By Yoginder Sikand,
In the face of a seemingly unending wave of fake encounters, killings and arrests of innocent Muslims across the country falsely accused by the police of being ‘terrorists’, a three-day Peoples’ Tribunal was recently held in Hyderabad on ‘Atrocities Committed Against Minorities in the Name of Fighting Terrorism’.
Organised by three noted Delhi-based human rights organisations, ANHAD, Peace and the Human Rights Law Network, it brought together eminent journalists, retired judges and social activists who listened to the testimonies of over 40 Muslims from different parts of India who have been victimised or whose relatives have been brutally terrorised by the police and the state machinery in the name of combating ‘terrorism’.
Introducing the purpose of the Public Tribunal, Apoorvanand, a Delhi-based social activist, critiqued the so-called ‘mainstream’ media for its obsession with what it terms as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ terrorism while maintaining a studied silence on the terrorism unleashed on a far more menacing scale by the state and by right-wing Hindu organisations, in which, over the years, tens of thousands of people, mostly Muslims, have lost their lives, with their culprits having faced no punishment whatsoever. He remarked that now, in addition to working-class Muslims who earlier bore the brunt of police brutalities, Muslim professionals, such as doctors, computer scientists and engineers, are being arbitrarily arrested by the police, tortured in jails and branded as ‘terrorists’ for crimes for which no confirmed evidence of their involvement has been produced. ‘Earlier, poor Muslims were arrested, branded as ignorant lumpen elements by the police and, hence, as terrorists. Now, they are catching well-educated Muslims and accusing them of being terrorists, claiming that they have access to sophisticated technology,’ he remarked. Literally hundreds of Muslims have, in recent years, been picked up by the police or even killed on such fake charges, he added. The mass media simply parrots the police line, thus playing a major role in fanning anti-Muslim hatred. At the same time, he went on, the police, the so-called ‘mainstream’ media and the state machinery turn a completely blind eye to the terror being openly engaged in by Hindutva outfits.
On a similar note, Colin Gonsalves, Supreme Court advocate and convenor of the Human Rights Law Network, noted what he called the ‘fear psychosis’ that had spread throughout the Muslim community in the face of police and state terror. Several Muslim victims from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh who wanted to testify at the Public Tribunal were intimidated by the police not to do so, being threatened with further trouble if they refused to comply with their orders, he said. He bitterly castigated the state for refusing to ban Hindu terror outfits and for not taking any action against the killers of literally thousands of Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. He pointed out that the police was rounding up large numbers of innocent Muslims and, through brutal torture, was forcing them to confess to terror crimes which they did not commit. For their part, the courts, too, were dragging their feet on a whole host of cases involving massacres and unwarranted arrests of religious minorities across the country.
Suresh Khairnar, an intrepid human rights activist from Nagpur, rebutted the police’s claim about the alleged role of Muslim militants in the attack on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur and in several other such bomb blasts in recent years. He claimed that the Nagpur attack was a stage-managed incident, and that the three Muslim men who were killed by the police, whom the police claimed were behind the attack, were actually done to death in a fake encounter. Khairnar also raised the case of the Nanded blasts, in which some Bajrang Dal activists who were making bombs in order to attack mosques were killed. Scores of Hindutva activists were also involved in the conspiracy, but, Khairnar said, no action was taken against them. Nor did the media give this, as well as other proven cases of Hindutva groups being engaged in fomenting terror, much coverage.
‘This is the last battle for survival for India’s Muslims. I cannot even dare imagine how dreadful must be the insecurity of ordinary Muslims in this country,’ Khairnar opined, adding that the state, rapidly hurtling towards full-blown fascism, was hell-bent on quashing all dissent. ‘While Muslims demanding justice are branded as Islamic terrorists, those of us, like myself, who have Hindu names, are being targeted as Naxalites,’ he said. No political party was seriously taking up the cause of the Muslims who are being thus unfairly targeted, he pointed out, and in large parts of the country pro-Hindutva lawyers have made it impossible for anyone to take up their cases. The situation was grim not just in BJP-ruled states but also in states ruled by the Congress and the CPI(M), he added, where the attitude of the police towards Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis was, with a few exceptions, equally hostile. ‘They are fiercely anti-Muslim despite not having gone to RSS shakhas and despite being paid by a so-called secular state. They are doing the work of the Bajrang Dal’, he remarked.
