Contrast: Fate of Malegaon Accused & Batla House “Encounter”

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian secularism is once again facing the test of whether there prevails a tainted approach in holding Muslims as “suspect” terrorists and sparing the majority from facing stringent anti-terrorist laws the former are subject to. Within less than a year of 11 being accused under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Act (MCOCA) for the 2008 Malegaon bomb case, a special court in Mumbai has decided to drop the stringent law against them. The accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit. The court decided to drop provisions of MCOCA as there did not prevail substantial evidence against them (August 7).

Claiming that the state government would not remain quiet over the special court’s decision and would challenge it in the Supreme Court, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said: “We would initiate MCOCA against those involved in terrorist activities irrespective of caste and religion of the accused.” Irrespective of whether MCOCA is slapped again against the 11 accused, what stands out is that law is being allowed to take its own course. The burning question is, whether the law is being followed because the accused belong to the majority community. Why isn’t the same approach displayed in lifting stringent laws against Muslims still languishing behind bars, quite a few of whom have not even been given adequate chance to prove their innocence?

One may refer to last year’s Batla House (fake) encounter, in which two Muslims – Atif Amin and Mohd. Sajid were killed (September 19) as “suspect terrorists.” Mohd. Saif and Zeeshan were arrested as “suspect terrorists.” Till date, details have not been made public as to what was the “substantial evidence” that led to the killing of two and arrest of other two. What is more stunning that the two killed were not even given a chance to prove their innocence. It would have been a different case altogether had they been arrested and/or killed while they were in the process of triggering of some militant activity. They were killed and arrested from the place where they were residing at in Batla House. If the law can be allowed to take its own course, as indicated by action initiated against those accused of Malegaon blasts, why has not same approach been displayed towards the ones targeted in Batla House “encounter?” Is it because the Malegaon-accused belong to the majority community and in the Batla House case to the minority?

The ironical difference in the two cases stands reflected markedly in the approach of the near and dear ones of the ones accused in the Malegaon-case and the Batla House encounter. It was party time for members of Sadhvi’s family who distributed sweets after MCOCA was dropped against her. Her father, C.P. Thakur said: “I was confident that my daughter is innocent and had faith in judiciary. It was an attempt by the police to frame her and this is just the beginning. She will come out clean in the end.” With MCOCA dropped, it will be easier for Sadhvi and other 10 to secure bail.

Welcoming the court’s decision, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: “We welcome dropping of charges under MCOCA against Malegaon blast accused by Mumbai special court. With this the diversionary and fictional myth about Hindu terror has been smashed. It has been proven false.”

Rudy has a point. So do those who are of the opinion that Muslims arrested and/or killed as “suspect terrorists” are innocent and have been deliberately framed without being given opportunity to argue their case legally. Sajid’s father, Ansarul Hasan has not given up option of approaching the courts for justice. The process will not bring back his son, killed last year in Batla House “encounter” to life but at least it will enlighten others on whether to trust the Indian legal process when Muslims are shot dead only because they are “suspected” to be terrorists.

In a letter addressed to Chief Justice, Hassan pleaded that his son Sajid was innocent and an FIR be filed against the police personnel responsible for killing him. Hassan sought the court’s intervention as the police refused to register a case against its personnel involved in the encounter. Hassan also claimed that even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had refused to entertain his plea. Hassan’s letter came a few days after NHRC gave a clean chit to role of Delhi police in Batla House encounter. The report, released last month, claims that there was “no human rights violation by police in Batla House encounter.” The NHRC report has, however, been strongly criticized by social activists, civil rights groups and Muslim leaders, according to whom, it is based only on the police version of the “encounter.”

Against these odds, it is commendable that at least the Delhi High Court has not ignored Hassan’s letter. The matter has been posted for August 18, when the court would hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking independent inquiry in the Batla House case. One is nevertheless compelled to deliberate on the difference in legal trial having becoming easier for Malegaon-accused, while it remains arduous for relatives and supporters of those killed and arrested in Batla House “encounter.” Should the difference in the legal course of both cases be linked with religious identities of the accused? The answer, yet to be decided by higher courts, would certainly be a litmus test for whether a biased approach prevails in deciding judicial judgment for suspect terrorists, Hindus as well as Muslims!

