Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 46, Dated Nov 22, 2008
A Target Forever
Acquitted by the Supreme Court, but suspected by people everywhere
Professor, University of Delhi
AT 11.30 AM on November 6, 2008, I reached the
Arts Faculty of Delhi University to chair a seminar
on ‘Communalism, Fascism and
Democracy: Rhetoric and Reality’. As I took my
seat, I hardly knew that in just a few minutes I
would be the focus of a brazen fascist attack. Barely had I sat
down that a student approached me pretending to want to
speak to me. But instead, he spat on me. Immediately, all hell
broke loose. Members of the ABVP/RSS in the audience and
outside the hall started screaming, and breaking furniture
and windowpanes. Undeterred by the large police presence,
they abused not just me but the entire Muslim community.
For a moment, I was shocked. But as the man who spat on
me raised slogans, I realised that he was from the RSS-BJP culture.
These are the people who murdered Prof. Sabherwal in
Ujjain and, very recently, demonstrated this behaviour in
Orissa and in Karnataka.
This is the fascism of those
who claim to represent Indian
culture. A wrong message
goes out to the world that violence
represents Indian culture.
I have seen this fascism all the while since I was
arrested as an accused in December 2001 in the Parliament
attack case and even after I was acquitted in 2005.
Indeed, life after acquittal has been very difficult not just
for me but also for my family. It’s a long story. I have been
identified as a target; anything can happen any moment. In
2005, there was an assassination attempt on me. I got six
bullets. Doctors gave up hope but I miraculously survived.
A year earlier, I had given an affidavit to the Supreme Court
saying there was a danger to my life. There have been several
other attempts. I know there is danger around me.
I avoid accompanying my wife and my children anywhere
as I don’t want them identified with me. I tried to go shopping
with them once or twice but it became impossible and
we came back quickly. Earlier, when I was in prison, no Delhi
school would admit my son (now in the 7th standard) and
daughter (now in the 11th standard). I had to send them to Kashmir to study. Despite the Supreme Court acquitting me,
no landlord would rent me his house.
Once, after my acquittal, my family and I were traveling
to Jammu by train. A politician was travelling in the same
coach. The next morning, one of his security personnel complained
to me, “Geelanisaheb, you didn’t let us sleep last
night.” Apparently, the politician was so scared of my being
in the coach that he sat up the night and forced his security
men to stay awake, too. Another time I was travelling by
Shatabdi Express to Lucknow from Delhi to attend a meeting
at the invitation of Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep
Pandey. During the journey, I went to the washroom. When
I returned everyone was on tenterhooks about my luggage.
Once I was attending a meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru University
in New Delhi in 2004 when RSS activists surrounded
it and began stoning it.
But some good things,
too, have happened. Earlier this year, I was invited to deliver a lecture
at IIT Kanpur on the issue of Kashmir. Those attending included some Hindu
boys from Gujarat. My speech was roundly applauded. Later, at tea break,
this group of Gujarati boys came up to me and began apologising. I said:
I have never met you, so why apologise? It so happened that when the death
sentence on Parliament attack accused, Afzal Guru, was upheld, I had led
a sit-in at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Uma Bharti had organised a counter
sit-in there, which these boys had joined. “We abused you that day,”
they said. “We said a lot of things we are ashamed of now.”
The media has played a highly dubious role in turning the
people against me. I remember the first time I was paraded
before the media on December 16, 2001. Every TV channel
and newspaper was there. It was like walking the ramp. I
shouted: we are being framed. But no one reported what I said.
Instead, their banner headlines said a university professor had
led the terrorists. Throughout the trial, the media ignored the
defence and only reported the police version.
After I was released from prison, I was aghast to see that
every newspaper had — falsely — blown up my alleged role
in terrorism, claiming that I had masterminded the Parliament
attack. Many in the media had even equated me with
Osama bin Laden.
A Hindi newspaper claimed I was running a terrorist network
from England to Aligarh, a city I have never visited.
Another report said I had recruited Omar Sheikh (who the
then foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, had handed over to the
Taliban in Kandahar) while he
was studying at the London
School of Economics —
where I’ve never studied.
A prominent Hindi TV
news network made a film
portraying me as the mastermind of not just the Parliament
attack but of the entire militancy in Kashmir!
Finally, the High Court and then the Supreme Court acquitted
me of all charges. In fact, the High Court found that
the police had forged documents and fabricated the evidence.
But the media portrayed a picture that is now stuck
in the peoples’ minds. This is true for others, too.
In Hyderabad, a court last week acquitted some Muslim
youth held for the Mecca Masjid blast. The media hasn’t
bothered to report this. In Mumbai, a court had acquitted all
the accused of bombing a bus in 2003. No one reported it.
I HAVE SEEN the intelligence agencies very closely. Sitting
with them, I never felt I was in a government office of a
democratic country. Instead, it felt like the RSS headquarters.
These agencies are highly communalised. Unfortunately,
there is a lot of embedded journalism going on. The
intelligence agencies plant stories through many journalists,
who happily publish them.
Most importantly, however, it is the people of India who
have forgotten to question their government. I repeatedly
ask people: do you know who
actually attacked Parliament
on December 13, 2001? Nobody
knows and nobody has
asked. That is why, at the moment,
things look bad. Prejudice
rules. The democratic space is shrinking. We must
resolve to suffer to preserve the open democratic space so
that our future generations benefit.
Because I talk about the rights of the Kashmiri people I
am a clear target. But that again is the government’s fault. If
the Indian government had given the people a true picture
of the Kashmir issue there would not have been these kinds
of difficulties for us, or even for the government of India and
Pakistan to resolve it. But there is so much false propaganda
and misinformation that people don’t know what really is
the Kashmir problem.