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SIMI encounter: 8 people killed in cold blood. We condemned and forgot

Ufaque Paiker | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:46 IST

It's difficult to say what one can expect from the judicial probe constituted by the Madhya Pradesh government to inquire into the details of the 'encounter' of eight SIMI activists in Bhopal on 31 October.

After all, the offenders (police) and the investigators are part of the same system.

The reluctance and the intransigence of the state in revealing the details of the concerned case, admitting to its culpability, is all the more glaring when the conclusion of the Telangana's Special Investigating Team, set up in April 2015 to probe a similar 'encounter', is still not in the public domain.

The encounters in Bhopal and Telangana are similar on other counts as well.

Five SIMI activists were likewise 'encountered' by the Telangana police inside a police bus in Nalgonda district, on the pretext of having fired at them in 'self-defence'. The lawyers in both cases claimed that they were to be released very soon, as the prosecution was unable to establish charges against them.

While the manner of setting the scene for the 'encounter' remains similar, what is new is the manner of representation of the case in the public domain.

Impunity of the State

The audio clips of the Madhya Pradesh 'encounter', which revealed the conversation between the policemen, bears testimony to the fact that with the Modi government in power at the Centre, the state machinery is not only emboldened to carry out such 'encounters' with absolute impunity, but also with a certain sense of bravado attached to it.

The recorded conversation includes phrases like:

"Sab peeche hat jao... kuch aur farzi operation karana pade to (everyone get back... just in case another fake operation is required)"

"Sabko nipta do (finish everyone)"

"Bilkul peeche nahi hatna hai. Gher ke pura kar do kaam tamaam (Don't retreat. Just surround them and finish the job)"

"Saahab bol rahe hain nipta do (Sahib is saying finish them)"

This clearly reveals the extent to which the state police was both casual and cold-blooded in executing the 'encounter'. While on record, cops might have the 'privilege' to deny having made such conversations, the message for certain 'others' is loud and clear - that under the present regime, they have no choice but to be at the receiving end of the violence of the State.

A fine balance

While the progressive sections of the society condemned the 'encounter' vehemently, they did not have the same tone and tenor in condemning the ban on SIMI back in 2001.

After the imposition of the ban, the official statement of the CPI(M) was: "The Central government must come out with the full information on the basis of which it has imposed a ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India."

Similar ambiguity and discomfort in taking a clear position against the ban was there in the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) statements as well. They carefully alluded to State atrocities on innocent people, but never took concrete steps against the ban.

Thus, the fine balance between the Hindu 'majority' vote and the Muslim 'minority' vote was maintained.

Even in the recent past, the UP government has balanced its condemnation of certain attacks by pacifying the Hindu 'majority' votes. For instance, the delay in tabling the RD Nimesh Commission's report in a cabinet meeting in 2013 on the custodial death of Khalid Mujahid and Tariq Qasmi on terror charges in 2007, or more recently, the beating up of Rihai manch activists protesting against the 'encounter' of SIMI activists in Bhopal.

Encounters are not aberrations

These 'encounters' are not aberrations in this 'secular-sovereign' state, but are symptomatic of a systemic pattern where the routine violence that Muslims face climaxes as encounter killings, rapes and massacres, where their existence itself becomes an act of resistance.

Recently a Muslim student from JNU went missing from his hostel after he was publicly beaten up by some right wing goons in his hostel in the presence of other residents, the students' union president and the senior warden of the hostel.

In a different context, a Dalit student, in the University of Hyderabad, committed suicide after being suspended and socially boycotted from the university for raising his voice against unjust killings by the state machinery.

There have been numerous such cases of humiliation and torture of Dalits, Muslims and minorities by various arms of the State.

In such a context, if we do not condemn the act for what it is, we are bound to support the narrative of the State, where the 'other', which includes Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis, bear the burden of suspicion because of their identity.

History of the SIMI ban

The banning of SIMI is an example of the targeting of religious minorities by the State, through its narrative of the 'other'.

