Why ban on SIMI and for how long?

By Abu Zafar Adil Azmi,

It’s been eight years since the central government imposed ban on Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Till date the government has failed to produce any concrete evidence against it. During these eight years dozens of youths arrested in the name of SIMI have been acquitted by the court. Yet there has been no change in government’s attitude against the SIMI. Government produced evidences in court to impose ban on SIMI on 27 September 2001. These very same evidences have been repeated the second, third and the fourth time! When the a term of proscription is about to expire, the police and intelligence agencies become active in the whole country and the name of SIMI once again features in the headlines of the newspapers. This continues till the ban is enforced anew.

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After each ban the government sets up a legal tribunal and usually this tribunal endorses the government action. The ban on 7 February 2008 was the fourth one. However, this time the Judge of the Tribunal Justice Geeta Mittal quashed the ban. The very next day the central government applied in the Supreme Court for a stay against the Geeta Mittal judgment. The Supreme Court acting on an oral petition of the central government extended the stay for yet another fourteen days without ever listening to the SIMI’s arguments. Later this stay was further extended till the final decision. Consequently, even after fourteen months the stay on SIMI continues. In the Supreme Court itself the cases of first, second and third prohibition are still pending, although, the first case against the banning was filed more than seven years ago

On the one hand a welfare organization of Muslim youths is a victim of state terrorism without any evidence. The government appointed tribunal overturns the banning by the government; the government fetches the stay overnight. While on the other hand the preachers of hate in the country, those who distribute trishuls and harass the Muslims and other minorities of the country are roaming scot-free. No one is there to ask for their head. The Naxalites and Maoists have unleashed a wave of terror in several states of the country. The government has offered to talk with them terming it to be internal crisis. It is even refraining from calling as terrorist activities the bomb blasts in trains and police stations carried out by Maoists. One of the most depressing aspects of the whole episode is that neither the secular intellectuals nor the Muslim leadership is willing to come forward in this SIMI’s matter.

“Basically, SIMI is an ideology-based organization whose main agenda is social issues. Neither it is a fundamental nor is a terrorist organization. It was formed to achieve superior objectives. RSS and Bajrang Dal are fanning communalism in the country. There is a dire need to ban. them. Ban on SIMI is not justified. Government must take a re-look in SIMI’s case. We will talk to party’s officials. ” —Reeta Bahu Guna Joshi,
President of All India National Congress.U.P

“Imposing ban on any organization is absolutely wrong. The ban on SIMI was neither right nor can it be justified now. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is undemocratic because it provides for arbitrary arrests based on opinions only. I am also against banning Maoist. Yes it imperative to contain violence. We cannot curtail the freedom of expression. ”
Justice Hosbet Suresh, FormerChief Justice of Mumbai High Court.

In 2008 the English weekly Tehelka published a comprehensive report titled ‘SIMI Fiction’. This report contained detailed information regarding the brutalities and atrocities carried out on SIMI in the country. This report had a profound impact on the secular circles. But then, there was an array of continuous intense charges of bomb blasts against the SIMI that this effort like the effort of Justice Geeta Mittal soon lost its sheen. As a matter of fact the quantum of brutalities and excesses carried out in the name of SIMI during the past eight years is on such a high scale that it requires a huge amount of paper to record them but these would also fall short. The Afkar in this context, has strove to discern the opinion, about these alleged atrocities, of the country’s secular representation as well as of Muslim leadership and Muslim intellectuals.

Today, the situation is very precarious. Every now and then, a Muslim youth(s), here or there, is picked up by the intelligence agencies and the security forces in the name of SIMI. Earlier, it was not that easy to become a member of SIMI. The aspirant had to undergo strenuous tests before being enrolled as a member of the organization. There are very clear-cut and detailed guidelines for becoming a member of SIMI. These are inscribed in its constitution. Besides, a long list of reading material, it also emphasizes for a positive character and conduct report. These conditions stress for activities and punctuality. However, now the police and administration, irrespective of these conditions, does not hesitate to label each and sundry as the member of SIMI. Anyone who fancies them becomes member of SIMI whether or not s/he is aware of the full name of SIMI. Earlier, the list of new members of SIMI used to be published in SIMI’s organ, but now, the names of SIMI’s members are announced in the charge-sheet and affidavits filed by the government in the courts. Now the situation has reached to such an extent that those children who were aged nine or ten in September 2001 (first banning), the government terms them as members of SIMI. If this malicious drive continues then, it is feared that children born after September 2001 would also be considered as ‘members’ of SIMI.

It is worth pondering that how can such an organization – whose headquarters are housed in the heart of the country and its branch/sub-offices are spread in state capitals and major cities of the country, whose office-bearers organize press conferences, issue statements which are published in government approved mouthpiece and periodicals in different languages of the country – picks up weapon? That too, against a same state with whose permission it is carrying out all of these activities.

