Democracy Demands: Justice for Afzal, Repeal of AFSPA

The whole of Kashmir is demanding in one voice justice for Afzal Guru. And for once the voice of Kashmir is resonating quite audibly in different corners of the country including the capital city of Delhi . Revolutionary and democratic forces all over India are at one with the people of Kashmir in their common call for review and revocation of the death sentence awarded to Afzal Guru in connection with the December 2001 attack on Parliament.

There are good reasons as to why the demand for clemency for Afzal has become a popular democratic cry beyond the Kashmir valley. While the entire country condemned the attack on Parliament, the case built up by the state and its investigation and prosecution agencies has since been exposed to be full of gaping holes. Attempts made by the Delhi Police to secure conviction of Delhi University Lecturer SAR Geelani in the same case have already been judicially rebuffed. Legal experts have pointed out many loose ends in the whole case and Afzal Guru and his wife Tabassum have complained about custodial torture and denial of their right to get a lawyer of their choice to defend Afzal.

Soon after Tabassum met the President and sought his intervention to stay the death sentence, Advani and Rajnath Singh rushed to Rashtrapati Bhawan to warn him against granting Presidential pardon to Afzal. This is the party which when it was in power had released key terror suspects from jail and sent its senior leader and External Affairs minister in Vajpayee's cabinet to Kandahar to hand them over to an international terrorist organisation to meet the demands of plane hijackers. It finds nothing wrong in giving in to hijackers' demands and striking deals with terrorist organisations when it is in power; it rubbishes the Constitution and the Supreme Court in the name of ‘faith', and equally characteristically it feels unnerved by the voice of democracy and reason. Once again the BJP has exposed how utterly it despises and fears democracy.

The death sentence for Afzal on rather shaky grounds and insufficient and doubtful evidence is reflective of the typically dubious and biased manner in which the state has been dealing with terrorism, throwing every notion of human rights and democracy to the winds and often harassing and persecuting entire communities – religious and national minorities – in the name of tackling terrorism. This has been exposed time and again in Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East and now Muslims all over the country are complaining of this vicious bias on the part of the Indian state. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had to admit as much in their recent speeches at the Nainital conclave of Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled states. Even as the Congress Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir , Ghulam Nabi Azad has been compelled to reflect the sentiment of the people of his state to demand clemency for Afzal, the Congress continues to follow in the footsteps of the BJP and turn a deaf ear to the voices of reason and justice.

The anti-democratic attitude of the Congress gets further exposed on the issue of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The Act that gives a virtual licence to the Army to kill and rape at will and shields the Army from the long arms of law that grip every common citizen in the country has always been resented by the people as the biggest serial killer of liberty, democracy and dignity of the people. The people of Manipur, the state that has suffered the longest spell of the Act and consequently the bitterest taste of its draconian and barbaric potential, have time and again risen in heroic revolt against this killer Act. Manipur's spirit of protest and resistance has found its most determined champion in Sharmila Chanu who has been on a fast for the past six years demanding scrapping of the AFSPA. While she holds the state guilty of murdering liberty and justice and waging war on the people, the ‘rule of law' in the country accuses her of attempting suicide! After her recent release from judicial custody in Imphal when she travelled to Delhi , an unnerved UPA government promptly put her back into judicial custody and transferred her to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. But the government refuses to answer her simple straightforward demand: repeal the AFSPA.

In 2004 when the whole of Manipur was aflame with the fire of people's resistance after the rape and murder of Manorama, Manmohan Singh had visited Imphal and a commission was set up to probe the AFSPA ‘controversy'. The report of the commission headed by former Justice BP Jeevan Reddy has been lying with Manmohan Singh's government since June 2005. The government has refused to make the report public, let alone implement its unambiguous recommendation to repeal the Act which the Commission has found to have become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”

When Manmohan Singh goes abroad he pushes speeches and treaties down the throat of Indians that glorify our formal colonial masters and current imperialist bosses and bring only shame, humiliation and insecurity to the country. When he visits Imphal and Vidarbha, he sheds crocodile tears and gives empty assurances that are never fulfilled. Thus the Reddy Commission report has been gathering dust and in Maharashtra farmers have been left ‘free' to hang themselves right within the premises of the state Assembly. This politics of murder and falsehood cannot go on forever. This government must be made to understand that Tabassum and Sharmila are not alone; their cry for justice is a cry of millions in the country. If this cry is ignored, the people's verdict will soon be out against the killer and liar government. And nobody will be able to hush it up.

– DB