In the seventies, Bhopal had a large number of students from Iran, studying in colleges like Saifia College. I was with The Hitavada as a staff correspondent at that time. Editor N. Rajan used to get large packets of printed materials from an address in Paris. An Iranian student leader would visit the office and pick up the packets.
One thing should be said about the students. Most of them were married couples with one or two children. They were getting scholarships from the Iranian government and that is why they were able to study in India. Truth be told, I did not know who was funding their education.
It was only much later in 1979 when the Iranians hounded out the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had to seek asylum in the US that I realised that the packets came from an organisation headed by Ayatollah Khomeini, who was at that time in Paris spearheading the Iranian revolution from there.
Once the revolution succeeded, most of the students in Bhopal returned to Iran, including the leader I mentioned. A few months after the Revolution, he visited The Hitavada office at Bhopal. I asked him what he was doing in Iran. He told me that he had become a judge, something like a district judge in India.
I asked him how he dealt with the supporters of the Shah. He placed his palm on his neck and speedily moved it by making a particular sound to suggest that they were all beheaded. When he described the retributive killing in this fashion, I had a shock of my life.
For once I realised how the Shah of Iran’s supporters fared when Khomeini came to power. My intention is not to justify or condemn what the student leader-turned-judge did in his country for it was an entirely domestic matter of Iran. Today, the women in Iran are protesting against the regime for the iron-fisted manner in which it has been dealing with women who refuse to wear the veil.
As it is, the women in Iran refuse to be a sitting duck for the government. For instance, the government wants women to produce more children. It has been offering incentive after incentive but the women refuse to buy the argument that they should become baby-producing factories.
Today, Iran has the lowest birth rate, lower than the replacement rate, among all the Islamic countries. Is it any wonder that the women have been at the receiving end of the government?
You may wonder why I mention all this, though the Iranian issue has been dominating the foreign page of Indian newspapers. I did this to drive home the point that violence in any form is unacceptable to me. I say this in the context of the recent ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliate organisations.
Let me also make it clear that there are many other organisations which have done worse, compared to the PFI, but they remain legal because they wear the garb of Hindutva. They can openly call for genocide against the Muslims like what the Buddhists did in Myanmar against the Rohingyas but nothing will happen to them.
A recent confessional statement that made the rounds on social media suggested that some of the terrorist attacks like on the Samjhauta Express and in Malegaon and Hyderabad were the handiwork of an organisation touted as nationalistic at its core. It is a hydra-headed body that has a pervasive influence on the nation.
On December 10, 1992, i.e., following the demolition of the Babri Masjid a week earlier, the government banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and, in a show of balance, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Sewak Sangh. There was no such show of balance this time. The ban is under a more draconian law which will make it impossible for the hundreds of people arrested to come out of the jail for several years as has happened in the case of journalist Siddique Kappan.
Some of my readers may raise the question whether I do not approve of the ban on the PFI. My point is that if the PFI is worth a ban, there are worthier organisations deserving a similar ban. Having said that, let me come back to the PFI.
Nadapuram is a village in Kozhikode district in Kerala which used to hit the headlines in the Press for the killings and counter-killings over a decade ago. A defence force was set up to counter the killings which, over the years, underwent several permutations and combinations to become what was known as the PFI.
Initially, the clashes were between Muslim youths and Marxist cadres. Soon, the RSS stepped into the arena and the two three-lettered organisations often flexed their muscles. The situation came to such a pass that if a PFI cadre was killed in the morning, an RSS cadre would be killed by the end of the day.
I need not mention the details of such killings as a simple Google search can reveal the names of the persons, who became victims of retributive justice as practised by the two organisations. It did not bother them that every death is the loss of a husband or a father or a son of some living persons who would suffer throughout their lives.
Of course, in a state where martyrs are invested with a halo, they justify violence on the strength of the long list of martyrs they have. When a particular person was waylaid and killed on a public road in Thiruvanthapuram, the then Union Minister Arun Jaitley dashed to Kerala to condemn the killing. Yes, it needed to be condemned but condemnation cannot be on a selective basis.
The PFI had created an impression that the Muslims were able to live in peace only because the organisation had created an image that it would not be found wanting if a Muslim was attacked anywhere. This is a wholly erroneous impression.
