Srinagar/New Delhi, Feb. 9: Tabassum had been dreading this day.
After November 21, the anxiety had become almost unbearable. Ajmal Kasab had been hanged and soon, it could be her husband Afzal Guru’s turn.
Like Kasab’s execution, she worried, the family would be jolted awake with the “sad news” of the hanging of the Parliament attack convict one morning.
That morning came today.
In Seer Jagir village in Sopore, a sudden wail rose from inside a two-storey house. The news had reached Tabassum and her son Ghalib, a Class VIII student.
“I was coming home from the mosque after Fajr (morning) prayers when I got a call from a friend who told me curfew had been imposed for some unknown reason. I rushed home to check the Net but found nothing. It was too early,” said Aijaz, Afzal’s elder brother. “Sometime later I heard the news on TV.”
The others were still sleeping. “I woke them up,” he said. “We are devastated.”
Inside her home, Tabassum was in tears. “We met him last year in Tihar jail when Raksha Bandhan was being celebrated here (in August),” she said. “We never thought (it would be our last visit).”
If the secret execution was the first shock, more was in store for the family.
Afzal’s family today wrote to the director-general of prisons, Tihar, saying they wanted to bury him in his “ancestral graveyard”.
By the time Afzal’s counsel N.D. Pancholi and Nandita Haksar reached Tihar around 12.30pm, the body had been buried within the jail premises.
“Not only has the government denied the family members the basic human right of meeting Afzal, they also buried the body without their permission. They should have handed the body to the family. At least, they should have given dignity to the body after death,” Haksar said.
In the letter to Vimla Mehra, the family had requested “proper dignified last rites” in accordance with religious traditions. “If you could inform us when the family members can perform Namaaz-e-Janaza (funeral rituals), we would appreciate it,” the letter said.
“We do not wish to make it a political issue in an atmosphere which is already volatile but the family members, as citizens of India, have a right, which must be respected,” it added.
Afzal’s cousin Yasin said the family felt “badly cheated”. He also said the government had hanged Afzal without informing the family. “We had not got any letter from the government in this regard,” Yasin told The Telegraph from Kashmir.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh, however, said the jail authorities had intimated the family through Speed Post and registered post while the director-general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, was told to check with the family whether they had received the communication or not.
Nobody in the government revealed the date the communication was sent.
In February 2011, Afzal had filed a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking a directive to transfer him to a prison in Jammu and Kashmir as his family was finding it difficult to come over to Delhi to meet him. “Afzal was hopeful the court would take a lenient view and shift him to a jail in Kashmir,” Pancholi said.
In Kashmir, Seer Jagir was out of bounds for people because of the curfew. Two roads leading to the village by the Jhelum had been sealed off but hundreds streamed in, the river helping many to get around the security restrictions.
Neighbours recalled Afzal’s early life, when he got admission in Srinagar’s Jhelum Valley medical college in 1988.
When militancy started a year later, he joined thousands of Kashmiri youths in taking up arms for aazaadi. He went over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to receive arms training, younger brother Riyaz in tow.
Sometime after Riyaz died, Afzal quit militancy but couldn’t pursue his MBBS degree. He started a business and often visited Delhi, staying with his cousin Shaukat, also a Parliament attack convict who had been jailed for 10 years.
In 1999, Afzal married Tabassum. Their son Ghalib was born a year later.