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Memories Of A Friend In Exile

By Mahtab Alam

19 July, 2010

It came as a shocking, rather, frightening news when I read about the arrest of my friend Abdul Shakeel Basha, a peace and human rights activist, a few days back. For a moment, it felt as though we had almost turned into a fascist state, where campaigners of peace and justice have no place. Shakeel was arrested on 17th June 2010, by the special cell of Delhi Police on the requisition of the Gujarat Police for his alleged affiliation with Maoist/ Naxal movement of India. He has been charged under the stringent sections of 120 (B), 121 (A), 124 (A), 153 (A) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 38, 39 and 40 of unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 1967.

My first memory of meeting Abdul Shakeel dates back to the last quarter of 2004 during a human rights workshop in Delhi. He is commonly known as Shakeel Peace, because of his email id (shakeel.peace@gmail.com) and the nature of activities he was involved in. He was at the forefront of human rights movement in India till his arrest. In that workshop, I remember him sharing his experiences of the relief and rehabilitation work undertaken post the ‘92 Mumbai communal violence and Gujarat carnage of 2002. At that time, he was working with the renowned human rights’ activist, Harsh Mander, who runs a human rights’ group Aman Biradari. And later I came to know that in 1992, when Mumbai burnt, Shakeel, then a postgraduate student and an aspiring civil servant, parted his way from studies and volunteered for relief and rehabilitation. It was his passion for bringing peace and justice, which brought him to Gujarat from Mumbai following the carnage of 2002. There, he involved himself with a project called Nayaygrah, which is an initiative of providing legal aid and bringing peace and justice in post 2002 Gujarat.

After our first meeting, we kept meeting on various occasions mainly at human rights workshops, citizens’ march for peace and justice and protest demonstrations and rallies against human rights’ violations. He was actively involved in the sensitisation of youth towards the issues of human rights issues and communal harmony. He was also very vocal on the issue of communal witch hunt of the Muslim youth especially after the serial blast of 13th September 2008 I Delhi and the infamous Batla House ‘encounter’. He played an instrumental role in organizing a meeting of advocates, social activists and community leaders for legal aid following the Batla House ‘encounter’ and arrest of the local youths.

Few years back, when he started working with street children and rag-pickers he asked me to visit the localities he was working in and support him in whatever small ways I could. Despite my commitment I could not keep my promise. Last time on 15th April 2010, we met at Jantar Mantar for a short while, where we had gathered for two separate protests, one organized by the Right to food campaign and the other by International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. In this meeting, he complained about my inability to visit his work place.

In our last communication, he requested me to participate in a workshop on Interfaith Dialogue and Conflict Resolution from 10 June to 14 June in Bhopal organized by HAQ (Shakeel’s organisation) along with Bhopal based Peoples’ Research Society and Mumbai based The Institute for Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution (IPSCR). It was an initiative to bring all the Peace Activist from the grassroots level working in different parts of the country together to form a National alliance. Yet again, despite my strong desire to participate in the workshop and be a part of the Initiative, I could not make it due to unavailability of Ticket for Bhopal from Kochi, where I was for a week long trip during 2nd -8th June.

One thing that I am still unable to understand is that if he had any affiliation at any point of time with Maoist and Naxal movements as claimed in the FIR no I-37/2010 dated 25th February 2010, why was he not arrested earlier? One would really wonder, why it took almost 4 months to arrest a person who was very much over ground, living a natural life contrary to a covert and double life as claimed by the police officials? Why didn’t the police arrest him just after the ban of CPI (ML) Janashakti/ CPI (Maoist) if he was a member or associated with the outfit? Why did the police wait for almost 4 years or 1 year respectively? There are dozens of questions like these that can be asked and must be asked on the arrest of human rights’ activist like Abdul Shakeel Basha and others.

(Mahtab Alam is a civil rights’ activist and freelance journalist. He can be reached at mdmahtabalam@gmail.com)