By Seema Chishti
May 30, 2016
The Barelvi sect’s most influential cleric in India paid an unprecedented visit to Darul Uloom Deoband recently to forge a unity between the two rival schools of thought within the Sunni majority of Indian Muslims. The reason for this effort at unity was prompted by “the tears of a mother” of a young Muslim man who, the cleric said, was falsely accused of terrorism and arrested.
“Our children are being targeted,” said Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, great-grandson of Barelvi movement founder Maulana Ahmad Raza Khan “Ala Hazrat”. “It is now time to get together and fight those picking up and putting young Muslims behind bars,” he told The Indian Express.
“Look at the Malegaon case. Our boys are sentenced or on trial in jail for years, even decades, and then finally released. By then their reputations are tarnished and their self-esteem is gone. This has to be fought as one, there are no good Muslims and no bad Muslims. We are all being victimised through a differential policy by the state.”
People at Deoband were astounded to see the most prominent Barelvi cleric alight from a car and head off to meet the Muhtamim or head of Darul Uloom, Asia’s most influential Muslim seminary. When Tauqeer stopped, the Muhtamim stepped out to receive him. Tea and snacks followed with a conversation on the need for “unity”.
The hour-long meeting, with about 25-30 people participating, took up the need to avoid debating differences in theology and to look for common ground to battle issues facing the community as a whole. “It was the tears of the mother of an accused most recently arrested under charges of plotting a bomb explosion, Shakir Ansari’s mother, that drove me to make the sudden visit,” he said.
Earlier this month, Delhi police’s special cell had picked up 13 young Muslim men in raids on Delhi’s outskirts and UP and claimed to have busted a Jaish-e-Mohammed module, set up to “avenge” a series of “anti-Muslim” incidents, by launching bomb attacks.
Subsequently, Delhi police released 10 of them for “lack of evidence”. Sajid, Sameer Ahmed, and Shakir Ansari were arrested. The police claimed they have arranged a psychologist for four of the released youth “to help them de-radicalise” and asked the parents of the six others “to ensure they remain on the right path”.
Tauqeer visited the families shortly after their arrest, and on May 8 went to Shakir’s home. He told The Indian Express he is working at putting in place a “common minimum agenda” between the two sects, and throw the weight of the Barelvis behind this effort to ensure a united front before the state’s “bid to target our children and young persons”.
Deobandis and Barelvis practise Islam with some essential differences about how the Prophet is to be revered. While the Deobandi school of thought began as a revivalist movement within Sunnis and a reaction to colonialism, Barelvi or Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat was formed as a defence of the traditional mystic practices of South Asia. Deobandis are seen as more austere while Barelvis emphasise shrines, song and eulogy as central as other aspects of Islam. Relations have often been marked by bitter and violent disputes.
In the recent cases of terror arrests and trials of many such cases, the Deobandi Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind has been providing legal aid in several matters that have led to acquittals. “But,” said Tauqeer Khan, “it is now time to get together”.
The Muhtamim of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, told The Indian Express “we have always welcomed steps for unity”. “We are willing to walk the extra mile. We are an educational institution and stay away from activist roles, but want to encourage wiping out any differences between us if it forges more unity among Muslims who do feel increasingly besieged,” he said.
Prof Akhtar ul Wasey, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia , who was in Deoband when Tauqeer stopped by, said: “Earlier it was uneducated boys who were being picked up. Now educated and qualified boys are picked up systematically. One person who is targeted doesn’t mean just him alone but his entire family and community that faces loss of credibility, gets crippled economically and socially. If those who are inflicting such damage on Muslim boys don’t see any difference between us, why should we allow ourselves to be divided?” Wasey emphasised, however, that this is “not a bid to end theological disputes; we must move to a stage of accepting sects as a tribute to innately diverse and democratic Islam”.
Said another senior Barelvi cleric, not wanting to be named: “There are still differences, though this is a huge step aiming to erase differences at play for so long. Tauqeer Raza’s family itself has some detractors, as have the Deobandis, but people are hopeful, let us see if a broader agreement is possible.”
Wasey said, “The Barelvis and Deobandis came together once before, too briefly, in 1972 when there was a feeling that Muslim Personal Law was under attack and the Muslim Personal Law Board was set up. Today, it is the threat to the existence of the community itself which has brought the two sides together.”
After 23 Years in Jail, I Am Free but What You See Now Is a Living Corpse, Says Nisar
By Muzamil Jaleel
He could not walk, he could not sleep. That’s what 23 years in prison had done when they came to an end 17 days ago, in a Jaipur prison late in the evening.
Nisar-ud-din Ahmad says when he stepped out, he saw his brother, two years older than him, Zaheer-ud-din Ahmad, waiting. “I felt a terrible heaviness in my legs. I froze. For a moment, I had forgotten I was free,” said Nisar.
Nisar was among three men who walked out from Jaipur jail after the Supreme Court acquitted them of all charges, setting aside their life sentence and ordering their immediate release on May 11. They were booked for five blasts onboard trains — on the first anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition — that killed two passengers and injured eight.
By the time they were acquitted, their families had been left shattered by the fight to prove their innocence.
“I have clocked 8,150 days of the prime of my life inside the jail. For me, life is over. What you are seeing is a living corpse.”
“I was yet to be 20 years old when they threw me in jail. I am 43 today. My younger sister was 12 when I saw her last. Her daughter is 12 now. My niece was a year old. She is already married. My cousin was two years younger than me, she is now a grandmother. A generation has completely skipped from my life.”
