From activism to incarceration under NSA: Journey of rights activist Zaid Pathan

Zaid Pathan is an Indore based rights activist

A Facebook post by Zaid Pathan, an Indore-based rights activist, was enough for the Madhya Police to send him behind bars on August 14 under the charge of “deliberately outraging religious feelings.” 

TCN Staff Correspondent 

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NEW DELHI — “You will see a time when the worst communities of the world will oppress you and relish you as their prey. Despite your majority, you will be hunted and killed in the most humiliating fashion. But it’s God’s promise that ultimately you will dominate only if you acknowledge your sins and keep repenting and seeking God’s mercy.”

The above-mentioned Facebook post by Zaid Pathan, an Indore-based rights activist, was enough for the Madhya Police to send him behind bars on August 14 for “deliberately outraging religious feelings, promoting enmity between different religious groups, doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and making statements conducing to public mischief”.

And when the authorities did not find the alleged offences grave enough to incarcerate him for a longer period as he would have secured bail from a court of law, they subsequently booked him on August 15 under the draconian National Security Act (NSA) — which empowers the government to detain a person for up to 12 months without a charge.

However, it was scrapped and he was released on October 14 after the police failed to convince the high court advisory board — where the accused can appeal without a lawyer, representing him during the trial.

Pathan has been a vocal critic of the Madhya Pradesh government’s policy of bulldozer justice. He has worked against the illegal demolition of Muslim homes in the state, and also fearlessly raised his voice in the Khargone riot case. 

He reiterated that the administration “targeted” Muslims in their demolition drives, particularly those who acted in “self-defence” (during the Kahrgone riots) against Hindu mobs. He said that based on fake FIRs lodged by the “culprits”, the authorities “targeted” Muslims, especially those who stood against the atrocities, including activists, and demolished their homes, bulldozed their shops, and other important properties.

He was vocal about the “arbitrary” action of police officials. He tried to save innocent Muslims from being “falsely” implicated in the case and managed to get bail in several cases.

“As a result, I was slapped with an FIR under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) on April 14 in Khargone,” he told soon after walking out of an Indore jail. 

Three days after the first FIR, another case was registered against him on April 17 at Banganga Police Station based on a complaint from a local Bajrang Dal activist.

“Though the contents of the FIR were exactly the same as were originally in the first FIR lodged against me in Khargone. But the charges this time were grave (sections 295, 153A and 505 of the IPC). No police action took place till April 22. On April 22, the police barged into my house in the name of a search and seizure. Since I was out of the city, I was not arrested,” he said.

He said he was taken into custody from a tea shop in his locality. 

“When I was having tea that morning at the shop, a policeman took me to a local police station on August 14. I was not allowed to talk to anyone. I was then informed that I have been detained under NSA. After the mandatory procedures were done, I was sent to jail. But my formal arrest under the NSA was declared on August 15 from the prison. The allegation against made were shocking: I was declared a notorious criminal and an extortionist,” he said. 

Thankfully, he said, the advisory board gave him a patient and fair hearing to present his side.

“When I urged the board to go through my social media post in entirety and then decide criminality, it came down heavily on the ACP (assistant commissioner of police) who was trying to implicate me — using a selective portion of my Facebook post. Convinced with my arguments, the board scrapped the NSA and set me free,” he narrated.

He along with other social activists proactively worked in a case where a poor Muslim bangle seller (Taslim Ali, 25) was harassed by right-wing goons and consequently he was served with an externment notice in August 2021 and also faced criminal investigation. 

“Since I was relentlessly raising the issues of injustices meted out to Muslims in Newar and Malwa regions, the police administration had begun considering me as a threat. When I fought for justice for the bangle seller, a case was registered against me. I faced harassment for around six months as I was externed from the boundaries of Indore on August 24 last year,” he said.

On August 22, 2021, the bangle seller, 25-year-old Tasleem Ali, was thrashed and attacked by a group of Hindu men in the Indore Govind Nagar area.

After a video went viral, Pathan along with two others rushed to Central Kotwali Police Station to urge police to register an FIR. Soon after that, they were served with a notice of exile. 

Pathan said, “All ten of us are Muslims and many of us had also been active during the anti-CAA-NRC movement in Indore. This attempt to exile us was another way to silence any assertion by Muslims for their basic rights.”

When India was hit by COVID, the protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) was called off. 

At that moment, the anti-CAA protesters had taken the responsibility of Covid volunteers. Pathan with his team too started relief work by providing food, medicine and other essentials. “Despite so many differences with the government, we had to stand together against the pandemic to defeat the deadly Corona virus in the larger interest of humanity,” said the main in his mid-40s.

India witnessed a massive protest against the CAA and the proposed NRC and NPR in 2019. Pathan worked at the forefront of these protests. Being the organizer of the protest in Indore and a community leader, he managed to handle large crowds with the help of his volunteer team. 

When Kerala was hit by a disastrous flood in 2019 and no help was possible at that time, Pathan with his team made several visits to provide food and other essentials to the people in need.

Similarly, he with his team carried out relief work to provide food, medicines and other essentials during the devastating floods in Bihar in 2017.