The Day Afzal Died: Nirmalangshu Mukherji
Guest post by 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.)