14 January, 2020


While unquestionably the attack on our Parliament was seditious I was never convinced that Afzal Guru received complete hearing. 

In the wake of the arrest of DySP Davinder Singh - whom Guru had named as an accomplice, a facilitator or a prompter - my curiosity was aroused again. Hence I reproduce the message without the sender's name 
[I also wonder if this arrest of Singh indicates a case of deep malaise in J&K police where cops act with impunity and hobnob with dreaded terrorists openly, or some sinister involvement of deep state in some murky false-flag operation, as Prashant Bhushan called it. Could it be a case of colossal failure of communication along the security channel?] 
Anyway, here is a review of Arundhat's collection of Afzal Guru 
Thanks to Nandakishore Varna’s review of Arundati Roy’s book “The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the strange case of the attack on Indian Parliament”. 
I am sharing the review of a book I read quite some time ago. With the arrest of Davinder Singh, it attains fresh significance. 
Who is Afzal Guru? If this question is asked to any average Indian, you will get the following answer: “The mastermind of the 2001 parliament attack conspiracy.” 
On 13 December 2001, five armed men in a white Ambassador car loaded with explosives drove through the gates of the Indian parliament in an attempt to blow it up. In the ensuing gunfight, all the five were killed along with six Delhi Police personnel, two Parliament Security Service personnel and a gardener. The police swung into action, and in a rare show of supreme efficiency, all the conspirators were apprehended within a week and confessions extracted. The legislative also swung into action and the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was pushed through on 19 December. Since the confessions of the arrestees (all Kashmiris) confirmed their terrorist and Pakistani links, massive military mobilisation on the border resulted with a very frightening standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbours. 
The accused were: (1) Mohammad Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant; (2) Shaukat Hussain Guru (cousin of Afzal Guru); (3) Afsan Guru, Shaukat’s wife, who was Navjot Sidhu before marriage and (4) Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a lecturer from Delhi. The special court found all of them guilty within a record period of six months. All the three men were found guilty of various crimes under Indian Penal Code and the draconian POTA and sentenced to death. Afsan was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment. 
Later on, defences sprang up for the accused, put together by concerned people who were in no way convinced of their guilt. The Delhi High Court reversed the decisions in case of Afsan and Geelani, but upheld that of Afzal and Shaukat. The Supreme Court later commuted Shaukat’s sentence to ten years’ rigorous imprisonment, while upholding Afzal Guru’s death penalty. After languishing for eleven years on the death row, he was hanged on 9 February 2013. 
Personally, I did not follow the parliament attack case with an avid interest as 2001 was a year of great personal importance for me, and I was more or less cloistered within the confines of my personal cocoon (aren’t most Indians like that?). I became settled again only in 2007, by which time the case was done and dusted – and Afzal Guru was awaiting the hangman’s rope. Like most Indians, I had no doubt that the Indian law enforcement and judiciary had given off their best, and that Afzal was guilty as charged. When he was hanged in 2013, I objected to it as a matter of principle (I had come to believe that capital punishment was inhuman by then) but not because I felt that there had been a miscarriage of justice. 
The first bad feeling I had about the hanging was when I read the personal experience of Kobad Ghandy (a jailed Maoist), of his time with Afzal Guru in the book ‘Behind Bars’. The man did not come across as a religious fanatic or terrorist. Also, by the time, there was a lot of noise being made across India in the name of his ‘wrongful arrest and execution’. So I thought it was time to have a look at the other side of the story, when I chanced upon this book. 
It is a collection of essays by the various people who were not convinced of the guilt of the conspirators, and tried to save them from the gallows. They were successful in the case of two, but could not save Afzal. Three-fourths of the book cover the period when he was on death row, waiting for a possible presidential pardon; the last part relates to his hanging and its aftermath. 
All the writers concur on two things: (1) the guilt against Afzal Guru has not been proven at all, and there has been serious miscarriage of justice; and (2) there are layers of secrecy covering the parliament attack case, which have not been brought to light. After going through all the essays , I must say that they have done a good job of convincing me. 
However, as in all such cases, we can choose to believe whom we wish to, I will limit my summary of the book to the incontrovertible facts and testimony which has been agreed to by people on both sides of the issue, and leave the readers to form their own opinions. 
First of all, before going on to the facts of the case, I would like to share a paragraph of the Supreme Court verdict upholding the death penalty on Afzal. 
“The gravity of the crime conceived by the conspirators with the potential of causing enormous casualties and dislocating the functioning of the Government as well as disrupting normal life of the people of India is something which cannot be described in words. The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” 
