Tehelka.comArchive.tehelka.comtehelkahindi.com tehelkafoundation.org criticalfutures.org

Search for archived stories here...


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 32, Dated Aug 16, 2008
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
the simi fictions

The Thin Red Line

TARUN J TEJPAL
Editor-in-Chief

I WAS AMONG several who saw him die. His name was Surjit Singh Penta, and the year was 1988. A smartly calibrated siege of the Golden Temple had just ended in the surrender of all the militants holed up inside the Harmandir Sahib, the Temple’s sanctum sanctorum. As they filed out and squatted in the courtyard of the serai on the Temple’s periphery, a sudden commotion broke out. The police spotters had recognised a major militant. But before they could lay hands on him, he had swallowed his cyanide pill, and though the police threw him into a jeep to rush him to hospital, he was dead. Penta’s story deserves telling because it illustrates the pathology of oppression. The young Sikh was a national-level athlete representing Delhi before he became a witness to the brutal Sikh massacres of 1984. By the time he committed suicide a few years later more than 40 killings were attributed to him.

Illustration Anand Naorem

Before he became a terrorist Penta had been terrorised by the state — or its malign absence. That is often the sequence: the state’s excesses, followed by those of the individual. The line between law enforcement and high-handedness is always very thin. In India, dangerously, it is being smudged every day. Are Naxalites victims before they become perpetrators? Are young militants in the north-east and Kashmir brutalised before they become brutal? Is the ordinary citizen meted out insensitivity before he becomes desensitised? What does one say about a country where one turns to the police with trepidation, where no one expects the men in khaki to do the right thing?

While extreme viewpoints have a right to exist in a free society, it goes without saying that no one ought to have any sympathy for the positions of bigoted groups and individuals. The kind who base their existence on perilous ideas of divine rights, exclusion of unbelievers, intolerance, violence, and a preferred way of life to which everyone else must conform. If SIMI is one such organisation, it deserves our criticism and scorn. If it is breaking the law and fomenting hatred, it deserves to be rigorously investigated and brought to justice. But what if it is a target of widespread and growing prejudice? What if the drive against it is misdirected and designed to seed more terror than it aims to suppress? And while steel may cut steel, as the old Hindi saw goes, can prejudice ever neutralise prejudice?

For the seven years since SIMI has been outlawed, state agencies have been insisting that the outfit is an anti-national organisation engaged in conspiracies to destabilise the government through acts of terror; and that it brazenly preaches sedition, being closely linked with Pakistanbased terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tyaba, Hizb-ul- Mujahideen, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Alleged SIMI activists stand accused of some of the worst terrorist crimes on Indian soil, including bomb blasts that killed 187 people in Mumbai’s local trains two years ago.

BUT A three-month long investigation by TEHELKA — carried out all over the country — reveals that a large majority of these cases are redolent of a chilling and systematic witch-hunt against innocent Muslims. Sadly, the expose shows it is not just the policing and intelligence agencies that are to blame — even the judicial process is often complicit in the terrible miscarriage of justice. Ajit Sahi’s painstaking and remarkable reportage reveals a shocking web of dubious cases being pursued against so-called operatives of SIMI — cases which lack evidence, cases which flagrantly ignore standard procedures of criminal investigation and trial, cases that callously destroy the lives of young men and their families.

The Indian state must tread carefully. The individual tragedies point to a wider psychosis. For the last many years — abetted by global trends — the state’s actions and utterances seem to be deepening a prejudice against Muslims. Catching the mood, Bollywood’s arch villains are now mostly Islamic. India has 160 million Muslims - more than Pakistan, more than any other country save Indonesia. Even if 10,000 are radicalised it’s barely a tree in a forest. To create an atmosphere that blights the entire forest is a mistake. To foster a psychology of siege in an entire community is a disaster. Before it seeks further bans, the state ought to vigorously introspect. William Faulkner wrote that “prejudice is shown to be the most destructive when it is internalised”. TEHELKA’s detailed investigation suggests, alarmingly, that in the shiningstruggling India of today there is a real danger of that.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 32, Dated Aug 16, 2008
Related Stories


The Thin Red Line
TARUN J TEJPAL

The Kafka Project
In a crucial investigation over three months, Editor-at-Large AJIT SAHI tracked the SIMI fictions across 11 cities

Inside The Whale: State Vs Shahid Badr Falahi
In case after case, the ex-president of SIMI has been the target of the law agencies’ absurd yet sinister charges, Reports AJIT SAHI

The Good Doctor's Complications
Absolved by several courts, a former SIMI office-bearer continues to face the stigma that bars him from home and job, Reports AJIT SAHI

They just want Muslim boys to always be in jail
Moutasim Billah has been a police scapegoat for seven years, even though they acknowledge they have nothing on him, Reports AJIT SAHI

A Doubtful Crime, And Years Of Unfair Punishment
Yasin Patel is the only SIMI activist to be convicted under POTA. His crime was nothing more serious than an offensive poster, Reports AJIT SAHI

The Cry Of The Beloved Country
Chilling stories of fathers and brothers swallowed by midnight arrests, as family members lack the resources for legal redr, Reports AJIT SAHI

The Haunt Of Our Past Lives
A leading Muslim outfit in Tamil Nadu is accused of killing Hindus. But the Centre’s lawyers can’t remember their own evidence, Reports AJIT SAHI

SIMI Here, SIMI There, SIMI Everywhere
This SIMI litigation is an omnibus case in which the 100 plus accused are now always at hand to be implicated in future cases, Reports AJIT SAHI

The History Appraiser Caught With His Books
Among Abdul Razik’s crimes: books, old issues of a SIMI magazine and a talk on Muslims in the freedom struggle, Reports AJIT SAHI

A Man Of God, Not A Man Of Terror
The Centre casually links a septuagenarian religious leader with SIMI — and then fails to sustain its reckless accusation against him, Reports AJIT SAHI

Dissent Or Don’t, You’re Damned Either Way
Since when did protest get you called a jehadi? Ask M. Elliyas, jailed under a ludicrous law, Reports AJIT SAHI

The Left Hand Doesn't Know, Or Doesn't It?
The bizarre case of Ziauddin Siddiqui, injured in a clash with police, given compensation — and then accused of rioting and sedition, Reports AJIT SAHI

The Case Of The Absconding Lawyer
Midway through the tribunal, a key SIMI lawyer is suddenly arrested in an old, forgotten case and released as arguments end, Reports AJIT SAHI

A Judge Stirs A Hornet's Nest
Mere opinions, a stunning abscence of facts and gross violations of law in the Centre’s case against SIMI are what moved tribunal judge Geeta Mittal to reject the ban, Reports AJIT SAHI

‘The Supreme Court’s stay is a murder of justice’
Despite the setback, SIMI’s ex-president Shahid Badr Falahi is confident the body will be legitimate again, Reports AJIT SAHI

Terror Has Two Faces
A shadowy, pan-Islamic seditious organisation or merely a conservative Islamist and politically conscious student group? Read and draw your own conclusions on SIMI, Reports AJIT SAHI


Print this story Feedback Add to favorites Email this story


ADVERTISEMENT


ADVERTISEMENT


  About Us | Advertise With Us | Print Subscriptions | Syndication | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Feedback | Contact Us | Bouquets & Brickbats