Where new beginnings lead to dead ends
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Delhi must first acknowledge that the hanging of Afzal Guru has touched off a pent up anger in Kashmir
In two decades of reportage on Kashmir, I have never witnessed such rage here. Unlike previous protests, it isn't just anger, but more than that. Kashmir isn't unused to killings but the hanging of Afzal Guru, its secretive nature and the clampdown in its wake, seem to have changed the discourse on the ground.
Unlike in the last three summer agitations, the mainstream political parties aren't seen as independent entities that disregard the overwhelming public sentiment to stay in power. Now they are being looked upon as merely an extension of New Delhi. This is the primary reason why both the ruling National Conference and its main opposition, the People's Democratic Party, are competing to disassociate themselves from Afzal's hanging.
Though there is a strong belief in Kashmir that Afzal didn't get a fair trial, the reasons why he has become a "martyr'' don't have entirely to do with him. Kashmir's pent up sentiment against the perpetual status quo needed a trigger to explode, and the hanging has provided that. The J&K government knew this, and that is why it had locked down the entire Valley even before news of the hanging broke on Saturday morning.
The official explanation for Afzal's hanging and its timing is simple: the law followed its course and he was given the capital punishment only "after exhausting every legal recourse". In Kashmir, this explanation is read as a selective use of the law. Leave aside the separatists, hundreds of questions asked by Kashmir's mainstream political establishment have never been answered. Why was the law being followed differently on what even the CBI called "cold-blooded murder'' in Kashmir? Instances are cited of ordinary people being picked up, killed in staged encounters and subsequently dubbed as foreign militants for medals and cash awards. In each, the judicial processes were never seen to be so "efficient", or sensitive to the sense of collective helplessness in Kashmir.