By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
People carry a colourful cloth to pray for world peace at the Taj Mahal in Agra July 31, 2008.
NEW DELHI: Of late, a few developments in India stand reflective of constructive steps being taken against certain prejudiced notions prevailing in the country against Muslims. Ironically, this includes questioning the ban imposed on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), in response to a petition filed by this organization.
Justice Geeta Mittal, a sitting Delhi High Court judge, heads the special tribunal. During the in-camera proceedings, in which she was briefed by senior home ministry and intelligence officials, Mittal asked them to bring on record the facts on the basis of which the ban was imposed. The government cannot extend the ban on the basis of earlier records against the organization. The government has to bring new facts to justify its decision, she said.
“What precluded the government from stating the facts? You have to satisfy the tribunal about the sufficiency of the reason behind issuing a fresh notification (on the ban,” Mittal had earlier said (July 30).
For its part, the government argued that it can ban such an organization even in anticipation.
“Earlier, we issued notification and then Malegaon blasts happened. SIMI still indulges in communal activities and it is a threat to the secular fabric of our society,” Additional Solicitor General Kalyan Pathak said.
Mittal reserved the tribunal’s verdict on SIMI’s petition challenging the center’s decision to continue the ban by asking for facts justifying the same (August 1).
What is noteworthy is that rather than simply dismissing SIMI’s petition, Mittal has asked government to satisfy the tribunal with evidence on extending the ban against the organization.
The center had issued a fresh notification on February 7, 2008 to extend the ban on SIMI for another two years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Acts. Formed in April 1977, SIMI has been banned for the last seven years for its involvement in terrorist incidents in India. Extending the ban, the notification issued in February by the Home Ministry said that the organization was involved in unlawful activities in the country and was spreading communal hatred.
SIMI’s mission is stated to be the “liberation of India” from western materialistic cultural influence. The government and anti-Muslim extremist elements, however, suspect it to be involved in terrorism. The organization is suspected to be operating under the name of Indian Mujahideen, and is suspected to be responsible for the recent blasts in Ahmedabad.
There is a difference in an organization being banned in “anticipation,” on suspicion and on having been found guilty of actually being involved in terrorist activities. Mittal’s demand from the government for evidence to justify its stand for extending the ban against SIMI is an important development. Not only has SIMI’s petition been admitted in the special tribunal, it has been heard, and now the government is to present evidence it has against the organization with which the tribunal is satisfied.
Mittal’s stand also suggests that apparently some importance is being given to stop linking Muslim organizations such as SIMI with terrorism, unless there exists substantial evidence against them.
The trend to easily and instantly blame Muslims and Muslim organizations as guilty of terrorist incidents has prevailed in the country for some time. Slowly but definitely, people are realizing the need to change such prejudiced attitudes. Mittal’s attitude is one example of this major development.
Another piece of evidence of this is the efforts made by police in Mumbai to understand the Muslim community.
Recently, a daylong workshop was organized at the Police Club Hall, to help police personnel understand the Muslim community. In this direction, the initiative was taken by Additional Commissioner of Police (Special Branch I) Sunil Ramanand. He received cooperation from Ibrahim Tai, a Muslim social activist and a trustee of the Muslim Council Trust.
In the workshop, Tai said: “I got Maulanas from Barelvi, Deoband, Ahle Hadees and Shi’a schools of Islam to talk about their respective sects.” Describing the workshop as a welcome move, Tai said: “Policemen asked several interesting questions about intricacies of Islam. It was a welcome exercise, which I hope will help the police understand the Muslim position on many issues confronting the community.”
In the coming months, more such workshops are expected to be conducted to help the police personnel understand the Muslim community better, sources said.
It is not the first time that such efforts have been made by Indian police to understand Muslims.
Among the senior officers remembered for having made special effort to understand Muslims is V.N. Deshmukh. He is credited for having understood the prejudice held by police against the city’s Muslims. Coming to terms with this reality led him to state before the Justice Srikrishna Commission formed to probe the ‘93 Mumbai riots, “that there was a general bias against the Muslims in the minds of average policemen, which was evident in the way they dealt with Muslims.” Deshmukh accepted that this “general police against Muslims crystallized itself in action during January 1993.”
Amid the backdrop of the prejudice that has prevailed against Muslims, it may be worth noting that Indian secularism is too strong and deep rooted to let such communalism retain its hold for too long.
The steps taken by Mumbai police and Mittal’s stand on SIMI’s ban are welcome reminders of this secularism.