New Delhi: Like any other youngster, 20-year-old Mohammad Aamir Khan too had a conventional dream of the future. He was however picked up by the Delhi Police one night and was falsely accused of being a terrorist. It took 14 long years for Aamir to get acquitted of the charge – and has now co-written a book on his harrowing ordeal.
“It was a way of recording the growing communal divide in Delhi where Hindus and Muslims live in such proximity but never visit each other’s homes. In part his story exemplified the situation all Muslim youths are facing; communalism and Islamophobia,” says noted social activist, lawyer and writer Nandita Haksar, the co-author of “Framed as a Terrorist” (Speaking Tiger, pp 234, Rs.250).
“I was introduced to Aamir by his lawyer, N.D. Pancholi, who has been associated with the human rights movement for many decades. I had around a month of intense interaction with Aamir when he came to my house to tell his story,” Haksar told IANS in an interview.
The book unravels how Aamir was wrongly framed, how he was brutally beaten up by the police inside different jails, how he was victimised and ill-treated for being a Muslim and denied basic rights during his incarceration.
“Aamir has been a witness, even while he was behind bars, to the rise of Hindu fascism and Muslim fundamentalism; he has seen the invisible wall rise up between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Despite this, Aamir continues to build bridges between communities. At least a part of the reason for Aamir’s belief in the values of secularism and democracy is found in the history of Old Delhi, where he was born and where he grew up and lives even now,” Haksar writes in the opening chapter, titled “The Context”.
“At first his words sound like empty cliches – but when I look at his expression I can see that the words democracy and secularism have a profound meaning for him. They are the hope with which he lives and survives on a daily basis,” she writes in the concluding paragraph of the afterword.
Haskar was interested in telling Aamir’s story because he is from the same area where her ancestors also lived. This apart, he was also closely associated with the “Save Afzal Guru campaign” when the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence for the 2001 attack on parliament. She has also written books like “Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror” and “The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism”.
Being a lawyer herself, Haksar has an understanding of the way the Indian legal system works – and this reflects in her writing.
“This understanding is crucial if we are to use the law as a tool for enforcement of human rights and the courts as sites of struggles for people’s rights,” Haksar maintained.
There are several other cases like Aamir’s. So, what goes wrong – the Indian Muslims who become victims, or is it the judiciary process that delays the delivery of justice or both?
“All poor people and many times rich people are also victims of the judicial process which fails to deliver. But Muslims are subjected to prejudices and biases which others are not. I believe the failure of the Indian legal system to deliver justice is caused by many factors, which includes the Bar, which has never intervened to improve the system. It is also the lack of political awareness among the civil society,” Haksar contended.
She also felt that the increasing biases towards the Muslim community can be removed through massive public campaigns against communal prejudice, somewhat like the Swacch Bharat mission.
“Educational institutions have a big role to play but most of all, political parties need to address the problem,” Haksar added.
Thus, for Haksar, Aamir’s story had a far greater political significance than the story of just one victim of the system.
“It (the book) raises the issues relating to police reform, jail reform, rehabilitation of people wrongly accused and the role of police, doctors, magistrates, political parties and media in framing Aamir and many like him whose stories we have still not heard yet,” Haksar maintained.