Smriti Kak Ramachandran

“This country is not secular, it is communal. There are no checks and balances….”

NEW DELHI: Saleha Khatoon is convinced that her brother Zahid Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind the July 26 blasts in Ahmedabad, is being framed. Her conviction stems from several “factors” such as the fact that Sheikh rode to the Crime Branch office on his own. “If he were a terrorist, why would he drive to the Crime Branch office on his own motorbike,” she questions.

Here in the Capital now to share her story at the ongoing three-day national conference on “What it means to be a Muslim in India today” organised by ANHAD, Khatoon said her brother is among hundreds of Muslims who are being held in detention under charges as serious as terrorism. “He owned a mobile shop and on the day of the blasts we called him and told him to get home. The next day he watched the news about the blasts on TV with the rest of us at home. A couple of days later on July 31, he was asked to report to the Crime Branch for some inquiry on SIM cards. He offered the namaz and went to the police station,” said Khatoon listing details about her brother’s arrest.

“After several days my parents were allowed to meet him for a few minutes. He couldn’t walk and broke down. He told my parents that he was being mentally tortured. Later we were assured that he would be let off after August 15, but on August 16 he was shown as arrested along with several others,” recalled the sister, who wants justice for her brother.

Testimonies like Khatoon’s poured in from States like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh where hundreds of people have been accused of terrorist activities.

Abu Zafar, a journalist who was detained after he met his brother Abu Baker also an accused in jail, rued that even the human rights commissions in the country had failed to step in and come to the aid of the affected people. “After I was detained I wrote to the Human Rights Commission several times, but never heard from them. This country is not secular, it is communal. There are no checks and balances and there is rampant injustice even in prisons. In Sabarmati Jail they have stopped prisoners from receiving or sending letters written in Urdu. They were not allowed to offer namaz on Id.”

Pointing to “apathy” of the State, Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir, an advocate associated with the Makkah Masjid blast, said the claims made by the police about use of violence against the people were baseless and false. Soon after the May 18, 2007, blasts in the old city area in Hyderabad the police claimed to have opened fire to quell protests. Five people were shot dead immediately after the blasts.

“They claimed that the mob had become violent and had to be controlled. They said the mob was not allowing the ambulances to rescue the injured and they were threatening to set afire a petrol pump. The DCP said there were militants inside the mosque. They were recognised as terrorists merely because they raised the slogans ‘Allah O Akbar’,” alleged Mr. Mahajir, who showed photographs and footage shot on the day to contest the claims of the police.

Accusing the State of not doing enough, he said: “There is a visible reluctance on the part of the State to ignore the truth. In the face of damning evidence the Government seems to be turning a blind eye….. giving officials the opportunity to act with impunity. This policy can breed terrorism.”

A panel of distinguished members including Admiral Ramdas, Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi, Asghar Ali Engineer, Tarun Tejpal, Zoya Hasan and Mahesh Bhatt among others are scheduled to come up with recommendations during the conference.