Zipping past an expanse of harvested orchards on the 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]
Written 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. “However, I didn’t have an iota of doubt and told all they would return both.”
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 term in 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 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.
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