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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 11, March 2, 2013

Justice Katju Merits Compliments, Nothing Has Changed In Gujarat

Wednesday 6 March 2013, by Humra Quraishi


Hopefully Chairperson of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju’s words come in as a hurdle in Narendra Modi’s march towards New Delhi. Katju spoke out loud and clear, and at an apt and appropriate juncture, when the EU and the rest of the world seemed trying to overlook the ghosts of the Gujarat pogrom. Mind you, with such blatant ease as though all that Modi and his men did was kill mosquitoes or flies precisely eleven years ago! The EU ought to realise that though Modi did not indulge in the folly of hanging human forms, he hounded hapless citizens of this Republic. Also, the EU ought to know another basic factor in today’s political governance: killings are done in slow motion as against those done instantly; and there’s something called raping of the psyche together with raping of the body. With these tactics in vogue, today’s governance seems rather hell-bent on turning this democratic country into one of those fascist lands. The forewarnings of this have been coming in, in slow and steady doses. If any of the EU members care to read Khushwant Singh’s earlier published book, The End of India (Penguin), he or she would no longer sit naively unaware about those unsettling developments in Gujarat and around!

Justice Markandey Katju has shown basic grit in taking on the likes of Arun Jaitley. If and only if some more from the who’s who speak up and take on the Right-wing, there could be some hope of basic survival; otherwise it seems a rather hopeless scenario. In fact, in this very Capital city, I have heard the supposedly educated lot utter communally charged abuses. Sitting in their air-conditioned dens, miles away from the basic realities, they seem adding to the poisonous atmosphere. Sadly none of those Government Commissions or even that specially set up the Ministry for Minority Affairs is taking any of those obvious measures and moves to halt this onslaught.

How can one Overlook these Facts and Factors?

How can one overlook the young killed in encounters in Modi’s Gujarat? In fact, during the course of an interview, I had asked the well-known human rights lawyer-activist, Vrinda Grover, why she took up the case of Ishrat Jehan, the young Mumbai-based woman who was gunned down in Gujarat by cops on the pretext that she was part of a terror group. This is what lawyer Vrinda Grover had to say: “Yes, I’m the counsel for Ishrat Jehan’s mother. It was soon after the Sohrabuddin case was taken up by the Supreme Court and the nexus between the cops and politicians was exposed that I was contacted by Ishrat’s family to take up their case. It was the conviction of the mother and family in the innocence of Ishrat and their determination to have her name cleared of the tag of terrorism that persuaded me. They wanted their respect and dignity restored.

“As a human rights lawyer I often represent victims of police atrocities and violence. But, after meeting Shamima Kauser (Ishrat’s mother) and her children, seeing the case file and reading the truth about Sohrabuddin’s murder, it was clear that this ‘encounter’ was not just a crime committed by some trigger-happy cops, but rather part of the state-sanctioned and planned violence against Muslims, which was unleashed in the genocidal pogrom of 2002. The FIR recorded by the police of these encounters refers to the riots and killings of Muslims in 2002 and claims that the alleged ‘terrorists’ wanted to kill Modi and take revenge for the 2002 attack on Muslims. These encounters, about 22 of them in Gujarat, are part of the politics of hate to polarise and build mistrust and fear between the communities. It is very important to recognise a clear pattern of targeting Muslims and demonising them as the enemy that must be eliminated, by use of state power, whether through engineered riots or staged fake encounters, that is, cold blooded murders by those in state power.

“It is very important to bring out the truth behind these fake encounters because in Gujarat there is a criminal nexus between the political executive, the police and even persons in critical positions in the IB both at the Centre and in the State. This is a very dangerous and lethal combination and before our eyes a fascist state is in the making. To fight for Ishrat’s truth is part of the battle against fascism. The mechanics of electoral democracy may not deliver justice and the legal battle is important so that the killers and their masterminds are unmasked and punished.”

In Gujarat, many lives have been ruined. Mothers have lost their children, not just in pogroms or encounters but in other ways too. As a result, many families have put their children in far-off hostels or sent them to distant relatives simply so that they survive, unharmed by those Right-wing politically charged brigades. As an auto-driver’s wife-now-turned-activist recounted, she decided to leave her young daughter in a hostel, hundreds of miles away from Ahmedabad, so that the child could survive in a safer environment.

 As for me, it was such a traumatic experience to have visited Ahmedabad (just once, a few years back, around 2006) that I would never like to re-visit it. Right from the cab driver to the hotel waiter—all spoke along communal lines, relaying to me the extent of the spread of this terrible virus. And, as I had gone about meeting and talking to the hapless Muslim parents whose sons were imprisoned under POTA, it got even more pathetic ... cases of police torture, political brutality, injustices of the worst kind. I was left wondering what sort of democracy we are living in? I could completely comprehend Ahme-dabad’s former mayor Aneesa Mirza’s pain, when I’d interviewed her soon after Gujarat’s Best Bakery carnage and asked her to comment on that barbarism. She simply closed her eyes tight, continuously pleading and murmuring: “Please, please don’t mention that human beings burnt alive...though I’d witnessed several riots but nothing as gruesome as these 2002 riots of Gujarat ...can’t recount those details ...too painful ...”

These Trends are Continuing...

In the last few years I have attended several public meetings held in New Delhi focusing on the growing despair amongst Muslims and their constant dread of being profiled as a terrorist, followed by denial of bail, torture, a biased investigation and trial, and extra-judicial killings. Not to overlook the daily doses of discriminations in education, employment, housing and public services... the list is long and ongoing.