Zakia Jowher of Action Aid , who has been closely involved in the struggle for justice for Muslims in Gujarat, spoke about the continued harassment of Muslims in the state, of police forcing innocent Muslims through torture to confess to bomb blasts crimes that they did not commit, even going to the extent of threatening to kill them in fake encounters if they refused. Yet, in the face of all this, the state remains a mute spectator. Even sections of the judiciary are complicit in this gross denial of justice and there is little or no transparency in the investigations. ‘ We are paying the price for being Muslims. This is a total subversion of the Indian Constitution. Gujarat was an exception’, but now, she added, ‘it is rapidly becoming the norm’, with witch-hunts against Muslims in the name of countering terrorism spreading to the rest of the country. ‘There’s no difference between the Congress and the BJP on this score,’ she commented.
Ram Puniyani, noted Mumbai-based human rights activist, argued that there now appear to be ‘two separate judicial systems in this country—a separate one for oppressed communities like Dalits and Muslims and another for the elites. There seems to be no scope for justice for oppressed groups. Investigations into charges and atrocities against them are being dictated by oppression, deceit and lies.’ This sentiment was echoed by the well-known scholar-activist Asghar Ali Engineer, who remarked that ‘the governmental apparatus has become monstrous’. He questioned the police’s claims about the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as being behind a recent chain of deadly bomb blasts in the country, on the basis of which hundreds of hapless Muslims have been arrested and tortured in prisons. ‘SIMI has been banned for several years now, so how can it suddenly become so powerful? SIMI activists have been carefully watched, so how come these attacks have happened?’ , he asked. Numerous other blasts attributed to Muslims by the police, the state authorities and the media, he said, were probably engineered by other elements. The media, however, only accepts the police version of the story, and no action is ever taken against highly communal Hindu newspapers, which spread vitriol against Muslims, he pointed out.
Former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha called these chains of dastardly events as ‘signs of fascism, an attack not just on Muslims but also on democracy, indicating a total collapse of the Constitutional system’. She mentioned how Hindu fascist organisations regularly organise training camps for instructing their volunteers in the use of arms and also carry weapons in processions in the streets but are not stopped by the state machinery. ‘Yet, if Muslims just raise some religious slogan like Allahu Akbar they can be branded as terrorists ’, she said. ‘I thought the judiciary was the safest institution for protecting the rights of minorities but this is not so. Several unfair judgments have been delivered and if we protest against them we run the risk of being accused of contempt of court’, she decried.
After listening to the heart-wrenching narratives of hapless Muslim victims of police and state terror who had assembled from various parts of India, members of the jury of the People’s Tribunal announced their ‘verdict’. Jury-member and noted human rights activist from Hyderabad K.G.Kannabiran accused the government of ‘an assault on Muslims and subjecting them to tremendous repression’. ‘Such mis-governance and such blatant denial of justice’, he said, ‘can only produce terrorism, not stop it.’ Likewise, Justice (Retd.) Sardar Ali accused powerful elements in the police and the state apparatus of seeking to ‘destroy the fundamental character of the Indian Constitution’ and even claimed that ‘an undeclared emergency has been declared against the Muslims of the country’. This, in turn, he remarked, ‘poses a grave danger to the very concept of India.’ And, voicing the same concern, Justice (Retd.) S.N.Bhargava gave a similar verdict, stating that Muslims in large parts of India were ‘living in fear’ and were being effectively denied their right to live with honour and dignity.