In the name of SIMI

By Ram Puniyani,

In third week of July (2009) Maharashtra police arrested several Muslims in Pusad, Akola and neighboring regions on the charge that they are reviving SIMI under a new name. It is after a fairly long time that one has heard of arrests in the name of SIMI. The earlier cycle of arrest of Muslim youth which was a matter of routine after every blast, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Jaipur and other places was broken with the impeccable proof of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s motor cycle being found in Malegaon. The trace of motorcycle link led to Swami Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and many others associated with Hindu right wing organizations, offshoots of or inspired by RSS ideology.

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Society witnessed that after most of the blasts so far, Muslim youth were arrested on the charge of being behind the blasts, were harassed for months and then released for the lack of evidence. This was more or less a routine pattern and it frightened the whole Muslim community to no end. Many a Muslim youths’ careers were crushed due to these reckless and baseless arrests. Many a minority families under went severe problems, were ostracized from their own community once they were dragged into the net on the charges which were guided more by the prevalent biases or stereotypes than any substance. SIMI came to be regarded as the core organization responsible for fomenting trouble through youth. Despite the ban on SIMI in 2001, the Muslim youth kept on being labeled as SIMI activists and were put behind the bar.

It’s not to say that SIMI was holding ideology which was talking of democracy and secularism. One knows that SIMI, which began as a student front of Jamat-e-Islami Hind gradually, came out of its control and became radical in the decade of 1990s in particular. Yoginder Sikand, an Islamic scholar of repute gives a very crisp history of this organization (/ SIMI was founded on the ideology propounded by Maulana Maududi, according to whom all non Muslims are kafirs and man made systems like democracy are false and Shariah is the only way. It kept the goal of spreading Islamic consciousness amongst Muslim students and peaceful missionary work amongst non Muslims. Some events in the decade of 1990 were to shape its ideology in a radical and militant direction. These events were Soviet Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and Islamization of Pakistan in particular.

Meanwhile Jamat- e- Islami came to accept democracy and Secularism as its guiding ideology. SIMI came out from the control of its parent organization to talk in a different language. The demolition of Babri Mosque and the post demolition violence gave it a fillip in the negative direction. It said that Democracy has failed to protect Muslims so there is a need for some one like Mohammed Gazni, the destroyer of Somanth. This was also the theme of the poster released by them in the aftermath of Babri demolition. It was alleged that SIMI has links with Sikh and Kashmiri militants. It was alleged that they have links with Osama and ISI. At the same time SIMI claimed that it wants to work through peaceful methods, while the worsening communal situation made it to say that Muslims are a belabored community. Under these circumstances SIMI was banned in 2001.

The ban on SIMI was challenged, so a tribunal had to be appointed to review the ban. Ajit Sahi of Tehelka in his painstaking investigation, followed the tribunal’s sitting all through (Tehelka, SIMI Fictions, 12th August 2008), the tribunal did not find any evidence of the charges put against the organization for banning it. The ban could not be upheld. About this investigation Ajit Sahi said, “… his investigation is no dry story rising from lifeless court documents. It has been an emotional rollercoaster to sit across young boys barely into manhood, their foreheads creased by sleepless nights worried stiff over the jailing of a father, a brother, wondering endlessly, “Will this end? Is this for real? What do I do now? Where do I go now? Will I survive this?” He further says “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?”

With the World scenario tilting against the Islam and Muslims, courtesy the radical Islamists trained in the Madrassas set up in Pakistan with US aid, the popular psyche perceived an average Muslim as a terrorist and police machinery operated on this understanding. Even when scores of lives were shattered and the community came under the intimidation of highest order, the Government did not put any corrective to this pattern of investigation with which police was pursuing its work.

Disturbed by this situation two people’s tribunal were set up by the Human Rights groups. The report and recommendations of both the tribunal are similar and overlapping. The first one was headed by Justices (Retd) Bhargava and Sardar Ali Khan, with prominent social activists like Asghar Ali Engineer and Prashant Bhushan as the jury. The testimonies showed that a large number of innocent young Muslims have been and are being victimized by the police on the charge of being involved in various terrorist acts across the country. This is particularly so in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, though not limited to these States. This victimization and demonisation of Muslims in the guise of investigation of terror offences, is having a very serious psychological impact on the minds of not only the families of the victims but also other members of the community. It is leading to a very strong sense of insecurity and alienation which may lead to frightful consequences for the nation.

The second tribunal set up by different set of organization s of Rajasthan worked under the leadership of Justice (Retd) Bhargava. One of it pertinent observation was that the police authorities investigating the terror offences appear to be violating all the laws of the land and directions of the Supreme Court during the conduct of the investigations. In particular, many persons have been detained for days or weeks, without showing them to be arrested and without producing them before any Magistrate. They have been sometimes tortured and humiliated by the police officers. They have not been allowed to meet their relatives and lawyers, who have often not even been informed of their detention. The investigation of the blasts by the police also appears to be communally motivated and only persons belonging to the Muslim community have been the target of the investigations.

The names of HUJI and SIMI have been bandied about by the police as the perpetrators of the blasts without any evidence. A number of former members of SIMI have been arrested and detained without any basis or evidence against them. The media has also been uncritically repeating and amplifying the baseless allegations and innuendoes of the police mentioning persons and organizations belonging to the Muslim community, thus resulting in ethnic profiling and feeding into the Islamophobia being sought to be created and reinforced in the minds of the Hindu community by the Hindutva organizations. In Jaipur this has resulted in the vilification of the entire Bengali Muslim community who has been victimized by the Hindutva organizations in complicity with the police.

Thousands of them have been picked up after the blasts and forcibly transported to New Jalpaiguri and then Bangladesh without any due process of law and without giving them an opportunity to show their Indian Citizenship. This has resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Jaipur.

One does not know with what seriousness the administration looks at these people’s tribunal, the fact is they have put forward profound realities of the society. It is imperative that the Government takes a serious look at these reports and instructs the investigation authorities to be more professional in their approach and sheds its biases while dealing with minority community.