Calls to Return Afzal Guru’s Body to Kashmir Grow Louder

Calls to Return Afzal Guru’s Body to Kashmir Grow Louder

A weeklong curfew may have prevented widespread protests and violence in Kashmir, but anger is still brewing over the central government’s secret execution and burial of the militant Muhammad Afzal.

A growing number of Kashmiris are now calling for the return of Mr. Afzal’s body to his hometown of Sopore in the Baramulla district, a demand that is shared by both mainstream and separatist political groups.

Mr. Afzal, a member of the Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group, popularly called Afzal Guru, was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to death in 2002 for the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001. He was hanged and buried at Tihar Jail in New Delhi on Feb. 9, which the government did not announce until afterward.

On Monday, for the first time since the execution of Mr.Afzal, when the Kashmir authorities imposed a curfew in the Kashmir Valley, the streets of Srinagar were crowded with people and vehicles as most shops opened for business. Banks and universities also resumed operations.

However, people threw stones at the police in Kulgam and Pulwama districts. A Kashmir police official, who did not wish to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media, said that movements had been restricted for some time in these two districts.

Many Kashmiris believe that Mr. Afzal was framed and that he did not receive a fair trial, and they saw Mr. Afzal’s execution as a political move by the central government, led by the Indian National Congress party, to appear tough on terrorism ahead of the 2014 national elections.

“How can a son not be informed of his father’s death?” said Mirza Ahmed, a 23-year-old student at Kashmir University, who requested his first name not be used to avoid any retaliatory action by the authorities.

“This has nothing to do with occupation or independence but a mockery of basic human rights,” he added.

Mr. Afzal’s family refused an invitation by the Indian government to pray at his grave at the Tihar Jail, instead asking for his body to be returned home. At the Eidgah graveyard in Srinagar, a grave with a headstone has been prepared for him.

Kashmiris were also outraged after learning that Mr. Afzal’s family received a government letter informing them of the execution two days after it occurred. The Indian media have reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was upset over this lapse and had questioned Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde about it.

On Sunday, Mr. Afzal’s family released the letter he wrote in Urdu to his wife before he was hanged.

“I thank the Almighty that he has chosen me for this stature. From my side, I want to congratulate all the believers. We all should stay with truth and righteousness, and our end must also come on the path of truth and righteousness,” he wrote, according to a translation by the Indian news channel NDTV.

The hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for strikes over the weekend, and on Monday, he also called for protests and a shutdown on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He vowed to continue the strikes and protests until Mr. Afzal’s body was returned to Kashmir.

However, the Press Trust of India quoted a senior Home Ministry official as saying that it is unlikely that his body will be returned.

Despite the curfew, which was lifted Saturday, clashes between protesters and security forces have led to the death of three people, including one teenage boy, and the arrests of 53 people, according to Kashmir police figures.

On Sunday, an independent Kashmiri lawmaker, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, called on mainstream parties to jointly strategize on how to push the central government to return Mr. Afzal’s body. “This is a humanitarian issue so political differences must end,” he told India Ink on Monday. “We have to work together on this.”

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s government has already forwarded the Home Ministry the request by Mr. Afzal’s family for the return of his body.

“The application has been received and it is still being processed,” Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, spokesman for the Home Ministry, told India Ink on Monday.

Responding to speculation by Kashmiris that Mr. Shinde had convened a meeting in New Delhi to discuss the possibility of returning the body, Mr. Dhatwalia said, “The home minister is out of station. This is all guesswork.”

Mr. Rashid, who is planning to move a resolution in the State Assembly seeking the return of Mr. Afzal’s body, has suggested that Lal Chowk, the city center in Srinagar, be named after the deceased militant.

“The youth will once again feel alienation and bringing them closer to New Delhi will be even more difficult for Omar Abdullah and others who want that,” he said.

Even Kashmiri Pandits in the valley have called for Mr. Afzal’s body to be returned. The majority of Pandits, who are upper-caste Hindus, fled the valley after the separatist insurgency flared up in Kashmir in 1989. The valley used to be inhabited by an estimated 350,000 Pandits, but now there are around 3,000 left.

Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, an organization representing the remaining Pandits, pointed out that Kashmir’s Muslim youth had only heard about the insurgency from their parents, but that now they had become witnesses to Mr. Afzal’s hanging. “Returning the body will calm down the emotional sentiments of youth in the valley,” he said.

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