Islamophobia hovers around the ‘anxiety of Muslim violence’. This anxiety of Muslim violence constantly reproduces Islamophobia. It enables rigorous scrutiny of Muslim everyday life and political control of Muslims. The central question the author explores through this article is how this anxiety of Muslim violence warrants sedition charges on Muslims, with special reference to the Panayikulam case.
The judgment of the Kerala High Court in the Panayikulam case, overruling the conviction judgment of NIA Court, marks an important gaze into the realm of discourses regarding terrorism in India. An attentive look into the anti-terror law cases reveals that government charged people with anti-terror laws following a ‘terror attack’. The significance of the Panayikulam case is that the government charged anti-terror law without a ‘terror attack’, which marks a paradigmatic shift in the discourse of terrorism in India.
The charge sheet of the National Investigation Agency read as follows (State vs. PA Shaduly and others, 21.01.2010):
‘Shri. K. N Rajesh, Sub Inspector of police, Binanipuram, while on patrolling duty on 15.08.2006 at about 12 noon received information about a secret meeting of Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a banned organization being held in Happy Auditorium, Panaykulam. He rushed to the place and overheard the speeches being made in the auditorium. Five persons, namely P.A Shaduly, Abdul Rasik, Ansar, Nizamudeen and Shammi were on the dais, and thirteen people were in the audience.
He peeped through the door of the auditorium and saw and overheard what was going on inside the auditorium. Abdul Rasik spoke that “the nation India is built by British. Before that, it was a group of Muslim countries ruled by Mughals and Nizam. The existing governments are against Muslims. There are various types of black laws against Muslims in India. They are torturing the Muslims by invoking TADA and NSA. The Indian military is killing the Muslims who are conducting Jihad for the freedom of Kashmir. SIMI is trying to protect the interest of Muslims in India. Nobody can restrict or eradicate SIMI. We should bring back India to its original position through SIMI etc.”‘
The Police also charged that the seized books and pamphlets were pro-Pakistani and relating to SIMI.
Police registered a case under the UAPA act of 1967 against all of the 18 people who were assembled in the auditorium, based on the complaint given by Rasheed Moulavi (one of the accused, who was one of the persons in the audience. On 09.01. 2009 Rasheed Moulavi was tendered a pardon by the honorable High Court. Later, in 2010, NIA took over the investigation. The special NIA court convicted accused one and two to fourteen years and accused three, four and five to twelve years. The remaining accused were acquitted from all of the charges against them. The convicted appealed against the NIA court judgment in Kerala High Court. Hearing the appeal, Kerala High Court is of the view that the NIA court has committed a ‘serious error’ in convicting the accused. Primarily, the NIA court had also placed reliance on materials which are available from the website which was unwarranted, the High Court, observed. The High Court acquitted all of the accused in the Panayikulam case (Judgment, 12th April, CRL A.No. 12 of 2019).
The Panayikulam case breaks the convention of anti-terror law cases in India. There was no physical violence involved in the case, they gathered in a public meeting on Independence Day. Here Police assumed that these people might be potential terrorists in the future. A careful analysis of the Panayikulam case reveals that it is the predictive claim of the police that led to the arrest. The arrest became possible through systematically monitoring Muslims. There is a wealth of literature explaining how the Muslims in India are continuously becoming the victim of anti-terror law cases. The Panayikulam case is not merely adding to the existing literature but it opened a new door, which allows the state to penetrate Muslims’ everyday life. Moreover, it gives legitimacy for the lengthy interrogation of Muslims on an everyday basis.
Referring to the Panayikulam case, advocate Jayashankar1, acclaimed political thinker who enjoys public and media space, argues that acquittal of the accused does not always mean they are innocent. An immediate look into the UAPA act allows me a space to buttress my argument. This act is for dealing with terrorist activities with a provision of unlimited undertrial processing. Here the ‘burden of proof’ to discharge from accusation lies on the shoulder of accused, unlike the provision in common law and other criminal jurisprudence including IPC, where the burden of the proof lies with the prosecution. It makes this act more draconian. Here it is very startling to observe that even though court acquitted all of them the ‘burden of proof’ is still on their shoulders to prove their innocence
Extending this discourse to the current anti-CAA-NRC movement, this public consciousness and anxiety of Muslim violence allow the state to easily get away with slapping sedition charges on educated Muslim youth and other false charges on the larger Muslim community for mere organising of public gatherings to mark their dissent. This does not generate a question of injustice in the public consciousness and thus getting it normalized.
Shahdab Perumal is an Academic Associate at IIM Kozhikode, Humanities and Liberal Arts in Management Area.