Well, how come an organization, which is limited to students only and for almost quarter a century not even a single case of terrorism was registered against it and all of whose activities are confined to only speeches, printed material and meetings can pick up weapons? This fact is also unfathomable that an organization – which is knocking at the doors of the court for seeking justice continuously for the past eight years, whose counsel visits the whole country along with the Tribunal Counsel and appears in the High Court and other sub-courts – carries out bomb blast? That too, on the same or a day before hearing!

A few years before the banning SIMI became a very hot topic of discussion. However, despite this its monthly activities could not occupy more than a few pages in its monthly organ ‘Islamic Movement’. The intriguing question is how come after the ban its activities had increased to such a huge extent that the government has to file an affidavit comprising four to five hundred pages. The atrocities against the SIMI is not limited to police and administration but axe also falls on those who unfailingly consider themselves as secular and free from any sort of bigotry or bias.

“I have attended SIMI’s meetings. It is a welfare organization of Muslim youths whose objectives are set. SIMI is working towards Islamic awakening and awareness in the new generation. It is atrocious to clamp a ban on any such organization. Government must immediately lift the ban” —Maulana Mohamad Salim Qasmi, Vice-president of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Principle of Darul-Uloom Deoband

“It is unfair to outlaw SIMI. Now there is no question of continuing it. SIMI was never involved terrorist activities. Congress government, like the BJP government, is proving communal. The Congress-supported department of IB has been instrumental in affecting a ban on SIMI and the judiciary has also come under the influence of Congress and IB” —Ilyas Azmi, Former Member of Parliament (B.S.P)

“It is completely wrong to ban the SIMI. When the High court of Delhi cancelled the ban, it was not right for Supreme Court to make a stay on it. Judiciary is also continuing to be fanatic. People can not dare to oppose it openly because a large proportion of society is growing to be communal. ” —Parshant Bhushan, Advocate Supreme Court

Even before the Fajr prayers on 27 September 2001 dozens of SIMI activists were arrested in state of Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country and several offices were sealed. Most of the arrested were those whose relatives have testified that they (the arrested persons) were not even remotely related to SIMI. This calamity struck even to those whose ages were well above double the age of retirement as a SIMI member i.e. thirty years. A senior citizen whose age was around sixty years was arrested in a village in Azamgarh on a frivolous charge that he was shouting slogan glorifying Osama Bin Laden.

A cursory look at all of the charge sheets filed in Uttar Pradesh points towards a one single master plan; only the characters, places and, at times, the timings differ. The sections are also almost similar albeit some minor variations. Yet another weak link is that although the ban on SIMI was affected at 4 O’clock in the evening of 27th September 2001, however, the nationwide drive of arresting SIMI activists/members had started in the wee hours of 27th September itself. Consequently, dozens of Muslims all over the country were sent behind the bars even before the dawn. The police records showed them arrested in the afternoon/evening on charges of pasting posters, making inflammatory speeches and shouting slogans. If, after the imposition of ban on any organization, if an individual carries out activities in its name, then he/she is liable for legal action. On the contrary, in the SIMI’s case, the unending cycle of arrest commenced before the declaration of ban.

In the views of the legal experts under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1967 (under which a ban was clamped on SIMI) after the imposition of ban on organization it is mandatory that the copies of the notification must be: pasted at a prominent place on the headquarters of the organization; handed over to the office-bearer(s) of that organization or announce about the activities of the banned organization in the concerned area through the public address system. According to the then President of SIMI Shahid Badr, we came to know about the ban through the evening TV news whereas the phone lines of our offices in the country were disconnected in the morning itself. In different states of the country including Uttar Pradesh, the arrests had already been made before dawn. Shahid Badr further tells that in the night of 27th September 2001 at 12:40 am police barged into SIMI central office breaking the door and abusing and arrested us. Till then we had not received any sort of notification, whatsoever.

The greatest hue and cry was made in Maharashtra where the Congress is in continuous power for the past several years. After the imposition of ban on SIMI a bomb blast took place in a bus at Ghatkopar in 2002. The Mumbai police termed it an act of SIMI and accused 16 persons under POTA. It (Mumbai police) produced Dr. Mobeen and Saqib Nachen and others as key accused. Saqib Nachen and eight others were arrested by the police in 2003; nevertheless, inside one year’s period in 2004, all of them were discharged. Later, rest of the other accused were also acquitted by the court. But, the government presented same case in September 2003 to impose ban on SIMI once again. Similarly, in the case of bomb blasts in Milind, Ville Parle and Mumbai Central sixteen persons were arrested. In this also Saqib Nachen was produced as a key accused. This case was also registered under POTA. However, after two years in 2005, the Prosecution passed a written judgment that several key accused including Saqib Nachen have no direct link in preparing or possessing the bomb as well as conspiring to carry out bomb blasts. Yet this is sub judice in Supreme Court.

