WHAT IS ISIS ? If one wishes to learn about ISIS there are any number of books on the subject, like this one, by self-proclaimed experts : either politicians, or military strategists, or journalists. These will tell you what ISIS is, outline the dangers it represents, and warn about how bad things can become if it is not “defeated”.
OBJECTIVES THAT WE HAVE : We are here concerned not with the world, over the affairs of which we have no control, but with our own country, state and city. So how do we prevent or stop the insidious growth of this phenomenon that seems to attract people from wealthy and poor nations and societies alike ?
UNDERSTANDING ISIS : To respond effectively to such a phenomenon, we need to understand where its attractiveness lies. And what its objectives are. Its attractiveness lies in the fact that it gives those who purport to act under its banner a sense of control over their lives, a sense of purpose, and a sense of guiding their own destinies, camouflaged as doing the work of the Almighty, to give it some tenuous legitimacy. Its objectives are control, domination, and political ascendancy.
THE LOGIC OF ISIS : Its psychological roots lie in the desire to make themselves relevant players in society, to overcome the feeling of helplessness in a system perceived as hostile to them, as emasculating them and denuding them of their rights, both rights Divinely granted to all humans as well as rights Constitutionally guaranteed to us as Indians.
THE PERCEPTION : Injustice to Muslims, both systemic as well as systematic, is the foundation of ISIS’ attractiveness to those who feel disenfranchised, and who wish to take back control of their lives, absent which they feel a sense of alienation, of exclusion, of being oppressed by others who seem to be dictating to them how they must live, regardless of their own core beliefs.
POLITICAL REALITY : Politics is a game of numbers, and to win elections is a need of every politician. To get more votes than others, the politician needs to be on the right side of the maximum number of voters, not the right side of truth. Therefore it is illogical to expect a politician with an eye on elections to work in any manner that does not promote his self interest in the next elections. Nationally relevant corrective action is often sacrificed at the altar of perpetuating of personal power, and politically correct posturing often camouflages real ulterior intent. Politicians control police establishments, and hence games politicians play, play into the hands of “recruiters of potential terrorists” by (maybe unintentionally, due to political myopia) rendering police forces ineffective.
POLICING SOCIETY : Police officials and paramilitary forces are not given the freedom to operate as a professional autonomous force answerable to the law, and subordinated to political dispensations, causing them to work in a manner calculated not to promote order but to assist one or the other politically powerful group retain its relevance. Minorities and Dalits are famously irrelevant in political calculations generally (though after the last election, Telangana is showing signs of being the sole exception).
It is never what act was committed that determines what the law does : it is always who has committed it. Thus, the same act draws responses that vary from inaction to sentence of life or even death. To exacerbate the matter, in many areas even policing is outsourced : vigilantes are designated Special Police Officers, or appointed as security personnel, knowing well they act against minorities with ulterior intent. The perception it feeds is the logical conclusion that certain groups are discriminated against. Violators of the law today operate with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they cannot be touched. This positions the poor and underprivileged in society in a place that they can be easily brainwashed into thinking that by participating in something projected as glorious and grand, they will make their ramshackle existence hugely relevant, and be an actor in a movement that fetches glory in the hereafter as well as an escape from the frustrating claustrophobic lives they presently are compelled to lead, in a system that neither understands them nor has any sympathy for them.
POLITICAL AND LEGAL REGIMENS : In many jurisdictions, there are increasing impositions that seem designed to denigrate Muslims and coerce Muslims to “assimilate” by changing themselves into something their religion does not hold acceptable. For instance in today’s newspaper we have a report of a Paris department store being directed to either stock and sell pork and alcoholic beverages or close down : when both are haram in Islam, and no store is compelled to stock and sell halal foods, such incidents are a guaranteed trigger for claims of hostile discrimination. Closer home what is done in the name of Gau Raksha is a case in point. The law in such cases is notoriously slow to respond, and the urgency that informs its actions at other times is nowhere to be seen when minorities and Dalits are under attack : physical, social, or otherwise.
