Shakil leads the Nirbhay Bano Andolan , a one-stop group where the poor and marginalised Muslims can go for information and education on their rights.
When every one forgets about the victims of the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, Shakil Ahmed questioned the reasoning behind bringing the Gujarat riot cases to the city when Mumbai riots victims are still awaiting justice.
Speaking at a press conference recently in Mumbai, he accused the state government of hypocrisy for not trying to speed up court hearings in the Mumbai riot cases while taking credit for getting the Gujarat riot cases transferred to the city.
Armed with a formal legal education, Shakil Ahmed is making Mumbai’s municipal government more accountable to its citizens by calling attention to the corruption and brutality that poor Indians suffer at its hands.
Shakil leads the Nirbhay Bano Andolan (NBA), a one-stop group where the poor and marginalised can go for information and education on their rights. The NBA demands government accountability and offers a hands-on manual for interacting with various arms of the government.
Shakil’s strategy is to identify an instance of state violence against the common man or woman, publicise it, and solicit public criticism about it from common people as well as from eminent members of the judicial, legal and political worlds. He then makes sure to keep the story in front of the media and creates opportunities for the community to voice grievances directly to the political representatives of the state. The goal, which is often achieved, is to force responsible authorities to swing into action.
Shakil’s mantra is one of encouraging community self-help, telling people about their rights and equipping them better to fight for those rights. From the queues at the ration shops to complaints at the police station, from emergency services in cases of rape and murder to campaigns for proper implementation of a government fact-finding report, Shakil and his team of volunteers help the common people in the Mumbai slums demand their rights and exercise their power as citizens, without fearing the police, the bureaucrats, or the muscle-flexing politicians. Shakil’s focus is to bring justice to victims and more importantly, empowering them to fight their battles in a more informed manner. “In the process, people learn to handle crisis situations and overcome their fear of those in power. This builds community strength both by helping the oppressed help themselves and by identifying potential leaders among the public who can continue working into the future. The NBA does not just fight the battles on behalf of the people, they empower the common people to fight on their own,” he said.
Shakeel opines that bureaucratic red tape on the one hand and corruption on the other have afflicted the system so much that people feel the state machinery is there to rule over them rather than to benefit them. “The voice of the poor people has been suppressed, and the poor have developed fear and mistrust of the state system. People are afraid to report crimes to the authorities as they do not want to risk having the authorities turn on them. The poor, marginalised slum dwellers are at an even greater risk–they are afraid even to ask for those rights that should come to them routinely.” he said.
Shakil’s first step is keep his ears open for word of any event, regardless of its seeming political impact, that attacks the human rights of any member of the community and to investigate it carefully. He and his group of volunteers visit the scene of the crime, collect eye-witnesses, and take down accounts of the event from diverse sources. Shakil then sets out to build consensus around the issue. Roadside meetings are held to discuss and seek support from the community and a detailed account of the event is documented. Shakil then looks to amass support for his effort from groups of sympathetic resource people that include retired police commissioners, judges, government officials, and members of the press.
One of Shakil’s battles serves as a prime example of his effective strategy. Shakil pushed the Democratic Front government into implementing the now three-year-old Sri Krishna Commission report, which indicted 15 police officers for conduct during the communal riots that rocked Mumbai in 1992-93. In addition to improving the NBA’s capacity to fight for its constituents, Shakil works to build the community’s capacity to fight for itself.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)