West Bengal, where a party that dubs itself miles away from communalism is in power for so long (more than three decades), no less drama was staged in the name of SIMI. A fifty eight year old man Yaseen Kabeer along with five others was arrested in Malda district in 2001. They were charged with pasting SIMI’s poster, making inflammatory speeches and shouting slogans. Yaseen Kabeer expired in jail after two years. The Session Court acquitted the four of the accused after four years. One of the accused was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Interestingly enough all of the four accused had already spent four years in jail.

In the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, the police arrested yet another eighteen persons including a 75 year old Islamic Scholar Maulana Ashraful Haq. He had also been charged with pasting posters and sloganeering. In the same district the police arrested the owner of Molin Hotel Abul Qasim (65 years), however, later the court acquitted him. The police made a case against him that when in 2001 the then President of SIMI Shahid Badr came to Murshidabad in connection with a conference then, he stayed in his (Abul Qasim’s) hotel.

On 15 August 2006 an organization by the name Islamic Movement of India organized a seminar on ‘The Muslims Role in India’s Independence’ in Panjikollam town of Kerala. The government termed it a secret meeting of SIMI and registered cases against five persons. Surprisingly enough, this seminar was being held in the heart of the city in an auditorium with a seating capacity of five hundred. The arrested persons spent more than two months in jail after which, they were released on bail. Till date no charge sheet has been filed in this case. However, ten more persons were arrested in the same case in 2008.

“SIMI did not teach violence how much I know. It was an Islamic organization and Islam is faith that is completely free from violence. It is not right to ban such organization. They have made a mountain out of a molehill in the name of SIMI and arrested Muslim youths with a great extent. But it is the fact that the truth has won the battle whether it has taken a long time. But a noble organization looses its reputation in this battle which is totally unacceptable. Judiciary has also not treated in proper way. Therefore it becomes obligatory to make reforms in judiciary” — Minakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch

“Ban on SIMI is a communal agenda of Government by which it wants to amuse a particular proportion of people. We have been opposing this ban since the first day. On one hand Government pulls its leg to act on the report of Shri Krishna Commission and on another hand it looks sharp and active to fetch a stay order on SIMI after being lifted the ban. The silence among Muslim organizations regarding issues of SIMI is unbearable. A eminent organization like Jamee-at-ul-ulema in his ceremony in Ram Leela Ground could not raise voice against this atrocity. All national organizations and pro-democratic people must demand to lift the ban unanimously and there should be organized a particular conference on this topic. ” —
Mufti Muhammad Mukarram, (Shahi Imam, Fatehpuri Mosque, Delhi)

Madhya Pradesh police has accused Safdar Nagauri of organizing a terrorist training camp at a place called Waghman in the Kottayam district of Kerala. The police version points out that the SIMI activists/members had undergone weapons training there and also participated in swimming exercises. On the contrary, it is a tourist spot so how can weapons training be possible there? Another fact is that this place is devoid of any lake or swimming pool so how can swimming exercise be possible? The police has also accused Safdar Nagauri of running camp in Madhya Pradesh as well. Nonetheless, the Chief Editor of English fortnightly Milli Gazette Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan revealed that when he sent his reporter at this place the locals disclosed that two days ago policemen had themselves planted bombs there.

The Delhi Police arrested two persons including Yaseen Patel in May 2002 in the name of SIMI. They were accused of pasting provocative posters on the walls of Jamia Millia Islamia. Talking to Afkar-i-Milli Yaseen Patel told that he was arrested a night before. When his wife filed Habeas Corpus in Delhi High Court then, the Delhi Police forged the fake case of pasting posters on the walls of Jamia Millia Islamia. The alleged ‘poster’ was actually a sticker that was published by SIMI in 1996. Actually, the police enlarged that sticker by computer and presented it as a poster. Witnesses were only police persons. Police informed the Court that from afternoon till the evening no witness could be secured. The Prosecution also told the Court that generally people are afraid of testifying in such types of terrorist activities.

Looking at the poster the POTA Judge exclaimed, “This (poster) is even more dangerous than AK-47”. Although, no one objected to this sticker when it was published by SIMI, for the first time, in 1996.

This is not an isolated incident of Court’s strange attitude in SIMI’s case. There have been complaints against the biased attitude of courts. All the same, there has been a phenomenal rise in such behavior in the recent past. Human Rights activists of Madhya Pradesh Mr. Vineet Tiwari divulged that after the arrest of Safdar Nagauri and others in March 2008, no lawyer is ready to fight their cases. After much persuasion one lawyer agreed to fight the case, however, he was brutally beaten up by other lawyers in front of the judge, but, the judge did not take any action against them. Describing yet another incident, Mr. Vineet Tiwari mentioned, that the father of a youth who was languishing in jail for almost two years, after being dejected on all fronts, handed over the case to a lawyer of RSS mentality. When that particular lawyer appeared before the judge, the judge remarked, “Would you like to turn every nook and corner (of this country) into Godhra by freeing the accused”.

