A Jail Story

Knowing that he was going to meet his creator very soon, Afzal had resigned to fate and turned to religion inside Tihar jail. As very few details have been made public about his last days in Tihar, his life, like the case in which he was arrested, will remain shrouded in mystery, Jehangir Ali reports.

Like the case in which he was arrested, the days that Afzal Guru spent at New Delhi’s Tihar jail will largely remain shrouded in mystery. While he met a number of people soon after his arrest in 2001, the last time he probably came in contact with the outside world was when his wife Tabasum had come to meet him in August 2012.

“In the last two years, Afzal had very few mulakats,” a senior Tihar jail official told Kashmir Life

There are very few details about his life inside Tihar. He had once invited a jail superintendent, Manoj Dwivedi, to convert to Islam which sheds some light on how Afzal had probably resigned to fate by turning to religion. In his last years, Afzal had come to realize that he was not going to be set free. Dwivedi has written a book about his meetings with Afzal which has not been published so far.

But death will come so abruptly is something which must have taken him by surprise. On February 8 evening when he came to know about his execution, he looked ‘visibly upset’. Next morning, his thoughts took him to his impoverished village in Sopore and his wife Tabasum who had tirelessly fought to get justice for her husband. Afzal asked for a pen and paper and wrote her a letter.

The preparations at Tihar to execute Afzal had begun earlier. Three months back, the jail authorities had shifted the prisoners lying in cells adjacent to Afzal’s to other cells, and the execution court located barely some meters away from his cell was being refurbished. This had triggered rumors and fear among fellow Kashmiri inmates.

“He was well-informed about the happenings in outside world. Although the authorities used to tear apart certain portions of newspapers but he used to read a number of books, many of them about Islam and Hinduism. He used to write a lot and was often seen on his prayer mat at most times in his last years,” the Tihar jail official who pleaded not to be named, said. For hours, Guru would go through two Urdu and three English newspapers, and magazines such as Newsweek and Time,” a source said.

A day before he was hanged, the jail authorities sent a letter about the rejection of his mercy petition and the execution to his hometown. On the previous day before his execution, Guru had rice and cheese in his lunch that a Kashmiri mother had brought for her detained son, SAR Geelani said. The rope which was used to hang him was procured from Buxar in Bihar. It was after 24 years that a hanging was going to be carried out at Tihar jail.

When the officials reached Afzal’s 12 ft by 10 ft cell to wake him up on February 9, they found him already awake on his prayer mat wearing a kurta-pyjama.. “The only thing he had in the morning was a cup of tea. But that is because he was not offered any food. Otherwise, he was so normal that he would have had that too,” a jail official told The Hindu.

A team of doctors carried out a medical examination on him after which he was allowed to say his last prayers. Eight persons including a hangman from Tamil Nadu accompanied him as he was taken out of his prison cell one last time at around 7:30 am. Director General of Tihar, Vimla Mehra said that Guru appeared “remorseless” in his final hours. Guru was chatting with all who met him before the hanging… he was in a philosophical mood,” she told Delhi based Hindustan Times.

When he stood on the gallows, minutes away from his death, Afzal was asked about his last wish which he expressed. It was recorded by a magistrate, sealed and handed over to the jail officials. “As he walked up to the gallows, he greeted the hangman. A black cloth was drawn over his face and the rope was tightened around his neck. As a magistrate read out the death warrant, Afzal began chanting some religious hymns, and the lever was pulled,” the jail official said. The execution was carried out in front of 12 CCTV cameras.

Contrary to some media reports, death didn’t come instantly. “Over the last two years, he had lost a lot of weight. He was kept hanging from the gallows for nearly 30 minutes,” the jail official said without elaborating. Afzal was brought down and a doctor examined him to confirm his death. A burial cloth was already brought and a Muslim cleric performed his last rites. Some of Afzal’s belongings like books, clothes, spectacles and a radio are likely to be returned to his family by Tihar Jail authorities. He was buried close to the grave of Jammu and Kashmir ideologue Maqbool Bhat who was hanged 29 years back in Tihar.

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