Truth Has Two Faces SIMI’s radicalism is of deep concern for Indian Muslims JAVED ANAND Co-editor, Communalism
Combat FILM-MAKER, OUTSPOKEN citizen with a conscience, and friend, Mahesh Bhatt has a way with words. This is what I learnt from him two years ago when we found ourselves holding two ends of a common problem: “You know, I have learnt from experience that it is not always the case that opposite a truth stands an untruth. Sometimes it can be one truth face-to-face with another.” TEHELKA’s exposé of our intelligence agencies vis-à-vis SIMI hit the newsstands on August 16. As luck would have it, my article on SIMI too appeared in The Indian Express the same morning. Later the same day, the Gujarat police claimed to have made a major “breakthrough” in the Ahmedabad blasts case in July. It not only claimed to have uncovered clinching evidence against SIMI activists in the Ahmedabad case, but also indicated that the same outfit was also involved in the earlier blasts in Bangalore and Jaipur. This conjunction of coincidences lent extra charge and meaning to both TEHELKA’s exposé and my article. A war of positions — so, whose side are you on? — is now raging in cyber space, a plethora of e-mail networks and sections of the Urdu media. While the TEHELKA report is being gleefully reproduced, to some of my detractors I am now a “so-called secularist”. The unkindest so far is the ‘Editor’s Cut’ by Shoma Chaudhury in TEHELKA of September 6. But first things first: My huge compliments and a hundred salaams to Ajit Sahi and TEHELKA for holding a mirror before the mainstream media, offering yet another outstanding example of courageous journalism. Sahi’s detailed report, case-by-case, is a highly credible, damning account of the questionable conduct — shocking inefficiency, callousness or rank anti-Muslim prejudice? — of our intelligence agencies. Evidently, Judge Gita Mittal of the Delhi High Court who headed the special tribunal was of the same opinion. Why else would she slam the ban order in such transparent disgust? The Supreme Court was quick to stay the ban on SIMI presumably on the basis of fresh evidence produced before it. What the apex court decides in due course remains to be seen. But for now, the investigating agencies must answer TEHELKA’s charge that scores of Muslims and their family members from across the country were subjected to midnight knocks, illegal detention, humiliating beatings, torture and jail: all on false charges and without a shred of evidence. To this, I would add the charge I made in my article. Secular India practices discriminatory justice for which only one explanation is possible: anti-Muslim bias. Why else are the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu extremist outfits not under the antiterrorism
scanner? In the last two years activists of these outfits have literally been caught redhanded, holding or accidentally blown up by “Hindu bombs” in several towns of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and MP. After the recent Kanpur blasts, add UP to the list. Why also the deafening silence of the state in response to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s call for Hindu fidayeen (suicide bombers)? If this is not shameful double standard, what else is? Having said that, I also have something else to say. Had I written my piece after reading TEHELKA’s expose, I would have started my piece with huge compliments to Sahi and TEHELKA as I do now. But I would have proceeded to say all that I did in my article of August 16. And ended with deep regret that Sahi’s otherwise excellent investigation was sadly, and particularly from the Indian Muslims’ point of view, dangerously incomplete. To begin with, both keep collapsing two separate issues into one. In the process I am accused of something that, if anything, they are guilty of. Are we talking of a court of law, whether a tribunal examining the legitimacy of a ban, or a trial in a court? If yes, it goes without saying that due process and the rule of law must be the only criteria for arriving at a judgment. No one, neither SIMI nor Bajrang Dal, neither Narendra Modi nor Bal Thackeray, can or should be banned or pronounced guilty without a fair trial. FOR WHATEVER it is worth, the prime concern of the journal that I have been coediting for the last 15 years — Communalism Combat — and the organisation that has been fighting for justice since the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 and of which I happen to be one of the founding trustees — Citizens for Justice and Peace — can be summed up in the words: equality before law, equal protection of law, rule of law, due process, justice for all. Again, for what it is worth, I have seen myself as a human rights defender for threedozen years. In all humility then, while one lives and learns, I don’t really need lessons in basics. But as far as I am concerned, what I have said above is no different in substance from what I wrote in The Indian Express: you can’t ban or pronounce SIMI guilty of terrorism without proper evidence and due process. It is not for nothing that I am so full of praise for Sahi and TEHELKA. That takes us to the second issue. We are talking now ofthe ‘court’ of public opinion where you and I pass ‘judgments’ of a different kind all the time. Surely, it does not need extraordinary imagination or intellect to appreciate that the rules of the game here are different? Have we not ‘judged’ the Congress Party and the Delhi police ‘guilty’ of the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and rightly so? Have we not pronounced Bal Thackeray guilty of the pogrom against Muslims in Mumbai in 1992-93? And do we not hold Narendra Modi responsible for state-sponsoring the genocidal killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002? Why, then, does TEHELKA continue to fight shy, constantly prevaricate when it comes to ‘judging’ SIMI in the ‘court’ of public opinion? Why is Sahi molly-coddling the “SIMI bravehearts” in his piece, Terror has two faces? Why Chaudhury’s helpless lament: “It is impossible to entirely know what SIMI’s ideology was or has evolved into….”?
