Kavita Suri

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Death sentence shakes Kashmir

Three parliament attack accused Kashmiris were recently delivered death sentence by a Delhi Court. While the entire country welcomed the judgement in one of the dare devil fidayeen attacks on the Indian parliament in December 2001, why the entire Kashmir is expressing solidarity with them and is holding anti-Delhi protests, KAVITA SURI tries to find out.

Thirteen December 2001 still remain as one of the blackest day in Indian parliament’s history. For the highest symbol of Indian democracy was attacked by Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri terrorists on this day.

When a special court in Delhi sentenced three Kashmiris - Professor Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, Shoukat Hussain Guru and Mohammad Afzal - to deathrecently for their involvement in parliament attack, the judgement was appreciated nation-wide. But not in Kashmir.

Throughout the month, Kashmir witnessed massive demonstrations, more violent in Baramulla to express solidarity with the parliament attack convicts. Separatists like JKLF leaders Javed Ahmad Mir, Showket Ahmad Bakshi, National Front chairman, Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) president Shabir Shah, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo of the Human Rights Forum, Ghulam Nabi Zaki and Moulvi Bashir brought out rallies in protest against the decision. 

The three Kashmiris- all from Baramulla -are guilty of subscribing to the 13 December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. About a dozen Police and paramilitary personnel, besides five suicide guerrillas, had died in the attack.

However, this death sentence to these three Kashmiris for conniving with militants who attacked Parliament has not only created ripples in Kashmir but the decision has also served to widen the yawning gap between Delhi and Srinagar. The general perception in Kashmir remains that the three accused Professor Abdul Rehman Geelani, Showkat Ahmed Guru and Muhammad Afzal have been "framed and scapegoat".

Almost all the main separatist political parties have been criticizing the judgement. There are no takers for the judgement as "fair and transparent" in Kashmir and the same has been reflected in rallies and street fights -the Kashmiri version of Palestinian Intifada.

"People in Kashmir have become highly cynical about Delhi over the last 12-years. Everything is viewed with suspicion. With a religious party like BJP in office, the death sentence has not
gone down well with the masses here," said a political analyst adding the decision which came in the wake of riots in Gujarat and the subsequent victory of BJP, doesn't make it a fair judgement for Kashmiris.

Hurriyat Conference which initally was very guarded in its response and had called a for a probe of Parliament attack besides an impartial trial of the accused, in a surprise development, has now openly expressed solidarity with them. The separatist forum even called for a general strike  on 7 February to protest the alleged growing human rights violations in Kashmir and the death sentences of the three Kashmiris.

 "We asked the people to observe a complete strike against Kashmir being targeted ruthlessly, for sentencing Kashmiris to death and life imprisonments and subjecting the detainees to inhuman treatment", said the Hurriyat chairman Professor Bhat accusing the Indian agencies and Indian leaders especially Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani of creating an impression that Kashmiris are terrorists.

"They are doing everything to bring disrepute to a movement that is essentially political and indigenous. This is done by branding it a communal, criminal and now Talibanised struggle.This is not acceptable to us. Our struggle has been accepted by the world community as just and honourable.We have to suffer losses in men and material, but if the Indian government feels it can resolve the Kashmir dispute through death sentences and life imprisonment, it is sadly mistaken,"said Prof Bhat

Even the Awami Action Committee led by former Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also reacted sharply to the decision saying when the parliament was attacked on December 13, the government blamed foreign militants but now the Kashmiris have been punished. 

While most of the separatists strongly condemned the judgement, another separatist leader Shabir Shah went a step further and has decided to file an appeal against the decision. Shabir Shah’s  appeal to Indian intellectuals and lawyers to join hands to defend the convicts yielded results when Kashmir Committee chief Ram Jethmalani joined the band raising his voice against the High Court decision. But he had to pay dearly as Shiv Sainiks ransacked his office and threatened him against fighting his case in the court.

Kashmiris are suspicious and critical of the Court judgement also because of the fact that there was a speedy trial of the three accused. Most of them including the Kashmir Bar Association president Mushtaq Ahmed Dar feel that while it takes years to decide the cases against security forces but in this case the decision has been handed down very quickly. Many of them also say that Delhi is not interested in solving the Kashmir issue and it is only forcing Kashmiri's into submission However, countrywide, there are hardly any takers for this argument of Kashmiris.

