‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’
AS WE entered the jail, the boys asked me: when will we be freed?” recalls SIMI’s ex-president, Shahid Badr Falahi, after he and three others were arrested on September 27, 2001. The government portrayed Falahi as the mastermind of a sinister jehadist group working with Pakistan to destabilise India. But the criminal cases against him did not match his stature in the government propaganda.
Eleven days before his arrest, Falahi had addressed a daytime meeting of Muslims in the Bahraich town of Uttar Pradesh, some 500 km east of Delhi. Police permission had been obtained to hold the meeting at a girls’ college, a stone’s throw from the local police station. The police had video recorded the event. After three days, an FIR was registered against Falahi saying his speech spread hatred, contempt and disaffection against the government and incited communal disharmony. “Be a good citizen. Make your parents proud of you,” Falahi says he had told the Muslim youth there. He had also held US policies responsible for bringing on” that week’s terror attacks there.
Of Falahi’s speech given before hundreds, only policemen were cited as witnesses. The judge asked the police: why did you take three days to book him? Why did no communal violence occur then or since if that’s what he incited? Yet, Falahi and 11 others spent time in jail. This was a “fast-track court” but the case dragged on for five years, whereupon it was — you’ve got to believe this — withdrawn by the government. The reason given: “inherent lacuna and insufficient evidence”. The government lawyer admitted that senior district and police officers had attended the gathering. In the court, there was high drama as local Hindutva lawyers moved the judge against withdrawing the case. The judge questioned their locus but agreed to review Falahi’s speech. The police video was played in a packed courtroom. The judge realised the FIR didn’t truly reflect the speech. He said it was disturbing that in his speech, Falahi suggested that the Muslim be allowed to bear a sword as the Sikh bears his dagger and the Hindu sadhu his trident. “But mere suggestion is no crime,” the judge said and allowed the government to withdraw the case in September 2006.
Falahi’s woes have been many. Upon his arrest in Delhi in September 2001, police had slapped three cases against him. In one of these, he was accused of carrying “in his right hand” a calendar that “wrongly portrayed” the history of Kashmir in that it claimed Muslims had been persecuted during the rule of the Hindu kings. Once again, Falahi was accused of treason, spreading contempt, hatred and disaffection, etc., etc. He was denied bail, including from the high court. In the trial court, an exasperated judge asked the government lawyer to go study Kashmir’s history and summarise it a week later in his court. Needless to add, the government lawyer failed the history test. The two “independent” witnesses of the calendar’s recovery from Falahi told the judge that the police were forcing them to falsely testify against Falahi. As the other witnesses were policemen, the judge threw out the calendar case in 2003 and acquitted Falahi.
The third case against Falahi belongs to the night he was arrested from his Delhi office a few hours after SIMI was outlawed on September 27, 2001. The police said that, past midnight, Falahi gave a speech (again: contempt, hatred, disaffection) to a group of Muslims and shouted “Hindustan murdabad”. The police said they tried to reason with him but he wouldn’t listen. A week later, on October 4, the police allegedly seized evidence from Falahi’s office: a CD with the photo of a gun, and some cassettes. The judge asked the police: why didn’t you seize the material the night you arrested him? The police said: we forgot. Still, this case lasted 14 months after which the judge dropped the charges of “promoting enmity on religious lines”. He said Falahi would be prosecuted only for being a member of an unlawful organisation, and sent the case back to the Metropolitan Magistrate. For the last nearly four years, that case hasn’t moved an inch. For the nth time, Falahi will have traveled to Delhi from his native Azamgarh on August 8, 2008 to appear in this case, and, inevitably, be given another date.
In yet another absurd case, Falahi was allegedly caught pasting a sticker on a wall of Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi. The sticker had a picture of the Babri Masjid and a slogan in Hindi: “God willing, we’ll pray there one day.” The judge asked the prosecution: isn’t it a bit farfetched that the head of a national organisation would go around pasting stickers on roadside walls? He also asked: what exactly is the offence here? A public witness said he was forced by the police to falsely testify against Falahi. The judge acquitted Falahi. If these were absurd, then a case in Azamgarh is alarmingly sinister. In 2000, Falahi held a press conference in that city to slam BJP leader Kalraj Mishra for demanding a ban on SIMI. The police said this created communal disharmony and booked a case against Falahi. Falahi was in jail on this, too. For four years, the police didn’t file a chargesheet. Falahi was denied bail by the local courts and had to move the Allahabad High Court to get it.
ANOTHER PENDING case goes back to 1999. As editor of a SIMI publication, Islamic Movement, Falahi published a verbatim translation in Hindi of a feature published in an English language newspaper, The Asian Age, that contained uncharitable remarks against Lord Krishna. Of course, there isn’t any case against The Asian Age on this.
In all, Falahi spent 30 months in jail related to these bizarre cases. Ecstatic at the tribunal’s decision to reject the ban, Falahi isn’t much troubled that the Supreme Court has stayed the tribunal’s order, and is confident that SIMI will soon be a legitimate group again. Yet, he knows that the criminal cases against SIMI activists may continue for long. “As we entered the jail, I told my boys not to worry as everything happens by the mercy of Allah,” Falahi says. “He will decide when the cases end. He will decide when our test will end.”