WHETHER Afzal Guru’s execution was just is for the jurists and legal experts to debate and decide. But let’s look at some other issues.
Perhaps, a more significant matter it brought to light is that while India and Pakistan remain wedded to old positions, dissent in the Kashmir valley has taken a new turn.
The Kashmiri was convicted of being involved in the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 based on circumstantial evidence and was hanged in considerable haste and interred in the grounds of Delhi’s Tihar jail last Saturday when even his family hadn’t been intimated.
Many observers have pointed out that while those convicted of murders much before the attack on Lok Sabha in 2001 such as those held responsible for Rajiv Gandhi’s murder in 1991 are still alive because of the judicial review process, Guru was denied such relief even if it were to be temporary.
This, coupled with the imposition of curfew in Srinagar and elsewhere in the valley and a media shutdown, was attributed to the Indian authorities’ mindset in dealing with Kashmiris where, simmering Kashmiris alleged, a different yardstick is being applied compared to Rajiv Gandhi’s Tamil killers whose ethnic group is seen as part of the Indian mainstream.
While the Indian government’s ‘muscular’ stance is consistent with its policies over the years, across the border Pakistan officially refrained from commenting on the judicial process though it ‘reaffirmed’ solidarity with the Kashmiri people.
It wasn’t a surprise that the more vocal response came from the ‘semi-official’ Jamaatud Dawa (banned militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba) leader Hafiz Saeed and a senior leader of the Jaish-i-Mohammad. Both of them condemned ‘martyr’ Guru’s execution and vowed to avenge it.
All these voices, of course, represented forces ‘external’ to Kashmir. External but not disinterested. However, these views, positions seemed caught in a time warp: the Indian state muscle, Pakistan’s ‘principled stance’ and the militant groups’ blood-curdling vendetta threats.
If you look at the valley itself you can see how the mood there has evolved over the past decade and how it has moved away from armed resistance to what writer Mirza Waheed, who won acclaim with The Collaborator, calls the “new age of dissent”.
The gun of the 1990s has been replaced by unarmed yet massive peaceful demonstrations and more so by the pen, with an explosion of writers, researchers, columnists dedicated to writing Kashmir’s history, documenting human rights abuses with a ‘we’ll not forget’ philosophy as the central theme.
Powerful fiction and non-fiction is emerging from the valley with Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night), Mirza Waheed, and Siddhartha Gigoo (Garden of Solitude) writing poignantly heartrending prose, informed as it is by their experiences of the bloodshed there in the 1990s in particular.
And the one common denominator which screams out to be seen, heard and acknowledged is that those representing this so-called new age of dissent, mainly through unarmed defiance, reject the mediation of Pakistan and Indian narratives.
A lawyer, Pervez Imroz, who has followed and documented cases of human rights abuses including disappearances and extra-judicial killings blamed on the state is seen as a hero. One writer says: “His unarmed defiance has done more for the Kashmir cause than all the attacks by armed groups.”
Imroz was the central figure in the British TV Channel 4’s chilling documentary, Kashmir’s Torture Trail, detailing cases of torture and other excesses against Kashmiri civilians suspected of involvement in militant activities. In December last year Imroz co-authored an eye-opening report.
The report, published under the aegis of People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in the Indian-Administered Kashmir (IRTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), says it is based mostly on government documents and witness testimonies.
It names 500 ‘perpetrators’ including senior army and paramilitary as well as police officials in 214 specific cases. Such reports may not have caught the fancy of the mainstream Indian media but have been read by most Kashmiris who are able to and that cements their defiance.
The growth of the writing and new media has also given a substantial voice to these new age dissenters. There is a staggering array of bloggers and online writers. How this generation of writer-dissenters is coming of age is easily understood if one googles their names and sees their work.
Kashmir-based young lawyer and writer Arif Ayyaz Parrey who addresses the issue of beheadings; Ather Zia, PhD candidate at the University of California at Irvine, a poet and a telling short story writer; Wasim Bhat, who has written a significant book on the cultural and historical density of Srinagar.
Sameer Bhat, journalist and sharp satirist, who is currently with Khaleej Times; Parvaiz Bukhari, one of Kashmir’s finest journalist-writers and a great political thinker, is working on what is already being seen as a seminal book on the militarisation of Kashmir.