One of the bad lessons India has learnt from the US is to hide the body of an executed enemy. When US Seals killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad inside Pakistan, they took his body and then dumped him in the sea.
In India, we haven’t quite done that, but both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru were hanged clandestinely and buried inside jail.
The logic is this: we should not allow jehadi groups or Kashmiris to make any public grave a rallying point for further mobilisation and mischief. This is the same reason why the West does not allow any kind of memorabilia or memorial involving the Nazis to surface.
However, this policy is not only inhuman and undemocratic, but also flawed in its logic.
If a democratic country cannot handle its dissidents and misfits, it has no right to be called one.
It is inhuman for the simple reason that the hanged person’s family has the right to claim the body and give him a decent burial of their choice. It will bring them some form of personal closure even if they don’t forgive his executioners.
The home ministry has offered to allow the family to visit Guru’s grave inside Tihar, but the family is reported to have declined this offer. His body should be handed over to them, and also that of Maqbool Butt, who was hanged 29 years ago and was also buried in Tihar.
The assumption that any grave will create a memorial and hence create a rallying point for jehadis and trouble-makers is true, but the denial of a proper burial could end up doing the same. In Afzal Guru’s case, for example, Guru has been given a burial plot next to Butt’s – and this is in itself a rallying point. Every empty grave is an open invitation for more martyrs.
However, it is also fallacious to believe that just because the body is buried somewhere else, no militancy will arise.
To mobile any group, you only need a memory, a symbol, a statue, or any physical assembly space. Before you know emotional crowds can be gathered in one place. Even though Osama bin Laden has not been given a visible burial space, can it stop militants from carrying his photos and ideas for motivating future suicide-bombers?
You can deny someone a dead body, but you cannot bury an idea out of someone’s sight.
The Congress party’s political decision to hang Afzal Guru and bury him quietly is essentially a copout: it shows that the government is afraid of the reactions of the Kashmiris.
The truth is, the Kashmir problem cannot be solved by ducking for cover. It has to be tackled head-on, both by having an effective dialogue with the separatists and coupling that with firmness in dealing with any violence. Greater autonomy within the Indian Union is part of the answer, and in this autonomy, there is no reason to leave the other states out. The Indian Union will be greatly strengthened by greater autonomy to all states.
The Kashmir issue is an acid test for Indian secularism. It cannot be solved by running away from the issue or giving in to separatists running riot.
The government should hand over Afzal Guru’s body to his family and grit its teeth to weather any fallout. But in the long run, it will have removed one additional cause of Kashmiri grievance.
When a convict is hanged, all enmity with the people and the state should end.