The Day Afzal Died: Nirmalangshu Mukherji


There are days in which streaks of hope shine through dark clouds of misery. The 9th of February, 2013, was such a day.

The day broke with the news that the noose of the Indian state had finally seized the throat of Mohammad Afzal Guru after years of careful conspiracy. With ill-concealed admiration, the television screens reported the military swiftness, the secrecy, and the perfection with which a nuclear-powered state with one of the largest armies in the world escorted an unarmed, hapless Kashmiri to the gallows, performed its rituals, and pulled the bolt. As the murder was officially videographed with full legal sanction, the body was kept dangling for thirty minutes before it was pulled down and immediately buried in an ‘unmarked’ grave, protected by layers and layers of impenetrable walls. The case of Afzal Guru was thus brought to a ‘closure’. So hoped the state.

Soon the grip of the state came fully in view. Life in Kashmir was shut down with nearly universal curfew with television and the Internet switched off. All states were ordered to maintain full alert. Police forces spread out into every nook and corner of possible resistance. In strict compliance of the ruling order, television screens dug up and started playing old films of Afzal’s ‘confession’. All lies, falsities, and fabrications, that were rejected even by the courts, were back on the streamers and mainframes. It looked as if years of resistance to the machinations of the state—from the attack to the court judgments—were once again lost under the glare of propaganda. The right-wing was in total command.

Afzal Guru was said to have been ‘stunned and dazed’ when he was told of his proximal hanging. As we watched television that morning, many of us shared his feeling in helpless solidarity. The noose of fascism was coming down on us, around us, with full legal sanction. In the solitary confinement of our homes, we stood under the beam in the gallows, waiting for the mask. My wife just asked feebly about Tabassum and Ghalib. I had no news, except that they were under virtual house arrest. A colleague called, barely able to speak, ‘ab kya hoga?’ I had no wisdom to offer, no plans for the next hour or the day. Another colleague just called to say, ‘It is disgusting’, and hung up.

As the sickness built up from watching television images, I dragged myself to the computer. I found more people in solitary confinement. A friend wrote in desperation, ‘I hate this country. I hate this fucking country. I fucking hate this country’. Many were sad, anguished, desolate, and helplessly angry with nothing to hold on to, not even in imagination. The ‘unmarked’ grave was final, definitive.

Then the clouds parted ever so slightly. There was a call for a demonstration at Jantar Mantar within a few hours. Action.


When the US finally attacked Iraq with the savage ‘shock and awe’, one reporter asked Noam Chomsky if he thought that the resistance to the war was a failure. With his usual historical candour, Chomsky said that even here there is progress. He recalled that, four years into the Vietnam war, Chomsky and some students tried to organise an anti-war meeting in Boston. The meeting could not take place as it was attacked by other students. It took three more years and deaths of thousands of US soldiers before any meaningful anti-war movement could be organised. In contrast, a huge movement ensued against the possibility of a war in Iraq much before the actual war started.

I vividly recall that nearly two years after the 2001 event the first concerted effort to resist the state was organised. Before that there were odd cautionary notes from the likes of PUDR and some courageous report of the proceedings by Anjali Mody (so happy to see her write again for Hindu). The mass hysteria generated by the media, the genocide in Gujarat, war preparations against Pakistan, and the vicious trial that unfolded in the POTA court, combined to numb the minds of the people to the point that any critical question on the official story was judged to be directly in support of terrorism. A police state functioned under internal emergency.

A small group, collated by Nandita Haksar, was formed under the chairmanship of Rajni Kothari. Soon there was an attempt to form another committee of Delhi University teachers directly in support of SAR Geelani. In the first informal meeting, just about a dozen people showed up, all known radical faces in the university mostly associated with PUDR. In her briefing, Haksar pointed out clearly that the police had no case against Geelani. Even then there was hushed silence initially when she proposed a signed poster to start off the campaign. The campaign did take off eventually and Geelani was acquitted. Most people did not want to extend the struggle anymore to fight for Afzal and Shaukat. So a very different and difficult campaign had to be organised largely afresh.


In contrast, now there was a call for street protest within hours of Afzal’s hanging. Many, including myself, could not attend because the information reached late. However, about three dozen people gathered. The state was ready with a huge deployment of police. They were soon reinforced with a large army of saffron goons. The small group of hastily assembled protesters was compelled to retreat. They were pushed and abused. There was a protest but the state had the upperhand.

Suddenly the clouds parted further. A very small group of young Kashmiri people, mostly women, turned around, stood their ground, raised their fists, and started screaming ‘azadi, azadi, leke rahenge azadi’. The curfew in Kashmir was broken in the streets of Delhi as the determined youthful voices rented the air above the filthy abuses dished out by the saffron goons.

The protesters were dispersed from Jantar Mantar, but they reassembled in the Gandhi Peace Foundation later in the day. The news of the earlier protest and the attack on it had spread. Many more gathered in GPF, the voices grew stronger. Soon there was news of street protests in Kashmir, Hyderabad and other places. By late evening, scores of press statements were released and resolutions were adopted by PUDR, PUCL, CRPP, the meeting at GPF, the meeting at Indian Law Institute, and others.

