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The Rediff Interview/APCR coordinator Mahtab Alam

'People are losing faith in security agencies'

October 14, 2008

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Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh [Images], police and intelligence bureau officials say, is slowly but surely becoming a hot bed for terror. This came to light after the Delhi [Images] Police claimed that suspects picked up after the Jamia Nagar encounter were from Azamgarh.

So how have the people of Azamgarh, which occupies 4234 sq km of Uttar Pradesh, reacted to the latest charge that their district is the new breeding ground for terror in India? Interestingly, Azamgarh, which comprises 60 per cent Hindus and 40 per cent Muslims, has never since 1947 seen a single instance of communal violence but today it is being branded as the hot bed for terror activities.

A joint team of Association for Protection of Civil Rights, People's Union for Democratic Rights, Janhastkshep and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation visited Azamgarh two days ago and found how people there were coping with all the latest attention they have got following the spate of terror strikes in the country.

Mahtab Alam, coordinator of the APCR who was part of the team visiting Azamgarh spoke to Special Correspondent Vicky Nanjappa about the situation over there and how the people have reacted to the latest happenings.

How is the situation in Azamgarh? How have the people reacted to their place being branded as a cradle of terror?

There is complete sense of insecurity and gloom. The youth are scared and parents are scared to even send their children out of their homes today, be it for studies and jobs. Moreover, residents of Azamgarh have been forced to vacate their rooms by landlords. Many youth are missing. There is no knowledge of their whereabouts. They are completely shocked and have reacted very sadly to these allegations. 

Why do you think security agencies are terming Azamgarh as a hot bed for terror activities?

The media is equally responsible for hyping up the police's claims and saying that it has become the nursery for terror. How can one come to such a conclusion? The Hindu-Muslim population ratio is 60:40 and there has not been a single incident of communal violence. This is an indication that there is so much communal harmony in this place and under such circumstances branding it as a hub of terror is unfair.

Speaking about the Jamia encounter, the National Security Advisor said recently it was thanks to this encounter that the police were able to solve the recent terror strikes in the country. What are your thoughts about it?

I do not know what he wants. Well, if you look at police statements, they are all contradictory to each others. Even though police have claimed that they have nabbed the 'masterminds' behind the terror attacks, then why are so many incidents of terror still taking place in the country?

The Jamia encounter case is with the NHRC at the moment. What is the status?

The NHRC has issued notices to the police department. I am not aware of what else is happening over there. Our demand is for the setting up of an independent judicial inquiry headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge.

How are the people of Azamgarh reacting to charges being framed against their people?

The people are scared and definitely agitated. The fear is to such an extent that the people are not even exercising their rights and seeking for autopsy reports through the Right to Information Act. The families of the victims do not even want to sign Vakalatnamas assigning lawyers to fight their case. Various human rights groups have been going to Azamgarh and talking to the people over there and the reaction is pretty much similar as there seems to be doom descended upon them. We are trying to convince people to exercise their rights.

To make it short, we have found that people are terrified and there is a lot of insecurity among them i.e. both Hindus and Muslims. The people are losing their faith in security agencies. Lastly, the people are agitated by the trial by media. These are really matters of great concern.

The Muslim youth feel they are being targeted by security agencies. During your various visits to several places and interaction among the Muslim youth what have you found? Are they agitated?

There is anger among some of the youth, but it is not as though all Muslim youth are agitated. Yes, the levels of insecurity are definitely higher compared to anger. It is not as though that these youth will take law into their hands just because they have been wronged. However, I must add that the government has a huge responsibility on its hands. It is the duty of the government to restore the faith of these youth in the law of the land and also our Constitution.

So are you trying to say that there is not a single Muslim involved in terrorism in this country?

I do not have any information of any Muslim being involved in terrorism in this country. Where is the proof? If there is any proof that should be brought in the court of law -- let the law take its course then.

Then who do you think is carrying out all these terror activities in the country?

We are not an investigating agency. It is not our job to tell as to who is involved in terror activities. All we want is that, human and civil rights should be upheld. Fundamental rights of each and every citizen of India should be ensured.

You say that there is no proof against the Muslims. What about Afzal Guru?

See, Afzal was not found to be part of any terrorist outfit, nor did he play any direct role in the same. The Supreme Court noted that there is no direct evidence of his involvement. The evidence was mainly circumstantial.

All three courts, including Supreme Court, have acquitted him of charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organisation or a terrorist gang. The court also noted that the evidence was fabricated.

Most importantly, he was not given any worthwhile legal assistance to defend himself during interrogation. When Ram Jethmalani offered to be his lawyer, the Hindutva goons attacked his office. Supreme Court notes that 'the incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender'. 


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