Four years since Mohammad Afzal Guru was sent to gallows covertly in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail on this day, his wife Tabasum Guru’s demand of bringing back his mortal remains and belongings remain unfulfilled. In an exclusive interview— to which she agreed on one condition: she wouldn’t be misquoted— she shares her memories of her husband since he was jailed at the fortified prison and where he remains buried.
With no questions and no interruptions, here is Tabasum Guru sharing the secrets you were unaware of till now.
The attack on Indian Parliament took place on December 13, 2001. My husband was arrested on December 17, 2001 at Parimpur Mandi. It was the month of Ramazan when after having Sheri (The pre-dawn meal eaten in the Muslim holy month), there was a cordon and he was arrested. I was in Varmul at my father’s house when I watched on TV news channels— it was claimed that those involved in the attack on Parliament have been arrested. Afzal and Showkat, both, were taken to Delhi.
Afzal Guru traced
Hours before his arrest, Afzal telephoned me and Showkat phoned his wife Afshan. Afshan’s number was under the intelligence radar. Afshan was already under arrest and her interrogators asked her to seek details about her husband’s (Showkat) whereabouts. Parimpur Mandi in Srinagar, Showkat had told his wife. I was waiting for my husband’s arrival so that we could spend Eid together. But he was arrested on the eve of Eid.
First meeting in jail
It was only after a year that we were allowed to meet Afzal in New Delhi. His trial had begun. S Dingra was the judge during that trial. It was the huge risk to meet Afzal in New Delhi. We faced lot of hardships there. The BJP was in power; Shiv Sena was after our life. Most hotel owners didn’t allow us to check in. I, along with my father, my son, and my mother-in-law had to spend night on a road under the open sky. In the beginning, a hotel owner allowed us to stay but later we were thrown out in the middle of the night after he came to know that we were Afzal Guru’s family. It was the month of August. I cannot forget that night which I spent on Delhi roads. Ghalib, my son, was then just over 2-year-old. When the night passed, we went to meet my husband. At first it was a brief meeting with him outside the court. During the trial, Afzal told the judge that his family has come from Kashmir and that he may be allowed to meet them. When we first saw him, his hands and feet were fettered. We could meet Afzal for mere 10 minutes. Later we went to Tihar jail in a bid to meet him for a bit longer. But the Hindu fanatics again were after us. They threatened us and accused us of being the Pakistani agents. They told us that we receive money from Pakistan and have carried attack on the Parliament. Whatever time we spent in Delhi was full of harassment and fear. Ghalib, was starving and we too were hungry. For days together I just fed my toddler son potato chips.
Afzal a changed man
The first thing he said to me, after we exchanged greetings, was that he would never be released from jail. I was shocked and my shock was evident. Then he tried to pacify me— telling me to be courageous. I was trying to find a single sign of fear on his face but failed. He was calm and in tranquil. There was not even a single remorse- he was rather smiling all the time. Then suddenly, he voice became serious and he asked his mother that he wants to meet me (Tabasum) in private. Then with a smile that travelled from his face to his eyes, he told me; “Tabasum, I will never be released. You are at complete freedom to seek divorce. You have all your life ahead- please don’t spoil it. You are free to a live life of comfort. Don’t worry about Ghalib. My family will take care of him.” Our relation was more than that of a husband-wife pair. We were good friends as he was my distant cousin and we grew up together. I yelled at him and told him that I will die but would never leave him.
Life became harder with each passing day. Whenever, we would go to Delhi to meet Afzal, me and my mother-in-law would promise each other that we will not shed tears during the tryst. But every time, we met him, he would always wear a smile on his face and would care little about what would happen next. He would repeat: everything comes from Allah. My mother-in-law had a deep affection for him; she would say that Afzal was the only child among her children who used to take care of her like a daughter takes care of her mother. Her reason for death was longing.
Every year, we would go Delhi to meet Afzal twice. But later he told us not to endanger our lives and instead come on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan (A Hindu festival that celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters). On this festival, prisoners in Tihar are allowed to meet their families face-to-face in the lawns. During other days, we could only see Afzal from behind the bars. No face-to-face meetings were allowed on any other day. On Raksha Bandhan, Afzal used to inform the jail authorities that his family is coming from Kashmir to meet him and that he should be allowed to meet them for few more moments in addition to the permitted time.
Mercy petition rejection
It was the month of August in 2005 when his mercy petition was rejected and the death sentence was pronounced. I met him that time. As we were expecting that Afzal would need our sympathy but the judgment had absolutely no impact on his behaviour. When I told him that court has given him a death sentence, he said that how could court pronounce anything against Allah’s will? “Who are they to kill me? It is Allah who will decide the time of my death. Perhaps, Allah needs more prayers from my side,” I vividly remember those words and the smile he had all the time during our meeting. I was confused that how a person— who has been awarded death sentence –
has no fear of death.