The idea was to ban it because of the 'Muslim' tag attached to it. How else can one justify the sustained attack on its activists over the years by the State, especially when the prosecution has not been able to provide any substantial evidences, other than possession of 'seditious' literature?

It is important to note that SIMI has been in existence since 1977, but the repeated instances of attacks started around 1998, when the BJP-led NDA came to power at the Centre. The first call for the ban came in 2001, after the declaration of the 'war on terror' by the George Bush government in the US, in the aftermath of 9/11.

Back in August 2008, the fourth tribunal on the SIMI ban, headed by Justice Gita Mittal, categorically stated that there was no credible evidence to prove even a single case against SIMI.

However, the adamant government, within 24 hours, got a stay order on the judgement, by appealing against it in the Supreme Court. This was despite the fact that appeals by SIMI against the previous three tribunals' judgements were still pending in the Supreme Court and were never heard.

Subsequently, the ban was again extended by the government in 2010; till date, the ban continues, barring brief periods of relief.

Under the pretext of the ban, thousands of Muslim youth are still languishing in jail, and the ones who get a chance to be acquitted or even released are being 'encountered'.

What is important to note here is that the root of problem lies in banning of the organisation; the encounters are manifestations of the ban.

False dichotomy between 'secularism' and 'communalism'

The 'progressive' and 'secular' forces have been reluctant to unequivocally condemn and act against the ban on SIMI because of the electoral compulsions flowing from an erroneous understanding of the Indian society.

After Partition, one of the defining moments for the Indian State in terms of inter-community relations was the ascendency of the BJP to power through the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, as part of the ruling coalition.

The BJP came to power through an agenda of building a new temple, a Ram Mandir, on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which, according to the party, was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

On 6 December 1992, along with the bricks of the Babri Masjid, the secular fabric of this nation was also torn apart by the BJP, along with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Since then, the BJP has been garnering votes using the same old formula of polarising the society along religious lines.

The present government has also come to power parading over innumerable bodies of Muslim men and women, massacred during the 2002 communal pogrom, orchestrated with the complicity of the Gujarat government under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi.

The failure on the part of the 'progressive' and 'secular' political parties to challenge the BJP comes from their own uninhibited usage of this formula for electoral gains; be it the SP's complicity in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, or the BSP's coalition with the BJP. Herein, electoral victory becomes an end, which justifies any means.

On the other side, 'Left' forces like the CPI(M) are insistent on maintaining a safe distance from Muslim organisations like SIMI.

Hence, instead of demanding an official statement asking for a revocation of the ban on SIMI imposed on flimsy charges, it meekly and predictably appealed for 'full information'.

In such a context, it is implausible to expect these political forces to politically challenge the ban on an organisation which has the 'Muslim' tag attached to it.

These positions would be justified in defending 'secularism' against 'communalism'. Within this division, one can easily toe the narrative of the right-wing forces by arguing that all kinds of religious outfits pose a threat to the 'unity and integrity' of this nation.

However, while the 'right' would never call for a ban on Hindu organisations which work in close collusion with the State machinery, the 'progressive' forces would keep committing the error of equating Hindu right-wing forces with the forces which openly exhibit allegiance to Islam.

This indiscriminate tarring of religious forces with the brush of secularism ignores the context wherein the right-wing outfits or vigilante groups, such as gau rakshaks or the Durga Vahini or the Sri Ram Sene, operate in tandem with the State machinery against the 'others', like Muslims and Dalits.

Hence, the argument of the need to speak against all 'extremist' forces commits the error of siding with the oppressor against the oppressed in the name of secularism.

Therefore, it is dangerous and self-defeating to only condemn the 'encounters' , if one has not raised one's voice against the 'bans'.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 21 November 2016, 9:30 IST
Ufaque Paiker @catchnews

Ufaque Paiker is a research scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies in JNU. Her PhD is on Urdu literary culture in Patna in the 20th century. Alongside, she has also worked on inter-community relations in South Asia and its changing contours with changes in the political context of the subcontinent.