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!

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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!

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