Recent years have witnessed an increasingly greater assault on the rule of law, democratic norms and procedures in the name of fighting terrorism. The democratic space is continuously shrinking and it is not merely through obnoxious laws like POTA that this is being done. This is being done slowly and consciously through flagrant subversion of rules, norms and procedures which are meant to protect democratic structures and spaces. The process is aided and abetted by the communalisation of state and society. Here we take up the case study of a Jordanian student whose stay in the University of Delhi and whose departure from the country reveal how democracy is being terrorised by the state and how structures of authority are communalised or succumbed to communal pressures.
Qays A.M. Abd Al Kareem was a research student in the University of Delhi which he had joined in December 1997 to do his doctoral degree in Astro-Physics. A few months later he got accommodation in the Jubilee Hall hostel, which is a post-graduate hostel for men in the University. Qays was expected to stay there till the completion of his degree, which was likely to take nearly five years. However, Qays, a Jordanian Arab of Muslim persuasion was to become the target of constant communal harassment and attack by some fellow resident students. During this period he continuously approached the hostel and the university authorities and brought his incessant harassment to their notice. The structures of authority did not discharge their responsibility by intervening in the matter. Qays then approached democratic sections of the university community for help against his continual communal harassment. Mr. S.A.R. Gilani lecturer in Arabic in Zakir Hussain College and a civil liberties activist, whom Qays had met on the research floor of the Central Reference Library, and who used to help Qays, took him to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The PUCL General Secretary Ms. Gopa Joshi of Ramjas College, intervened to seek alternative accommodation for Mr. Qays so that he could complete his thesis in peace. The university gave him accommodation in the Teachers’ Transit Hostel (TTH) for three months from October to December 2001 with the understanding that his stay would be extended since the Transit Hostel always remained half-empty. The communal forces which had made his life so difficult in the Jubilee Hall also made a public issue out of Qays having been given accommodation in the Transit Hostel which is primarily for teachers.
Unfortunately for Qays, following the infamous attack on the Parliament on 13th December 2001, S.A. R. Gilani was arrested the next day in connection with that attack (according to the prosecution, he was arrested on the 15th). Those black days saw the media, both print and electronic, abdicate its role of acting as the fourth estate. Instead, Gilani was publicly tried by the media on the basis of the police version. Even before his trial began, the media had pronounced Gilani guilty. Within three days the Jubilee Hall students also came up with ‘information’ insinuating S.A.R. Gilani’s international connections in the Parliament attack case. These students suggested this by talking of Gilani’s friendship with Qays and their long calls to destinations in West Asia (‘Hunt for Teachers’ Pet in Jubilee Hall’, Hindustan Times, 17th December 2001). In the existing national and international scenario, Kashmir, educated Muslims, international connections in the Arab world, all fell in place in the story. In flagrant violation of all rules and democratic norms, Qays was forced to leave the TTH without any further notice or without even having been given time to look for alternative accommodation. In fact, he was locked out of his room with his baggage in the room. All this was happening when he was in the submission stage of his thesis. He was impounded by the Central Investigating Department (CID) and was called several times by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, which was handling the Parliament attack case. This was not all. The university officials long held back the appointment of examiners for examination of his thesis. Qays approached a large number of teachers to help him get examiners appointed for examination of his thesis since his visa extended for six months. Fearing for his safety, Qays’s family wanted him to return immediately (they had in the previous year called back his younger brother who was studying Mathematics in the University), but Qays did not want to return without a degree since he had already invested more than four years in his studies. Qays was resolute that he would return only after getting his degree. Finally, his viva voce was held in October 2002. He did extremely well in his viva and his examiners unambiguously appreciated his thesis for its contribution to its area of study. He finally got his degree in the last week of October 2002, which he immediately sent for attestation/authentication to the Embassy of Jordan. He booked his return air ticket to Jordan for 14th November 2002. This ticket was confirmed. But all was not over for Qays; the worst was yet to come.
