Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Rabi-Ul Awwal/Rabi-Ul Akhir 1423 H
June 2002
Volume 15-06 No:186

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Investigation


The Save India Front
Time for Trial
Why Ahmedabad Continues to Burn

The Save India Front

It was the beginning of a new political combine of Dalits and Muslims in the north,
when they participated in a rally recently against the state-sponsored riots, rape and ethnic cleansing in Gujarat

By Md. Hanif Lakdawala

A Police Man Looking at Burning HouseRam Raj - the man who led the mass conversion of over 10,000 Dalits to Buddhism last year - has become a prime mover behind a Dalit-Muslim alliance as a counter-poise to the Sangh Parivar, after the Gujarat developments. Now called Udit Raj, Ram, who is also the National Chairman of the All-India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, and Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat-Ulama-e-Hind, have come together to form the Save India Front (SIF) whose avowed purpose is to maintain the country’s “unity, integrity and communal harmony’’. It claims to be a non-political body. On May 2, this year, the SIF also held a rally at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi “for the sake of the country and sufferings of the Muslims of Gujarat’’. “Illiteracy has kept my people backward’’, said Udit Raj .He is being touted as the new hope in the world of Dalit politics. Udit Raj, young, charismatic and with the acumen required to hold his own in the political rough-and-tumble, has already managed to build a healthy following among the Dalit community across the Hindi heartland. In fact, even other Dalit parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, Lok Janshakti, Samajwadi Party and various factions of the Republican Party of India have taken note of Raj, an indicator that he has arrived on the political scene.

In Mumbai, to speak on ‘Reservation Policy, Privatisation and Globalisation’, organised by the Welfare Association of the Officers of SC/ST/OBC in Central Excise Commissionerate, West Zone, recently Raj said he is fashioning a “truly secular and democratic’’, slightly left-of-centre political combine’’. Raj clearly has a penchant for spotless-white cotton shirts and black trousers, dons many caps and with consummate ease. Raj is attempting to build a base in Maharashtra as well, but prefers to ‘’make no comments’’ about what he perceives as a lacunae of the RPI factions in the state.

In 1999, he had organised a rally at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. His growing popularity was mirrored in the attendance at a rally he organised at the Boat Club in Delhi on November 4 last year. At the gathering, thousands of Dalits severed their connection with Manuwadi Hinduism and converted to Buddhism. On May 2, thousands of Muslims and Dalits participated in a rally convened by him in alliance with the Jamiat-Ulama-e-Hind in Delhi against the ‘’state-sponsored riots, rape and ethnic cleansing in Gujarat’’. Says Raj: “it was the beginning of a new political combine of Dalits and Muslims in the north. One where the Dalits will not co-habit with communal forces like the BSP has done in Uttar Pradesh. It will be a truly secular, democratic and progressive front and will include leftists and other radicals.’’

In his mid-40s now, Raj has metamorphosed from a local Robinhood in his school in rural Allahabad who beat “those who harassed the weaklings among my people’’, to being chairperson of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Employees. He took it under his wing in 1997, when he also took “voluntary leave’’ from the Indian Revenue Service. A 1988 batch officer, Raj has since pledged to work for the upliftment of the Dalits.Today, the confederation has a membership of around 20 lakh. “My organisation is powerful in areas, which are also traditional strongholds, in Haryana and Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. “So definitely the BSP has reason to be worried,’’ says Raj. An erudite man, Raj is at ease in the company of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and Gautama Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path (Ashtangika Marg) as well as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s best known works. “This is what the educated among the Dalits haven’t done. They have never bothered with the plight of the unprivileged since they became affluent. This was the regret of Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956. I shall yet not let him down,’’ says Raj. He says a fundamental problem is the community’s widespread illiteracy and lack of higher education. “All our political and other problems are a by-product of this malaise. My politics will centre around efforts to upgrade the education of my people and to break the unholy caste-system, the mother of all evils.’’ Raj has other priorities as well, which reflect his leftist leanings: “The Union government should give reservations to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the private sector and the higher judiciary as well. In any case, Dalits don’t have any stake in the process of privatisation and globalisation, which fill the coffers of the elite. We should give a far bigger role to the public sector in the economy, and the welfare state aspects of the state should be reinforced,’’ he feels.

Muslims of India must first focus on having and building a socio-economic alliance and cooperation with Dalits, adivasis and other backward sections of Indian society. Political alliance will follow which will be broader and stronger. Its high time Muslims start work at the grass root levels in the hinterland and team up with the deprived sections of Indian society, rather then depending on the political arithmetic for their destiny in India.

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Time for Trial

The longest-ever-criminal trial in Mumbai-the 1993 serial blast case- plods on quietly through the summer vacation. Designated judge P. D. Kode, who has been presiding over the trial, has worked without a breather for the last seven years, and has not made an exception this year either.

By Md. Hanif Lakdawala

As the prosecution and the defence gear up to submit arguments seven years after the marathon bomb blast trial reached its fag end, a ray of hope has emerged among the 124 accused, including film star Sanjay Dutt, for an early verdict. The longest-ever-criminal trial in the city-the 1993 serial blast case- plods on quietly through the summer vacation. Designated judge P.D.Kode, who has been presiding over the trial, has worked without a breather for the last seven years, and has not made an exception this year either.

