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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 18, April 20, 2013

A Journey to Afzal’s Village in Sopore

Monday 22 April 2013

This piece was sent sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.

by Gazala Peer

When the seven-day siege of Kashmir was over, I decided to pay a visit to Sopore to the family of Afzal Guru who was murdered on February 9, 2013 in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail. As I stepped out there were rimours all around that Afzal Guru’s house is cordoned, his body will be returned anytime and nobody is allowed to visit the greiving family for the past one week since he was killed. I got calls from people saying that they wanted to visit but they fear they will not be allowed.

In the shared cab which I boarded from Srinagar, people were requesting the driver not to wait for passengers. If the mortal remains arrive there will be curfew again. They won’t let people to assemble for the funeral. On this, one of the passengers said, ye chu makaar te zaelim qoume [this (India) is a cunning and a brute nation]. From Sopore, I took a local bus to Afzal’s village. After being on the bus, which was quiet and sombre, for about twenty minutes, the conductor signalled to me that I have reached.

At the bus stop I asked a young boy the way to Afzal’s house. The young boy and another man who was standing at a distance of a few feet insisted to accompany me. This surprised me. Not that I felt any kind of intrusion but he insisted! As I walked behind them, they started a conversation with each other. They were talking about murders, torture, media gag and the refusal of India to allow Kashmiris to mourn the dead. They talked about how some local media people had managed to reach Afzal’s house crossing the river. They rejoiced over the fact that some tenth standard boy from a nearby village is alive despite bullets in his neck and shoulder. They were saying that in their adjacent mohallah (referring to some nearby locality) no house has window panes as the Army and STF broke them all by pelting stones.

Then they were talking about Afzal’s cousin, Showkat, that he was sentenced to ten years rigorous imprisonment in the Parliamnet attack case and has now grown a beard and spends most of the time in the mosque. They were lamenting that Showkat, who was one of the most handsome guys in the village, now seems too old for his age. And that if one listens to Showkat’s torture stories, it is horror! The young boy said that we (Kashmiri’s) have to die at their (India’s) hands but pray to God we die a dignified death (referring to Afzal’s death).

After a few minutes walk from the bus stop, I spotted a gate to the village. While their conversation about the never-ending miseries of Kashmiris was on, I interrupted. What is that green iron gate? I asked the young boy! An Army camp for the last sixteen years. An Army camp! I almost shouted. Yes, an Army camp. They close the gate after evening. Then we are in a jail with a thousand guards, can you imagine Army and STF guards! The accompanying man looked at me first, then bowed down his head, saying: “One day I entered the ground where the Army is playing right now. I wanted to take a stroll. In my childhood this was our playground. They chased me, caught me and then one of them slapped me and my skull cap fell on the ground. The Army person told me this is their property. How come I enter it?”

The camp is huge. I saw hundreds of Army-men. Some of them playing cricket, some football, some taking rest under the shade of willow trees and some were basking in the mild Feburary sun. As we were approaching the camp, the men in uniform were staring at me. Now I understood why I was being escorted and why there was an insistence on that! The camp buildings are fenced. In Hindi something was written on one of the fences. I don’t know Hindi so I asked this boy: what is written in these huge letters in white on a green base? Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara (in the whole world our India is the best),he replied. I continued following them, listening to their conversation which further narrated tales of torture and abuse. Within five minutes we were at Afzal’s house.

Tabassum, Afzal’s wife in her early thirties, is not talking, not responding, not looking at anybody. Women consoling her come and go. Telling her she must have courage. She has a child to look after. Looking at her dry eyes and her stone face, I kept on wondering what she must be thinking. Maybe she is revisiting her past. How she would travel to Delhi with the hope that someday her husband would be a free man. Maybe she is remembering how she would visit the lawyer’s chambers in Delhi. Maybe she is thinking how she would manage to book tickets to visit Afzal in jail, twice a year. Maybe she is thinking what was on her husband’s mind when he was walking those last steps. Or maybe she is thinking that the noose might have hurt his neck. Her sister, sitting next to Tabassum, addressed everybody in the room: “Dapan che khe mah wanhaim... dapan che galibas mah kare hey patem naseehat” (Tabasum says maybe Afzal had something to tell her... maybe Afzal would give some last words of advice to his son, Ghalib.) She continued: When you visit your beloved in a prison, what is it, a rendezvous of a few minutes! Tabassum met Afzal in August 2012. They first did not allow her to go to the other side of the glass; then she picked up a fight. She fought for the last meeting! When she came from Tihar she told me it was a nice meeting. He was behaving like a sixteen-year-old boy! Saying this Tabassum’s sister broke down. Then there was silence in the room. An elderly woman entered wailing: “Khudayov Doctor Saebas mah ase marne gare ezah gov jabber ye gov zulum” (O Lord, it might have been a painful death for our doctor sahb...this is atrocious, this is tyranny.) Another woman, Afzal’s childhood friend, remembered Afzal as a person who would recite poetry every time people would be around him. He was in love with Ghalib (the famous Urdu poet) so much that he named his child after him.

A young woman sitting in the room got up. I think she understood what can console Tabassum. She, after reciting some verses of the Holy Quran for Afzal’s soul and for the soul of 70,000 martyrs of Kashmir, said: ‘The noose must not have hurt Afzal sahb. He is a martyr. His soul must have left his body and was with the Lord before the hangman tightened the noose.’ On this, Tabassum moved her eyes and relaxed her face.

I moved out of the house where I again met the young boy who had accompanied me. I asked him if there was any way other than going through the Army camp; I wanted to avoid what is written on that fence. He rushed, got a boat and made me cross the river. I was looking at Afzal’s modest house which is on the bank of river Jhelum and across that are vast green fields. I saw some boys lying down in the fields with a radio set beside them. In the air there was gloom and the song went out playing: Roz Roz Boze Mein Zaar Madno...Dade Chayne Chyas Ya Baemaar Madno (Stay back, stay back, listen to my plaints, my beloved; your seperation has made me sick.)

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