“It may perhaps never be known for sure what SIMI’s character and activities before the ban was — or what it has been since, for that matter,” writes Sahi. Really? An hour’s Google search, a little walk outside the halls where the tribunal sat in different cities, could have taken Sahi to the conclusion that enough about SIMI is already known. There is SIMI and there are the investigating agencies in Sahi’s account. Because, a third party, the Indian Muslim is missing, the story effectively ends up making SIMI synonymous with Muslims. The very thought horrifies me. “Scholarly Internet sites holding forth on the organisation do nothing more than parrot the charge of the intelligence agencies,” says Sahi. He surely couldn’t be talking of Irfan Ahmed, an anthropologist from the University of Amsterdam, who, beginning in October 2001 spent a lot of time in India talking to people from the Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI as part of his PhD research? Or of Yoginder Sikand, who lives in India and who has spent long years researching and writing highquality books, papers and numerous articles on Indian Muslims, their institutions and organisations? Both are easily accessible, in cyber space. In a significant paper titled, Erosion of Secularism, Explosion of Jihad: Explaining Islamist Radicalisation in India, available on the Internet, Ahmed wrote: “SIMI’s radicalisation unfolded in direct response to the rise of virulent Hindu nationalism or ‘Hindutva’… As the assault on secularism by Hindutva — culminating in the demolition of the Babri mosque and accompanied with large-scale violence against Muslims — grew fiercer, so did SIMI’s call for jihad.” And here are a few quotes from his article, The SIMI story, written in 2006: “As Hindu militancy increased in stridency, taking an everincreasing toll of Muslim lives, the SIMI adopted an even more hardline position, calling for Muslims to avenge the death of their co-religionists by following in the footsteps of the 11th century Mahmud Ghaznavi, who led several attacks into India and is said to have destroyed many Hindu temples. SIMI activists put up posters in several towns appealing to God to send down another Mahmud to take revenge for attacks on Muslims and their places of worship...” What is obvious is that the radicalism of groups like SIMI, on the one hand, and Hindu fascist groups, on the other, feed on each other, both speaking the language of hatred. At a poignant moment, Sahi writes: “As I interviewed countless Muslims so weathered, I couldn’t but ask myself, ‘What if this was me? What if it was my brother, my father in jail?’” My deepest respect for the sentiment embedded in this statement. My great fear however, is that in today’s India, while Sahi, his father and brother are reasonably safe, someone with a Muslim tag is not. The latter, therefore, had better beware of the SIMI label. It’s a label that claims to speak for him, its a label that can unfairly damn him, his brother or father. Chaudhury worries over the fact that my article would reinforce the already existing “general Englishspeaking middle-class consensus on such issues”. I would urge both Choudhury and Sahi to ponder a moment over the fears of Indian Muslims. To quote Sikand again, “Muslim organisations… realised, as never before, that the aggressive
confrontationist stance of groups like the SIMI could hardly serve the community. Rather, it had only made their situation as a beleaguered minority even more precarious.” “Bigdi hai bahut baat, banaye nahi banti/Ab ghar ko baghair aag lagaye nahi banti” (The situation is so bad; no solution is in sight/What else can one do, except set one’s own house on fire). Words from the inimitable Mirza Ghalib, penned in a different time, a different age. So apt, when we talk of SIMI today. Notwithstanding how Chaudhury quotes me, for me, too, the credentials of the investigating agencies are highly suspect. So pending a verdict from the courts, we have no means of knowing whether SIMI is already walking its talk: armed jihad and martyrdom. But… let the English-speaking middle-class make what it will of my article. My prime concern is the Indian Muslim, whose already-tortured existence is rendered even more precarious by SIMI’s self-destructive, pan-Islamic hallucination. My concern is the conspiracy of silence vis-à-vis SIMI of Muslim religious leaders and the Urdu press. It’s a concern I share with millions of Muslims across the country. What a pity that even TEHELKA, a journal I hold in high esteem, does not know they exist. (Anand is General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy) From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008