The chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission Dr Zafar ul Islam Khan face sedition charges for one of his tweets. I am not surprised these days how our police is behaving. While those who spread hatred, threat people openly and intimidate them through social media as well as ‘popular media’, screaming loudly on television channels have never been touched. Look at the events hate mongers on TV channels have got full protections by the government. If certain state governments have gone against some of those hate mongers, BJP leaders are defending them as if they are ‘champions’ of civil liberty and democratic rights. Ofcourse, it is open secret how much BJP as well as Sangh Parivar ‘respect’ these rights of the individuals.
The most disturbing part in the entire episode is the role and silence of Delhi government. Delhi minority Commission comes under the Delhi government and is a statutory body which has been doing its work quiet independently with Dr Zafarul Islam Khan following cases, visiting families and people victims of the violence in Delhi. Rather than supporting him, the government remain conspicuously silent on the issue. In the last one years, the prejudices and biases in the police forces and administration against Muslims in particular has witnessed a steep high. It is not that these prejudices never existed earlier but there was a certain respect to the constitution and law and authorities were not that brutal and brazen-faced in resorting to unconstitutional means.
I have always maintained that in a democratic society an individual has a right to be perceived innocent till he is proved guilty unless some one has been regularly spreading hatred and threatening people with violent means. Supreme Court has said it many times. Infact, on record, the government too says, that they respect the freedom of expression of the people and right to dissent. BJP leaders are championing rights of ‘dissent’ for serial offenders like Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Chaudhary, who dont run a media house but are pamphleteer, much worst than Panchjanya and organiser. At least, in both these mouth pieces of RSS, there are policy briefs and organisational position on various issues.
As the anti CAA protests grew all over the country and in most of the places remained absolutely democratic, peaceful and constitutional, efforts were made to provoke them. The initial response was to neglect them but when their innovative methods became international headlines, it was time for the power to act. The whole of Delhi was put on such a crisis by highly toxic election campaign by the BJP which made opposition parties mainly AAP to approach the elections in a different way. While AAP won a huge mandate, it refused to stand with the people protesting. Not only this, the Delhi government did not have word of warning or caution to police for filing cases against peaceful protesters.
Then came the Donald Trump’s visit to India and sudden change in the strategy of some of these sitting groups particularly on the East Delhi side. With Kapil Mishra openly resorting to threat if the protesters were not removed, violence broke out in East Delhi. Shockingly, rather than sympathising with the victims and survivors, the police seems to be become more ruthless. With no rehabilitation and all those who were forced to sleep on open in the crushing rains and winter, the ‘trends’ of the probe became targeting the victims. More and more cases are being filed against students who actually faced victimisation. There are no cases against those thugs who attacked JNU, hit students with iron rods. People seem to have lost the faith in these probes.
Dr Zafar ul Islam Khan has been active on various front particularly taking the cases of minorities who were victimised and need rehabilitation. Even during the Corona period, he has been active in trying to provide help to the community. I have not gone through all these tweets and do not feel that a person become national or anti national with one tweet or one article. You may disagree with him but people are reacting in deep anguish when they face a situation of helplessness. When a person leading a statutory body like Delhi Minorities Commission can feel being helpless during this crisis, imagine, what could be the condition of others.
Dr Khan has been a scholar of Islam and a deeply secular individual whose father Maulana Wahiduddhin Khan, was often castigated for being ‘secular’. In fact, many in the Sangh Parivar would quote and publish his articles in their journals. In fact, Dr Zafarul Islam Khan built a niche for himself quite independently and started ‘The Millie Gazette’ long back which used to publish articles from not only Muslim scholars but also a large number of non Muslim secular scholars and activists. It became a platform for sharing common concern and ideas. The publication house that he started has some of the finest work on Indian political history and contribution of Muslims in India’s freedom movement.
Today, a large number of activists, authors are languishing in jail for because of their view points. Most of them have dedicated their lives to people’s causes and can never think of being violent. They have lived for the rule of law and constitutional values but today even the doors of the justice are out of bound for them. it is this helplessness of the intellectuals which is the cause of deep worry and dangerous for the democracy. With not much in sight from the political parties, hoping from the courts is expecting too much but then we have no option but to have faith in the judicial system in hope that one day things will change and justice would be done. A perfect case for the Supreme Court may be to ask details of all those authors and activists who are booked under Sedition and UAPA laws and form an independent committee to look into these cases and report to them in a fixed time frame. It is not a big deal and can be really helpful. The second thing can be if the court provide clear guidelines to the police and administration as what constitute being anti national and where does our freedom reach to final limit. This will help in a long long way otherwise it will be only take us towards more authoritarian regimes with media becoming partner with the power acting as its mouth organ.
We hope the Delhi government will defend Dr Zafar-ul Islam Khan and he will get protection from the higher courts.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
May 9th, 2020