On 7th November 2002, Qays went to the Foreigners’ Registration Regional Office (FRRO) with all his documents to inform the office of his date of departure and to obtain permission for the same. He handed over all his documents, including the passport and the ticket, for due procedure. He was asked to wait, but his documents were not returned to him nor was any information given to him. After waiting for 2-3 hours, Qays rang up Mr. N.D. Pancholi, his lawyer and a civil rights activist, to inform him of all that had happened at FRRO. Mr. Pancholi advised him to wait as per official advice. Qays again rang Mr. Pancholi at 4 p.m. and informed him that he was not being given any information by the office, nor were his papers being returned. Mr. Pancholi asked Qays to ring him up at 5 p.m. Not receiving any call from Qays, Mr. Pancholi went to the FRRO where with some difficult he learnt that Qays had been sent to the Lampur Detention Centre. Mr. Pancholi was unable to ascertain the reason for his detention but he was informed that there were some instructions from above. Mr. Pancholi acted immediately and sent telegrams to the Home Minister, Police Commissioner and the FRRO about Mr. Qays’ illegal detention.
The following day the Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Times of India (8th November 2002) carried reports about Mr. Qays’ detention. According to these reports the reason given by the FRRO for his detention was that Qays’ air ticket was not confirmed and to ensure his departure he would be deported by the FRRO itself on the ticket, bought by Qays himself. The reason given by the FRRO was clearly spurious since Qays’ ticket was confirmed. In any event, no reason was given by the FRRO to Mr. Qays.
Fearing for his safety and life, two teachers of the university, namely, Nandita Narain and Tripta Wahi, immediately moved a habeas corpus petition on 8th November 2002 in the High Court of Delhi No. CRLW 1287/2002 (Produce Jordanian on Monday. HC tells Police Indian Express 9th November 2002). The division bench comprising Justice D. Bhandari and Justice H.R. Malhotra asked the centre and the Delhi Police to produce Mr. Qays in court on Monday (11th November 2002) at 10.30 a.m. In view of the anxiety expressed by the petitioners about the safety of Mr. Qays, the Court asked the Union of India and others to ensure that Mr. Qays was brought to the court in good condition.
On Monday, the 11th of November 2002, the petitioners and Mr. Pancholi were shocked to see the physical state of Mr. Qays; his spectacles and wrist-watch were broken, his shirt was torn and there were scratches all over his forearms. His physical condition was there for all to see in the court. He told the court that the previous evening (i.e. Sunday evening) four policemen had come to the detention centre to take him away. The policemen had told him that they had come to take him to court. Aware that this was not possible on a Sunday evening, Qays resisted going with them. In this physical resistance his spectacles and wristwatch had got broken, his shirt torn and he had received scratches all over his body. He stated that he could prevent the policemen from physically dragging him out only when he shouted for help and other inmates of the detention centre came to his rescue. The police flatly denied this altogether, but the physical condition of Mr. Qays left no doubt in the minds of all present in the courtroom that Mr. Qays was telling the truth. The Hon’ble judges were visibly angry and they reprimanded the Union of India and others stating that they had given special instructions for his physical well-being and that their instructions had not been obeyed. They were so disturbed by this incident that they asked the Union of India and the Delhi Police to appear in the forenoon. Ms. Mukta, Public Prosecutor for Delhi Government was pleading with the Hon’ble judges that the Additional Solicitor–General was to appear for the Union of India and that he could come only in the afternoon. However, he was ordered to come no later than noon. This reflected the anger of the Hon’ble judges at Qays’ physical condition.
