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In targeting Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, Modi-Shah throw a challenge to civil society, minorities

John Dayal 08 May 2020

Dr zafrul islam khan

In days of old, when life was normal – in a manner of speaking – many a Muslim young man would reach out to Dr Zafarul Islam Khan for wise counsel to get out whatever difficulty they had encountered at work, or play, or God forbid, if they found themselves in some serious trouble.

Long before he was named chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission by Chief minister Mr Arvind Kejriwal, the 72 year old academic, publisher and editor, was already a compassionate ear for those seeking help, advice, or just solace. An avuncular uncle, a community elder to be trusted to come to their relief.

His office as chair of the minorities commission perhaps just added a government stamp on a reputation well earned by himself, and through his family.

He is the son of the venerable Islamic scholar, Mr. Wahiddudin Khan,  a peacenik and proponent of inter-religious harmony if ever there was one in the country. Dr Zafarul Islam Khan himself is no mean scholar, with his higher studies  abroad, and rare scholarship in Arabic.  His English language magazine, Milli Gazette, was the go-to journal for researchers and fellow journalists, for its documentation of news, and insights. He ran the magazine in its print format for as long as he could, before turning it into an internet news portal. Milli Gazette was perhaps the only non-political party published English magazine from the community. It covered issues of other  minorities too, but became a window to developments across the country narrated until then only in the Urdu press.

But Dr Khan came into his own as head of the Delhi Minorities Commission.  I have for decades interacted with the National Commission for Minorites and various state commissions, and found most of them useless, not even paper tigers. It is unfortunate that most of the commissions set up in the country for the welfare of religious minorities forget that their role is in the nature of a watchdog smelling out any violation of the rights and liberties other wards. Most are subservient to the appointing authority, the Prime Minisger or the chief minister, sometimes at the cost of the common people.

Dr Khan broke the pattern. When occasion came in the last two years, he spoke against the  ruling dispensation. Delhi’s complicated multi-tier governance is structurally biased against the underdog, the victim, the poor. The police is with the Prime Minister, doing his bidding through the Union Home Minister and the Lt Governor of Delhi, almost always a retired and very subservient bureaucrat.  To challenge police highhandedness, and atrocities, implies challenging the highest in the land.

Delhi’s revolt  against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, 2019) and the National Citizenship  Register found him in fine fettle. He had already spoken out against the raging islamophobia, the atrocities in Assam on the issue of citizenship, and the police violence in Aligarh Muslim University where sten guns, grenades and tear gas were both used to flush out peaceful students from their hostel rooms.

Shaheen Bagh, replicated a score and multiple times in Delhi and more than a hundred times across the nation. The protest (or protests) were followed soon thereafter with the massive targeted  violence in East Delhi.

The public discourse on the violence was altered by the death of an off duty junior employee of the central Intelligence Bureau [his family has since then been granted a Rs One crore compensation by the Delhi government, in addition to grants from the central government]. The police was clear. Its job was to hunt out Muslims involved in this murder, and the murder of other Hindus.

There was, to all intents and purposes, no pursuit of political leaders, including a sitting minister of state in the Union council of ministers, and a former legislator of Delhi, who had in direct and pungent Hindi advocated  shooting down of dissenters. The police were in no hurry to look for the killers of scores of young men trapped and killed in East Delhi. When an angry high court bench indicted the police, the judge was summarily transferred, and the chief justice reversed  the orders. There is no evidence in the public domain to indicate how many of those involved in the murder of Muslim men have been arrested.

The  suspension of civil society and the media in the Covid Lockdown is just the environment the political dispensation and the police have been praying for, it seems. Without let and without hindrance, the police are on a spree arresting JNU students for so-called anti-national activities, harassing and intimidating others , and absolutely terrorising  young Muslims they brand as activists.

This is worrisome for all of us in Civil Society. Internet petitions, which we have signed by the dozen, have no legal value, and the union government routinely  sweeps them out as spam.

The total lack of movement has restricted even family members trying to go to court, further hindered by 'procedure': of absolute illiteracy in seeking genuine relief in virtual hearing through a laptop App.

