Collateral damage has become part of the politically correct lexicon ever since the war on terror was launched. Puja Awasthi investigates how many young Muslims are living that grim reality.
- By Puja Awasthi
In the short seconds that it takes Zoya Tariq to say that jail is a place where good and educated grown-ups are locked, an encyclopaedia of pain can be read and re-read. Five years ago, her father, Tariq Qazmi was picked up by security agencies for his role in the bomb blasts across the courts of Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi. Unknown to Zoya, a government mandated inquiry, yet to be released but appropriately ‘leaked’ has poked holes in the manner and logic of his arrest. What she does know is that her father, a doctor, left home one morning for his clinic and never returned. Zoya was then five. Her youngest sibling was six months old.
In her modest home at the village of Sammopur, which stands next to a large yellow one which the media has so gleefully portrayed as evidence of Qazmi’s ill gotten wealth (it actually belongs to a relative), Zoya stands in a dank corridor, small arms crossed against her body as she listens to her mother, Ayesha’s lament of helplessness.
“For five years we lived on hope. Then this government came and it all faded. Sometimes I want to bang my head against the walls of the jail. Someone might listen. Then I think of our children…”, Ayesha trails off.
Zoya and Ayesha are centre and circumference of an imperfectly drawn, poorly understood curve of pain, helplessness and betrayal that has closed in on Azamgarh’s Muslims. Across the state, a similar amalgam of negatives feeds a rapidly growing disenchantment but even four years after the Batla House encounter, Azamgarh remains the definitive emblem of all that is going wrong with and for the state’s largest minority.
In the market of Badarka, where the noise of vehicles competes with the holler of push cart vendors, Shahid Badr, former president of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) attributes an ugly, pervasive anger against the government to ill conceived political caprice. “Deep in the villages, women took it upon themselves to motivate other women to vote. Women who had never voted came out, propelled by the Samajwadi Party’s promises. It was as if the drowning had been thrown a life jacket. They did it for their boys. Now they realise it was in vain”, says Badr.
The steady stream of patients and visitors to the clinic of a greying Badr, who as a gentle, soft spoken doctor of Unani medicine, is unimaginable as a man who was once charged with spewing anti national speeches, offer their own elaborations on his observation. One says that the Samajwadi Party (SP) manifesto, in its Urdu version had made its way to almost every home to be read, discussed and propagated as a symbol of change that promised the community, among other things, special support packages, reservation and a re- look into the cases of terrorism. Another, charges the government with doublespeak—projecting itself as the custodian of Muslim interest and then brushing aside protests and sending a senior minister to Israel. A third says that while change has not happened, even the scant sense of security that minorities enjoyed under the previous regime has vanished as proved by the rioting and arson of the last eight months.
In the calculated logic of governance, each of the above might be dismissed as more perception, less fact. But then, the game of politics is ruled by more perception, less fact. And across the state, for Muslims definitely, the ruling party is losing the plot of that game.
In a small house within the sprawling campus of the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow where her brother works, Zainab Khatoon (28) struggles to soothe her four-year-old, between sobs of her own. Her husband Basir Hasan, a madarsa teacher fell into the hands of the security forces earlier this year from the city of Sandila (in district Hardoi, 101 kilometres from Lucknow) where he had gone to buy medicines for the couple’s children. His is one of the many names to figure in the list of those chargesheeted by the Delhi police for the serial blasts of 2008—a terror act that is attributed to the still shadowy Indian Mujahideen.
While Khatoon wilts under the pressure of persistent questioning about her husband’s activities, her voice is steady steel when she speaks of the manner in which her husband (she calls him ‘Master’) was captured.
“I waited the entire evening and the night. Next afternoon the local media came looking for the terrorist in our home. When the police search party came, they took away my voters I card. I have been unable to get another.” That voter card– Khatoon’s only proof of identity would have been her pass to meeting her husband in jail. In its absence, there is a growing ache in her heart. “I am not educated. I do not understand all this. But we deserved some insaniyat (humanity)”, she says, underscoring the charges of willfulness and high handedness that are being repeated with alarming regularity against the acts of the government’s anti terror agencies.
Back in Azamgarh, Masihuddin Sanjari, a teacher of Mathematics and English, sits on his favourite bench outside a shoe shop in the Sanjarpur marketplace and says, “Ambitious promises were made in the thrill of the election campaign. Not only did they assure to release those falsely accused of terror, they said they would help those who were jailed outside the state. Every reiteration of the promise renewed the pain. The government’s subsequent silence is viewed as betrayal. The reaction will be fiery.”
Iftikhar Ahmed, the former principal of Azamgarh’s Shibli College, believes that the promises were undone by a seemingly weak chief minister and weaker intent. “No good came of them. Instead, Muslims have suffered as the impression that the government wants to let off terrorists has been strengthened by vested interests. Trivial, populist schemes are being flogged. What sense is there in handing scholarships to everyone irrespective of whether or not there is an interest in education? Instead why not focus on building minority colleges that impart modern education?,” he asks.
Though the link between education and progress turned tenuous in Azamgarh some years ago when many of its young boys who had left home for higher education instead got implicated on terror charges, it remains the safest rope out of the morass for UP’s Muslims.
Thus, even those who have seen the link fail loved ones, continue to cling to it. Ehsan Ahmad, commerce teacher at a local college, whose son was picked up in the post-Batla House arrests, breathes fire at the sight of the media. Kya kar paye? Kya karoge? (What were you able to do? What will you do), he asks with disgust before turning his attention to two young burqa clad girls he is teaching in the tiny outer verandah of his home. There is a dangerous sub text to Ahmad’s disgust which has lumped together politicians, political parties, governments, human rights organisations and the media in a pile of the discarded. “No one but Allah will do anything”, he says through clenched teeth.
Like Zoya, for now his voice remains unheard. When its anger is finally heard, it might be too late to look back.