Guilty in the Court of Collective Conscience

Waking up on the morning of Saturday, 9th February, a nightmare came true. A call from home made my smiling mood turn into one where I couldn’t hold back my tears. Afzal Guru had been hanged. It just didn’t seem right. My mind, my thoughts were a mess. I couldn’t think coherently. I repeatedly kept uttering, ‘how could they do this to him, to us?’ Yes, to us. Not because I knew him personally, not because I am a part of his immediate family, but because we all, Kashmiris, share a common bond — a bond of pain, of painful memories. We are an oppressed nation. We are the ‘other’.

Would everyone be having enough food to last for some days, I wondered, because I knew Kashmir would be under siege for quite some time. It took me back to the days of Kashmir’s Second Intifada (2010) when the curfew was so strict that most of the times we had no idea what to eat in the evening. That anger was back again. Kashmir was simmering, it was burning, and it was bleeding.

“In every home, although Muharram was not yet here, Zainab wailed” — Agha Shahid Ali

The call from home was meant to tell me ‘to stay safe, to not indulge in any arguments or join any protests’. But how couldn’t I? But knowing that my family was genuinely worried for me, I promised them I’d do nothing to invite trouble. We’re killed for their sport, yes! That’s why, even when three people in Kashmir lost their lives in the protests that followed, the police came out with statements that said, everything had been ‘peaceful’. Those barbed wires in the deserted streets, those ‘security’ forces standing outside every door, how could they stop the emotions from flowing? Kashmir was mourning and here I was, away from home, dying a slow death every second.

Distressing emotions had completely engulfed me. Kashmir was under siege and I was in a place where justice was hanged. I wanted to throw a stone, but I did not know at whom? I wanted to vent out my frustration in any way I could. I just wanted to go out and join the protests anywhere and everywhere. I felt helpless like never before.

After a while, I went out only to hear one rickshaw waala saying to the other, “Badhaai ho, phaansi ho gayi” (Congratulations, finally he was hanged). And so I was lost in thought, perhaps this was the ‘Collective Conscience’ that needed to be satisfied, as India’s Supreme Court had mentioned in its’ verdict.

And how great of a democracy; his family was informed through speed post about the decision of his hanging. (Incidentally, Agha Shahid Ali called Kashmir ‘The Country without a Post Office’). A post that reached three days after he was hanged. And even more magnanimous was the government’s announcement of sending Afzal’s books and other personal effects to his family. How ironic can it get? Pakistan was asked if they would take Ajmal Kasab’s body back after his hanging, but Kashmir wasn’t even asked that; collective conscience won.

I had some random people telling me on a social networking site that I was crying for a terrorist. I do not stand for terrorism. No person in his sane mind would. But how do I believe he was one when there was no fair trial? How do I believe your stories when I have seen how you distort facts and carry out fake encounters in Kashmir, how you pick up innocent men and label them as terrorists? I can count such cases on my finger tips where Kashmiri men have been arrested in Delhi, charged for terror related acts and after a decade or so, told they were innocent and free to go. If all this is part of collective conscience, then I’m glad I am not a part of it, for it is a conscience stained with blood. But even if he was involved, let us suppose, why was his family not given the choice of a judicial review after India’s President rejected his mercy petition? I am sure that Ghalib, the poet, would have come up with the most painful couplets, if he knew what kind of life his 14-year old namesake (Afzal Guru’s son) is living and has been forced to live.

… “Ghalib was right:

blood must not merely follow routine, must not

just flow as the veins’ uninterrupted

river. Sometimes it must flood the eyes.”

— Agha Shahid Ali

That’s exactly what Kashmir was feeling.

And then ‘our’ very outspoken Chief Minister said this could lead to greater alienation of the valley’s youth (he says he had nothing to do with the decision; really?). Pardon me sir, but I beg to differ. You cannot feel alienated from a group you never felt like a part of or associated with in the first place.

Anyway, to everyone whose collective conscience is satisfied now (if it has), CONGRATULATIONS!

[Views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jamia Journal’s editorial stance.]

About Samreen Mushtaq

Samreen Mushtaq is a Staff Writer for Jamia Journal, and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. She can be reached via email at: samreen_mushtaq[at]

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