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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

INTERVIEW: Shakeel Ahmad
‘Gujarat’s structural violence continues unabated’

Tahir MahoodDr Shakeel Ahmad is on the move, from perturbed streets of Gujarat to the Supreme Court in Delhi, to provide justice to the victims of Modi's Gujarat. On one hand, he provides legal assistance to victims, on the other, he struggles for the prosecution for the BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal goons who were involved in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 through what he calls 'proactive legal assistance.' He is also active in rehabilitation work in the riot-affected areas through the Islamic Relief Committee Gujarat (IRCG) to which he is connected. IRCG has been active since the demolition of Babri Masjid providing assistance to the post-demolition riots victims, to the people affected in the disastrous earthquake and now the Gujarat riots victims. All this goes on despite the irony that his own son is now booked under POTA by the instigators of the pogroms as he has become an eyesore to the Modi ilk. However, regular threats from the VHP-Bajrang Dal outlaws have not shaken him and he is moving ahead with hope to bring succour and justice to the victims. Quamar Ashraf spoke to him in Delhi.

What is the purpose of your visit here?
I have come here with a view to reviewing the petition we filed in the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, our organization (IRCG) is striving to get all the big cases transferred to the Supreme Court because we do not have any faith in the present system in Gujarat. There is a gang-up between police-politicians-administration. Even a section of judiciary is hand-in-glove with them.

What are the objectives of IRCG?
The IRCG was floated after the demolition of Babri Masjid to help the riot victims at the time. We had built over 1,000 houses that time. After that in the Gujarat earthquake, our organization remained in the forefront helping the affected people irrespective of castes and communities. However, this time we have expanded our areas of activities in view of the growing need. The opening of the Cell for Legal Help & Guidance (CLHG) through which we provide legal assistance to the victims, is one of them.

How many people have benefited from the CLHG till now?
It is difficult to offer an exact figure. Our style of working is different from others. We do not concentrate on numbers, rather we concentrate on work based on requirements and priority.

How does your organization take things differently?
Instead of concentrating on 'defensive legal assistance', we have started a proactive legal assistance which has helped a lot.

What is the difference between defensive and proactive legal assistance?
Through defensive legal assistance we provide help only to the victims who have been arrested illegally, or where we fight cases for their acquittal and so on. While, through the proactive legal assistance we file cases against the culprits, ask for their prosecution and imprisonment. The latter has helped us a lot and it has been adopted by a number of NGOs now. Also, as a result of the proactive approach Gujarat pogrom is still alive in the international media and we hope our work will produce good results against the culprits and they will be punished finally for their crimes against humanity.

In the Best Bakery case, Zahira Sheikh had said that 'nobody from my community came out for assistance '. Where was your organization then?
In fact, a local NGO was working in Vadodra which could not handle the case properly. Also, there was an agreement between the NGOs working there which required others not to intervene in one another's area in order to avoid mess.

But the IRCG has a branch in Vadodra...
Yes, we do have a branch in Vadodra, but we had left this entirely to the local body. Therefore we did not intervene in order to avoid duplication or so.

Zaheera said that she moved from pillar to post for months but...
Look, we did not expect injustice to that extent from the system. There was a lot of preparation by Modi government. To an extent the judiciary was also involved in this disarray. Also, all the public prosecutors were VHP and Bajrang Dal people.

What is the situation of the other cases?
At 40 places, there were big carnages, out of which we are handling six cases. There are other NGOs which are taking care of certain cases. Legally, these cases are in good position now.

What is you further course of actions in Gujarat?
The situation in Gujarat is still grim. Violence is still on, though without bombs and bullets. Illegal detentions are on. You are not secure even inside your home. Who knows tomorrow a policeman may come and book me under POTA. My son, who helped me in drafting letters and other chores, is now booked under POTA. Police pick up youths, whoever they want, from streets, keep them on remand for weeks and months. All this has filled Muslim psyche with fear in Gujarat. The structural violence continues unabated. Truth will certainly prevail one day, Allah is with us.«

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