By Syed Abdullah Geelani
In the year 2014 India witnessed a significant change. Hindu nationalist BJP came to power with a clear majority. The apprehensions of some civil society regarding insecurity of minorities and curbing of space for liberal thought began to come true. Minorities like Dalits, Christians and Muslims were targeted. The BJP party members began openly giving hate speeches against minorities or anybody not conforming to their Hindutva ideology. Liberal thinkers and writers who disagreed with their ideas began to be targeted and some like Kalburgi were even killed.
The government slowly began to encroach into university spaces undermining their autonomy in order to impose their Hindutva agenda. The students however offered stiff resistance resulting in face offs between with the government leading to unrest in campuses across the country.
On 9 February 2016, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi organised a cultural event and on 10 February a public meeting was held at the Press Club of India to commemorate third anniversary of the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru.
Guru was a young Kashmiri Muslim who was sentenced to death in a widely criticised trial for his role in the 2001 attack on Indian parliament. The hanging of Afzal Guru is widely seen as travesty of Justice and an example of how laws and norms are flouted by political parties for their narrow political gains. It is seen as a perfect example of Indian repression on the people of Kashmir. Every year meetings and events are held across India to protest the hanging.
However, this year a section of media chose to make a national spectacle out of it. Calling these meetings anti-national, they made demands for legal action against the organisers. The involvement of Indian actors behind the media demonstrates the true intentions of BJP and how it is playing around to sow hatred for achieving its objectives. The present government is already under fire for not delivering on their election promises and student unrest in the country became an opportunity to divert public attention from its failures. Sedition charges were slapped against the student organisers of the JNU event and SAR Geelani who had organised the Press Club meeting. Three JNU students and SAR Geelani were subsequently arrested by Dehli Police.
There was a lot of hue and cry over the arbitrary slapping of sedition charges against JNU students and people in large numbers came out in their support. The case of SAR Geelani was however hushed up and has received little media attention.
While in the case of JNU students the FIR was registered on the complaint of a BJP member, the case against SAR Geelani was lodged suo moto by Delhi police. It seems that Delhi Police were under pressure to take such action. Apart from sedition, SAR Geelani has been charged with criminal conspiracy and unlawful assembly.
Ironically, according to The Asian Age, Delhi police is said to have no evidence against professor Geelani. Further, Delhi police only holds one video clip of the event as evidence but it lacks any proof that SAR Geelani raised any slogan and now they are only left with the option of persuading people to become prosecution witnesses. But clearly these efforts are only proving futile and the police are making statements to arrest Umar, Muddassar, and Tripti who are accused of actively participating in the PCI event. These facts indicate that Indian state is just using its instruments to prove right a false case against SAR Geelani but is seriously failing.
The arrest of SAR Geelani did not come as a surprise to many of his friends as according to them he fits the government’s image of an anti-national, being a Kashmiri Muslim and an advocate of Kashmiri peoples’ Right to Self Determination. He questions India’s repressive policies in Kashmir and has been critical of human rights violations in Kashmir by the Indian authorities. He has been living in Delhi for nearly three decades and has been teaching Arabic in Delhi University for nearly two decades now. In 2001, when he was charged along with Guru in the parliament attack case a lot of Delhi university teachers and other prominent civil society members had come out in his support and formed a defence committee for his release. The trial court had sentenced him to death but he was later acquitted by high court in 2003 after spending almost two years in jail. In 2005 Supreme Court of India upheld the judgment.
On 8 February 2005, nearly a year after his acquittal there was an assassination attempt on SAR Geelani near his lawyer’s house. Out of the five bullets he received two are still lodged inside his body. Delhi police even after 11 years has not been able to nab the attackers.
SAR Geelani is an active human rights campaigner and in 2010 was conferred with Jaswant Singh Khalra award for his long standing contribution in the field of human rights. After his release in 2003, he has actively taken up the cause of political prisoners and provides legal assistance to them particularly those who are neglected by the criminal justice mechanisms like Adivasis, Muslims and Kashmiris. He is one of the Vice Presidents of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners which actively works for political prisoners and holds events and seminars all over India espousing their cause.
SAR Geelani is the target of the Indian state as he has become a symbol of resistance against repression. By framing him in yet another false case the BJP government wants to silence the voices of dissent against its fascist Hindutva policies.
It is important to raise our voices against the injustice being meted to SAR Geelani to reclaim the libertarian democratic space. In such perilous times it is our responsibility to fight for him with commitment and objectivity.
—The writer is younger brother of SAR Geelani