Also, weird stereotypes prevail about the Muslims in India along the strain... that they produce like rabbits or swallow meat at every single occasion or don’t bathe. So very often have I heard this half-query, half-exclamation thrown at my face: “You really a Muslim? You don’t look like one!” What am I supposed to look like? Perhaps, doing farshi salaams or stuffing meat-balls into my mouth, if not gulping down biryani ... or clutching at the arm of a bearded, achkan-clad, topied man with a brood of squabbling children.

 An average Indian Muslim’s lifestyle isn’t very different from that of his fellow Indians but very much along similar socio-economic patterns. There is no difference, except for this —a deep sense of insecurity! Mind you, this does not come from you or me or other apolitical Indians but from those who are at the very helm: communally inclined politicians and their partners—civil servants and the police who are at their command.

Another aspect which actually looms large from my childhood was the impact of news trickling in of Muslims getting hounded during rioting. In my parents’ home, like in most Indian homes, dark realities were seldom discussed. Not openly. Definitely not in front of children. But realities can never be brushed under dusty carpets and children do sense and grasp. In fact, even now as I’m keying in, I can remember how some of those details came trickling in, right into my ears—it was one of those late evenings when my two younger sisters and I were lying sprawled under mosquito nets on our beds. My grandfather, probably certain we were asleep, sat discussing with my grandmother the horrific rioting ongoing in one of the locales of Uttar Pradesh, with Muslims getting killed and hounded by the PAC jawans. I must have been very young then and the impact was difficult to cope with. To this day, those stories of police brutality have stayed with me, getting compounded in recent years as I saw for myself these things taking place, frighteningly and frequently backed by that powerful political-police nexus.

 Another reality lay right in front of us every summer, when we’d travel down to Shahjahan-pur to spend the vacation with my maternal grandparents. It was here that I first saw acute poverty and helplessness among Muslims. Around my nana’s ancestral home an entire mohalla lay spread out, housing poverty-stricken Muslims ...Many of them would come to our home recounting not just their dire poverty levels but so many insecurities of the worst kind. The Right-wing political mafia often called this township ‘mini-Pakistan’, simply because it largely comprised Muslims.

Yes, as a child, this hit hard. As I grew, it got harder to cope as I saw and sensed very early in life that I belonged to a minority community which faced some very obvious communal biases. And the tragic aspect is that these realities have definitely worsened in recent years. I didn’t have to be an investigative reporter to find this out. I didn’t even have to go into Muslim mohallas or gullies or bastis. I saw and heard and experienced it all right here, in our Capital city. Yes, in the supposedly prime government locales of New Delhi.

In fact, soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it was traumatic to remove the name-plate from outside our home which, at that time, was situated on New Delhi’s high-profile Shahjahan Road, supposedly a high-security VVIP area. Why did we have to remove it? Because it carried a Muslim name. And there were more than rumours of communally charged Right-wing mobs attacking Muslim homes. After all, during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the home of at least one senior Sikh bureaucrat was targeted in Lutyens’ Delhi. And, after the Babri Masjid demolition, I’d done an in-depth feature for the Illustrated Weekly of India (yes, it was still getting published and wasn’t demolished!) on how Muslim children studying in the best possible public schools of this Capital city had to hear snide comments not just from some of their classmates but many a time even from some of their teachers too. The Babri Masjid demolition had several Muslim mothers slash their children’s names /surnames just to ensure basic daily survival.

Sadly, this seems an ongoing pattern in several communally charged locales of this country where minorities sit insecure in that second-class position. The first to be rounded up when-ever there is trouble are boys from Muslim bastis. As several mothers from Ahmedabad, Malegaon and Hyderabad have told me, “The investigating agencies/ police do not want to look Right ... even if there’s a cracker burst our children are picked up ... sometimes released after weeks or months but their names lie fitted in those police records, so they are picked up again for any crime reported in any area ...” It‘s more than a known fact that young Kashmiris, who step out of the Valley to study and work in different cities of this country, are immediately looked upon with suspicion by the local cops and given a hard time.

And if you were to ask if there’s some hope, I‘d say: No. No, I don’t carry any hope from the barbaric policing tactics and biased adminis-trations of the prevailing system. But, yes, there’s much hope from some fellow Indians who seem determined to fight the system. In fact, I’m of the firm view that our very fabric is still intact because of apolitical men and women of this country, especially those from the majority community, who can see and sense the divisive politics at work and are doing their utmost to ensure that sense prevails. Along with that, they are helping hundreds and thousands of innocents and the disadvantaged to survive all possible odds.

Yes, It Is A Matter Of Shame!

Ather Farouqui, General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu Hind, has brought into focus this rather glaring insensitivity of the Delhi Government. I quote him—“It is a matter of national shame that the insensitive authorities of the Delhi Government have so recklessly renamed the fish market at Ghazipur as Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan Fish Market supposedly to honour the memory of this great son of India and famed Urdu poet. This matter not only relates to the Urdu-speaking populace, freedom fighters and concerned citizens, it is a trans-gression on the sanctity of the Indian nation which was formed from the blood and toil of such freedom fighters and martyrs as Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan... if the Delhi Government has run out of ideas to constructively and judiciously commemorate our martyrs, poets and intellectuals, it should at least refrain from making a mockery of their sacrifices and dedication to the cause of the nation...”

And in a letter addressed to the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, he writes: ‘I am sure many concerned citizens like me would not like that the erstwhile Murga Machli Market of the the Jama Masjid area (shifted to the Ghazipur area) should be named Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan Fish Market. This supposedly to honour the memory of a great son of India and an eminent poet of Urdu, the national language! Do we want to pay homage to our national heroes with glowing commemorations or shower them in a deluge of crabs, lobsters, tuna and prawns? Is this the legacy we want to bequeath to our young generation?”

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