11-34

Indian Muslims Demand Justice

February 5, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2009-01-29T141712Z_01_DEL203_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA-MUSLIMS-PROTEST

A Muslim man says his evening prayers after a protest in New Delhi January 29, 2009. At least two thousand people rallied in New Delhi on Thursday to protest the killing of imprisonment of Muslims, saying innocent members of the community became targets after bomb attacks in India in recent years.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI: With parliamentary elections likely to be held in two-three months, the Indian Muslims have started raising their voice with a new aggressiveness and force. The past week was witness to their protesting against being targeted in fake encounters as “terrorists” and also holding a daylong convention demanding reservation in jobs and education. The message is simple and the timing appropriate. With Indian politics no longer dominated by a single party or only two/three major parties, the Muslims are strongly aware of the significance that their vote holds for numerous parties in the fray. They do not want to be sidelined or ignored any more. This has prompted them to raise their voice as and when needed with a new force rather than remain only mute spectators to ongoing political developments.

Displaying their anger and protest against innocent Muslims being falsely labeled as terrorists, at least 3,000 Muslims gathered in the capital city last week (January 29). They arrived on a train called the “Ulema Express,” which started from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday (January 28), with number of demonstrators increasing during the 700-kilometer journey to New Delhi. They marched from the railway station to Jantar Mantar area, near Indian Parliament, the main spot where demonstrators gather. The protestors carried banners which said: “Let the truth prevail, bring the innocents out of jail,” and “Give us security, not tears and blood.”

They demanded a judicial inquiry into the Batla House encounter in the capital city in September, in which two Muslims were killed, following which two were arrested. Azamgarh hit the headlines then, with it being claimed as hideout of the suspect terrorists. Several men from Azamgarh were arrested as suspects. Questioning these moves targeting Muslims, Maulana Amir Rashadi, a leader of Ulema council, which organized the rally, said: “We want fake encounters like Batla House to end, We want innocent Muslim youth who have been arrested by the police to be let off in two weeks.”

“We will intensify our agitation if false arrests and harassment continues,” Rashadi said.

The protestors shouted slogans: “We will not let another Batla House happen.” They are also angry at the Inspector M.C. Sharma, who died during the Batla House encounter, being honored. The government has rubbed salt into their wounds, by doing so, but there is nothing surprising about it, according to Rashadi. “It is normal in Indian politics. The government has many faces,” he said. “After killing so many of our promising youths and dumping many more in jail, what kind of security can they provide us and what kind of trust do they expect from us,” he asked.

“We want a judicial enquiry on the Batla House encounter. Innocent Muslims are being harassed by the authorities and are seen with suspicion by everyone. Muslims are the most patriotic of all, and we have proved our loyalty time and again. We are tired of being used as a votebank, and then backstabbed by the political parties,” Rashadi said.

“The government has failed to give us relief. The police of every state are hanging around in Azamgarh. The Congress- led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has engineered a plot against us. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in Uttar Pradesh is competing with the UPA in killing Muslim youths,” Maulana Tahir Madani, also a leader of Ulema council, said.

Though initially several legislators, including Akbar Ahmed (BSP) from Azamgarh, Ilyas Azmi (BSP) and Abu Azmi (Samajwadi party) “promised to protect our boys and force the UPA to order a judicial probe in the encounter. But they did nothing,” Rashadi said. “All parties have played with our problems, but they have never tried to resolve them. We now intend to emerge as a political force to have our say in governance, and will put up candidates from Azamgarh and Lalganj in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections,” Madani said.

The council had chartered the train. On this, Rashadi said: “We paid Rs 1.4 million to the railway and chartered the train. We paid Rs 300,000 as security money at Azamgarh railway station. The entire money came through donations.”

At the “National Convention on Muslim Reservation,” organized by Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE), the participants raised demand for at least 10 percent reservation for their community in jobs and education (February 1). Describing Indian Muslims almost as backward as Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) and more backward than non-Muslim Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Muslim leaders expressed hope that their demand would be met. It is hoped that the “convention will serve to accelerate achievement of our cherished goals in order to make the Muslim community a real partner in the development process, particularly to the benefit of its backward sections so that the economic, educational and social disparities that exist are reduced and national unity transformed into national fraternity, through justice and equality,” Syed Shahabuddin, former legislator and convener of JCMOE said.