The trial is in the last stages, but the final verdict can be expected only early next year, say lawyers. Defence lawyers currently are making oral submissions about the charges against their clients. The trial is a grim reminder of serial explosions, which rocked the metropolis on March 12, 1993, killing 257 persons and maiming 713 others besides damaging property worth Rs 30 crores. The blasts were caused at prestigious and important buildings like Mumbai Stock Exchange, Air-India Building, Hotel Sea Rock, Hotel Juhu Centaur, Hotel Airport Centaur and busy commercial areas like Zaveri Bazar, Century Bazar and Katha Bazar. A record number of 13,000 pages have been recorded as evidence by 684 witnesses examined by CBI. over 38,070 questions were put to the accused to record their statements. Of the 123 people on trial, 33 still have to present their arguments. Defence counsel Majeed Memon is currently making submissions on behalf of several people who have been in custody for the last nine years. The defence submissions are expected to go on until July, after which the prosecutor could take a couple of weeks to reply. The trial would stop after that, but the judge would require time to wade through the considerable quantity of documented evidence and defence submissions before he begins writing the judgment.

The 31 undertrials who continue to languish in judicial custody-many of them for the last nine years-include Yakub Memon, brother of alleged mastermind Tiger Memon. Memon’s wife and mother, who are also accused in the case, are on bail, as are other women undertrials. Memon’s father Abdul Razzak, also an accused, died last year. The prosecution story is that Dawood Ibrahim had masterminded the blasts in the aftermath of the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya and Tiger Memon is suspected to be in Pakistan. Two of the accused persons who turned approvers were examined in the beginning of the trial. According to the Police, both the approvers disclosed threadbare how the conspiracy was hatched and revealed that some accused were taken to Pakistan via Dubai for arms training. The prosecution also led evidence to show that RDX was used for the first time in India in this case. It was stuffed in cars and scooters in the godowns of Tiger Memon’s building at Mahim in central Mumbai.

Police harassment of the Muslim youth is clear in the Bomb blast cases. The arrested boys happened to be Muslims and subjected to intense humiliation by the police for being Muslims. Among the worst examples of delayed justice, is the serial bomb blasts. The trials involve multiple issues, which ought to have been separated and sequenced to ensure a meaningful trial. Instead, the litigation continues at a snail’s pace. The Bomb blast trial has implicated a large number of very ordinary people, many of them are guilty of nothing more than negligence or are innocent. Yet, justice is nowhere in sight, their careers have been ruined and they have been bankrupted by the sheer cost of defending themselves.

In terms of human suffering, the bomb blast case is far worse than any other trial in India - several wrongly implicated persons are languishing in jail for seven years along with hardened criminals. Many have suffered total nervous break down. For instance, one of the accused Yusuf is suffering from schizophrenia since 1991 and has been undergoing treatment since then. After the serial blasts, he had left with his family for Pakistan via Dubai. On his return, he was arrested with relatives at Delhi airport. The court released him on interim bail in 1998 after the jailor informed that Yusuf could not be treated in prison and had to be taken periodically to the government hospital. Since then, judge P D Kode extended his bail from time to time.

The then ruling BJP government had conducted an aggressive propaganda against the Muslims. Further the attitude of the state administration, which tars the whole community in the same brush, will further worsen the problem rather than solving it. Again, dealing with the Mumbai 92-93 riots and the bomb blasts are a good example about the differential attitude. While the suspects involved in the blasts were and are being tried in the special TADA court and have been put behind the bars, the culprits of the riots as pointed out by the Srikrishna Commission, are moving with a great amount of assertion and confidence about their patriotism. The Shiv Sena-BJP initially rejected this report. Even the current Democratic Front Government, rather then implementing its findings seems to be more interested in making a political capital of it

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Why Ahmedabad Continues to Burn

Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed to have controlled communal killings in Gujarat in "72 hours". But even more than 90 days since the violence erupted, streams of blood are blotting the state

By A Staff Writer

 

The news from Gujarat continues to be depressing. Over three months after violence first convulsed the state, ambiguity persists about the state administration’s resolve to restore normalcy. Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed to have controlled communal killings in Gujarat in “72 hours”. But even more than 90 days since the violence erupted, streams of blood are blotting the state.

Victims have related horrific accounts to the media, from watching their kin, even children, being burnt or hacked to death, to seeing their women being molested and raped. But what is worse, the police have taken down only vague complaints saying they could not single out individual perpetrators. The terrified victims who fled their homes when the mob attacks peaked are still crammed into overcrowded, unhygienic refuge camps, too scared to return for fear of being killed. But the state government has announced plans to wind up relief camps . Ahmedabad is a ghetto city, and strategic parts are in Muslim hands. For now, Muslims are kept under check by extensive curfew in Muslim areas. You can impose a curfew, keep Muslims in camps for days, weeks or months but can it be done for years?

