By Aasif Sultan
The most effective way to destroy people,” says George Orwell, “is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” When the authorities decided to cage the Valley after Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar jail on 9 February 2013, the Kashmir University authorities, it appears, had decided to obliterate the history.
In the archives section of KU’s Allama Iqbal library, the important pages of history, like the hanging of Guru, have been unceremoniously erased and no effort has been made to archive it.
“We receive our newspapers from hawkers, and when it is curfew, they fail to reach here. We do not have any mechanism to ask for the missing issues,” says Tariq Ahmad, a junior assistant, who works in the archives section.
Notably, a Valley-wide curfew was announced at the dawn of 9 February that continued for more than a week. Mobile internet was snapped immediately after Guru’s hanging. Most of the local newspapers, including Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir were ‘verbally’ asked by the police to not print their 10 February edition. But both Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir brought out their online editions that day. Kashmir Reader, however, did print the 10 February edition with a full-page picture of Guru on its front page headlined: Afzal hanged, India’s ‘collective conscience’ satisfied. The police seized all the copies of Kashmir Reader before it could hit the stands.
The in-charge of the section, Uzma Qadri, seconds Ahmad and says that the library has the policy “jo aaya tou aaya, jo gaya tou gaya,” (Whatever comes to us we archive and whatever does not we do not search for it).
She passed the buck when asked why her section has not archived the 10 February edition of Greater Kashmir when it is still available in e-format of their website?
“I have recently joined. And we are now thinking of going for e-archiving as our space is shrinking,” says Qadri with a remorseful face.
The in-charge librarian, Sumaira Nabi, too feigned ignorance on the issue. When asked why were not the Delhi-based newspapers and magazines like Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Frontline, India Today, Outlook on the Guru hanging archived, she had the stock reply: curfew. But she fumbled for words when asked why no effort was made to archive them after the curfew was lifted.
Being Kashmir’s leading newspaper, Greater Kashmir’s 10 February 2013 edition is a history and a valuable treasure for the posterity. With a little effort, the Allama Iqbal librarians could have printed the e-paper on broadsheet and archived it. They did not.
Since a newspaper is the first draft of the history, decades down the line, the future Kashmiri generation will ask the KU authorities why they were denied an important phase of their history. They might have to go to Delhi or some other place to know about their past while their own people were in deep slumber when they needed to be awake.
When Mohammad Maqbool Butt was hanged in 1984, Kashmiris tuned in to Radio Pakistan to listen to details of his hanging. They were dismayed when the news was delayed and broken only at 5:30 in the evening. Three decades later in 2013, when Kashmiris had their own media, the authorities denied them the basic right to record their history and once again others had to document our suffering. And add to it the lackadaisical approach of our premiere educational institution to archive whatever little has been documented.
The Indian media broke the news early in the morning. The print media published the news on their online portals, while as the electronic media ran coverage of the related events. One of the leading Indian newspapers put this headline on front page: Afzal Guru hanged in secrecy, buried in Tihar Jail.
The Tehelka ran an online story explaining What happened at Jantar Mantar on 9 February 2013 when a peaceful protest was going on against the execution of Guru.
The international media also reported the hanging. The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, BBC World Service, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, Spiegel Online and The Post broke the news to their readers worldwide. The Diplomat covered another aspect of the hanging: Afzal Guru’s Hanging Sparks Death Penalty Debate.
Arundhati Roy, who later authored a book on Afzal’s hanging, wrote an extensive article in The Guardian on 10 February titled The hanging of Afzal Guru is a stain on India’s democracy. She wrote: “The Indian media enthusiastically disseminated the police version. These were some of the headlines: ‘Delhi university lecturer was terror plan hub’, ‘Varsity don guided fidayeen’, ‘Don lectured on terror in free time.’ Zee TV, a national network, broadcast a ‘docudrama’ called 13 December, a recreation that claimed to be the ‘truth based on the police charge sheet.’ (If the police version is the truth, why have courts?) The then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Advani publicly applauded the film.”
Sadly, in absence of a documented history, our future generation will have to read the Indian media’s versions on Guru’s hanging and draw conclusions from them.
The piece was published in February issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to print edition, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com