With it being a hard reality that “Muslims have been consistently and universally underrepresented in all legislatures since 1950, on an average to extent of 50 percent measured by population,” Shahabuddin said: “Both systematic and electoral reforms are needed not only to give the minorities their due but also to make our democracy more representative.”

“Muslims’ unilateral demand is reservation, reservation, reservation,” which they have been making for very long, Saiyid Hamid, Chancellor Jamia Hamdard said. “The demand cannot be ignored for too long” nor “remain confined to paper,” he said. Countering critics describing reservation as “crutches,” Hamid said: “They forget that without reservation, the gap of inequality would only increase.”

Drawing attention to repeated “assurances” being given by politicians having been forgotten, Justice (retired) A.M. Ahmadi said: “This has led to confidence minority held in the majority being shaken.” He expressed the hope that those in power will not turn a “Nelson’s eye” to Muslims demand for reservation.

Voicing strong support and commitment to Muslims’ demand for reservation, Minister of Chemicals & Fertilizers and Steel, Ram Vilas Paswan said: “There should also be reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.” Paswan, who is also Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) chief, drew attention to reservation accorded to Dalit Hindus being withdrawn following their conversion to either Christianity or Islam. Conversion does not spell any increase in their economic stature so there should be reservation for Dalit Muslims also, he said.

The left bloc leaders voiced support for Muslims’ demand for reservation, stating that India’s development was not possible by ignoring the Muslims. It was “unjust” to ignore Muslims’ demand for reservation, Debarata Biswas, general secretary, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) said. The country will not progress without meeting their demand for reservation, Biswas said.  In a similar tone, A.B. Bardhan, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI) said that “development of the country” can never be complete by ignoring the concerns voiced by Muslims.

Several speakers pointed out that “creamy layers” within the Muslim community should not be granted reservation.

During its draft resolution, the JCMOE declared launching of the “National Movement for Muslim Reservation.” The resolution expressed “regret” at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 15-point program for welfare of minorities having “not been implemented in letter and spirit.” The resolution appealed to the Muslim community and all Muslim organizations for their “wholehearted participation in the movement, unitedly” for “realization of their common long-cherished goals of progress and development of justice and equality for all.” The resolution also requested politically active Muslim organizations to “advise and guide the Muslim electorate” in coming elections to extend their support “unitedly and massively” only to secular parties committed to reservation for Muslims and “field adequate number of Muslim candidates, acceptable to the community in all Muslim-winnable constituencies.”

Though there is no denying that Muslims are playing their role by drawing attention of national forces to issues concerning them, only speculations can be voiced on the actual impact this will have. It can only be hoped that importance given to them now is not forgotten soon after the political frenzy linked with parliamentary elections is over!

11-7

Indian Muslims Question “Anti-Terrorist” Moves Targeting Only Them

October 1, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

2008-09-26T114346Z_01_DEL12_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

Police frisk men before Friday prayers during the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad September 26, 2008.

REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

NEW DELHI: Within a few days of Delhi Police having claimed a major breakthrough in tracking down terrorists’ network, through its encounter called Operation Batla House (September 19) allegedly responsible for blasts that have rocked the country recently, the capital city was hit by another blast (September 27). A low-intensity explosion rocked a crowded flower market in South Delhi’s Mehrauli area in the afternoon, killing three and injuring around 20. While Muslim leaders across the country have condemned the Mehrauli blast, they have lashed at authorities for having failed to adequately combat terrorism. Blaming the police for targeting only Muslims as suspect terrorists, Indian Muslims representing different sections and regions, have held this anti-Muslim negative approach as responsible for country being hit by terrorist incidents.

In the opinion of Maulana Asjad Madani, chairperson of Freedom Fighter Hussain Ahmad Madani Education Front and a member of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) working committee: “It is because only innocent people are being arrested and innocent people killed in blasts and such operations, that actual terrorists manage to escape and continue their operations.”

