Sedition charges on Zafarul Islam: Is it just one tweet or his constant fight against hate politics?

Together with stating what ‘activities’ are to be allowed or disallowed in the red and orange and hot spot zones of the country, its best if the establishment also puts forth what’s to be spoken out

Sedition charges on Zafarul Islam: Is it just one tweet or his constant fight against hate politics?

Humra Quraishi

Together with stating what ‘activities’ are to be allowed or disallowed in the red and orange and the hot spot zones of the country, its best if the establishment also puts forth what’s to be spoken out and what all is to be camouflaged or throttled!

If a student or an activist or a scholar speaks out beyond the unwritten dictates or against the unwanted political ploys of the day, there’s that possibility of getting slapped with FIRs! it is unfortunate and undemocratic that instead of holding discussions and dialogues with the students and scholars, their voice is getting all too throttled. Why?

Even in the state of ongoing lockdown, when the entire atmosphere has begun to unnerve and suffocate, an unwarranted crackdown has begun on not just the university students who were naïve enough to believe that a healthy democracy still prevails and with that they could raise their voice, but even scholars are also not getting spared. In fact, this weekend I was shocked to read news reports stating that sedition charges have been slapped on the country’s leading scholar- author- publisher, who is presently heading the Delhi Minorities Commission, Dr Zafarul Islam Khan.

Already much dissection has been done over one particular tweet of his, which he himself introspected upon and said that it was, “ill-timed and insensitive in the midst of a medical emergency faced by our country.” He also goes on to stress and reiterate – “I stand by my views and convictions. I will continue, now and in future, the fight against hate politics in the country. FIRs, arrests and imprisonments do not change this path which I have chosen for myself consciously years ago to save my country, my people, the Indian secular polity and the Constitution.”

It’s become now significant to ask: is it that one tweet that’s drawn the wrath of the Right-Wing or is it because this scholar has been absolutely forthright and brave to be taking on the Right Wing moves, ever so strongly and persistently? As a committed earnest citizen, he has been vetoing the Right- Wing ploys, with facts and more facts. Braving all possible odds, he has been trying his utmost to see to it that the democratic fabric remains intact.

Along the expected strain, this is not the first time that the establishment has tried to break Zafarul Islam Khan’s spirit and put hurdles in his scholarly work and publishing pursuits. Correct me if I’m wrong but to the best of my knowledge his published newspaper, The Milli Gazette, was one of those few English medium publications focusing on the ground realities faced by the minority communities. He started publishing The Milli Gazette around 2000 but around the start of 2017, had to close the print edition ( the last print edition came out in the last week of December 2016 ). The online edition continued against all possible threats and challenges and it continued to focus on the current realities of the day.

In fact, around the start 2017, when I had asked him to comment on why he was closing the print edition of The Milli Gazette, he had detailed, “During the 17 years of our existence, The Milli Gazette has faced many threats and challenges. I myself have received numerous death threats. MG’s continued losses, dwindling subscriptions due to our own website and a disinterest by the community too have been our problems which forced us twice to think of closing down MG though on second and third thoughts we refrained from taking such a drastic step knowing very well that, however feeble, our community needs this voice in English more than at any time in the past … since 12 March 2016 , we are facing an existential threat from the Modi government following our publication of a report on discrimination against Muslims in the Ayush ministry recruitment based on an RTI reply which the said ministry denied. It could have sent a rejoinder or, at worst, could have complained to the concerned regulatory authority, the Press Council of India in case we refused to publish its rejoinder. We were all-along ready to publish a rejoinder, statement or clarification should the ministry send it to us. Instead, it chose to file a police complaint.

As a result, the journalist (Pushp Sharma), who wrote that story, was mercilessly interrogated for days and later arrested and jailed for around two weeks. Now he is out on bail while the case takes its normal slow course in courts. Soon, on April 21, the Press Council of India took suo motu cognizance and opened a case against The Milli Gazette. This action was unprecedented as an authority supposedly created to protect the freedom of Press, was in fact throttling that same cherished freedom. We have replied to PCI’s letter and the case continues. Our next hearing at the PCI is on 12 July…A third bolt came from the Delhi Police (directly controlled by the Union Home Ministry) when DCP Licensing wrote to us on May 30 as to why our newspaper declaration should not be cancelled. Cancellation of the declaration means the newspaper will become illegal. We replied without fail to this show-cause notice and are still waiting for further clarifications from the DCP Licensing despite the passage of over three weeks on our hand-delivered reply…This three-pronged attack on MG simply shows the desperation of the Modi government to silence this little nagging bird. We are fighting and will continue to fight against this injustice through all legal venues open to us. But should the Modi Govt succeed in silencing this feeble voice, we will call it a day and will leave it to history to remember this as yet another colossal injustice to the freedom of Press the like of which was inflicted by the colonial rulers on Maulana Azad’s Al-Balagh and Muhammad Ali’s Hamdard and Comrade.”

In fact, challenges have been accelerating for Zafarul Islam Khan. In the last few months he has been extremely vocal on the various issues faced by the minority community in the capital city -- harassment and arrests of the Jamia Millia Islamia students, the killings and carnage and destruction in the pogrom in North East Delhi in 2020 , the targeted destruction of mosques in this capital city, the absolute ill-treatment meted out to Tablighi men hit not just by the coronavirus but also by the communal virus.

He is indeed one of those scholars who has always spoken out. He is also one of the respected authorities on Islamic teachings and writings. Not to overlook the fact that his father is the well-known Islamic scholar, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan….I have interviewed Maulana sahib on more than one occasion and even before he spoke, his eyes shone with sheer ‘noorani’ brightness which is difficult to describe … I also do recall one of my Tamil Brahmin friends, a former vice chancellor, who had gone to meet Maulana sahib, telling me, “After meeting Maulana sahib I have understood Islam and its true essence.” This academic had also told me that all along she had carried a different notion about Islam, along the strain that it’s a violent religion, till she’d met Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and he told her that it cannot be so, because the very word Islam means 'peace’.

And finally, have you ever wondered why the best known literary personalities are born under the Taurus sun sign?

There are several best-known writers and literary personalities who are born under the Taurus sun sign --- William Shakespeare, Rabindranath Tagore, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ruskin Bond….

Let Linda Goodman comment on the connect, if there’s any, between the writing prowess and the sun signs!

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