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INTERVIEW: Prof. Iqbal Ansari
‘Muslims are totally unaware of human rights issues’

When no one in the community seems to be giving any attention to as important an issue as human rights in the country, Prof. Iqbal Ansari is doing a remarkable job in this field and monitoring every minute development in this regard. Recently he has started a newsletter on human rights.
Though the Muslim community is the biggest victim of human rights violations in the country, it is unfortunate that there is little awareness about and interest in this vital field. No one, not even community leaders, seem to be aware of the basics of this important issue. And so most often, despite facing immense losses and atrocities during riots and severe human rights violations committed by offenders and even by the law-enforcing agencies, Muslims fail to raise their voice as the situation demands. Very few people are aware of the existence of the National Human Rights Commission in the country which monitors human right violations and acts on complaints made by the suffering people.
In this depressing scenario Dr Iqbal Ansari seems to be the only person who not only monitors human right violations in the country but also acts on his own to secure redressal and justice. He is involved with several human right organizations including Amnesty International and Vigil India. He is vice-president of Citizens For Democracy (CFD) and was instrumental in the establishment of Minorities Council of which he is the secretary general. S Ubaidur Rahman interviewed him recently. Excerpts:
How you got involved in human rights activities?
It was during the dark days of Emergency when I realized that it was time when I should do something for the people who suffer enormously without any reason. It was the time when I saw people being thrown into prison without any reason. The arrest of some of the people who were very near to me made me more restless. Though even during my student life I had participated in relief work after Jabalpur and Ahmadabad riots, it was the time when I saw complete authoritarianism and denial of freedom. I felt I must do something to oppose authoritarianism despite huge odds. That was the beginning. I continued my interest in human rights even after the removal of Emergency.
I was a delegate in an international seminar organized by OIC in London on Muslim Minorities in 1978. After the conference I was approached by a senior official of Amnesty International and was offered its membership. When the Kashmir problem started in late 1980s I along with Justice VM Tarkunde launched a co-ordination committee to monitor human rights violations in Kashmir. We visited the valley several times and probed several cases of human rights violations. It was also the time when the Babri Masjid issue hotted up and riots broke out in different parts of the country. The riots were so enormous and their effect was so devastating that I was baffled. I took the demolition of Babri Masjid as a challenge to make people realise that institutions of rule of law required basic reforms. Later human rights violations against other communities also started. This was one of the causes why we launched Minorities Council to monitor and take up issues of atrocities and human right violations against minorities, especially Muslims.

How you would describe the human rights scenario in the country?
It is very bad. Though it is more than half a century when they left the country but we are still following the British-style of governance - the style of ruler and subject. Our style of governance is state-centric. The police which still functions under 1961 Act is a good example of that. In the west it is citizen-centric. There is no concept of state accountability in our system.
Systems of district administration, police and judicial administration is still very much as left behind by the British. People who wield power in the country have never given any thought to the welfare of common people.
Human rights violations are rampant in the country. Grievances of the victims fail to get addressed. Violence and discrimination are not being taken as human rights issues in the country. Muslims who have faced unimaginable losses during innumerable riots that occur regularly in the country fail to get compensation and ex-gratia unlike other communities.

What about Muslim’s awareness about human rights in the country?
Muslims seem to be totally unaware about human right issues. Very few people seem to know anything if at all about it. It is a very disturbing scenario. This is despite the fact that Muslims are the greatest victim of human rights violations in the country. There has been no effort to educate them on these issues. So even in cases where open violations of human rights are committed against them, Muslims fail to reach the authorities who are concerned with the issue.
I have been trying to create awareness among common people and Muslim intelligentsia on the issue through Human Rights Today and seminars and lectures.

Is there any organization monitoring human rights violations against Muslims in the country?
There was no organization monitoring such cases. But now Minorities Council monitors incidents of human rights violations against all minorities including Muslims. We take up all issues of human rights violations against any community and present it at different forums. I am personally following several such issues including riots in Meerut, Maliana and other places.

What are the latest developments in Meerut and Maliana riots cases?
Riots in Hashimpura, Meerut were compared to ‘4Nazi Progrom’ by Nikhil Chakarvarty. Eminent citizens gave a call for trial of PAC personnel for treason. But nothing happened till May 1999, except for a writ filed in 1995 by affected peopleI in Lucknow High Court Bench. Things started moving since we took up the case. Soon we will file a transfer application in the Supreme Court. Now I am pressing for adequate compensation for those people who suffered during these riots.



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