“Till date, the authorities have not able to prove charges against a single Indian Muslim who has been arrested as a suspect terrorist,” Madani told TMO. The Muslim leaders are agitated about the authorities not adopting a similar attitude towards Hindu extremists indulging in terrorist operations against Christians and the ones caught while assembling bombs.

Madani also expressed concern that Muslims who are released after having languished in jails for months or years, are not given any compensation for having suffered because of false charges levied against them. “Their being released is of course a great relief for them. But even this step is taken as a great favor being bestowed upon them. They deserve compensation. Besides, action must be taken against the erring officers who levied false charges against them,” he said. Referring to Batla House encounter, Madani views as “fake,” he said: “If authorities are unable to prove charges against the two killed (Atif and Sajid), their families should be given compensation and erring officers punished.”

Mujtaba Farooqi, secretary Jamaat-e-Islami told TMO: “The Batla House encounter is just a minor example of the manner in which Muslims are being targeted as terrorists.” He and several Muslim leaders expressed the opinion that this “communal agenda” was a follow-up of September 11, 2001 attacks in United States with only Muslims being nabbed as terrorists, in keeping with anti-terrorism pattern followed there.

It was to express their protest against the government’s “negative” attitude that a large number of Muslim organizations and other like-minded leaders staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar (September 26), Farooqi said.

Mushir-ul-Hasan, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, has decided to provide legal aid to two Muslims arrested, who are students of Jamia Millia. The two arrested for their alleged role in Delhi serial blasts are:– Mohammad Shakeel and Zia-Ur-Rehman. While his role has been appreciated by Muslims and secular minded Indians, the extremist, radical minded Hindu groups have reacted strongly against it. Demanding his resignation as the VC, they displayed their anger by burning his effigy (September 25).

Dismissing speculations of his taking the decision under any “pressure” or “compulsion,” Hasan told TMO: “It was an instinctive, spontaneous response to a crisis-ridden situation.” Elaborating on it being his legal as well as natural obligation to take such a stand, Hasan said: “One is basically trying to uphold the rule of law, in keeping with the international principles applicable in United States, United Kingdom and India, that unless proven guilty the accused is innocent.” Besides, he pointed out: “Students are our wards. We are their custodians not only while they are students but even afterwards. It is based on this confidence and understanding that parents decide to send their students here.”

When questioned on the apparent bias sensed by Muslims in Indian media’s approach towards the issue, he replied: “Some sections of electronic media are trying to hound us, castigate us by presenting only a negative image about Muslims (as terrorists).” Hasan views the government’s approach as “positive,” as it has so far respected the university’s autonomy and not interfered in his decision to provide legal aid to the students.

The apparent discrimination displayed by Indian police personnel in targeting Muslims as “suspect terrorists,” without any substantial evidence has also prompted Muslim leaders to demand a major change in the police services. Maulana Abdul Hameed Noomani, spokesperson for JUH, views the Batla House encounter as a fake one and deliberately planned. He laid stress on the need to reform the entire Indian police system. Drawing attention to recent reports of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu extremist organizations’ indulgence in terrorist activities targeting Christians and their being caught in assembling bombs, Noomani said: “Why hasn’t substantial action been taken against these groups? Just as these groups’ activities cannot be used to label the entire Hindu community as terrorist, why are only Muslims being cornered only because of the bias displayed by police and the media against them?”

The attempt made to “justify” Batla House encounter as “genuine” because of Inspector M.C. Sharma having succumbed to bullet wounds he received at the site has been refuted -by those viewing it as fake- posing the following questions. In their opinion, Sharma received shots from the back, from his own colleagues, who started firing indiscriminately to give the impression of their being engaged in a “heavy encounter.” If Sharma was killed in an encounter, where is the weapon by which he was killed, why have the forensic report of the bullets not been made public and whose fingerprints are present on the weapon that killed him? Besides, if the police personnel were sure of nabbing terrorists, why were some of them not wearing bulletproof vests? The fact that they went to the targeted house, without any search/arrest warrant only suggests that they were not even sure of whom would they meet there. The bullet wounds received by two “suspect-terrorists” killed in the so-called encounter were point-blank ones, which is “not possible in an encounter,” according to Madani.

10-41