Indian Government attempt to gag Muslim intellectual

25th Dec 2020
Indian Government attempt to gag Muslim intellectual

Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan (Credit: PC/Facebook Commons)

M Ghazali Khan

On October 29, India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) raided the house-cum-office of Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, a renowned journalist, author, activist, Editor of The Milli Gazette and former Chair of the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC).

In a tweet posted following the raid, Khan wrote, ‘Thrown to [the] Stone Age. No laptop, no mobile, no desktop. NIA people said [the] order to raid came from the very top, and they were woken up at 4 am for this great task of raiding a journalist. They had no patience. They jumped the wall to enter my house…’

Describing the scene at Khan’s premises following the raid, young Urdu journalist and writer Mohammad Alamullah in a Facebook post wrote, ’I am very sad, I have just come from Milli Gazette’s office. The whole office has been turned into a hell. Police carried out the raid at 4 am and have not only [thrown and] scattered everything around, but have also taken away his laptop, mobile phone, computers, hard cash and cheque books.’

He added, seized ‘several of his manuscripts. These include the English translation of the Qur’an on which Khan has been working for more than ten years, [unpublished] books, letters and 600 pages of his memoirs on which Dr Shahidul Islam and I have been working for the last one and half years.’

Khan is clueless as to if or when his computer would be returned and his requests for the copies of his saved work remain unanswered. Fortunately, he retained some hand-written drafts and print outs of his work.

Khan has been the Government’s target for quite a while. His premises were also raided on May 7. The police then had used a tweet by Khan as an alibi and had acted upon the complaint by a Hindutva activist against him, alleging that he was trying to subvert the constitution and promote inter-communal hatred.

At that time, his arrest was stopped on the intervention of the Supreme Vrinda Grover, who had pleaded that under Indian Criminal Procedure Code Khan could not be taken anywhere because he is 72 and suffers from age-related ailments.

However, there are apprehensions that he may be summoned and arrested this time.
The real cause of the anger of the Hindutva Government against Khan is his persistent and a bold stand against the persecution of Indian Muslims. In an interview in 2017, Khan said, “I started The Milli Gazette in January 2000 when I had a good job, and I was working as the India correspondent of the Saudi daily, Al-Riyadh, this was a well-paid job that continued for some six years.

But when I, among other issues, candidly raised the issue of the excesses meted out to Muslims in Gujarat and Kashmir etc., this caused problems. One day the Saudi Ambassador in Delhi called me at the embassy and told me bluntly, “We are trying to build good relations with India, and you are trying to spoil these relations.”

He asked me not to write anything that was against the Indian Government. Such a gag order was not acceptable to me. He must have also spoken to the Al-Riyadh newspaper. Soon small complaints started to come from the newspaper, and eventually, I quit the job.”

However, the new pretext to harass him and his family is the alleged funding of terror activities in Kashmir by Charity Alliance—a welfare body run by Khan helping poor people to meet their medical bills and educational fees.

Khan, during his three-year tenure as Chair of DMC, was the first man to breathe life in this lifeless body and enabled it to use its teeth and stand on its legs. He overhauled the institution which, until he was appointed its head, was merely there as a show-piece and had never performed any of the roles it was legally required to perform.

Since all of his writings and activities are in the public domain, the easiest option for the Hindutva Government is to implicate Khan’s Charity Alliance in imaginary and fictitious activities.

The Charity Alliance has taken an active part in relief work and the rehabilitation of the victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 and then constructed a residential colony for displaced people. During this February’s Delhi riots, Khan toured the riot-hit areas and arranged relief for its victims.

The Government is especially upset with him because as DMC’s Chair he used all his legal rights and powers and on several occasions succeeded in stopping the highly prejudiced and anti-Muslim police and administration in pursuing and illegally implementing their Islamophobic agenda.

The Government has been so successful in spreading anti-Muslim hatred that, as evident on social media and in letters to newspaper editors, even educated people seem to be giving the least importance to Modi’s poor governance, the fast-deteriorating law and order situation in the country and its declining economy.

They are happy to see Modi ‘cutting Muslims to size’ or ‘teaching Muslims a lesson’. And why should they be unhappy at what is being done to the Muslims? After all the rumours have been spread that once the CAA is implemented and Muslims are deprived of their citizenships, all of their properties and businesses would be taken from them and given to the Hindus.

And this is precisely what Modi’s Government is busy doing. During the Gujarat Massacre of 2002, he made sure that along with poor and less well-off Muslims, who are generally the target during anti-Muslim riots, prominent Muslims were particularly victimised. The raid on Khan’s house is part of that old plan and strategy, that seeks to convey a message to Muslims that when the most prominent among them are unsafe, they count for nothing.

Khan agrees with this view, but also thinks that ‘To create baseless sensational issues during election time is a well-tested trick of the Hindutva brigade. In the Bihar assembly election, they have not been able to play the Hindutva card as brazenly as they usually do, hence the negative propaganda against Muslim NGOs and charities.

This is also a tactic to frighten and to pressurise Indian Muslims to remain silent on the atrocities committed against Kashmiris and the Government’s overall policies in the state. The Indian Muslims’ stand has always been that Kashmir, with its special status, is an integral part of India. We are for India’s integrity but, cannot remain silent on the brutalities the Government is committing in Kashmir,’ he told me over the phone.

He added, ‘They are trying to implicate me in terrorism by trying to prove that through Charity Alliance I have supported terror activities in Kashmir, this is a blatant lie. Our charity is involved only in providing educational aid, food aid, medical aid, shelter aid, aid to small businesses and orphans and widows.’

He continued, ‘They came here to raid Charity Alliance but have taken everything belonging to Milli Gazette, our publishing company Pharos Group and the mobile phones, not only of us but of some relatives who happened to be at our house at that time. These are difficult times for Indian Muslims, but we are not scared or demoralised. We will continue our struggle for justice in a peaceful and legal manner.’
NIA has also conducted searches at some other Muslim NGOs in J&K and Delhi based Human Welfare Foundation.

While several Indian Muslim organisations have strongly condemned the raids, a damning indictment of BJP Government has also been issued by the international organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

‘The Indian government is using counterterrorism operations to silence peaceful dissenters…the authorities carried out several raids on the offices of nongovernmental organizations, activists’ homes, and a newspaper office in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, and Bangalore,’ Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
It added, ‘the raids are part of a crackdown by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on civil-society groups.

The authorities have increasingly brought politically motivated criminal cases, including under broadly worded terrorism and sedition laws, against activists, journalists, academics, students, and others and used foreign funding regulations to target outspoken groups for their human rights work.’

Amnesty International has demanded that the Indian government ‘immediately halt its intensifying suppression of dissent.’ Amnesty’s Acting Secretary-General, Julie Vehaar, said, ‘These raids are an alarming reminder that India’s government is determined to suppress all dissenting voices in Jammu and Kashmir.’

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