Afzal Guru’s family seeks permission for prayers in jail

Smriti Kak Ramachandran
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A file photo of Tabassum, wife of Mohammad Afzal Guru, at their house at Sopore in Kashmir.— PHOTO: NISSAR AHMAD
A file photo of Tabassum, wife of Mohammad Afzal Guru, at their house at Sopore in Kashmir.— PHOTO: NISSAR AHMAD

Hours after the news of his death by hanging broke, Mohammed Afzal Guru’s lawyers Nandita Haksar and N.D. Pancholi made their way to the Tihar Jail here, carrying with them a letter from his family seeking permission to say a prayer at his grave. Guru, who was convicted for the December 2001 attack on Parliament, was hanged and buried inside the heavily fortified Tihar Jail on Saturday morning.

“The family called us in the morning; they said they were not informed of the hanging. They have now requested the authorities to at least allow them to perform namaz-e-janaza [funeral prayer] and the last rites as per their faith,” Ms. Haksar told The Hindu .

The letter, addressed to Director-General of Prisons Vimla Mehra, says the “family members have been shocked to hear the news of the hanging on national television.” The last time the death warrant was issued by Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Kaur, Mr. Pancholi was informed so that he could in turn pass on the message to the family. [But] “This time they were denied the basic human right of meeting Afzal,” says the letter.

Ms. Haksar said the Guru family, residing in Kashmir, was not being allowed to move out of the house, nor were mourners allowed in. In Kashmir too, the Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din raised a demand for handing over the body to the family and allowing it to perform the last rites.

“It is a sad day, Afzal was more wronged. He was not a fundamentalist or Jamati . He rejected Pakistan and returned from there disillusioned. But no one wants to hear that,” she said.

Slamming the calls for “celebration,” Ms. Haksar said it was ironic that, on the one hand, “right-wing” politicians claimed that Kashmir was an integral part of India and, on the other, they were calling for celebrating the execution when Kashmir was in “mourning.”

“No one wants to know Afzal’s story, no one wants to question why Parliament was attacked in the first place,” she said, adding the hanging would have an impact on Guru’s teenage son and the people in Kashmir.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, described Guru’s hanging as “regressive” and questioned the efficacy of the death penalty.

“Death penalty should be abolished as it is inhuman and irreversible. Is this how the Indian state wants to show that it isn’t a ‘soft state’? Most people in India today feel insecure; people step out of their houses not knowing if they will return; it is more important that the state makes them feel secure. Punishment is not the step to make people feel secure and a state that cannot protect its citizens is a soft state,” Ms. Ganguly said.

While human rights activists condemned the hanging of Guru and the way it was carried out in secrecy, Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir appointed by the Centre, cautioned that it would impact the peace process in the State negatively.

“In the past year and a half there has been a vacuum in the peace process and this [Guru’s hanging] will have a bad effect on it. Protests have already begun in Kashmir.”

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