In fact within hours of the state propaganda on television, the Internet was flooded with articles, reports, and statements that depicted years of hard work by a range of people during the struggle years. Just as television channels dug up their old footage, the resistance retrieved the massive documentation that tore the state’s case against Afzal apart. Nothing was lost. The Internet is seething with anger. Despite the curfew, the barbed wires, the numbing cold, and the ferocious deployment of arms, the streets of Kashmir are filling up once again.

It is a long way to go before the prisons are razed to the ground and the impenetrable walls are shattered forever. But the resistance is back. People are on the march again. Someone wrote, ‘Ek Afzal ko maroge, to har ghar se niklega Afzal’.

(Nirmalangshu Mukherji is a Professor of Philosophy at Delhi University, his book ‘December 13:Terror Over Democracy‘, Promilla Publishers, New Delhi, 2005, remains one of the most definitive accounts and analyses of the of December 13 Trial that resulted in the conviction and execution of Afzal Guru in Tihar Prison.)

25 thoughts on “The Day Afzal Died: Nirmalangshu Mukherji”

  1. Few questions that i have

    A. Firstly i don’t know why was this article written, in the sense what was the point that was trying to be conveyed?

    B. There is sadness in the execution, but what makes the author think that the execution was not justified. It has gone through SC and they rejected the Geelani’s sentence and upheld Mohammed Afzal’s sentence. So do you think SC was wrong and if so where? Till now no has come with anything that has been conclusive saying that X, Y and Z are the reasons he should not be hanged.

    C. The manner in which it was done was wrong, but the why is clear right.


  2. You are emotional & not looking the life in practical way. A good governed country can survive & progress if it is firm & committed. I think you have forgotten the act of treason of Afzal Guru. We lost 100 of solders in the border & beyond the fence & even some of their family never could see their dead body & carried out proper rituals although they were lovers of their country. Here we are crying for a traitor.


  3. With great respect for your philosophical journalism in the post, all I have is a simple question, Did you write a similar blog when the parliament was being attacked or when Mumbai was burning. If you look at the internet, people are happy that justice has finally prevailed, some are questioning the delay since they feel it caused 26/11. I am not against the kashmiris , but please do respect the sentiments of the people who died in the Parliament, your article makes everyone feel that we are doing a mistake by hanging afzal.


  4. Geelani was acquitted not because of any ‘movement’, but because no evidence was found to convict him. I don’t like this country a great deal either, but at least the courts make a distinction between ‘no evidence’ and ‘evidence’.


  5. Why would Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant under the scanner of the police and used to get detained every time something happened in the Valley, take part in the attack ? Why would terrorists choose to pick him as escort and facilitator ? Why would the suicide attackers carry mobile phones and phone numbers to the suicide mission ? Why would Guru hang on to the incriminating laptop, 48 hours after the attack ? Why indeed would the marked man involve his cousin and his wife in the conspiracy ? It makes no sense. He was hanged because either he had no common sense or the judiciary and the media had no common sense. I would blame the irresponsible media for not asking the right questions, for swallowing the official version and for spreading hysteria and falsehood. That is why the average Indian believes Guru took part in the attack, that he confessed to his role and that justice has been done. Injustice tends to bring on a curse. I am afraid the nation will pay a price for the unthinking acceptance of what was clearly absurd.


    1. Very right Uttam Sengupta: Injustice tends to bring on a curse. I am afraid the nation will pay a price for the unthinking acceptance of what was clearly absurd.


  6. Irrespective of what some readers think of Afzal Guru’s guilt or innocence, it would be very fruitful to read an interview given by him a few years ago … it allows you to think of him as a human being – and I think we need to learn to think of people as human beings also and not just as categories.


  7. The only people who were protesting Guru’s hanging were antinational elements. These elements have no iota of sympathy for those whose human rights are violated with impunity in Jihadi terror strikes. They should self reflect on how their blatant defense of “Jihadi Terror” has given a new lease of life to “Right Wing Terror” (such as the abhinav bharat) within the country in the last 4-5 years. Unless these left liberals learn to condemn terror outright…..we will never be able to put a stop to the phenomenon of “Right Wing Terror”. I a country where 85% are Hindus spreading of “Right Wing Terror” could mean the end of the idea of India itself.


  8. Afzal Guru’s execution is the best news of this year but his last wish to sse his wife and dear ones is beyond comprehension. His dead body should have been given to his family. HM Shinde’s claim that the news of execution was sent by speed post in the world of 4g communication


  9. I am not surprised by the comments made by two readers who clearly believe Afzal Guru was a terrorist and deserved to hang.

    The third response tries to show how the media might have failed to ask the right question, thus allowing the people to believe Guru was really behind the planning of the attack.

    My comment is – the Government is thoroughly corrupt and is turning to high handed fascist tactics for a while now, and a lot more people have been killed among the landless adivasi community that did not constitute similar media frenzy, and have died and are dying silently.

    Forests are being killed, wildlife are being poached, tribals are being raped, murdered, even butchered en mass.

    Nirmalangshu is perhaps right in declaring GOI as fascist – and its long noose extends to far more than the mere neck of a single misguided Kashmiri scapegoat.

