What Afzal Deserves: Chandan Gomes
Guest post by CHANDAN GOMES
Ever since the news of Afzal Guru’s execution broke out on the 9th, I have witnessed my personal space descend into a state of chaos. I woke up that morning to a number of emails/facebook messages by friends requesting me to join them at Jantar Mantar to protest against Guru’s execution. Many called that particular protest farcical, some even going to the extent of labelling these young men and women as traitors. Battle lines were drawn and a country stood divided. The more I thought about the execution, the more it saddened me. I could see myself and people like me (the ordinary citizens of this great nation) as pawns in a game of ugly power play, waiting to be sacrificed at the altar of ‘opportune moment’.
While a few celebrated in the streets, mocking the basic tenets of empathy and freedom of expression, ripples of their irresponsible action touched common lives – distances crept in between friends, neighbours turned against each other and identity became a matter of prejudice. The greatest damage is the one that goes unseen, unaccounted for. That invades the very source from which humanity spring forth, leaving it devastated.
This article is an account of my experiences of the last four days.
11 pm, 9th February 2013:
Today is a sad day – in the act of glorifying his execution as an act of nationalism, many of us have ensured that some of our fellow countrymen will not be able to walk in the streets with their heads held high, until this storm settles down.
My neighbour is fine gentleman. His name is Mansoor Ahmed and he is a carpenter by profession. I fondly refer to him as mama (maternal uncle). Usually jovial and chirpy, he was very restrained today. There were contours of worry on his face and his eyes were dilapidated with a sense of guilt that was perhaps self-imposed. We met a couple of times, but our eyes never met. We shook hands, but the warmth was missing.
Disturbed by this sudden coldness between us, I paid him a visit in the evening. We indulged in a petty discussion about the oldest biryani vendor in Delhi followed by a long spell of silence. Unable to break the ice, I decided to head back home. As I was leaving, he held my hand, rose from the sofa and hugged me. I could feel his heart thumping against mine and his tears slowly trickled down my back via the collar of my shirt. I was too stiff to wrap my arms around him – stiff with the realization that how certain celebrations wreak havoc into the lives of those who are made to feel like uninvited/ungrateful guests.
Be empathetic and thoughtful the next time you express your ecstasy. For your freedom (of expression) might infringe upon someone else’s and in the process leave him/her marginalized.
10:30 am, 10th February 2013:
I woke up to the sound of Dhols today. Elders from the neighbourhood were distributing sweets while children were dancing and jumping around, most of them unaware that an execution was being celebrated. Saiful, a 5 year old too joined the festivities, only to be taunted by some of his friends. One of them said to him “Tumhare Afzal abba ki to phurr ho gayi Mulla ji”. At this moment some of us intervened and reprimanded this boy. Realizing the gravity of the taunt, better sense prevailed and the celebrations were called off.
Till the end Saiful did not understand why he was taunted, but there was a sense of grief in his eyes and his body language. These were his friends with whom he walks to school and play’s cricket with. What broke my heart was the sight of him taking off his Taqiyah and hastily burying it his pockets.
I am sure Saiful and his friends will soon forget the happenings of this morning for they are children, still united by a sense of innocence and purity. I am hopeful that I’ll find them playing together in the evening and that Taqiyah will soon finds its rightful place.
But the question we need to ask ourselves is, what does upholding the honour of our nation means to us? Can the nation’s honour be upheld without upholding the honour of its people? What will it take to remind us that the honour of our brothers and sisters in Chhattisgarh, Manipur & Kashmir is trampled upon daily? What about the honour of our friends perishing in Vidarbha and Koodunkulum? Please remember that for every story that is told, countless go untold. For every man celebrating in the streets today, there is someone helplessly mourning in some unknown part of the country. And there is no one to respond to her/his wails and cries.
Our actions today will decide what sort of a future we wish to gift to Saiful and his friends.
2 pm, 11th February 2013:
The tea stall on the outskirts of my residential colony is a meeting point for wrestlers from a nearby Akhada and clergymen from the neighbouring mosque. I have always seen these men heartily interact with each other over tea and Parle G biscuits; a sight that has always had a cathartic effect on me. But not today!
There was an awkward silence engulfing the tea stall, a feeling of uneasiness that could not be ignored. One could see two distinct factions on either side of the stall, stealing odd moments to occasionally gaze at each other. The sight of the wrestlers in their saffron coloured T shirts and the clergy men in their white kurta-pyjamas, separated by uncertainties and the fear of being misunderstood, pretty much summed up the state of mind this nation has descended into since the 9th.
I will visit the tea stall again on Tuesday morning, with the hope that the camaraderie that was on leave today will be in attendance tomorrow.
1:20 pm, 12th February 2013:
I logged onto facebook and found the following message in my inbox:
This is perhaps the last time I am corresponding with you. Your recent posts on Afzal Guru’s execution establish you as a sympathiser of those who will blindly oppose the state because it is fashionable to do so. You have fallen victim to their conspiracy theories, may you get well soon. I will always cherish the memories of the reclaim the nigh walks we were a part of and the conversations we had, but I do not think we can be friends any longer. Atleast in the given circumstances!
All the best to you!
We became friends on 22nd December, 2012 while protesting at Raisina Hill. In the crackdown that followed, he injured his left knee. But he was there on the 23rd at India Gate with a walking stick. He was attacked again and this time around he received a couple of stitches on his forehead. We meet again on the 29th; despite his injuries, he was as committed as ever. He is a good man, honest and courageous. He is right, circumstances have forced us apart, but we haven’t lost respect and concern for each other. Today we might find ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, but tomorrow is a new day and no one knows what it holds. One can only hope for the best, as I am and as perhaps he is.
What unites us is way stronger than the rift between us. Only we need to recognize this strength. And maybe then, who knows, this execution that has divided us till so far, will make us stand together, in solidarity with each other.
Let Afzal’s story bring us together. He does not deserve to be reduced to a symbol of hate and division. Think twice before calling anyone a traitor for the echo of your sentiment can ravage lives, almost invisibly.
Welcome dissent for no meaningful relationship can thrive without it.
Chandan Gomes is an independent photographer who has been chronicling the protests in Delhi.