The country’s tallest civil rights lawyers, Dr. Colin Gonsalves among them, and Dr. Khan’s own counsel, Ms Vrinda Grover have pointed out that the FIR filed against Dr Khan is frivolous, malicious and without legal merit. Absolutely no criminal act or intent is made out against the chairman of the Delhi minorities commission. At worst, if one were to put it this way, perhaps the wise Dr. Khan need not have been so warm in welcoming tweets by princesses and officials in the Gulf region who had hit out at the virulent islamophobia that was competing with Covid in its anarchy. An indiscretion, at best. Not a crime.

The police have soiled their reputation in their raid on Dr. Khan’s house, just a few minutes before he and every Muslim in the city was about to break the Ramzan Roza, or fast, in the traditional Iftar.  Their insistence that he accompany them to the police station - a sort of informal arrest  and humiliation – was thwarted by the local people collecting in large numbers in the lane where his house is situated. Ms Vrinda Grover also issued a grave warning to the police not to dare take her client to the police station by force.

At 72 years, Dr Khan is protected by existing rules from such dire action by  the police. Not that the city’s police force cares much about standard operating procedures and human rights. In the many arrests after December 19, 2019, following the myriad anti-CAA, anti-NPR/NRC demonstrations, were men and women in their 70s, some of them with chronic ailments, including cardiac diseases and diabetes. They were rounded up and kept without food and water for long hours.

The police do not really need to arrest Dr. Khan for a tweet. If that were so, they had their hands full looking for the trolls who have threatened Muslim youth with murder, violence, and gang rape.

Mr Modi’s police is not simply harassing or trying to intimidate a 72 year old scholar. In targeting the chairman of the state minorities commission,  the central government is intimidating the entire community, already victimised beyond comprehension in the past five months and more.

Mr Modi’s government  has also thrown down a gauntlet to civil society, to every decent citizen; that the ruling party, their ideological phalanxes in the larger Sangh Parivar, do not care for civilities, or the dignity assured each citizen by and under the Constitution. They think that the Covid-inspired curfew, which the police has capitalised to the full, provides them enough cover to do dirty by the Constitution.

But even this curfew has a shelf life. And therein lies hope.

[Dr John Dayal, civil liberties and human rights activist,  was nominated to the National Integration Council in 2004, and re-nominated in 2009. The Prime Minister, who is the chairman of the NIC, has not called a single meeting of the NIC in his six years in office.] 

 

In targeting Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, Modi-Shah throw a challenge to civil society, minorities

Dr zafrul islam khan

In days of old, when life was normal – in a manner of speaking – many a Muslim young man would reach out to Dr Zafarul Islam Khan for wise counsel to get out whatever difficulty they had encountered at work, or play, or God forbid, if they found themselves in some serious trouble.

Long before he was named chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission by Chief minister Mr Arvind Kejriwal, the 72 year old academic, publisher and editor, was already a compassionate ear for those seeking help, advice, or just solace. An avuncular uncle, a community elder to be trusted to come to their relief.

His office as chair of the minorities commission perhaps just added a government stamp on a reputation well earned by himself, and through his family.

He is the son of the venerable Islamic scholar, Mr. Wahiddudin Khan,  a peacenik and proponent of inter-religious harmony if ever there was one in the country. Dr Zafarul Islam Khan himself is no mean scholar, with his higher studies  abroad, and rare scholarship in Arabic.  His English language magazine, Milli Gazette, was the go-to journal for researchers and fellow journalists, for its documentation of news, and insights. He ran the magazine in its print format for as long as he could, before turning it into an internet news portal. Milli Gazette was perhaps the only non-political party published English magazine from the community. It covered issues of other  minorities too, but became a window to developments across the country narrated until then only in the Urdu press.

But Dr Khan came into his own as head of the Delhi Minorities Commission.  I have for decades interacted with the National Commission for Minorites and various state commissions, and found most of them useless, not even paper tigers. It is unfortunate that most of the commissions set up in the country for the welfare of religious minorities forget that their role is in the nature of a watchdog smelling out any violation of the rights and liberties other wards. Most are subservient to the appointing authority, the Prime Minisger or the chief minister, sometimes at the cost of the common people.

Dr Khan broke the pattern. When occasion came in the last two years, he spoke against the  ruling dispensation. Delhi’s complicated multi-tier governance is structurally biased against the underdog, the victim, the poor. The police is with the Prime Minister, doing his bidding through the Union Home Minister and the Lt Governor of Delhi, almost always a retired and very subservient bureaucrat.  To challenge police highhandedness, and atrocities, implies challenging the highest in the land.