Last year scores of statutes were repealed, and one among the list was the Shariat Application Act of 1937 that holds where both parties are Muslims, in most areas the law applicable shall be their personal law. In parliament the canard was floated that no Muslim had filed the declaration under that law which makes it applicable, therefore it is clear Muslims themselves do not want it ; the reality being that it applies generally, and if a Muslim wants to be governed by it in further matters like wills etc., then such a declaration is required. Political honesty, it seems, is no longer fashionable. No public discussion is held before wholesale statutes are repealed, nor are relevant persons from affected groups ever consulted. The political position in fact underscores the belief in their complete irrelevance.
THE JUSTICE MECHANISM : Two “encounters” one in Andhra killing 20, the other in Telangana killing 5, and the difference in the manner the two proceedings in the High Court went on, is illustrative. Exhumation of bodies in one, denied in the other. A second post mortem in one, denied in the other. The High Court monitoring one, left to the SIT (whose chief had gone on leave) in the other. The perception created is reluctance of the judiciary to respond effectively where certain interests are concerned, while being proactive in others. Vigilantes beat up people at will, and the judiciary that we are so justifiably proud of seems unable to even protect the very basic freedom of speech !
THE TIPPING POINT : When these aspects become a collective mass, at some stage in one’s perception, a point is reached where the balance tilts in favor of taking matters in one’s own hands, believing that the system is hostile to one’s interests. And why not, one may ask ? Is that not the way that the administration understands ? Legal proceedings take decades while lives are destroyed, so many groups resort to direct street action and succeed in wresting what they want but certain groups, small in numbers, do not have that much manpower, and so to express their angst resort to either dramatic displays (however horrendous in impact as well as backlash) or become part of a group that they wish if not are convinced, will either get them their dues or empower them to strike out against the perceived-as-hostile system.
DESIRABLE : If the political system’s policing is fair, and where it is not the justice mechanism kicks in effectively, there will be no room for disgruntled elements to feel discriminated against. Knowing that the India that we here experience is probably the most secure place for Muslims, none would even think of destroying the equilibrium of this sanctuary.
The growing displays of aggressive “nationalism”, growing aggression in manifestations of majoritarian hostility that go without official, political, or legal response, is a cause for concern : it feeds upon as well as fuels the sense of emasculation, of being made irrelevant, of wanting to seek out relevance by some means, fair or foul, of being excluded, of oppression, of deprivation, making people more prone to “being mentored” into subscribing to an ideology calculated to make them think they are getting back control of their destinies. To legitimize that ideology, it is sought to be accorded religious sanction by distorted reading and even misinterpretation of religious texts, and hijacking of the name of Islam to project it as a reaction to a situation where Islam is under siege, which for several reasons it seems to be right now.
SOLUTION : In the ordinary citizen’s life, when political players are self-centered, when policing is hostage to politicians who see selective things only and are oblivious to inconvenient truths, and given that the political player’s capacity to state the facts stands compromised by his need to win at the hustings, the only institution that can stem the rot is the judiciary. When the threat of disintegration of the legal system loomed in Pakistan, a Justice Choudhary stood out and prevailed. What does a judge do when he assumes office ? He swears to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the country. Yet, seeing what is happening, witness to the perversion of that very law, if the judge does nothing, then I would submit that he has abdicated his responsibility. It is no longer safe to stay in the harbour of claims that unless a case is brought before it the judiciary cannot act : it has a greater responsibility to those so small that their voices do not even reach the corridors of the courts, and not for nothing is the power to act suo motu vested in the judiciary.
The political dispensation as well as the police establishment are amenable to corrective action by the judiciary that does not have to worry about security of tenures, and hence I say that the mantle of responsibility for stemming the rot today squarely falls on judicial shoulders. The possibility of shrill claims of judicial over-reach notwithstanding, the judiciary must be willing to step out and get its hands dirty if it is to remain relevant as a harbinger of social change rather than a mere pale emasculated powerless reflector of political and social realities that threaten to spiral downwards toward an abyss. Responding to the situation, I hold that the judiciary would vindicate itself and the position of primacy accorded to it. Choosing a state of inaction making itself a mere spectator, it would diminish its own relevance in national affairs.
By Mahajir, advocate, Hyderabad