Every time, I met him in jail, he would inquire about Kashmir. He would eagerly confirm about what people in his homeland are doing, what they think and how the situation was. I would taunt him every time, telling him to stop thinking about Kashmir people as they have abandoned him and they do not raise their voices for his release. Afzal would reply: people of Kashmir are the most oppressed and they aren’t at fault at all. It was like he had become an advocate of Kashmir people in Tihar; he never would allow anyone to even utter a word against the people of Kashmir. When the elections of 2008 were held and Srinagar too voted that time, I taunted Afzal again. I told him that what will he say now when the people both of urban as well as the rural areas have voted. Afzal’s reply was same. He warned me not to use bad words for those who have voted during polls. He would say if anyone has voted, it is due to the compulsion only and not by choice. I remember one meeting when Afzal told me, “Time was near when India government will initiate a new era of development and peoples’ would be more modern. Don’t get lured by that. It will prove a mere mirage at the end.”
Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan
Afzal used to respect Syed Ali Geelani a lot. He wrote him several times, asking him to show Kashmir people way and adopt a prolonged strategy. He always wanted Independence of Kashmir. He would say that Kashmir was an independent nation and should remain independent. He never talked of Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s ideology for him was supreme. The only thing he admitted during his trial in the court in Delhi was that he belongs to JKLF and upholds its principles. Whenever, I asked him that why is he always thinking of Kashmir and not his personal life, he would taunt me by saying I will always remain a child.
No worldly love
I remember one evening, prior to his arrest. Afzal was sitting in a balcony of his house at Sopore and was staring towards the sky. He seemed sinking into the galaxies. The poetry of Mirza Ghalib was playing on the tape recorder in the background. I told him that he was supposed to bring some groceries from the market. He replied: “I want to sink into the depth of the stars and you always drag me back into this materialistic world that I loathe the most.”
His love for son Ghalib
In jail, whenever Ghalib would meet him, he would spend most time with him. He would tell Ghalib to study. Once he asked him what is cell. Ghalib remained silent. He was in class 5 at that time. Ghalib later understood that the question his father asked him was in standard seventh science curriculum. Afzal always would ask Ghalib how many Quranic verses has he memorised? Then in the end, in a lighter note, would ask him to sing a song from any movie.
I remember once Ghalib met him in jail and hugged him tightly. It was the unique father-son relation. Afzal noticed that Ghalib had turned weak and asked me whether I take proper care of him. On the next day, when we met Afzal again, he gave me a full diet chart for Ghalib and made me promise that I would take good care of him.
The prayer that didn’t remain unheard
It was February 11, 2000 (prior to his arrest) that Afzal came home disgruntled. In the market, shops were open and vehicles were moving on roads. It was the death anniversary of the JKLF founder, Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. As Afzal returned home, he angrily asked how could people not remember the sacrifices Maqbool Bhat rendered for Kashmir? During the evening prayers, I heard screams coming out from a room. I peeped through the door, finding Afzal crying on a prayer mat. I thought there must be some financial issue confronting him. As he came out, I found his eyes swollen and crimson. I asked whether there were some financial crisis he was facing. He didn’t say anything then. I insisted, wanting desperately to know what caused him to weep during the prayer. He smiled that time again and told me there was no financial crisis perturbing him. He said he was praying to Allah that he may die just like the way Maqbool Bhat achieved martyrdom. It was like Saat-e-Hassan that time!
Guru and Maqbool Bhat’s grave
After Afzal was awarded death sentence in 2005, he was kept in Jail number 3. When I met him, he excitedly told him that he saw Maqbool Bhat’s grave and during his lunch time, he puts some portion of his meals near the grave for birds. I later came to know that Afzal is buried next to Maqbool Bhat that too at the same place where he used to put a portion of his meals every day.
The last tryst
The last time I met my husband was in August 2012. He was hanged on February 09, 2013. There was a strange look on his face that day. I stared in his eyes and they had a mysterious glaze. I will never forget those eyes.
Four years ago on this day
I came to know from other prisoners of Tihar that in the morning when Afzal was informed that he is being hanged within few minutes after being told; there was no fear on his face. As he finished his morning prayers, jailor went near to Afzal’s cell and told him that his death warrant has arrived. The first thing Afzal told his jailor was ‘Apne liye to sab jeetae hai, aye dil tu ji doosron ke liye’ (Everyone lives for themselves, Oh let me live for others). Afzal then asked the jailor that whether his family has been informed. When he was told that his hanging has been kept secret, he asked for a pen and paper and wrote a letter to us. After that he asked for a cup of tea. A police officer himself arranged tea for him. He then asked them that he has to take a bath again. After taking bath, he wore that Kameez Shalwar which I had earlier brought for him from Srinagar.
I remember that once Afzal insisted for a collar-less Kameez Shalwar. I purchased one for Ghalib and one for him. I later came to know that Afzal wore that collar-less Kameez Shalvar for his hanging. When Afzal came out of his cell, he started shouting pro-freedom slogans. Other prisoners heard that and started answering them with pro-Islamic and Azadi chants. When Afzal reached the gallows, he told the jail authorities that his last wish is that his face must not be covered with any mask. He was hanged with his face uncovered. After last rites were performed by the jail authorities, a Pakistani prisoner who is jailed for the last 23 years in Tihar, buried Afzal near Maqbool Bhat’s grave.