“The night is dark, but I still have hope” | JPP’s Blog

Sep 2015

Aftab Bahadur was executed on 10th of June, 2015 after spending 23 years of his life on death row. His co-accused, Ghulam Mustafa, was also scheduled executed on the same date. As their lives came to a close, Mustafa’s conscience compelled him to tell the truth after all this time- Aftab was innocent. The sole eye witness in their case also admitted that he had deposed against both prisoners falsely under the pressure of the police.

The law did not give room for Aftab’s conviction to be questioned, though there was strong evidence in favour of his innocence. Aftab’s lawyers fought for him tirelessly till the moment he died. One of Aftab’s lawyers, Namra Gilani, writes about the night before his execution and her experience of losing a much-loved client.

A painting made by Aftab Bahadur while in prison

A painting made by Aftab Bahadur while in prison

Aftab Bahadur. His first name means the sun – a light that comes to us, reflected off the moon, even in the dark of night.

I am outside Central Jail at midnight. There are so many reasons for Aftab to live, but will any be deemed sufficient to those in power, those holding his life in their hands? As Aftab said himself, though, the night is dark but we still have hope.

I met Aftab two years ago. He rose to his feet to select a painting that leaned on the wall of his cell. Then he sat back down, crossed his legs, and held up his painting for me to see. I told him his work was beautiful and I’d like him to make something for me. He beamed. He had the kind of smile that startled you because it’s so rare in a man. Corroded by misfortune and time, the child inside most of us fades away. In Aftab, that childhood innocence survived.
It is that moment that I remember now, not many feet from where he is due to die. It cuts through me, but it is a treasure.

A guard approaches. “We’re all praying for Aftab. Everyone in this prison is praying for him,” he says, softly.

I am taken aback. My unkind stereotype had pegged him as “the opposition”. To find a fellowship for Aftab in even the hardened hearts is simultaneously humbling and empowering.

Those of us holding the vigil share stories of Aftab between periods of silence. For the most part, though, we think they will execute him.

A photograph of Aftab as a child

A photograph of Aftab as a child

Time moves one, slowly for us but so fast for Aftab. We are able to talk together about what he is going through; sitting in his cell, he must wait alone for the short walk to the gallows.

“They must be taking him for his last bath now,” somebody remarks, with a snatched look at her watch.

It will be 4:30am. To know the exact moment someone you care about will die is an incomparable event. Aftab’s life is fading with each turn of the clock, and so is my hope.

As the minute hand edges towards the half hour, I know in my heart that it is over. The morning sun is creeping towards us, as Aftab is slipping away.I struggle to understand how the dawn can be so calm when such an ugly act is taking place a short distance from me.

Of an instant there is a voice: “Ghulam Mustafa has been forgiven!”

There is a whirlpool of confusion. Hope is momentarily revived and someone runs to the guards to ask whether Aftab has been spared. Maybe he was forgiven too. It could happen all the way to the final moment, the dreadful drop.

“Yes. It’s done.” Ambiguity, but quickly clear. Aftab is dead.

There is an initial moment of total defeat, a passive void, suddenly replaced by pain and bewilderment. Mustafa has been granted a last minute pardon, and Aftab is gone. The guilty man forgiven, given a new chance at life; the innocent man hanged.

Here is life, poetic in its cruelty.

Although the sun is rising now, the world is dark. But somewhere we must still search for hope.

Aftab’s death is a catastrophe. Perhaps, though, he can help me, and those around me. Losing him has wounded us; perhaps, one day soon, it will make us stronger. The odds may be against us – Aftab always knew the deck was stacked against him. But never have I been more certain that I should dedicate my life to fighting this strange, prehistoric system of human sacrifice.

15 Responses to “The night is dark, but I still have hope” | JPP’s Blog

  1. sohail yafat on Sep 2015 at 3:13 AM

    I don’t know what to say but one thing I had learned from time that we look for the light of life in the darkness of death.

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