After the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Jesuit priest, Father Cedric Prakash, travelled to America, to testify before the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom in Washington.
Later, during the course of an interview, when I'd asked Father Cedric Prakash why did he have to travel all the way from Ahmedabad to America, this is what he had to say: "I was invited by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to testify on the Gujarat carnage. I gave a three-page written testimony to that Commission. Why I decided to go to America is because the only language that the Sangh Parivar understands is international pressure. Yes, it was essential for me to travel all that way and testify, because the Gujarati mentality is so attuned to the United States, anything that comes from the U.S. is taken very seriously."
Today, in the summer of 2022, I have been thinking of his words cum rationale in the context of what's building up right now. Tremendous pressure by several countries and their heads, on the ruling right-wing government in India, after BJP's spokesperson Nupur Sharma came up with highly obnoxious communal comments against Prophet Muhammad.
A shameful tragedy is that the government of the day didn't bother to remove Sharma nor render an apology, even when the Indian Muslims protested. The so-called action from the government came about when the pressure came from foreign lands and even in these so-called corrective strategies by the government, the blame gets heaped on the "fringe elements"!
Since when have official spokespersons of the ruling right-wing party become fringe elements! That's a different matter altogether that the fringe elements have been unleashed all around, all over, hovering around, to hound and lynch and kill! Together with that, the controversial governing-policing tactics!
And as I mentioned in last week's column, the tragedy got compounded when the protesting Muslims (protesting against Nupur Sharma's obnoxious unleash) were booked and these included the editor of the Millat Times, Shams Tabrez Qasmi, Muslim students including the student leader of Azamgarh's Shibli college, Abdul Rahman, and even minors! The situation completely got messed up in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur where the majority of those arrested and booked are Muslims!
Protestors arrested! Not the right-wing culprits, whose communal unleash triggered off rioting and connected disasters! This shocking governing tactic takes place when you have a right-wing agenda unfolding, if not already unfolded!
Earlier I used to wonder why the number of jailed Muslims in India is much higher than their population percentage. Now, with dark realities unfolding every single day, the answer gets clearer and clearer and absolutely stark clear. Frightful is the dark realities facing the largest minority community, the Musalmaans, in the country.
Here, as activists point out, when the police arrest a Muslim, biases and slants erupt at the very first stage. Details of his or her 'terror links ' or 'anti–national' stand or 'cow slaughter…beef' alibis, get splashed! And because of the poisonous propaganda and communal perceptions, the situation stands compounded. Innocents get targeted and tortured and ruined. Last week one of the barbaric instances of police torture was reported from Uttar Pradesh's district Badaun - when a 22-year-old Muslim vegetable vendor was tortured by the Uttar Pradesh police and two unidentified people, over suspicion of smuggling cow meat…the tortured man's mother stated that Sub-inspector Satya Pal inserted a stick inside her son's rectum and gave him electric shocks several times. And when the cops realized that they had picked up a 'wrong person' they gave him Rs 100 and sent him home …that tortured-injured man suffering from seizures, is now admitted to a hospital, where the doctors have stated his nervous system has been left severely damaged because of the police torture!
As academic- author, Dr Javed Jamil, comments, "In India, Muslims, criminals or innocents, are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be detained as under-trials, more likely to be convicted, more likely to be sentenced to death or life imprisonment and more likely to be actually executed…Though Muslims comprise only 14.2 per cent of the population of the country according to recent census data, they constitute 26.4 per cent of the total prison population. Of course, they are also more likely to face the torture of all kinds in police custody. They also have lesser chances of a fair trial because they are in no position to hire good advocates to defend them. And, of course, when high-profile terror cases are involved, Muslims are more likely to be hanged…Yakub Memon has already been hanged and the other Muslims involved in the Mumbai attacks and other such cases are likely to be "brought to justice" by the Indian legal system sooner than later. But the persons responsible for the riots after Babri Masjid demolition, Mumbai riots and Gujarat riots are nowhere in the queue for being brought to justice."