Delhi’s revolt  against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA, 2019) and the National Citizenship  Register found him in fine fettle. He had already spoken out against the raging islamophobia, the atrocities in Assam on the issue of citizenship, and the police violence in Aligarh Muslim University where sten guns, grenades and tear gas were both used to flush out peaceful students from their hostel rooms.

Shaheen Bagh, replicated a score and multiple times in Delhi and more than a hundred times across the nation. The protest (or protests) were followed soon thereafter with the massive targeted  violence in East Delhi.

The public discourse on the violence was altered by the death of an off duty junior employee of the central Intelligence Bureau [his family has since then been granted a Rs One crore compensation by the Delhi government, in addition to grants from the central government]. The police was clear. Its job was to hunt out Muslims involved in this murder, and the murder of other Hindus.

There was, to all intents and purposes, no pursuit of political leaders, including a sitting minister of state in the Union council of ministers, and a former legislator of Delhi, who had in direct and pungent Hindi advocated  shooting down of dissenters. The police were in no hurry to look for the killers of scores of young men trapped and killed in East Delhi. When an angry high court bench indicted the police, the judge was summarily transferred, and the chief justice reversed  the orders. There is no evidence in the public domain to indicate how many of those involved in the murder of Muslim men have been arrested.

The  suspension of civil society and the media in the Covid Lockdown is just the environment the political dispensation and the police have been praying for, it seems. Without let and without hindrance, the police are on a spree arresting JNU students for so-called anti-national activities, harassing and intimidating others , and absolutely terrorising  young Muslims they brand as activists.

This is worrisome for all of us in Civil Society. Internet petitions, which we have signed by the dozen, have no legal value, and the union government routinely  sweeps them out as spam.

The total lack of movement has restricted even family members trying to go to court, further hindered by 'procedure': of absolute illiteracy in seeking genuine relief in virtual hearing through a laptop App.

The country’s tallest civil rights lawyers, Dr. Colin Gonsalves among them, and Dr. Khan’s own counsel, Ms Vrinda Grover have pointed out that the FIR filed against Dr Khan is frivolous, malicious and without legal merit. Absolutely no criminal act or intent is made out against the chairman of the Delhi minorities commission. At worst, if one were to put it this way, perhaps the wise Dr. Khan need not have been so warm in welcoming tweets by princesses and officials in the Gulf region who had hit out at the virulent islamophobia that was competing with Covid in its anarchy. An indiscretion, at best. Not a crime.

The police have soiled their reputation in their raid on Dr. Khan’s house, just a few minutes before he and every Muslim in the city was about to break the Ramzan Roza, or fast, in the traditional Iftar.  Their insistence that he accompany them to the police station - a sort of informal arrest  and humiliation – was thwarted by the local people collecting in large numbers in the lane where his house is situated. Ms Vrinda Grover also issued a grave warning to the police not to dare take her client to the police station by force.

At 72 years, Dr Khan is protected by existing rules from such dire action by  the police. Not that the city’s police force cares much about standard operating procedures and human rights. In the many arrests after December 19, 2019, following the myriad anti-CAA, anti-NPR/NRC demonstrations, were men and women in their 70s, some of them with chronic ailments, including cardiac diseases and diabetes. They were rounded up and kept without food and water for long hours.

The police do not really need to arrest Dr. Khan for a tweet. If that were so, they had their hands full looking for the trolls who have threatened Muslim youth with murder, violence, and gang rape.

Mr Modi’s police is not simply harassing or trying to intimidate a 72 year old scholar. In targeting the chairman of the state minorities commission,  the central government is intimidating the entire community, already victimised beyond comprehension in the past five months and more.

Mr Modi’s government  has also thrown down a gauntlet to civil society, to every decent citizen; that the ruling party, their ideological phalanxes in the larger Sangh Parivar, do not care for civilities, or the dignity assured each citizen by and under the Constitution. They think that the Covid-inspired curfew, which the police has capitalised to the full, provides them enough cover to do dirty by the Constitution.

But even this curfew has a shelf life. And therein lies hope.

[Dr John Dayal, civil liberties and human rights activist,  was nominated to the National Integration Council in 2004, and re-nominated in 2009. The Prime Minister, who is the chairman of the NIC, has not called a single meeting of the NIC in his six years in office.] 

 

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