Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

June 2005
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'My Days in Prison'
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Iftikhar Gilani’s My Days in Prison (Penguin Books, price Rs. 195) is not a prison diary. It is an indictment of an establishment that has not shed its colonial tendency to brand innocent people guilty. It is aided by the draconian Official Secrets Act of 1923 vintage.

Gilani who worked with me in a feature syndicate in Delhi in the first half of 90s, was booked under the said Act, hurled into the dreaded Tihar Jail and made to undergo humiliation, infamy stemming from malicious propaganda, litigation and torture which even people undergoing charges of sedition are not supposed to be inflicted with. He was arrested under the full glare of media for possessing a document which was neither classified nor unpublished. The media attributed to him crimes which he had not committed and attached sinister meanings to his kinship with people in quagmarish politics of Jammu and Kashmir. (He is son-in-law of Hurriyet leader Syed Shah Geelani.) By no stretch of imagination, the possession of a document which was already published and available in several libraries, websites and institutes, should have been seen as ‘an act of treason’. But bizarre are the ways of the establishment. Not only did the Delhi Police bumbled in implicating him, even the judicial process erred in judging his ‘crime’. Serious ‘lapses’ were seen in recording statements, all contributing to delay in collapse of the indefensible case built on flimsy ground. Gilani was finally released in January 2003 after seven months of incarceration and harassment.

In the end, the establishment became a victim of its own high drama enacted while arresting Gilani. There was lot of egg on its face. Nothing that it did to make a criminal out of an innocent man stood the test of truth. The book provides a racy account of seven months in prison, the inhuman treatment meted out to people in jail much before they are proved offenders, the corruption which penetrates the high walls, the consummate artistry with which establishment can ensnare people under its tentacles.

Gilani, of course, was well connected and could secure his release with the help of friendly media and civil rights activists. He works for Kashmir Times from Jammu (Editor Ved Bhasin), and also works for Daily Times of Lahore and Voice of Germany radio. Innocent people with no connections suffer in silence and the book provides a peek into the innards of Tihar.

But thanks to the architects of our Constitution, Indian civil society is equally robust. Gilani found support and sympathy from the fraternity of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Even people considered pillars of the former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government such as George Fernandes, Jaya Jaitley and Tarun Vijay, editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, quietly worked behind the scene to impress Gilani’s innocence upon the establishment and its own highhandedness. It is but for these people that India remains a vibrant democracy. Gilani’s trauma is over, but the civil society should see to it that it does not visit others, much worse, the helpless.

Manipal's Heritage Houses
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Vijaynath Shenoy is a crusader of art. He collects houses of heritage value and has built a museum of nearly 25 such dwellings in Manipal, the coastal town of Karnataka in Udupi district which has emerged as a center of modern education, healthcare and banking. I know this humble man for the last eight year who footslogs day and night and has an uncanny eye for art, craft and architecture. The museum comprising the pleasing structures has been named ‘Heritage Village’. He invited 25 artists, writers, academicians and museologists to discuss the future of his collection at Manipal early in February. I was one among them.

The dwellings were selected from various sites on the Konkan coast. They were systematically dismantled, material transported to Manipal and reassembled in a way that they stood originally, in both form and character. Pillar by pillar, and rafter by rafter, the whole village has taken shape in about a quarter of a century. The collection of the 6-acre museum includes a coastal warehouse (called Hangarkatte Bansale), a Hindu Mutt from Jangambadi, a Brahmin House from Kunjur, some houses of fishermen complete with their catamaran, a Peshwa Maratha house from Belgaum, et al.

Shenoy’s passionate hunt for the object d’ art and the architecture is laudable. What impressed me even more is that Shenoy has not ignored the element of Muslim architecture in his heritage hunt. Even while Navayathi Muslims of nearby Bhatkal are oblivious of the heritage value of their own houses, Sehnoy bought a full house and reconstructed it in Heritage Village. It was about to be erased out of existence by a Navayathi Gulf-returnee. Sweep of modernization in Bhatkal has brought in houses made of steel, glass and concrete. The old dwellings with intricate woodwork, pleasant baithak (sit-outs) in front and exquisite staircases are fast vanishing. No one in Bhatkal has ever thought of preserving them. It is both sad and painful. Education with affluence should normally reawaken a sense of preservation of heritage and reemploying traditional wisdom. Sadly nothing of that sort seems to be happening even though Bhatkal has an Academy of Islamic Culture.

A second item in Shenoy’s collection is a Nawabi Mahal from a remote village of Bidar, the capital of erstwhile Bahamani kingdom. Shenoy says he was taken to the site of the Mahal blindfolded by the heirs of the old nawab. The resplendent palace has been reassembled at Manipal with all its delicate jharokas and chandeliers.

Efforts of people like Shenoy need to saluted. They not only preserve our heritage, but take care to preserve it in its entire diversity.

Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

It is said there are no innocents in politics. Late Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait—who died on April 26 – appeared to be a rare exception. Sait occupied a seat in the Indian Parliament for over 35 years. But he scrupulously stayed away from power and position. He lived an austere life and maintained dignity which few with that kind of parliamentary tenure and career are able to observe.

Be it in Kerala or his MP bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi, Sait was always accessible. He was deeply in pain at the destruction of Babri Masjid at the hands of the fanatics. He suspected complicity of Narasimha Rao and wanted his Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to come out of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala. It would have meant the collapse of the coalition government. However principled it might look, it did not appear politically sagacious to subject a state government far removed from the scene of action to bear the brunt. But he was adamant. It led to a split in the League and the birth of Indian National League. But the IUML clung to power jealously. Corruption and love for power in its varied forms, had seeped deep into its ranks. Most Leaguers had developed vested interests and they remained on the side of the power, notwithstanding their love and respect for ‘Settu Sahib’ as Malayalis fondly remembered him.

The outpourings of their love were visible on the day Sait Sahib’s funeral was taken out in Bangalore. Sait’s followers from Kerala poured in the city by all conceivable means of transport. As would fit his stature, Kerala Government arranged State honours for his last rites. The only people who were found deficient were Bangaloreans. Few locals turned up at the funeral. Painfully, there was no arrangement in place to host the guest-visitors from Kerala. Space in Masjid ran short. Nor was there enough water for wuzu (ablution), let alone someone arranging drinking water or meals packet. Eidgah ground where funeral prayer was offered, was a picture of chaos. One though the Cutchi Memon Union could have taken the hospitality upon itself. One does not know as to why the community which has shown munificence to be its hallmark, defied its own trait. Malabar Muslims spared nothing to elect Sait Sahib, a complete outsider, time and again merely because he was seen as an effective spokesman of Indian Muslims. But alas! Bangalore Muslims were found wanting when it came to host a few of them for less than a day.