In his book, 'Justice Imprisoned' (Yenepoya Publishers, Mangaluru), Dr Javed Jamil focuses on custodial deaths and also on the official executions of the prisoners in the different countries of the world. To quote him, "The net result of the campaign by the economic fundamentalists against capital punishment and the system of justice developed in accordance with their wishes is that now more people are 'punished' by the police than by the courts. Capital or corporal punishment has officially ended as per the constitutions. But it is now given by the police, based on their own assumptions and biases, and not by the courts, based on the evidence. There are more deaths in police custody and encounters than through death sentences executed at the orders of the courts…It can easily be estimated that the annual global number of deaths in police custody is tens of thousands. It is not only the deaths but severe torture is also common in police custody and prisons...And yet, politicians routinely dismiss these accusations and, instead, always give the police the benefit of the doubt by highlighting the difficulty of police work."
Perhaps, we, the non-jailed citizens of this country, wouldn't get to grasp what the jailed go through. Visiting the jailed is not permitted unless one is armed with a list of 'whys' coupled with the required permission on special grounds. The only viable option to grasp what happens behind those high walls is to either meet and interact with the released prisoners or else to read the books written by them.
Several Muslim prisoners have written books, detailing the "tortures" they were subjected to, in that imprisoned state. And one former prisoner, Abdul Wahid Shaikh, repeatedly dwells on a significant aspect—desist from signing confessions because those confessions are finally used to indict an innocent. Abdul Wahid Shaikh, a Mumbai-based school teacher, was among the 13 Muslims arrested for plotting the Mumbai train serial blasts of 11 July 2006. After ten years he was finally acquitted in September 2015, while the five other accused in the case were sentenced to death and seven to life imprisonment. He has put together significant details, in his book, 'Be-Gunah Qaidi'. Published by Pharos Media, his book "dissects" the case against each accused and exposes the modus operandi of the Police and ATS: how the ATS fabricated the cases, prepared fake documents and forged papers, propped up fake witnesses, procured doctored test reports from forensic labs and used extensive third-degree torture to force the accused to break down and sign confessions written by the ATS.
Mind you, several former prisoners have written that they had been "framed" and even "kidnapped" by the police. The very title of Mohammad Aamir Khan's 'Framed As A Terrorist' (Speaking Tiger) relays how an innocent can be framed as a terrorist! Co-authored by the well-known lawyer-activist Nandita Haksar, this book focuses on what he went through, right from1998, when he was framed by the Delhi police, in 18 bomb blast cases. It took him and his lawyers 14 long years to prove his innocence.
And Mufti Abdul Qayyum Ahmed Husain Mansuri's book 'I Am A Mufti & I Am Not A Terrorist - 11 Years Behind the Bars' (Published by the Jamiat Ulama Ahmedabad and Maharashtra) carries details of what he went through from the time he was "kidnapped" by Gujarat's Crime Branch and implicated in the Akshardham case. He was imprisoned for eleven years, till acquitted by the Supreme Court of India.
Soon after the launch of this book, at the India Islamic Centre, I interviewed him. He detailed he was kidnapped by men of Gujarat's Crime Branch. "All sorts of tortures were inflicted on me during those eleven years. Can't describe what I went through! Too many tortures… by senior police officers in the Gujarat Police, including encounter specialist D.G. Vanzara. I have named each one of those officers in my book."
The vulnerability of an Indian Muslim prisoner stands out, in the backdrop of the political climate turning murkier by the day. Where is the much-needed transparency? Why do we go only by the police hand-outs? Why shouldn't a non-government agency be allowed to carry out simultaneous investigative probes? Not to overlook the patent one-liners that go along with the arrests —the arrested has 'confessed' his or her 'crime' to the police! Who will believe that the arrested 'confessed' without torture sessions? Aren't we aware of the fact that the police can make anyone confess any possible crime!
Though big-bodied commissions had been set up to look into the living conditions of the Muslims of the country, it is unfortunate that there's no looking into the condition of the imprisoned Muslim population.
It gets relevant to mention that when I had suggested to Justice Sachar, who was heading the Sachar Committee, to extend the Committee's findings to jails and the jailed population, he made it clear that doesn't come under their mandate. As he put across, "The Sachar Committee tried to go a little extra finding, in terms of doing a head count of the Muslims in the Indian Army and see the reactions that came! It would have been important for us to look into the condition of the jails and those jailed, but it is not possible." He had added that he was well aware of the dismal jail conditions and also what the jailed population faces!