Oct 11, 2008

Columnists - Khuswant Singh;My Hometown is changing

The second half of September 2008 will go down in the history of our country, for reasons good and bad. Good was finalising the nuclear deals with France and America. Its benefits will accrue soon and silence their critics for ever.

The bad took place in Delhi: the encounter between the police and students of Jamia Millia University, followed by bomb blasts in Mehrauli a few days later. They poisoned the cordial atmosphere that had prevailed in the city. Hindus and Sikhs began to eye Muslims with suspicion and use hurtful language.

I also had the experience of the deteriorating law and order situation in my hometown. My daughter had her pocket picked at the Delhi Railway Station and had to return home. I have begun to believe that pickpockets operate with the help of the police. I also found the change that had taken place in identity verification by the police. I had to go to the Parliamentary Annexe to receive an award from Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. I had to go through three barricades set up by the police to prove my identity before I was allowed to enter. It was like a city under siege. I could well understand the general feeling that if you have to go out to buy vegetables in the market, you can’t be sure if you will get back home in one piece.

I’m particularly worried about the change in atmosphere at Jamia Millia. It is one of the three major institutions for higher education for Muslims. The first was Aligarh Muslim University set up by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It was pro-British, anti-Congress and in favour of a separate Muslim State — till the separate Muslim State became a reality.

Jamia Millia Islamia was set up by nationalist Muslims who were pro-Congress and against Partition. It has had many eminent men associated with it, including Zakir Hussain, Saiyidain, Prof. Mujeeb, Jamal Kidwai and others. The historian and scholar Mushirul Hasan is its Vice-Chancellor. The third is Osmania University in Hyderabad which has been, and is, free of political overtones.

What causes me anguish is the way the media, both print and electronic, accepted the police version that, as usual, depicts Muslims as subversive and links them with militant outfits. Jamia, which has a proud record of patriotism, has been tarred with the same brush. I am glad Mushirul Hasan has undertaken to defend students of his university against this calumny.

Nizamuddin Auliya, patron saint of Delhi, is said to have prophesied, ‘Hinooz Dilli Door Ast’ (Delhi is a long way away), referring to a ruler who intended to take him to task when he returned to the capital. He was killed before he could get to the city. I invoke his blessings to protect us from evil-doers.

‘Who has Tejpal gone for this time?’

“How many cases are there going against you?” I asked Tarun Tejpal. I had not met him for two years. He raised both his hands in a gesture of resignation and replied, “I have no idea. Quite a few all over the country. Every time I expose some skulduggery, the fellows involved file a criminal case against me. Nothing comes of them because I have solid evidence to back my charges.”

That is true. Tejpal is one of the most daring of the tribe of journalists in the country. When he launched Tehelka, he did it in grand style with Nobel-laureate Vidya Naipaul and mega-star Amitabh Bachchan on his board of advisors. He rented a swanky office in a leafy suburb and hired a large staff of investigators, reporters and sub-editors. But he soon came to grief. He took on too many of the so-called VIPs.

Tejpal was the father of sting investigation. Whatever his staff investigated was recorded by spy cameras and hidden tape-recorders. His victims included Cabinet Ministers, police commissioners, army officers and others who granted licences in exchange of hard cash. They did their worst to ruin him. Business houses were scared to place ads in his journal. He had to close down.

Tejpal took to writing. His first novel, The Alchemy of Desire (Picador), sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. Naipaul wrote: ‘At least — a new and brilliantly original novel from India.’ He found a champion in Ram Jethmalani and re-launched Tehelka. He also took on book publishing — three selections of the best of Tehelka are out.

Tejpal’s recent exposés have been the State-sponsored anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. He got not only accounts of victims but also photographs and voices of perpetrators of diabolical crimes to prove his allegations. In a recent issue, he exposed the oft-repeated slanders against the Students of Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) made by Home Ministry officials at the time of LK Advani, when he was Home and Deputy Prime Minister of India. Scores of young Muslims were arrested and charged with crimes they had not committed. The only incriminating evidence was of recoveries made by the police and confessions made under torture. The courts refused to convict the accused on such fabricated evidence.

It needs a lot of courage to take on the police and people in power. Tejpal has the guts to do so. Every week as I open the pages of his Tehelka, I ask myself, “I wonder who he has gone in for this time.”

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