The old parents of Mohammad Rafiq Shah from Srinagar visited Tihar Jail to meet their son. Shah, a student of University of Kashmir, was picked up from his home and is facing trial for planting bomb in New Delhi bus. It is another story that university records show that Shah was attending classes in Kashmir when the bombs ripped the Indian capital. Mohammad Afzal Guru was extremely close to young Shah and both would spend hours talking about religion and Kashmir. Having had the opportunity to be in the company of Mohammad Afzal Guru and as we approach his first hanging anniversary, my account of the man’s untold side, I hope, would serve as a true tribute to the man who had accepted gallows much before he was hanged.
I am too ordinary a person to speak about the character and personality of a man, who often said: “Death is the only truth and I believe that if the order is from higher up (God), above than the Indian home ministry, only then this will be.”
On February 8, the day Shah’s parents made yet another visit to meet their lone son we had a reason to be happy. They had brought (paneer) and bread (rotis) for us. On other days the jail authorities would gave us some bread, rice and pulses and would not allow non-vegetarian food from visitors. We along with Mohammad Afzal Guru assembled to eat. He ate more than he usually did. I remember him saying: “I am eating more today the food is delicious.” He ate five rotis. As soon we finished dinner, we were made to shift to our barracks and Afzal moved into his solitary cell.
Out of fear that inmates would form human bonds, the prison authorities would shift us from one barrack to another regularly. Things that usually remain unnoticed helped us to bond. Our food habits made us do the impossible and also invoked a sort of solidarity among Kashmir inmates. I managed to get in Kashmir nun-chai (salt tea) and would prepare it. Afzal would always make fun and say that I was the one who imported nun-chai to Tihar. Since 2008, he was in the same jail and would often talk about life, religion and Kashmir over brewing cups of nun-chai.
There was nothing unusual about the night, but the dawn surely was different. They didn’t open our barracks on February 9; we were perturbed. My barrack was at a long distance from Afzal’s cell. As the prison management didn’t open the barracks, I focused on reciting Quran.
It was 7:15 am, Sandeep, a fellow inmate called me. He was panting and he looked extremely panicked. He said: “I saw on TV that Afzal has been hanged.” I was numbed with shock and disbelief. The inmates broke down. We were perturbed, some cried, some raising slogans but the administration did not let us out at all.
Afzal was shifted from his cell at 5:00 am by an officer, on the pretext that there was an inspection. He picked up his mat and left. On the way he asked Rafiq to pray outside in open but they did not open any other cell.
JAIL AUTHORITIES SAID:
And when Afzal was told about his hanging he did not protest. They initially tried to drag him but Afzal told them ‘let off my hands I will go myself’. He had accepted his destiny; he was content that he was dying for truth and against oppression. “He did not need to be dragged to his head, he hugged it,” I was told by a jail authority who witnesses the hanging. They told us he was hanged at 8:00 am.
Two officers who were friendly told me that Afzal did not have any fear of death. “We didn’t see any fear in Afzal’s eyes and he recited Quran on every step on his way to death,” I remember their words.
On the way to gallows Afzal read aloud: “Lailaha ilala Muhamadur Rasulula ((There is) none worthy of worship except Allah. Muhammad is Messenger of Allah)”. Those Kashmir prisoners near to the site responded to his call loudly from their cells. He recited and they recited it back to him: ‘Lailaha ilala Muhamadur Rasulula’.
They didn’t perform his last rites according to Islam. He was interred into a ditch (dubas manz trovukh) close to where Mohammad Maqbool Bhat was buried in 1984. The jail authorities would say that the policeman, who performed Afzal’s last rituals, was a Muslim, but I have seen those policemen. They know nothing about Islam. I stand witness that Afzal’s rights to Islamic way of burial were compromised.
He requested them to let him speak one last time with his family but his last wish remained unfulfilled. Then they let him post the letter to his family. We were let out at 11 am and they gates of the ground where Afzal was buried were locked perhaps for ever.
PS: Bashir Ahmed was Afzal’s co-inmate at Tihar Jail since 2008. He was serving sentence there and was released on 7th August 2013. Afzal was covertly hanged at the fortified prison on Feb 9, 2013.
(If you have a memory to share. You can send your writings to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject column write ‘Memory’)