I am against death penalty when it is Afzal Guru; I am for death penalty when it is a rapist; depends on the degree of hurt I feel. Afzal Guru has not offended me and so I am sad that he is hanged. I am not too taken up by the like of Arundhati Roy whose case against Afzal’s death penalty was to say that the evidence against him were not impeccable. As in the case of Dhananjay Chatterjee, one to be hanged as early as 2004 in Kolkata for rape and murder of a minor, evidence against Afzal Guru was not above doubt. The two other co-accused, Afsan Guru and SAR Geelani were acquitted and since Afzal was no one important, it is unlikely that the courts would have gained any mileage for singling him out for scape goating. Hence I am interested in Afzal Guru.
Afzal was only 43 when he dies. He had been convicted at the age of 32. By then he had attempted the Indian Civil Services, tried his hand at medicine but went away to Pakistan to take arms training. His friend whose post I read via Kavita Chowdhury on Face book recalls him as the best student of his class. He loved his books; he was intelligent, witty and argumentative. He was not only well read in texts but he was also fond of poetry. It is not difficult to see that he names his son Ghalib, who told the ex President of India, Dr Kalam that he too wanted to be a doctor when he grew up.
Afzal Guru was born in an affluent family and lost his father early in life. He was brought up by his uncle, a renowned cardiologist in the Valley. Afzal too studied medicine but left it to take military training in Pakistan. He soon gives all of that up and surrenders to the Border Security Forces. He becomes associated with the Special Territorial Force, the STF. He tries to crack the civil services and the JNU exams but does not seem to make it and then joins Delhi University for Political Science. Geelani was in all probability his teacher. Afzal works as an executive for a pharmaceutical company and does very well and is promoted into its area manager very soon in his career. In his career as a medical representative, Afzal faces harassment from the police. It is possible that he returns to terrorism after that. A boy who is more mentally agile that physically active, according to the charges against him, sits back at home and plans this massive attack on the Parliament. I do not wish to contest these charges against him because in my mind they fit the picture and complete it.
Afzal started his career in terrorism when his uncle, the renowned cardiologist who was bringing him up became ideologically affined to the separatists. Afzal is an affluent Kashmiri and three attributes mark him like any other person in his location. One is a pride in Kashmiri culture and identity and a feeling that it is his bounden duty to promote that culture; to step into the shoes of his father as early as he can as the oldest son and in absence of father, in gratitude to his guardian to carry forward the latter’s cause. Since his uncle believed in separatism, Afzal carries forward his mission into militancy, which according to him is a logical step. The second is this desire to be a role model, the good boy everywhere. This is why his behaviour has been exemplary, in school, in office, at home, in prison and even while walking towards the gallows. The third is that people from proud families who think of themselves as ethical epicentres of their societies are invariably creative and develop multiple interest which emerge out of a desire for commanding culture. This makes Afzal move rapidly from one profession into the other and get easily bored by being in the same location. The desire for creativity, not totally innocent of a will to power rises in societies in which the economy is turning against them. No wonder then Afzal’s idol is Ghalib, a man who faces a terrible paradox of being intellectually creative and yet economically to impoverished to sustain that intellect. Ghalib has inspired and continues to inspire the many who are critical of capitalism.
Afzal was charged with planning; he could well be a planner because of the tremendous intelligence he had. He was not one who could take in physical pain and in fact, according to a post from the Hindu on the FB, it seems that he asked the executioner whether the noose will pain him. He was assured that it would not. Afzal seemed to be less scared of dying than in the pain of the noose. He was, scared of physical pain, also a fact that explains why he forever wanted to emerge as the model of good behaviour because boys with good behaviour are never whipped or hit with rulers. Yet, his tremendous desire to be effectual may have put him as a grand planner of things, one who can move the world, albeit invisibly. This seems to be a hacker mentality, also a terrorist mentality and perhaps a mentality of our times.
Throughout his tenure in jail his desire was to be a role model. His words were always measured and never tempestuous. His last letter to his wife he was calm and temperate. The only issue that he ever created in jail was that he feared losing his mind in isolation. He was fond of his mind and guarded it very well, again a class symptom of his affluence and cultural capital. In this backdrop, it is difficult to believe that Afzal’s confession was so obscene that the courts had to impugn it. The use of obscene language is intriguing. Either Afzal has a split personality or else someone had put it there. Actually both are possible; it is quite possible that Afzal really let his mask down and let out his repressions or else the police investigators so annoyed by Afzal’s holier than thou attitude had composed the confession in coloured language. Since Afzal was a ‘nobody’ and yet so confident and self assured, he may have provoked contempt from the police.
But Afzal Guru read both the Koran as well as the Vedas. He was well read in the religious texts and spoke of the oneness of humankind. This is endearing; Afzal was not against the Hindus but perhaps he was fighting separation itself. He was for the unity of Kashmir as well as for its autonomy. Culture and autonomy are the two sides of the same coin. I am not sure what Afzal was first, whether a Kashmiri or a Muslim. For me it does not really matter. What matters is that we never noticed that it was Afzal’s creative agitation that made him somewhat misguided; an anxious excitement that could have been made use of. For this we are all to blame, those of us who do not bring about creativity in education, culture, science, and most of all, in politics. Afzal’s death is the death of energy, much like Ghalib himself, all dressed up and nowhere to go, a tragedy of spiritual unemployment that so marks a nation falling everyday into the abyss of unreflecting and unmediative, anxiety ridden mundanity called life style.