A small group of citizens, mainly young people from different universities in Delhi, and people associated with civil rights groups and initiatives, had gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi this afternoon at 1:00 pm to express their protest against the execution by hanging of Afzal Guru at 8:00 am this morning in Tihar Prison.
The protest was dignified and entirely peaceful. It was interrupted suddenly when a large mob gathered and began heckling the protestors. I was present there, and I clearly heard this mob of young men hurl, unprintable abuses at the men and women who were peacefully protesting against the execution of Afzal Guru. Some of them wore saffron scarves that clearly identified them as being the storm troopers of the far right. They repeatedly chanted violent and incendiary slogans which included the following – “shoot them all”, “kill the traitors”. These alternated with patriotic chants. I have never seen a more nakedly bloodthirsty exhibition of the far right wing version of Indian nationalism on the streets of Delhi. The mob made threatening gestures and advanced towards the line of protestors.
I could see several of the young women and men, some, but by no means all of them visibly Kashmiri, back up against the wall at one edge of the Jantar Mantar space. Some of tried to come between the young protestors and the aggressive wall, and I saw one of my friends being hit severely in the groin. The police, which was present in large numbers, stood by and watched. It would not be wrong to say that they were egging on the mob. Because the mob clearly understood that the police would not prevent them as they advanced to assault the protestors. Some of the young men from the protestors group tried to step forward, mainly to shield the young girls and the one middle aged woman among them, and they were severely beaten up. The media too – both television and print – was present in large numbers, and was recording everything.
Then, at a certain time, the police bore down on those protesting against Agzal Guru’s hanging. And dragged them physically, using considerable force, to a waiting police bus. They were then taken to the Mandir Marg police station. I witnessed the force that the police used against the protestors, and I also witnessed the fact that not even one person from the aggressive mob that had tried to assault the protestors was in any way obstructed by the police. Delhi Police did a repeat performance of what it had done just a few days ago (on the 6th of February) at Delhi University, where it assaulted the young students who were protesting against the fascist Modi’s presence at the University, and it shielded the right wing hoodlums who had tried to intimidate and attack the protestors.
Eventually, several people, including lawyers, professors, teachers, filmmakers, civil rights activists went to the Mandir Marg police station to see that the detained protestors would come to no harm. After a few hours, and after their names and addresses were recorded by the police, the protestors (- the 21 people who had been taken to Mandir Marg police station) were let off.
It is a very sad day when we come to realize that those protesting peacefully against a gross miscarriage of justice are dispersed held (however briefly) by the police, while those who intimidate and make threats of violence are allowed to have a field day. The conduct of Delhi Police, be it in the course of the protests against sexual violence, during the protest against Modi at Delhi University, or today, at Jantar Mantar – points to a hardening, and a tacit support by police personnel for the forces of fascism. And this is the situation when Narendra Modi is not yet in power in Delhi.
The execution of Afzal Guru for his alleged involvement in the 13 December ‘Attack on the Indian Parliament’ is a gross miscarriage of justice. My case is not to assert Afzal Guru’s innocence or guilt, but to insist that due process was not followed diligently in his trial, and that he was denied adequate legal representation.
Those interested may read an earlier essay by me on this subject, but I do want to take this opportunity to quote that essay, if only to make a point that I feel needs to be made urgently at this hour.
“…we do need a reminder (and that is why I have no hesitation in being monotonously repetitive about this) of the fact that Afzal’s alleged involvement in the planning of this attack is the only reason why he is being sentenced to die. Unlike, other instances of the award of capital punishment, the so called ‘rarest of the rare’ (as if the matter of weighing human life and death were somehow like ordering steak at a bespoke restaurant), the accused are likely to be people who have actually killed other people in particularly heinous ways, Afzal is accused only of being an an actor in a conspiracy, a cog in the wheel of terror. His was not a hand that held a gun on that day. He fired no shots, killed no one. He was caught because his phone number was in the phone directory in one of the mobile phones found on the person of the dead terrorists. In a letter written to his Supreme Court defence lawyer, Afzal points out that his mobile phone has numbers of STF personnel, and the same logic by which he is implicated in the conspiracy of December 13 should logically lead to an investigation of the STF personnel’s role in the event.
If that is so, then it would be natural for us to expect that all leads as to who else may be implicated in this conspiracy would have to be exhausted before any one of the conspirators or actors (in this case Afzal) is given the ultimate punishment. We know that Afzal Guru did not have adequate legal representation in the course of his trial, but we also know that he made statements that the court took note of, in the sense that they are on the court record, which include statements that implicate officers of the Special Task Force in Jammu and Kashmir. These are public documents, and they have been meticulously collated in NIrmalangshu Mukherjee’s courageous and disturbing book on the December 13 case – (December 13: Terror over Democracy. Published by Bibliophile South Asia, New Delhi. 2005). This book is available at any good bookship in Delhi, and I am amazed that the media has not in fact made more of this story than it has…”
[For more details of why Mohammad Afzal should not die, also see Nirmalangshu Mukherjee’s excellent summary of the main arguments outlined in his book in – ‘Should Mohammad Afzal die?’, The Economic and Political Weekly, September 17, 2005.
Also see – ‘Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal : Patriotism in the Time of Terror’ by Nandita Haksar, Promilla & Co. Publishers, New Delhi,2007 and ‘The Afzal Petition : A Quest for Justice, Promilla & Co. Publishers, New Delhi,2007.
For a general background on the 13 December Case – see – ’13 December : A Reader’ Edited by Arundhati Roy, Penguin Books India, New Delhi ]