A voice, a forum

Members of Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association — in news for compiling an insightful report on judgements related to 16 men accused of terror – tells Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty what prompted them to step out of the comfort zone

Published - September 26, 2012 10:12 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

On steps of success: Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association members (from left) Farah Farooqi, Manisha Sethi, Tanweer Fazal, Anwar Aslam and Ahmad Shoab. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

On steps of success: Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association members (from left) Farah Farooqi, Manisha Sethi, Tanweer Fazal, Anwar Aslam and Ahmad Shoab. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

One thing leads to another, to another, and then to something big.

This was exactly how it came to being, in July 2009, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) — in news these days for producing a discerning report on judgements related to cases of 16 terror accused, and thereby putting a question mark on how Delhi Police’s Special Cell functions.

This was also how things took shape with Farah Farooqi, professor of Education, Jamia Millia Islamia, and one of the 16 core members of JTSA. Sometime after Delhi’s Batla House encounter in 2008, Farah’s adolescent daughter read the famous story of Anna French (the Jewish girl who had to go into hiding to escape the Nazis), and asked her ammi, “Will we Muslims also have to live in hiding some day?”

Farah didn’t know what to tell her. A cloud of thoughts filled her mind. It also prodded her to go around her colony — Jamia Nagar — asking kids of her daughter’s age, do they also feel the same?

Four years later, recalling the moment in a conversation, Farah states, “Yes, they did. The responses were disturbing. For the first time I realised what a trauma these kids were silently going through because Muslims were increasingly being looked as terrorists.” She also highlights, “Mind you, these were all public school kids. They anyway are in a minority in these schools. But neither the schools thought of providing them any support to handle this trauma, nor parents wanted to engage with them at home. So there they were, caught in a web of unsaid fear.”

Farah wrote about her study in The Economic and Political Review. It also became a part of conversations with her colleagues, who felt, like her, that “they should do something.” Like Farah, they too were writing their views and responses to reports in newspapers and magazines by then. Like Farah, they also felt for their students, many of them were living in fear of the unknown.

“Soon after the Batla House encounter, our students, particularly those from Azamgarh (U.P.), were denied accommodation in the area. They were worried and we were concerned about them. Also, since we are in Muslim majority area, and many of our colleagues live here, our clerical staff also come from here, we couldn’t have ignored what was happening after the encounter. Then, there was the constant media trial. We could have taken classes and gone back home but we thought let’s respond to this,” says Manisha Sethi, Farah’s colleague and president of JTSA.

Manisha — a professor at the Centre for Study of Comparative Religions and Civilisations, together with Farah and a host of other colleagues from across JMI including Tanweer Fazal, Ahmed Shoaib, Sanghamitra Misra, Azra Razzack and Anwar Alam got together to form JTSA. They clearly outlined it beyond a teachers’ organisation that typically talks of issues that concern their wages and the like. Instead, it added an activist streak to it.

Soon, it visited the encounter site and tried to match the police’s version as published in newspapers with that of the local people and also an RTI report on it. “What the police told the Press was completely different from what the people said. For instance, police said the two boys were trying to flee by jumping from the third floor but on checking the exact place, we saw the third floor of all the houses in the block was covered with grills. So they couldn’t have jumped from the third floor,” says Tanweer. He adds significantly, “If it was an encounter, why did one boy have bullet injuries at the back? The other boy had a lot of bullets shot at close range on top of the skull. He must have been asked to kneel down and was shot from a close range. Also, in fake encounters, usually, police doesn’t get injured but here, senior police officer M.C. Sharma got killed. So there are still a lot of unanswered questions here.”

JTSA members compiled a report on the encounter, visited the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), requested it to allow them to depose before it, “but nothing of that sort happened, NHRC gave the police a clean chit.”

It took up next the issue of media trial, a common phenomenon these days. It approached the Supreme Court to intervene against it. Also, it compiled a report on the accused in the Jaipur bomb blast case and asked many searching questions to the State. And recently, it put together the 16 judgements related to cases of terror accused. “We have only compiled what is there in the public domain. We really wonder why the media never took it up,” says Manisha about the latest report.

This report also talked of a dismal conviction rate in these cases. “In a news report, the Police denied that the conviction rate was low. But what we said was that the conviction rate of the main accusations for which they were arrested couldn’t be proved,” clarifies Anwar Alam.

Manisha underlines the core value of JTSA, “We are against all kinds of terrorism including State terror and shall continue to oppose authoritarianism.”

On the list

JTSA is also looking at “making better the relationship between teachers and administrative bodies of the University.” The result is, Professor M.S. Bhat, a JTSA member, contested and won the Presidentship of Jamia Teachers’ Association (JTA).

This makes clear the JTSA agenda is bigger than JTA’s. And that is why, even though some of its core committee members, like Sanghamitra and Anwar, have left JMI, they will remain members. Tanweer adds, “But the organisation will continue to have the word Jamia. There are two reasons for it; one, because it began at Jamia, and the other is, Jamia in Urdu means university.”

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