, his memory inspired a generation to take up arms to take on India’s might, with thousands of young men crossing over to Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to get arms training. This kicked off a protracted conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and brought people close to the political question that is lurking in the mind of the common Kashmiri. Twenty-nine years later, another Kashmiri has found his final resting place on the premises of the same jail.

Mohammad Afzal Guru, 43 when he died, like many other Kashmiri youth, was inspired to take up the gun to “fight the Indian state”, which many people in Kashmir believed had “no legitimate right to rule”. He would have been a medical doctor had he not joined the ranks of militants in 1989.



Early years

Afzal Guru was born in a well-to-do business family in Doabgah, a short distance from the famous apple town of Sopore. At the age of 10 he lost his father, Habibullah, a transporter. His mother passed away in September last year. He was the one who consolidated the family after his father’s death.

Sopore was a volatile and politically sensitive town, always considered anti-establishment. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the head of the hard-line faction of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, has represented Sopore in the State Assembly a few times and it continues to be his bastion. Despite being a rich town, better known as “Chota London” for the luxuries most of the business families enjoy, during the peak of militancy in the early 1990s Sopore was seen as the “capital of militancy”. It hosted some top-ranking Pakistani militants such as Akbar Bhai and Masood, a Sudanese chemical engineer who had been a student at the London School of Economics.

Given that Afzal Guru grew up and had his early education in this town, his tryst with militancy is not surprising. He joined the Jhelum Valley Medical College as a student of MBBS, but the militancy that was rising in Kashmir was too strong an attraction. Abdul Ahad Guru, a famous cardiologist who was killed by militants in the early 1990s, was his uncle and was considered a JKLF ideologue. Afzal Guru, too, joined the ranks of the JKLF and crossed the Line of Control in 1989.

In an interview to the journalist Vinod K. Jose in 2006, Afzal Guru listed the execution of Maqbool Butt and the subsequent “rigging” of the 1987 Assembly elections as reasons for his dropping out from the college and joining the militant ranks. He talked about the inspiration he got from a film on Omar Mukhtar, Lion of the Desert. The film, which was banned in Kashmir, circulated widely underground in the late 1980s and is seen as having pushed his generation to militancy.



The return

He returned to Kashmir in 1990 as a militant but never took an active part in the “armed struggle”. He told his close friends that his tastes did not gel with the gun. He was fond of poetry and loved Ghalib and even named his son after him. Soon after his return, he was arrested by the Border Security Force and spent a few months in jail. However, he told Jose that he had surrendered before the BSF and had a certificate to that effect.

On his release, his efforts to rejoin the medical school failed. He took up a business in surgical equipment and shifted to Delhi for some time. He graduated from Delhi University through a correspondence course; however, he could not do a higher course as his business kept him busy. He married Tabassum, a nurse in a local hospital, and they had a son in 1999. Friends and classmates recall Afzal Guru as very sharp and intelligent, always keen to learn. His later life in jail was spent in the company of a pile of books on poetry and philosophy.

During the period when he was getting back to normal life, even his close friends did not know much about his activities. Out of the blue, his name figured in the Parliament House attack case in December 2001.

His journey from Srinagar to Delhi has also been under a shadow of suspicion. He told Jose that he was sent to Delhi by an officer of the Special Task Force (STF) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police to take an “unknown person” to Delhi. This person, later identified as Mohammad, led the attack on Parliament House. However, the prosecution did not question the officer and concluded that Afzal Guru’s “revelation” was meant to mislead them.

However, it remains a fact that Afzal Guru always talked about the continuous harassment at the hands of security agencies and even told Jose that he had to pay Rs.1 lakh in 2006 to get out of the “notorious” STF camp at Humhama near Budgam. “I sold the jewellery of my wife,” he said. He steadfastly denied having had a role in the attack on Parliament House. But the Supreme Court concluded that there was enough circumstantial evidence to prove his involvement and that it was necessary to award the death penalty to satisfy the “collective conscience” of society.

Whatever the fallout of his hanging, Afzal Guru is already a “hero” in Kashmir. A spot beside the one marked for Maqbool Butt is ready for him at the Martyrs’ graveyard in Srinagar’s Eidgah. The issue will continue to haunt people’s memory for many years to come. For Kashmiris, he was the one “who was condemned unheard”, but for the rest of India, his hanging was the closure for the victims who fell to the bullets of those militants who attacked the seat of Parliament in December 2001.

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