With Grieving Gurus’

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Temporarily inaccessible for law and order reasons, Sameer Yasir opted a crisscross trek to reach the tiny Mazbug, home of Afzal Guru to understand the man who was sent to the gallows.

The para-military forces had placed concertina wires on the road leading to the village of Afzal Guru in Sopore --Photo: Abid Nabi

The para-military forces had placed concertina wires on the road leading to the village of Afzal Guru in Sopore –Photo: Abid Nabi

A day after Muhammad Afzal Guru’s last handwritten letter was delivered to his family, I passed through several check posts to reach his home in north Kashmir’s Seer and Jagir, a single village that has Jhelum running in between. Cops and paramilitary men were ubiquitous throughout.

Reaching Seer was daunting. Besieged, there were drop-gates and concertina wires blocking all access routes.

Along with other fellow journalists, forces sent us back from Sopore, just near the college. We took an alternate route, trekked almost five kilometres to reach Seer from where we crossed Jehlum using a boat to arrive in Jagir. One of these boats would have ferried Afzal in the initial years of his student life to the other side of the river to reach Doabgah Government High School where he did his schooling.

Afzal was born on June 13, 1967. The third son of Habibullah Guru, his father’s timber business flourished soon after. The family, then, was privileged: they owned a colour television in the seventies. Every week, neighbourhood people would gather to watch Bollywood classics at their home. Soon after, coinciding with the birth of Afzal’s brother Reyaz, they owned an Ambassador car.

“He (Habibullah) lived like a king. He would always take big risks in business. He would always stress for the education of his children,” said Ghulam Ahmad Malik, a resident of Jagir, who knew Afzal’s father. The four brothers – Ajaz, Hilal, Afzal and Reyaz – studied at Doabgow High School where they completed their elementary schooling.

In 1977, when Afzal was ten years old, his father died of chronic liver cirrhosis. Family’s fortunes began to tank and the responsibilities shifted to Aijaz, Afzal’s elder brother. In the daytime, he would work in the veterinary department in Sopore and run his father’s timber business in the evening. “But he ensured that Afzal’s gets his education properly,” says his cousin Farooq Guru.

Senior Journalist Muzamil Jaleel, who was Afzal’s batch-mate in school, wrote in Indian Express, “For me, Afzal was a friendly schoolmate who loved poetry and talked of books during those festive lunch breaks. In 1987, Afzal and his cousin and a co-accused in the Parliament attack case, Showkat Guru, were studying with me in (MET), where we became good friends. I always knew Afzal as the best student in our class, who would surprise the teachers with his wit and intelligence.”

In 2010, Afzal’s youngest brother, Reyaz died of cancer. He used to sell Kashmiri handicraft in Delhi. If this was not tragic, Afzal’s mother, Ayesha Begum, died last year of stomach ailments. “Before he got married, Afzal would wash utensils, her clothes and get water from Jehlum. He used to take care of her mother like no son would,” says Misra, Afzal’s next door neighbour.

“There were jubilations across the village when Afzal cracked a medical entrance test for becoming a doctor. He was the first from the village who would have become the doctor. And everyone was proud of him,” Yaseen Guru, the cousin of Afzal told Kashmir Life.

Even after joining the prestigious course, Dr Altaf Ahmed, a resident of Bemina, who was Afzal’s fellow student at Jhelum Valley Medical College in 1990 in Srinagar, says he (Afzal) was known for his singing skills and poetry in the college. “He was young with flowing hairs and would always make jokes with us. There was nothing at that time which would make one think that he would become a militant. But he would talk less and one could always see him lost in thoughts,” he says.

“He would never get tired of reading the poetry of Ghalib, even in those hectic days. But like many other young men in those days, one day he disappeared after appearing for the second-semester exams and never returned,” Dr Altaf says.

Like thousands of young Kashmiri men, Afzal crossed the LoC for arms training where he joined Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front whose political agenda was to free Kashmir from both India and Pakistan. But there was something more to him than a militant, “He would read books, wherever and whatever he could. Even in Pakistani camp where we were, he got hold of an Urdu book by Pakistani writer Ismat Chughtai. He would always carry that book with him,” said Aftab Ahmed, a surrendered militant from Krankshun Colony in Sopore who got trained with Afzal in Pakistan.

