By Mohammed Wajihuddin
The kids of terror accused need more help than others. And J S Bandukwala gives it to them in the face of criticism
What route does a child take when his father and family’s sole breadwinner is detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act? Most likely he will drop out of school and become an unskilled worker in a garage or garment factory. Or, as he enters adolescence nursing an unfathomable rage against society, he will dream of avenging the “injustice” done to him— by perhaps taking the road of crime, getting indoctrinated by radicals and becoming a “holy warrior.” His childhood lost forever, the boy will be a danger, not only to himself, but to his community and to society at large.
The possibility of this dangerous trajectory for children of POTA detainees was what made Vadodarabased scholar-activist J S Bandukwala step in to intervene a couple of years ago. Through his organization Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust (ZICT), Bandukwala has ensured that over 150 children of Godhra, most of them the wards of 88 POTA detainees, continue their education.
“If you study the background of criminals and terrorists, you will find that most of them had a disturbed childhood,” says 66-year-old Bandukwala, seated at his spacious but spartan home, off a leafy lane in Vadodara. “We are not arguing whether the POTA detainees are guilty or innocent. Our concern is that their children should not suffer.”
Anger, says Bandukwala, robs one of the ability to rationalize a crisis. When you see the state shielding the perpetrators of a pogrom but punishing the accused of another heinous crime which preceded the pogrom, you start believing that you live in a country of sham secularism.
Bandukwala should know. On February 28, 2002, when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra and subsequently sent Gujarat up in flames, the secular scholar-activist, who had even advocated a dialogue with the sangh parivar over the Babri Masjid issue, was at home. Bandukwala had never seen himself as a member of the Muslim community. That day this belief received a massive jolt. A mob, carrying LPG cylinders, moved towards his house. In the nick of time, he escaped from the back door and knocked at a Hindu neighbour’s door. While he shivered in the bathroom, the mob looted the house, setting it afire later. The fire was doused, but the house became unlivable.
“I don’t mourn the destruction of my house as much as I mourn the increasing intolerance in our society. Among the boys who came to kill me were those who would touch my feet out of respect,” recalls Bandukwala. He says that the rioters were instructed to target two famous Muslims of Gujarat—ex-Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and himself, both educated and champions of secularism.
The horror of Gujarat 2002 might have left him shaken, but Bandukwala says it didn’t shake his faith in secularism. As a statement that he will not be cowed down by a communal cabal, Bandukwala lives alone amidst his non-Muslim neighbours, battling sociopolitical apartheid within and without. He has joined issues with the myopic Muslim leadership which has kept the community hostage to the politics of quota and concessions. “They say reservation will spur the community and prove to be a panacea. I see it as a handicap, as it will deny Muslim children the agility and motivation to compete,” explains the scholar.
In the pre-Gujarat 2002 days, Bandukwala may have had no truck with religious leaders (he is a Bohra rebel), but now he believes religion provides a necessary glue without which social work is difficult. The two words in his group “zidni ilma” are part of the Quranic verse Rabe zidni ilma, an invocation (O lord, enrich me with knowledge). “I discovered the Muslim within me. Fortunately, I am not a fanatic who magnifies real and imagined injustice to justify violence in the name of Islam,” says Bandukwala who was feted with the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 2007.
And thanks to his indisputable secularism, the children of POTA detainees – unlike most riot victims of Gujarat 2002 who are being rehabilitated by religious organizations and undeniably getting their vision coloured— will grow without developing a skewed perspective.
ALL GUNS BLAZING Bandukwala says he has discovered the Muslim within him but is far from fanatical
Source: Times of India