Acquitted SIMI persons in different States:

States No of persons
Maharashtra 65
UP 24
WB 21
Delhi 16
Kerla 14
Karnatka 5
Tamil Nadu 4

When on 05 August 2008 Justice Geeta Mittal quashed the ban, the SIMI (mis) took it as a bright sunlight. But the euphoria was very short-lived. This reprieve was again over-shadowed by dark clouds. The very next day a two-member bench of Supreme Court stayed the Justice Geeta Mittal order. The former counsel of SIMI Mobeen Akhter expressed his dismay over the fact that the Supreme Court granted stay only on an oral petition by the central government and no written request was made and no affidavit was filed by it. Although, earlier the three-member Bench of the Supreme Court had observed that without any written plea no stay can be granted. Before granting the stay the Supreme Court did not even bother to listen to the stand of the second party (SIMI). The former President of SIMI Shahid Badr terms it as a ‘Murder of Justice’ whereas a renowned Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan describes it as a ‘Wrong Attitude’ of the Supreme Court. Advocate Mobeen Akhter believes that unless and until the judges are free from political pressures, the politicians would continue to take advantage of such cases. Mobeen Akhter told that the Court had repeatedly asked the government to present the list of the SIMI members but the Public Prosecutor had said that the government does not want to do so. Mobeen Akhter says that had that happened then it would have been difficult for the police to frame innocent people who were not even aware of SIMI. However, it is conspicuous that the intentions of the government with regards to Muslim youths are not clear. Which is why even if there is firecracker SIMI is being blamed.

When in the year 2001 SIMI was banned for the first, the Congress also targeted the NDA government. But when it came to power, it over-stepped all of the limit of decency. Nonetheless, the Chief of Anti-Communal Forum (a Forum formed by the Congress government) Amresh Mishra firmly holds the view that the ban is absolutely illegal. He also agreed that the Congress is infested with communal elements. The Minister of State for Minorities Affairs in the new UPA government Salman Khursheed had been a Counsel for SIMI. Recently, speaking at a public programme organized by a Social Organization, he acceded that he argued in the Court against the ban on SIMI and that he personally does not consider this stand of (Congress) Party as correct.

Tehelka’s Editor-at-Large Ajit Sahi is perturbed at the question of court and law as regards SIMI. He (dejectedly) advises that now to expect justice from the courts is an absolute folly. He emphasizes for justice for both Hindus and Muslims. He prophesizes that if justice is not done then this country would wobble into pieces.

Besides the police and judiciary, the fourth estate i.e. media is also not far away. The catastrophe is that there is a new trend in the modern media that even before the accused is proved guilty s/he is being branded as a dreaded criminal by the modern media. The fact of the matter is that the media has played a key role in creating hype against the SIMI and presenting it as a terrorist organization. It is against the democratic principles to first shut it mouth by clamping a ban any organization and then make an onslaught of a slew of baseless allegations against it. Advocate Mobeen Akhter maintains that the pace at which the hearings are taking place, it would take at least ten years to finalize the case pertaining to the ban. Till then, would there be any SIMI member below thirty?

SIMI at a Glance
Formation: 25 April 1977, Aligarh
First ban (for two years): 27 September 2001
Tribunal confirmed ban: 26 March 2002
2nd ban (for two years): 26 September 2003
Tribunal confirmed ban: 16 April 2004
Shahid Badr released from jail: 7 April 2004
3rd ban (for two years): 8 February 2006
Tribunal confirmed ban: 8 August 2006
4th ban (for two years): 7 February 2008
Tribunal rejected ban: 5 August 2008
Stay on Tribunal’s judgment: by SC 6 August 2008

Details about cases and accused in some important states

State Cases before 8 Feb 2006 Cases from 8 July 2006 till July 2008 Number of Arrested Status
Maharashtra 185 11 937 ..
Madhya Pradesh 76 8 238 76 cases are pending trial
Gujrat 12 2 192 All cases are pending trial
West Bengal 10 58 5 cases are pending trial
Kerla 17 1 37 9 cases are pending trial
Tamil Nadu 15 26 ..
Rajastahn 14 22 11 cases are pending trial
Delhi 5 2 16 6 cases are pending trial
Andhra Pradesh 14 15 ..
Karnatka 4 8 ..

Uttar Pradesh 40
.. 22 cases are pending trial

Note: – This table does not consist of the number of those persons who were arrested for the charge of being involved in bomb attacks in 2008.

(The article was published in the November 2009 issue of Afkar-e-Milli Urdu monthly. The writer is Special Correspondent of the periodical and can be contacted at [email protected])