Mr. Sud, the Additional Solicitor–General of India, argued that Mr Qays was to be deported on grounds which could not be revealed publicly and there were confidential reports/documents which warranted his departure. He mentioned Qays’ connection with S.A.R. Gilani and stated that Qays had been taken and questioned by the CID and the Special Cell of Delhi Police several times in connection with the attack on the Parliament of 13th December 2001. He went on to state that Qays was to be deported for reasons of security. On this being contested by Mr. Pancholi, the Hon’ble judges asked for and examined the Home Ministry’s files with confidential reports. Their observations about the contents of the files are very significant. They commented that although Qays had been taken and questioned by the CID and the special cell several times in connection with the Parliament attack case, yet there was no evidence against him and every time he was released. They further added that they saw no apparent reason for him to be deported when he himself was leaving the country. During the course of the argument Mr. Sud referred to the petitioners as leftist activists who were always trying to create trouble for the state. Finally he argued that the government wanted to deport him so that he is not able to go as a free man and that it should become a part of his record. He insisted that the government would deport him and send his luggage later. It is quite tragic that the Hon’ble bench succumbed to the government pressure to deport him although it found no evidence in the confidential files to warrant the deportation of Mr. Qays. Even on the issue of Qays’ baggage, the state was adamant that it would pack and send Qays’ luggage. However, the petitioners passionately argued that his research material collected over so many years ran the risk of getting lost/scattered if Mr. Qays were not allowed to sort out his own baggage. The court permitted Mr. Qays to collect his luggage at Parmanand Colony in the presence of a lawyer designated by the court. The court also sought assurance from the Union of India and the Delhi Police about Mr. Qays’ safety till his departure on 14th November 2002, which assurance was given by the state. The petitioners got permission from the court to be present at the time when Mr. Qays was to collect his baggage from his residence. The same was done on the evening of the following day, that is, 12th November 2002. Mr. Qays left by the flight he himself had booked and paid for, but with the following observations made by the FRRO on the day Mr. Qays had gone to the FRRO office for permission to leave: ‘The holder of this passport is being deported from India due to his undesirable activities by FRRO Delhi vide order No. 1408/ For (I.M. Cell) dated 7/11/02.’
Qays has had to face a lot of trouble in Jordan arising out of his deportation.
The case of Qays starkly reveals the subversion of democracy in the name of fighting terrorism and the extent and depth of communalisation of the university community. The structures of authority are either in league with communal forces or else they succumb to communal pressures. It is noteworthy that Qays received minimal or no support to his letters of complaint about his harassment. On the contrary, the Warden forwarded, to the Vice Chancellor and the Jordanian Embassy a letter of complaint by the self-same students who were harassing Qays, alleging that Qays was hurting their religious sentiments. This letter was forwarded without even a preliminary enquiry. All democratic norms and procedures were thrown to the winds when Qays was locked out of his TTH room. It is quite remarkable that even officers of the examination branch also colluded in his harassment by delaying his thesis for examination.
While it was quite natural for Qays, an Arab from Jordan, to make friends with the lone teacher and researcher of Arabic on the research floor of the university library, in the wake of S.A.R. Gilani’s arrest, this friendship became the cause of his continuous harassment by the CID and the Special Cell in Delhi. Communalism and stereotyped notions of terrorism got intrinsically intertwined in this case and Qays fell victim to this deadly combination. Soon after S.A.R. Gilani’s arrest, with Police prompting, the media began to run amuck. Insinuations about Gilani’s international links with terrorism through Qays’ long calls to West Asia became part of the media trial in the Parliament attack case.
That Qays was repeatedly taken for questioning by the CID and the Special Police Cell, Delhi is understandable, but why he was detained at the Lampur detention centre at the FRRO, when he himself had reported to the FRRO for intimating his date of departure is intriguing. Even though the court allowed the FRRO to deport Qays, the judges were not convinced of the arguments given by the state. Secondly, the police attempt to drag him out of the detention centre on a Sunday evening for being produced in court in connection with the habeas corpus petition on Monday, is highly suspect. Thirdly, why did the police so desperately want to pack Qays’ baggage and not allow him to do it himself? These questions seem to take us to the terrorist attack on Parliament. With the judgement in the Parliament case before us, we know that the Police claimed that the conspirators of the attack were not educated and that Gilani being an educated person filled that lacuna among them. Gilani’s being an educated person was a vital link in the police version of the attack. And yet as the High Court judgement says there is no evidence to link Gilani with the conspiracy. The police was aware of this weakness in the case. To the writer of this article it appears that Qays could have become a source of filling this gap in the police version of the conspiracy.
If the preceding conjecture is true even in part, it is difficult to dispel the suspicion that the Police turned to Qays once again as a last resort to nail Gilani. Could it be that Qays was dragged out of the Detention Centre – in fact, he was taken there in the first place – to secure some confession incriminating Gilani. Could it be that the Police was so interested in managing his luggage because they wanted to plant some physical evidence in support of the confession? If the lawyers, activists, and finally, the Court, did not intervene just in time, could it be that, after securing what they wanted, the Police were planning to eliminate Qays in an ‘encounter’ both to shut his mouth forever and to add further ‘evidence’ to his terrorist links? Finally, when everything else failed, could it be that Qays was deported rather than simply released and allowed to leave so that he can never return to India as a witness in a court of law?
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