While I have no quarrel with the enormity of the offence (had it been proven), a phrase made me cringe. Awarding capital punishment to someone to “satisfy the collective conscience of the society”? Anyway, one cannot question the wisdom of the apex court, so let us leave it here and see whether the case against Afzal (and his ‘co-conspirators’) have been proven beyond doubt. 
None of the accused has committed any act of violence. All they are accused is of criminal conspiracy, and the evidence against them is solely circumstantial (even the SC remarks on that). Now let us look into the nature of the evidence. 
1. Afzal Guru, according to the police, was reached through Geelani, though telephone records from his mobile phone. However, the records are available only for 17 December while all the accused have been arrested by 15 December. 
2. All the ‘evidence’ against Geelani was thrown out in the High Court. The main argument, that he had received calls from Pakistan, was proved to be false. None of the eighty witnesses produced by the prosecution alleged that the accused were part of any militant organisation. 
3. The police alleged that Afzal’s mobile number was written on all the fake I-cards of ‘Xansa Web City’ recovered from the dead militants. But the SIM for this number has not been found; moreover, the fake I-cards recovered from the site has not been sealed. It is enlightening to note that Head Constable Ashwini Kumar who did the crime scene investigation refutes that any number was so written. 
4. The only material evidence against Afzal is that he took one ‘Tariq’ to Delhi and helped him to buy the car which was used in the attack. Afzal does not deny this, but he says he did it at the insistence of the police. While he could be lying, it is worthwhile to note that he is a surrendered militant constantly under the eye of the STF. 
5. Afzal’s confession was obtained under torture (as confirmed by him as well as Inspector Rajbir Singh of the STF). Procedural safeguards were not followed. He was forced to confess to the press, and when he exonerated Geelani in the confession, the police shouted at him and urged the press to ignore that part. 
6. One of the slain terrorists was identified as Mohammed Yasin Fateh Mohammed (alias Abu Hamza) of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, who had been arrested in Mumbai and handed over to J&K Police in 2000, by the Police Commissioner of Thane S.M. Shangari. 
7. Three Pakistani militants were supposed to be controlling Afzal; Tariq, Ghazi Baba and Maulana Masood Azar. The said Tariq was supposed to be in Delhi. However, after the closure of the case, no further investigation regarding these connections seems to have taken place. 
(These are only a few of the inconsistencies in the case against Afzal. The book is full of them: if one is willing to spend the time and effort, it would be easy to list at least a dozen more.) 
Now let us come to the trail. Apart from using the illegal confession drawn under torture to incriminate him, Afzal was not even provided a counsel. When he requested either one of four out of a list of names provided as public counsel by the court, the reply was that none of them were willing to represent him. Ultimately the advocated provided by the court, after doing a half-hearted job (many incriminating evidences was admitted without challenge) withdrew under the excuse that she was moving on to represent a co-accused. Then the court provided an amicus curie (means “friend of the court”) to handle the case from Afzal’s side! This person was openly hostile to Afzal, and even communal (according to him) so that Afzal was forced to cross-examine witnesses himself, while Ram Jethmalani was arguing for Geelani! No wonder he lost the case. 
Citing all this, prominent advocate Indira Jaising filed a curative petition, which also was surprisingly rejected. Remember, a man under death sentence is asking only for a just hearing and is being refused... in my opinion, to call this a travesty of justice would be mild! 
Add to this the media trial. Based on the information provided by the police, the national media constructed a terrorist tale worthy of the best of Bollywood (Zee TV even dramatised it). That this kind of sensationalism while the trail was going on would influence it fell on deaf ears, as it was the common opinion that our judiciary is not influenced by popular opinion. Later on, when most of the ‘news’ was proven false, none of the media cared to apologise. 
(In this context, I am reminded of the ‘ISRO Spy Case’ in Kerala, where the media and police together created a sensational tale and ruined a great scientist’s life and career in the process. Just Google ‘Nambi Narayanan’ and you’ll see.) 
And one more thing – the details of the tortures suspected Kashmiri militants are subjected to, gleefully recounted by the police. You can hardly read through it without wanting to vomit. And we call ourselves a democracy! 
Was Afzal Guru guilty? Maybe. Even after all the holes in the prosecution evidence, the contradictions and the procedural lapses, there is a slim chance that he may have been clever enough to plot the attack and obfuscate it to this extent. But I seriously doubt it. 
Should Afzal have been hanged? In my opinion, an emphatic NO! Apart from my objection to the death penalty in principle, in case where there is a reasonable doubt regarding the guilt, the benefit of the same should go to the accused. It is our collective duty as a civilised democracy. 
But the main thing I took away from the book was that it is imperative to change our approach on Kashmir, if we want lasting peace in the valley. We have alienated the Kasmiri youth so much and so much poison has been injected into the mind of the average Indian regarding the ‘Kashmiri Terrorist’ that it would be a gargantuan task to rebuild the confidence. But it is high time we made the effort. 
If only to prevent the genesis of future Afzal Gurus.

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