    It is the people of India that should be in focus of the public and subject of a discussion. They are the ones that are allowing their Government to turn fascist.


  10. Afzal Guru didn’t meet his family before execution so what? People died in parliament attack also didn’t get chance to see their families as well.

    Why the hanging for delayed for so many years? I hate congress for using his execution for political benefits. What about Beant Singh’s killer? Are they going use his execution in four years time for another political benefit.

    Any individual whether he is Hindu, Sikh or Muslim should be punished harshly and swiftly not keeping them alive for many year for the right moment.


    1. *********
      Afzal Guru didn’t meet his family before execution so what? People died in parliament attack also didn’t get chance to see their families as well.

      I keep hearing this BS right wing argument. Terrorists do not claim to be democratic. The government of India does. Thus the GOI must be judged on democratic standards. Your argument of ‘so what if Afzal didnt feet his family, the victims of terror also did not have a chance to meet their family…..’ only works if you think that the Government of the Democratic Secular Republic of India has and should be judged on the same standards as terrorists.


  11. Afzal Guru confessed that he was a militant. Almost every billed terrorist and terrorist organization had rallied behind Afzal. It is a fact that Afzal should not be hung the way he was after a decade, It can give him the martyr status that he achieved now. He should have been shot on the head the day he was caught and dumped in the Arabian Sea to avoid all this discussions and hysteria among wanna be Tolstoy’s and psychologically challenged intellectuals.


    1. Hmmm, perhaps a day will come when right-wing hindutva fascists will be labelled as terrorists by the elites. I wonder whether then you would be advocating ‘shooting them on their heads the day they are caught and dumped in the Arabian Sea….American style’ or whether you would be screaming things like due process, rule of law, no evidence of terrorism, etc…………… Wait……., arent you already doing that with Abhinav Bharat? The Gujarat mass murderers? Saffron Terrorism?


      1. There is a difference between being labelled as ‘terrorists’ by the so called ‘elite’ and actually being terrorists.


  12. Ever since the day of Afzal’s execution, one thought has been continuously crossing my mind about the way he has been hanged and that is that the manner of his hanging is no different from the manner the British state carried out the executions of Bhagat Singh and his companions. The secrecy with which the whole operation has has been carried out and the disposal of his body are very similar in the two cases. In both cases the state anticipated strong reaction . There is very little to choose between the two. I have a feeling that the jail manual and jail rules must be coming down from the British times as I heard a senior official say that informing the family is not necessary according to the jail rules. So was it under the British. At least under the British rule one knew that one was in bondage, but we are now in times of increasing fascisization both of the state and society. All have to stand up. I feel that we could have averted it if we had been on the offensive. Tripta Wahi


  13. The hanging of Guru is indeed a deeply saddening affair in the sense that the administration and the judiciary simply ignored the several objections and procedural lapses pointed out by the civil society and activists. The secret hanging and burial reeks of farce and arrogance on part of the government. It is repulsively sickening to come to terms with this murder sanctioned in our name – not just because the state carried it out, but also because it was to satiate our “collective” blood lust.

    There are indeed some rays of hope in this darkness. I’m particularly impressed with The Hindu’s coverage on the issue, being perhaps the only mainstream daily to take a strong position against the execution and the manner it was carried out. Kafila’s bloggers have also been vocal in their condemnation of the secret murder. And so have been several ordinary people across the country who understand the nuance and can see through the government’s smoke and mirrors. I hope all the discussions this has whipped will make us that much closer to abolition of the death penalty.


    1. We can deliberate on death penalty later. Right now Kashmir is burning despite the snow and the curfew.


  14. ‘Ek Afzal ko maroge, to har ghar se niklega Afzal’. ‘You kill one Afzal, and there will be an Afzal in every house.’ What does that mean exactly? Was Afzal Guru innocent? If so, aren’t there Afzals in most houses? Was Afzal Guru an innocent who was wronged by the state? If so, the chant makes no sense. Why would one want victims in every house? Was Afzal a terrorist/ freedom fighter (I am deliberately not making these separate categories). In that case, wasn’t his act of attacking the parliament and enabling terrorists to take numerous innocent lives worthy of punishment. Again in which case, aren’t the ones chanting this chant directly threatening the safety of innocent Indian citizens? Why, then, is the author supporting them? And why do the author’s friends ‘fucking hate this country’? Because we hang terrorists?


    1. You create militant resistors by hanging innocents. The state knows this. That’s why Kashmir is under curfew for 4 days, but the people are still coming out, including children.


  15. Mr Hari…….I wonder about your ignorance regarding it…….Please go through the court proceedings…The Supreme Court itself said that it didnt take cognizance of Afzal’s confession or to accept that because the courts do not accept the confessions made in the police custodity, bcoz police can make anyone speak anyth….You must watch the latest interview of senior advocate of supreme court Kamini Jaiswal regarding this issue….Taken by Tahelka……………..Give me the authority and give me anyone in the custodity and i will make him.say what i want him to……..This is bulshit………….Blind and False nationalism has put a canopy on your eyes and mind……..


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