On the last row of the Srinagar’s Martyr’s graveyard, two graves- adjacent to each other- await the mortal remains of two Kashmiri men who were hanged in India’s Tihar Jail and buried within the jail premises. One grave awaits since 1984 while the other, since 2013.
On one epitaph the inscription in archaic Urdu reads, “The martyr of the nation, Mohammad Afzal Guru, Date of Martyrdom: 9th February 2013 Saturday, whose mortal remains are lying in the custody of the Government of India. The nation is awaiting its return.” The other epitaph reads exactly the same but with a different name and date. The other grave is reserved for Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, who was hanged in Tihar jail on 11 February, 1984.
Kashmiris strongly believe that both – Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat – were wrongly hanged by the Indian Government and were not given a fair trial.
In the year of 1962, Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, a resident of Trehgam village in Kupwara, formed a movement called Kashmir Independence Committee (KIC) which later merged into Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front. Maqbool Bhat was charged with murder of a police officer and a bank manager – a crime which he vehemently denied to have committed. On these charges, he was hanged in Tihar Jail on 11 February, 1984. Kashmiris term Maqbool Bhat as the first martyr of Kashmir’s Freedom Struggle.
Afzal Guru, a resident of Sopore, was indicted for his alleged involvement in 2001 Indian Parliament Attack. Guru served more than a decade in Indian Prison till he was secretly hanged on 9 February, 2013 in Tihar jail and buried within the jail premises.
Both the hangings had political fallouts on Indian government as well as state government. Authorities had to impose curfew for weeks together and curb the internet and press for a long period. Afzal’s hanging, as many believe, reinvigorated the Kashmir’s resistance movement. People defied the curfew and protested against the Indian government. A situation akin to 2010 uprising was witnessed after Afzal’s hanging. It was compared with the situation when Maqbool Bhat was hanged which paved way for an all new wave of insurgency in Kashmir.
A day after the epitaph was installed aside the grave of Afzal Guru last year, as locals alleged, police had removed it overnight. Later, as the news spread, they had it re-installed.
Kashmir’s resistance leadership had launched a movement to press for the return of mortal remains of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. It was followed by valley wide shutdowns and protests. But the government of India has made no move so far to return the mortal remains. However, Kashmiri people continue to wait. They continue to take inspiration from the two hanged Kashmiris whom they call ‘Shaheed-e-Watan’ and ‘Shaheed-e-Azam’.
Everything in the valley has become casualty of violence over all these years, but a hope persists everywhere. People have a hope that the hanging of Guru and Bhat will not go astray; two graves have been dug with a hope to preserve the two Kashmiri ‘Shaheeds’ in its own soil. When Afzal Guru was hanged, his son Ghalib said that Indian government might have hidden his father somewhere.