Let me draw a leaf from LK Advani’s autobiography which received critical acclaim at the time it was released. I, too, had reviewed the book at that time. As everyone knows, Advani was from the Sindh province in what is now Pakistan.
In the book, he waxes eloquent about the arrival of the RSS in Karachi and how Hindu youths like him were attracted to the organisation. The routine marches the knicker-clad held in the city engendered a sense of security among the Hindus in Karachi. Those days, the Muslim League had raised the demand for a separate nation for the Muslims. He did not mention what impact the rallies had on the Muslims in Karachi.
When the Partition occurred, the Hindus of Karachi, including Advani himself, realised that the so-called sense of security the RSS gave them was like a chimera, a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail that existed only in Advani’s imagination. They all had to leave Karachi to find safety in India.
Much the same can be said about the PFI. It does not provide any safety to anyone. There was an impression that the PFI was swift in retribution. It could do nothing when the Indian state used its organised might against the organisation.
The call for hartal it gave in the wake of the countrywide searches on the PFI premises only antagonised the common people when the PFI cadres resorted to violence and shouted religious slogans like Allahu Akbar, in the manner BJP MPs shout Jai Shri Ram in the temple of democracy that is Parliament.
Those who wax eloquent on the loss the public exchequer suffered do not remember the loss those who defended the traditions at Sabarimala caused when they protested against a Supreme Court verdict which said that women, irrespective of age, had every right to visit the Ayyappa temple on the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district as any man. Selective praise or condemnation is unacceptable.
Did the PFI provide security to the Muslims? No, it did not. The security for the Muslims came from the democratic system which is in vogue in the country. India has one of the finest Constitutions in the world. It is under this Constitution that the country is ruled.
There is separation of powers among the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. If they work in tandem to uphold the highest Constitutional values, everybody is safe and secure in this country. Yes, there are concerns when one of the three wings oversteps the others and goes on its own with no checks and balances. The answer to it is not to take a knife.
Any violations of the Constitutional guarantees can be challenged in a democratic and legal manner. Public consciousness needs to be created so that the government does not trample upon the freedom of the people, except at its own political peril.
The ban on the PFI has not orphaned the Muslims, who have every right that an ordinary citizen enjoys in the country. If the rights are challenged through undemocratic means, the answer is to organise public opinion and counter it. The fact of the matter is that a vast majority of the people in India are opposed to any Talibanisation of Indian society.
Wherever the people found a credible alternative for the BJP, they voted for it. Having said this, let me also point out that in a country where nearly 85 per cent of the population is Hindu, an organisation which professes to protect them is farcical. It was the Indian state which banned the PFI. Not the RSS.
India’s Army is larger than that of the US, China and Russia. There are innumerable paramilitary forces like the CRPF and the BSF, not to mention the police forces. Why should such a country need an organisation like the RSS which does more harm than good to the nation? It was banned several times.
True, the PFI was the one behind the palm-cutting of Prof TJ Joseph of Newman College, Thodupuzha. Even if he was guilty, nobody had the right to take the law into his own hands. Those who wax eloquent on the attack forget the diabolic killing of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two teen-aged children Philip and Timothy while they were fast asleep in a station wagon.
Those who supported the Bajrang Dal when it burnt them alive are now holding positions of power. And they are the ones who condemn the attack against Prof Joseph. Far from supporting him at that time, the Indian state did everything possible to harass his family and force them into deprivation. The church, too, played an ignominious role in all this.
Sectarian organisations which take pride in their organised might and the periodic drills that they conduct, mainly to terrorise their opponents, have no right to exist in a democratic society. While I was on a visit to Berlin in the early nineties, I saw a group of men, funnily clad and with a distinctive hairstyle. I asked our guide who they were.
She warned me against looking at them for they were neo-Nazis who could even attack me for staring at them, let alone photographing them. The spot where I saw them was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the symbolic centre of West Berlin and one of the city's most popular sights. The original West Tower was partially destroyed during a bombing by the Allied Forces in 1943. Its striking ruin now rises into the sky as a memorial for peace between nations.
I was scared when the guide told me this. Thereafter, whenever I passed by that church during my one-week stay in the city, I never had an eye contact with anyone who resembled a Neo-Nazi. They are a menace. The PFI was one. There are many more that should be banned, for in a democratic country like India where the rule of law is sacrosanct, there is no need for any organisation that brandishes a weapon, even if it is a lathi!