Nisar spent his first night of freedom in a hotel in Jaipur. “I couldn’t sleep, there was a bed in the room. All these years, I have slept on the floor on a thin blanket,” he said.
Nisar says he remembers January 15, 1994, when he was picked up by police near his home in Gulbarga, Karnataka. He was a second-year student in Pharmacy. “I had an exam in 15 days, I was on my way to college. A police vehicle was waiting. A man showed me his revolver and forced me to get in. The Karnataka Police had no idea about my arrest. This team had come from Hyderabad. They took me to Hyderabad,” he said.
Records show he was produced before a court on February 28, 1994. That’s how his family got to know where he was, he says. His older brother Zaheer-ud-din — Nisar has two brothers, two sisters — who was working in Mumbai as a civil engineer, was picked up that April.
“Our father Noor-ud-din Ahmad left everything to fight a lonely battle to prove our innocence. He didn’t see any hope until he died in 2006. Now there is nothing left.”
“Nobody can imagine what it means to a family whose two young sons are jailed,” said Nisar’s brother Zaheer. Like Nisar, Zaheer, too, was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released on bail on May 9, 2008 by the Supreme Court on health grounds — he was diagnosed with lung cancer in jail.
Zaheer says he could fight the cancer because that was the only way to get his brother out of jail. “I followed the case with singular focus. I kept on making applications to court saying how we have been wronged. Finally, the Supreme Court gave a verdict exonerating both of us and two others.”
Police records link the two to five separate bomb blasts in trains at Kota, Hyderabad, Surat, Kanpur and Mumbai in the intervening night of December 5-6, 1993. The bomb on the Bangalore Kurla Express, while the train was near Karjat Railway Station, was detected by a passenger who threw it out.
The Hyderabad Police picked up Nisar, later his brother Zaheer and their neighbour in Gulbarga, Mohammad Yusuf, a car mechanic. Initially, police booked them for a bomb blast that had taken place in October 1993 in a Muslim educational institute in Hyderabad. This case was registered in Abid Road Police station.
They were also booked in few unsolved bomb blasts that had taken place in August and September that year. Subsequently, they were booked in the serial train blasts.
The only evidence police produced was their alleged custodial confessions — the provisions of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) were later invoked to make these admissible.
These alleged confessions of Nisar, Zaheer and Yusuf, as per court records, were taken by Hyderabad Police officers at Abid Road Police station.
In his alleged confession, police claimed that Nisar “accepted his role in planting of Bomb in the compartment of A.P. Express on 06.12.1993 and that he was also having two other bombs which were meant for use in K.K. Express on the same day but because of his ill health he could not use them”.
Similarly, the others too had allegedly confessed their role in the train bombings.
In these alleged confessions, however, there was no mention of the case in which Nisar, Zaheer and others from Gulbarga were first arrested and brought to Hyderabad.
While different state police forces had registered cases in each of these blasts, the government handed over the investigation to CBI.
Apart from these three from Gulbarga, the CBI filed charges against 13 more, including Jalees Ansari of Mumbai who was dubbed as the mastermind of the blasts ostensibly carried out to avenge the demolition of Babri Masjid.
On May 21, 1996, the Metropolitan Sessions Judge, Hyderabad, revoked the provisions of TADA from the case. The Andhra government challenged this order before Supreme Court, which said the use of TADA was “very casual” and issued notice to the Police Commissioner, Hyderabad, to show cause why “adverse remarks against him be not made”.
On July 17, 2001, the AP government sought withdrawal of its appeals. Thus the invocation of TADA became invalid in the case where the alleged confession of Nisar, Zaheer and Yusuf was recorded, making the confessions inadmissible.
Nisar’s alleged confession recorded by DCP K V Reddy on March 11, 1994, was a verbatim copy of another alleged confession of his, taken by police Inspector B Shyama Rao on February 27, 1994 which wasn’t even signed.
“It was fabricated and I kept on raising it,” Nisar said. The trial court in Hyderabad acquitted all accused in 2007.
“While the alleged confessions were not accepted in Hyderabad after TADA was dropped, the same confessions were used to charge us in Ajmer,’’ said Nisar.
One of the accused went absconding after he was released on parole in 1999. On February 28, 2004, the designated TADA Court at Ajmer convicted the other 15 accused, including Nisar, his brother Zaheer and Yusuf, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. One among them, a juvenile, was later released by Supreme Court in 2012.
They approached Supreme Court and challenged the TADA Court’s order. Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit observed that the confessions of the four accused, including Zaheer, Nisar and Yusuf, were “without any legal sanction and cannot be relied upon”.
According to the judgment, Nisar’s “role is neither referred to in the confessions nor is there any material other than the confession of (Nisar) himself on record. The conviction and sentence of (Nisar) is therefore completely unsustainable”.
Regarding his brother Zaheer, the judgment said: “In the absence of any other material on record to lend any semblance of corroboration to the confession (of the co-accused), we find it extremely difficult to sustain the conviction and sentence of (Zaheer) simply on the basis of confession of (the co-accused).”
“We were framed. It took almost 12 years and finally Supreme Court acquitted us of all charges,” said Nisar. “I am thankful to Supreme Court to give my freedom back. But who will give my life back?”
Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, who represented five among the accused, including Nisar and Zaheer in the apex court, says that their alleged “confession in police custody is the beginning and end of the case”.
The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of ten others, including one who is now 85, another is 79 and a third is a 74-year-old. “They are going to die inside jail,” said Nisar.