Zipping past an expanse of harvested orchards on close periphery of this apple town, drivers are treated by muezzins of all mosques to one divine declaration: Allah-o-Akbar or god is great. There is no evidence of anyone else’s greatness en route to Afzal Guru’s hamlet of Jageer or his cousin Showkat Guru’s neighbourhood in Doabgah. Once a feared encampment, which appears to have lost its awe and relevance with each passing day of peace, Rashtriya Rifles Sector-5 proclaims India’s greatness with the iconic Urdu poet Iqbal’s famous stanza sare jehan se achha, Hindustan hamara [in the whole world, India is the best]
Scripted boldly in Hindi on the green-painted corrugated galvanized iron sheets of the camp’s fencing, this mundane declaration was the morning assembly prayer at the local school for both Afzal and Showkat in the halcyon days of 1970s and 1980s. The two Guru households, on the embankment of river Jhelum, furlongs away from the military camp, have little to substantiate the greatness they were told of at school.
“It’s great,” admits Showkat’s 78-year-old father, Abdul Sattar Guru, “because of its history, geography, culture and knowledge.” While Showkat, along with wife Afshan, was under trial for alleged involvement in the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, Abdul Sattar’s non-descript house at Hanji Mohalla was subjected to the umpteenth search. “When the Major learned that I possessed more than his knowledge of India’s greatness — from the metallic ring around his wrist to Rakhsha Bandhan — and when he came to know that we don’t kill even a harmful rat, he and his soldiers withdrew apologetically.” That day, the local Army unit’s trail of troubling the Gurus ended.
“But, how can we call it greatness when two innocent men are deprived of the prime of their youth, implicated in a heinous crime with unfounded charges; when someone fully defenceless from the trial court to the apex court is sought to be eliminated with the death sentence,”, Mr. Sattar asked. “But, I didn’t have an iota of doubt and told all they would return both,” he added.
Nephew Afzal’s fate is hanging in the balance between North Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Showkat has returned but not before his life is spoilt by the 10-year rigorous imprisonment term at the Tihar Jail in New Delhi. His 76-year-old mother Ayesha has reconciled herself to destiny. “My entire family has been in shambles. Life and death are meaningless,” she said, caressing Showkat’s only son, Arsalan, who was born in the Tihar Jail on June 13, 2002.
Sikh-turned-Muslim, Afshan was two months pregnant when she was arrested in 2001. The ageing couple revealed that Showkat’s life had been completely ruined and his release was more of an agony. “We are told he lives in a rented room in Sopore. His wife is somewhere in Delhi.” Ayesha claims to have seen the couple over a year ago.
In the apple-rich township, nobody claims to be familiar with Showkat’s whereabouts. “He was a merchant of dreams,” says neighbour Ghulam Rasool at Jageer. After his graduation and a diploma in journalism from Delhi University, he got a job with the Bank of America in New Delhi. But, he gave it up soon, to try his luck in a small-time fruit business. All earnings exhausted in liquidating his bank loans.
Perhaps the worse sufferer is younger brother Yasin. He revealed that he appeared for the prestigious Kashmir Administrative Service examination, the State form of IAS, in 2010. Among thousands of candidates, he stood among the highest ranking 30 with 1,063 marks. Out of 250, he needed just 65 to hit the cut-off in the Open Merit category in viva voce. But he was awarded a paltry 30 and thus “dropped.”
“Those who were far below me in the merit were granted 190 and even 205 and selected. It was a brazen fraud by the State Public Service Commission,” Mr. Yasin alleged. According to him, he was asked just one question: What was his surname? The interviewer then asked him: From the same Guru family which attacked Parliament? “I knew we haven’t but I said ‘yes’. And, that spoiled my selection?” Earning a livelihood out of an inferior job in the Education Department, he has challenged KAS results in the J&K High Court.
Unlike his father, Mr. Yasin revealed that Afzal had become a JKLF militant, crossed the LoC in 1991, worked as militant for about a year. “But, he surrendered at a local camp of BSF in 1992 and left for Delhi to pursue a better future. During his continued stay, he did Masters in Economics from Delhi University and thereafter, started off a fruit business along with Showkat,” Mr. Yasin told The Hindu. He claimed that Afzal did tuition for the children of well-known people, including close relatives of a senior officer of J&K Police.
But, why shouldn’t he embrace the gallows after being convicted by the Supreme Court? “Even the judgment has recorded that nothing had been conclusively proved against Afzal and he was being punished for the sake of collective consciousness of the Indian people,” he argued.
The Guru house’s second storey at Jageer belongs to Afzal. It has no inmates. The first floor is occupied by his brother Hilal’s family — 35-year-old wife Tahira with her three young children. Hilal’s earning of Rs. 4,000 a month in Kupwara is the family’s total income. The mother of Afzal and Hilal has died earlier this year.
Afzal’s wife, Tabasum, is stated to be working as a receptionist at a Sopore Nursing Home, set up by a relative lately. As The Hindu crew approached the reception and explained the purpose of an interview with Tabasum alias Piari, the woman receptionist said, “She is not present.” Her associate, who identified himself as Aijaz, intervened quickly: “She is at her home and does not talk to media.” He claimed she had no cellphone and nobody knew her residence.
“This man is telling a lie. The woman at the reception is none other than Tabasum [herself],” said one Ghulam Hassan who lives in Sopore and claims to be familiar with both. “It’s well possible that someone from the government in Delhi or Srinagar has assured her of acceptance of Guru’s mercy petition and advised her to remain away from media,” he added.