When Law Victimises Muslim Youth
Seema Mustafa, 14 April, 2012
Many remain in prison, the fortunate few are acquitted after a lifetime behind bars. And as some recent incidents have shown, the innocent men are acquitted after ten, fifteen or more years with their lives lying in ruins behind them. There is no compensation, no rehabilitation as the state refuses to accept responsibility for the destruction of not just their past and present, but also their future.
At the time of writing this there is an email of two young couples who eloped and got married. Needless to say the boys were Muslims, the girls non-Muslims. Fearing reprisal from the parents and police they, all adults, submitted affidavits saying they had married of their own free will. But even so the boys were caught and imprisoned, the girls made to return to their parents. The families are terrified, fearing that the boys will be made to “confess” to being part of some radical outfit so that they go in for a long jail term.
The government has maintained tightlipped silence on the arrest of journalist Syed Kazmi who has been in police custody for over a month under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly being involved in a stickly bomb attack on a junior Israeli diplomat. His family is running around for justice but have met with little success. There is no word from the authorities who have instead been leaking stories to the media to try and establish that the arrest was necessary, and that Kazmi has been dabbling with some form of terrorism. But despite the month of intense interrogation they have come with little more than the fact that a few lakhs were paid to his wife’s account. It turned out that this was not a lump sum payment as the police leaks deliberately suggested, but paid to Mrs Kazmi over several years by her children from a previous marriage. There has been some talk of telephone conversations but till date not even a word that clearly establishes links between the well known journalist and a supposed bunch of Iranian operatives, all working against Israel in the region.
It is necessary for the investigating agencies to make at least one arrest so that they can ‘source’ whatever bits and pieces are fed to them by the Israeli agencies. Israeli leaders and officials were fast off the mark in blaming Iran for the Delhi attack, and even though the UPA government initially chose to differ, it has clearly come on line in the ensuing days. Kazmi’s arrest was a pointer to this, more so because he works for an Iranian news agency, has travelled extensively to West Asia, and is known to be a fairly vocal critic of US and Israel policies in the region. Clearly the intention was to send out a signal to other journalists, in particular the Urdu writers, to curtail the criticism lest they fall on the wrong side of the law as well.
In the midst of this comes the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, absolving him of a role in the massacre of Congress leader Ahsan Jafri and 80 others at the Gulberg Society. It really makes one wonder at the laws, and justice as it is perceived today, where poor innocent men are detained and locked up for decades, and where persons responsible for a virtual pogrom are allowed, indeed encouraged, to cock a snook at the law and all that it stands for. It has to be said for the widow Mrs Jafri that she has not balked under this totally partisan position of the SIT, and is planning to challenge this along with the other activists supporting her in the courts. However, the trauma is being re-lived by her and the families of those killed at Gulberg Society, as Modi and his supporters ensure that the wounds are not allowed to heal, and justice remains elusive.
Political leaders cannot be absolved of crimes committed under their watch. Particularly when the crime takes the form of full scale massacre, where a particular section of society is hounded, raped and killed. If the state is not involved it must take immediate action to apprehend the guilty, charge and try them regardless of pressures, and rehabilitate the victims with full compensation. Political culpability is visible when the governments in power refuse to do this, and absolve themselves of all responsibility. This happened in 1984 when Sikhs were killed all over Delhi under the Congress and Rajiv Gandhi’s watch. This happened in Gujarat when Muslims were murdered under the BJP and Narendra Modi’s watch. This has happened over and over again in Maharashtra, in Assam, in Uttar Pradesh in Bihar where governments have failed to act against the perpetrators of violence, and for the victims. The denial of Justice corrodes democracy, and weakens the foundations on which it rests.
The Congress was wiped out in Uttar Pradesh, despite the combined efforts of the Nehru-Gandhi-Vadra clan simply because the Muslims turned away from the party in the wake of reports of illegal arrests of innocents across the country. The Batla House incident in Delhi had a resonance in the remote districts of UP, as did the arrests of innocent young men in Hyderabad, and more so in Maharashtra that has a direct link with UP in terms of large scale migration. In Gujarat Modi is able to hold his own because of a weak Opposition that has been unable to hold even a tiny candle to counter his aggressive posturing, with the result that the Gujaratis stay with him in the absence of a visible alternative. Instead of carrying on a strong campaign against the communal Chief Minister, the Congress even after the SIT report has decided to look the other way lest it offend other communities with an overzealous defense of the minorities. Mrs Jafri and the activists can do only so much, the real battle has to be fought by the political parties who are absent from the streets.