On the 13th of December, 2001, one of the most terrible terrorist attacks on Indian soil and certainly the greatest assault on our democratic system was perpetrated. 17 years ago, on this day, our Parliament was attacked by Islamic terrorists and six policemen and two Parliament Security Service personnel were martyred on that fateful day.
Our democratic system has suffered and overcome many terrible affronts but the Parliament attack of 2001 remains one of the darkest spots in our country’s history. Not merely because the highest institution of our democracy was attacked but also because of the charade of sympathy that overflowed for one of the main conspirators of the attack: Afzal Guru.
On the 30th of October, in an article published on the Outlook Magazine, infamous intellectual Arundhati Roy wrote, “I believe Mohammed Afzal is only a pawn in a very sinister game. He’s not the Dragon he’s being made out to be, he’s only the Dragon’s footprint. And if the footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we’ll never know who the Dragon was. Is.” She states further, “Of course it’s possible that the dead terrorists were foreign militants. But it is just as possible that they were not. Killing people and falsely identifying them as ‘foreign terrorists’, or falsely identifying dead people as ‘foreign terrorists’, or falsely identifying living people as terrorists, is not uncommon among the police or security forces either in Kashmir or even on the streets of Delhi.”
Towards the end, Roy wrote, “If Afzal is hanged, we’ll never know the answer to the real question: Who attacked the Indian Parliament? Was it the Lashkar-e-Toiba? The Jaish-e-Mohammed? Or does the answer lie somewhere deep in the secret heart of this country that we all live in and love and hate in our own beautiful, intricate, various, and thorny ways?”
The entire article is a defence of Afzal which makes the Parliament Terrorist Attack as events straight from a crime thriller. Perhaps it might not appear very obvious to authors but the reality is often much more mundane. In the United States of America, people who see an American conspiracy behind the 9/11 Twin Tower attack are seen as lunatics and are treated as such. In India, on the other hand, they are revered as intellectuals. That is, perhaps, the tragedy of our country.
Much like the conspiracy theories peddled by political entities after the Mumbai Terror Attack, various conspiracy theories still abound surround the Parliament attack. And unfortunately for us, they are not treated with the derision they deserve. Instead, people who endorse them are respected and revered by the establishment as intellectuals.
Various human rights organizations came forward to condemn Afzal Guru’s hanging. It appears human rights NGOs are reminded of the rights of people only when terrorists and criminals receive punishment in accordance with their actions. Amnesty International asserted that Afzal’s hanging revealed a “disturbing and regressive trend towards executions shrouded in secrecy and the resumption of death penalty use in India.”
AI India’s programme director, Shashikumar Velath, said, “We condemn the execution in the strongest possible terms. This, very regrettably, puts India in opposition to the global trends of moving away from the death penalty.” Human Rights Watch, another NGO, stated, “The hanging of [Afzal] Guru, following closely behind the hanging of Kasab, shows a very worrying trend by the Indian government. HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.”
Unfortunately enough, Roy and human rights organizations are not the only person to harbour such delusions. Even students at a reputed University such as the JNU are known to lionize Afzal. Chants of “Afzal hum sharminda hai, tere kaatil zinda hai” had earned the university quite a bit of notoriety a few years ago. Soon after Afzal’s hanging, students from various universities in Delhi, many from JNU, organized a protest at Jantar Mantar against the terrorist’s hanging. 21 were detained by the police. According to reports, Gautam Navlakha, the ‘Urban Naxal’ who was arrested recently in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon and had links with a notorious ISI funded Kashmiri separatist, was also part of the protest. He was reportedly beaten up by right-wing activists after a clash had erupted.
It is a mark of huge disrespect to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives that day in trying to protect the lives of major politicians and the Parliament. The terrorists were reported to possess enough arms and ammunition to bring down the whole Parliament. Casting aspersions on the Judiciary and the Political machinery based on warped conspiracy theories to paint a terrorist in bright light is certainly a grave justice to the memories of those who lost their lives in the attack. The glorification of a terrorist who conspired to attack the most important democratic institution in the country certainly does not bode well for the future of India.
India is threatened not just by external enemies but internal as well. The number of Indian youth joining ISIS is staggering. Afzal may be dead but the ideology he believed in is well and alive and is gaining strength with every passing day. And that is something that should concern us all.