Jamat-i-Islami believes that the sentence is unfair as police has failed to produce any eye witness in the case. The convicts were not given a fair trial and a verdict was pronounced allegedly under well hatched conspiracy. An insight in the proceedings of the case indicates that it was done to give bad name to the "freedom struggle" and to fan the anti-Muslim feelings. This was evident from the bursting of the crackers outside the court by Shiv Sainiks, the JeI statement said. Mahaz-e-Azadi, another separatist organization feels that it would further deteriorate the relations between the parties to the Kashmir dispute. 
 
“The death sentence is not based on fair judgement. Within one year the court has decided the case for the consumption of communal forces in India. I am sure if the three are tried in a neutral court they will be acquitted. But in India we cannot expect a fair trial," says Shabir Shah adding the murder of five civilians at Pathribal in Anantnag by army has been proved beyond doubt. The DNA testing has proved that the five were innocent civilians who were abducted and killed in a fake encounter by army, why doesn't the Indian government punish them. Double standards. Different yardsticks. Is that justice?

“The sentence got finalized within 5 months after the trial was started under POTA from July 2002, which is very much unusual in Indian law policies as if related to Indira Gandhi’s assassins, those involved in 1984 anti-Sikh riots at Delhi,Babri Masjid episode, Gujarat carnage, Kunan Posh Pora (Kupwara)  rape incident etc, argues Abdul Latif Bhat, a Kashmiri writer.

Political observers believe that it's too early for the Kashmir to react violently against the decision." Firstly there is provision for appeal and than until the decision to hang the three is
executed it's unlikely to raise a storm in Kashmir. Remember when Maqbool Bhat, JKLF founder and  a pioneer separatist, was hanged it he became a rallying point for separatists and hundreds of youth that ultimately manifested in militancy," said a political analyst on condition of anonymity.

Bhat did become a rallying point for his ilk and sympathizers after he was hanged in 1984 for abduction and killing of an Indian diplomat in London. But a few years after he was hanged, the 
JKLF launched a violent campaign for succession and lured hundreds of youth into its fold. And given the situation in Kashmir, death sentence will certainly be serious development in Kashmir. This, observers feel, will negate all the gains of the recent elections that has vastly improved the political environment in Kashmir, and restored some trust on Indian democracy.

Trouble will begin once the death sentence is executed. The three will be martyrs and it will inspire scores of youth to take to militancy. But for the time being there is still hope that the
three might get some reprieve.

"Inshahallah, (God willing) we will fight the case in higher courts. We will appeal in Supreme Court. We still believe in democracy. Victory will be ours because he is innocent,'' said Abdul Rahim Geelani, Rehman's brother over phone from Baramulla.

Rahim said his brother and others were being victimized by the Union government. He said the entire Baramulla township, who were hooked to the television news were stunned by the verdict. “Everyone here terms the decision as a deep-rooted political conspiracy,'' he said, adding "`we will the verdict was delayed to time it with the Gujarat results".

"We are trying our best to cool their tempers and have appealed to them not to disturb law and order in the town,'' he said. The Geelanis command tremendous respect in the Baramulla township for their social and religious reforms.

And for the family of Showkat Ahmad Guru, the decision is a frame up. "The government needs whipping boys to further its agenda. And they could have never found better ones like our sons," said Abdul Sattar Guru, Showkat's father from his Dobgah house in Sopore. "We are poor people, we can't appeal further. We cannot afford to fight them but then God is on our side,'' he
said."I am in conflict with my son since 1987 but I can say with authority that he is being framed," he said.

Analysts believe that at a time when separatist movement is losing steam and support, hanging the three will be the best thing that can happen to secessionist movement. It will inject a new life in movement and further alienate Kashmiris from Centre. EOM
 

Three people convicted of plotting the Parliament attack of December 13, 2001, that killed nine people were handed the death penalty by a special court in New Delhi late last year. And the Supreme Court awarded life terms in jail to three people accused in the 1992 murder of prominent Kashmiri Hindu leader and rights activist H.N. Wanchoo.

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