But Afzal soon got disillusioned with militancy and returned to Kashmir in 1993 after three months. He surrendered before BSF and was, according to his wife, given a certificate as a surrendered militant, only after he motivated two more militants to surrender.

As he couldn’t pursue his MBBS degree which he had left midway, he started looking for other options. One of them was to study in Delhi and he enrolled himself for a post-graduate degree in Political Science at Delhi University. During those years, he would teach young kids to sustain his livelihood and pay his fee. He completed the degree and returned to Kashmir in 1998.

Afzal’s mother then decided to marry him in a business family in Baramulla’s Azad Gunj locality. His wife, Tabassum, is one of the five children of Ghulam Mohammad Buhroo, a well-known businessman in Baramulla and also one of the trustees of a local school.

Today, as he sits in a room on the first floor of his house in Azad Gunj, Buhroo looks tired and angry but he talks cautiously. There are visible frustration and anger against the leadership of Kashmir on his face. There is hardly any difference between the colour of his hair and his short unkempt beard.

Afzal's father-in-law(R) Ghulam Muhammad Buhroo with yaseen Guru in Mazbug village --Photo: Abid Nabi

Afzal’s father-in-law(R) Ghulam Muhammad Buhroo with Yaseen Guru in Mazbug village –Photo: Abid Nabi

“Afzal was intelligent and there was something about him which always used to amaze people. He would talk very less and would never raise his head in front of me,” Buhroo told Kashmir Life

On November 1, 1998, Afzal got married to Tabassum. After a year, they were proud parents of Ghalib, named after the famous poet. Post- marriage, Afzal started working in Sopore as an area manager with a pharmaceutical firm besides running his surgical equipment concern. But a normal life eluded the couple.

“He was arrested many times, tortured and left. This made his life miserable,” says his cousin Yaseen. “When Afzal was arrested for his role in 2001 Parliament Attack, I never allowed my daughter to travel alone. I always used to travel with her so that I could save her from right-wing parties who always used to hurl abuses at her,” Buhroo says.

In an interview to a Vinod K Jose, now with The Caravan magazine, in 2006, Afzal said: “But never a day passed by without the scare of Rashtriya Rifles and STF men harassing me. They detained us for several weeks and threatened to implicate us in false cases and we were let free only if we paid huge bribes. Many times I had to go through this.”

He continued: “Major Ram Mohan Roy of 22 Rashtriya Rifles gave an electric shock to my private parts. Many times I was made to clean their toilets and sweep their camps. Once, I had to bribe the security men with all that I had to escape from the Humhama STF torture camp. DSP Vinay Gupta and DSP Davinder Singh supervised the torture. One of their torture experts, Inspector Shanti Singh, electrocuted me for three hours until I agreed to pay Rs 1 lakh as bribe. My wife sold her jewellery and for the remaining amount, they sold my scooter. I left the camp broken; both financially and mentally. For six months I could not go outside home because my body was in such bad shape.”

It was after one of these incidents that Afzal returned to Delhi and wanted to join the prestigious Delhi School of Economics. He stayed with his cousin, Shaukat Guru and tutored school children to raise money.

When the Parliament was attacked on December 1, 2001, the police arrested Afzal in Srinagar with his cousin Shaukat whose wife Afshan (a Sikh convert) was also arrested in Delhi with another Kashmiri SAR Geelani a lecturer at Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College. Police accused them of collaborating with Jaish-e-Muhammad in the Parliament attack. The charges levelled against Afzal were that he was in possession of “explosives at his place in Delhi and “conspiring to commit and knowingly facilitate the commission of a terrorist act”. In the trial court, Afzal remained the most underrepresented accused. The family could not afford a good lawyer. His wife could only afford to file a mercy petition with the President of India.

Tabbasum was mourning with a huge gathering of women. There was not any possibility of meeting her. I could trace Afzal’s son Ghalib, 14, a Class VIII student in a tent erected outside their house. He didn’t talk to anyone and gave confused looks at everyone who entered the tent. His father had wanted him to become a doctor. Afzal didn’t live to realize his dream. “He never got a fair trial. I never thought this day would come,” Buhroo said.

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