Professor K. N. Panikkar, Vice-Chancellor, Shree Shankracharya Vidyapeeth, Kochi, had this to say: “What happened in Ahmedabad and other towns and villages in Gujarat is not a spontaneous action. The methods used for destruction of life and property pre-suppose a fairly well organised preparation. It is clear that many incidents during these past days could not have happened without such a preparation. In a way it indicates a long-term process of communalisation and brutalisation of society. A major issue which society has to face is the influence of brutality, which appears to have conquered the minds of men. This is the result of the systematic and long-term atrocities of communal organisations and heightened by the irrational and emotional coercion of the people by both the VHP and the RSS.”

At the secondary level, the opposition parties must be held responsible for the continuation of the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. No matter how loudly they might protest, the fact remains that they have not put their whole weight behind arresting this communal madness. Did they not fight like demons and coerce the Gujarat Government to revoke its decision to allow its employees to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)?

At a tertiary level, the Muslim leaders have much to answer for. The time has come for the minorities in general and Muslims in particular to realise that the perpetuation of their socio-economic under-development is a greater danger to them than even the brutality of the Sangh Parivar. The socio-economic backwardness of the minorities aids and abets the Parivar agenda to stigmatise and stereotype them. In this, the Muslims oblige the Parivar more than any other religious community.

Undoubtedly, it is on account of their retrograde and ante-diluvian leaders that the Muslim community is in such a sorry state today. The Muslim leadership, both of the religious and the political varieties, appear to be keener to control than to empower their fellow Muslims.Even as incidents of arson and rioting continue unabated, the social fabric of a 500-year old city seems to be coming apart. For a brief while, that is from the 1930s to the 1950s, Ahmedabad enjoyed a period of social, political and economic cohesion. Dominated by the cotton textile industry, the guild system of business relationships ensured that owners and workers worked towards orderly and peaceful conflict resolution. A series of events from the late 1960s to the early 1990s undermined this system. The first was the Hindu-Muslim riot of 1969, the worst communal violence anywhere in India from 1947 until 1992.

In the 1990s, issues of caste/community too would trigger violence and suppression. When the then chief minister, Madhavsinh Solanki, increased reservations for the other backward classes in government services and in education, the upper castes reacted with severity, leaving some 275 dead in Ahmedabad and disrupting the life of the city for the next six months. Solanki’s appeals to lower castes through his KHAM - Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim - strategy alienated large sections of the middle and upper caste population.

From the 1990s onwards, a new dimension was added by the mushrooming Hindutva brigade, and its clamouring for new avenues to assert itself with renewed vigour. It sought to validate its past and protect its future as urbanisation and industrialisation seeped in rapidly, along with the breakdown of the caste society. More assertive castes - such as land owning middle castes like the patidars - looked for ways to validate their enhanced status. Together with this search for identity, caste and communal divisions and partisan political conflict spilled over into the cultural arena. In this decade, political corruption, the antecedents of which can be traced back to the chiefministership of Chimanbhai Patel, twice chief minister in 1973-74 and 1990-94, reached endemic proportions. The destruction of the 2000 floods was attributed in large part to such unplanned, unregulated construction. Gujarat’s policy of total prohibition was accompanied by rampant bootlegging, encouraged by the police and politicians. Crime, particularly economic crime, had become a way of life in Ahmedabad. Even more devastating to the city’s economy was the collapse of Ahmedabad’s historic textile industry. In 1984 and 1985 alone, 14 mills closed, laying off 40,000 workers. Despite this litany of apparently disastrous events, new avenues were also opening in Ahmedabad.

The fast changing urban landscape in Ahmedabad ensures that diverse public cultures get prominence at different points of time. With the earlier pattern of urban cohesion undermined by the decline of the textile mills, Ahmedabad now continues to pull in different directions. Howard Spodek, a sociologist, describes it as a city “out of control”, with its many voices clamouring for statement. These are the voices that have created the recent history of the city. In recent years, new voices have begun to surface - the increasing influence of non-resident Indians in local thinking and in local power structures. There are several ways in which Gujarat has been unique. First, it has been the only State where the BJP has been in power by itself for a significant length of time. The importance of political power in not only endorsing, but intensifying the religious hatred by the infiltration of the RSS into the bureaucracy and the police. The opportunities for the Hindutva forces to tighten their grip on educational and other institutions of civil society, and the powerful support for a murderous goondaism are all founded in the elected political regime of the State. Second, Gujarat has not been, on the whole, a very progressive State. The pervasiveness of the caste system here is perhaps more longstanding than in many other parts of India.

Last, but not the least is the role played by politicians. Vote bank politics has created bitterness and set the communities against each other. All parties are equally responsible. But the structure of elections has been a contributing factor.

Once the Congress began to decline, and there were multiple competing parties, swing votes were very important for winning in our majoritarian, first past- the- post system. Identity politics, based on caste and religion, came to dominate. The Congress cultivated the KHAM vote, which encouraged a Upper caste backlash. Indeed, Narendra Modi’s inaction and the NDA’s support to his government despite accumulating evidence of the state government’s failure and even complicity, are said to be motivated by the BJP’s recent election losses, and the assembly elections due in Gujarat. Playing the Hindu card has become imperative for the BJP.

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