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.
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 were 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. Out of 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.”
Unlike his father, Mr. Yasin revealed that Afzal had become a JKLF militant, crossed the LoC in 1991 and 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 .
But why shouldn’t he walk 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 the collective consciousness of the Indian people,” he argued.
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.