Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Two Muslims Meet: The Media(ted) case of Madani and Shahina - K Ashraf & Jenny Rowena

Shahina K K, a journalist withTehelka went to Karnataka to prepare an investigative report on the case on Abdul Nasar Madani, the Chairman of PDP. Madani had spend almost 10 years in Jail as an undertrial in the 1998 Coimbatore blast before he was let off without any charges on 1 August 2007. In her report (Why is this man still in prison?Tehelka, December 4th, 2010) Shahina tried to look into the police story that Madani had conspired in the Bengaluru blasts in separate meetings two years ago — one which took place in Madani’s rented home in Kochi and the other in the Lakkeri estate in Kodaku Karnataka.
Here, she not only talks of the reports about the many people who have questioned the police story – like James Varghese, the owner of Madani’s rented house in Kochi, and Madani’s brother Jamal Mohammed – but she also investigates the witnesses whose accounts have led the court to deny Madani bail. According to her investigations Shahina finds out that many of the witnesses have things to say that goes against the police story. For instance, Yoganand, a BJP worker whose testimony is recorded in the charge sheet, Shahina reports, does not even know that he is a witness in the Madani case !
Now this is a case of good investigative journalism, which has the power to unsettle the stories that are constantly being planted in the media by the police. However, just a few days after her report comes out, the Karnataka police slaps a case against Shahina under IPC 506, for “intimidating the witnesses.” No stretch of imagination allows one to view the attempt of a journalist to talk to the witnesses in a particular case as ‘intimidation.’ Yet, in this age of embedded journalism and paid news and the likes of Praveen Swamy and Burkha Dutt, this critical attempt at investigation which challenges a given police story, can easily be labeled thus and the journalist targeted. More importantly, Shahina’s case is further mediated through other important issues, which includes the political career of Abdul Nasar Madani, whose case she was investigating and her own identity as a Muslim woman.
Shahina’s attempt to investigate goes deep into the whole issue of how Abdul Nasar Madani, who holds a particular and important political position in Kerala, was incarcerated in jail for long years, without trail, and then acquitted with all charges against him unproved. This gross case of injustice was further extended when the police tried to implicate his wife Sufiya in the Bengaluru blasts that took place on 25th July 2008. Three months back, in spite of protests from various quarters in Kerala, Madani was arrested once again for conspiracy as one of the accused in the Bengaluru blasts. Later, his bail application was also dismissed considering what the court called the “nature and gravity of the offence.” The repercussions and the backlash on Shahina’s investigations are clearly connected to the case of Abdul Nazar Madani.  In fact, even to bring up the issue of Madani is to evoke anxieties about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. In the words of Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood,
“a whole set of questionable assumptions, anxieties, and prejudices [are] embedded in the notion of Islamic fundamentalism.” (From their article: Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency.)
This then is used as a bogey to deal with any kind of response, activity or political action from the location of a Muslim identity. However, no one worries that this political leader has been in jail for 10 long years without trail and that now, he is back in jail and being systematically denied bail. An issue that Shahina’s report addresses too, with its title: “Why is this man still in jail?” In fact, today, the question of terrorism and the Muslim can obfuscate all other questions about equality and justice. The Muslim, is caught in a construction that implicates him/her as inherently capable of terrorizing this country and therefore easily punishable. S/he is always already someone who can be easily pushed outside the ambit of the discourses of human rights and legal justice.
In fact, Madani is an important political voice in Kerala who addressed the question of Muslims and dalitbahujans after the Mandal-Masjid phenomenon of the 90s. Rooted in a discourse that drew from Islamic tenants, Madani’s vision focused on the inherent inequalities in Kerala society, both in terms of caste and religion. However his new political language was found ‘deviant’ and ignored or attacked by dominant discourses, mainly because of its allegiance to Islamic discourses and the Muslim identity. Thus Madani, who had been able to organize some of the most unprivileged sections in Kerala, is shorn of all his political credentials from within the stand point of the construction of the Muslim as the fundamentalist other of a Secular State/Culture.
The media has always stood strongly on the side of such dominant constructions all through the political career of Madani. Recently when his wife Soofiya Madani was alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy that led to the burning of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus at Kalamassery, Kochi in September 2005, reports in the media found her guilty even before Judicial processes could start. Similarly we have seen the media conniving with the Police/State on other issues concerning the “others” of Kerala. One can recall the maligning of the Dalit Human Rights Groups (DHRM) as terrorists and the false case of Love Jihad, where young Muslim men were accused of converting Hindu women into Islam after starting romantic relationships with them. However, when in May 17, 2009 6 Muslim men from a fishing community were killed and 47 others injured (27 of them had bullet injuries) in a police firing in Beemapally, most of the Malayalam media kept completely silent about this incident, which was one of the most violent incidents of police oppression that Kerala had ever witnessed. All this are surely signs of the impunity with which the Malayalam media treats issues that are related to its “others,” especially the Muslim.
It is this entrenched attitude of the media that Shahina’s report tries to confront, head on. However, it is a Shahina who is doing this and not just another journalist; like Madani, she too is caught in the same issues that haunt the Muslim location and identity. In fact, Shahina herself has reported how, when she went to the village to investigate, she was stopped by the police and asked whether she was a terrorist. Many of the papers in Karnataka like SakthiPrajavani and Kannada also reported the incident as a “suspicious” visit by a “group of Muslims !” Here, just as Madani’s Islamic roots could tarnish the weight and importance of his political career, Shahina’s Muslim name could do away with all her other identities.
It is no wonder then that a report in the Mathrubhumi faithfully reports the police version that Shahina and the others in her group tried to “threaten” the witnesses. Such a report, without even a preliminary kind of investigation, quickly reiterates the police story, putting the blame squarely on Shahina’s shoulders. This is exactly how much of the media has behaved in the case of Madani too. In many ways, it was the media in Kerala that raised the alarm against Madani so high and shrill that it was so easy for the police to get him back in jail and keep him there. We need to think seriously about all these issues raised in connection to the Shahina case.
Surely, as Shahina writes in her status message in Facebook:
“this is not a case against me as an individual, but it is a warning to the entire press community not to try to quash the cooked up stories by the police.”
Moreover, this is also yet another instance where the complex and often oppressive relationship of the Indian state and the Muslim minority is clearly revealed – a relationship in which the media has always played a highly dubious and questionable role. It is not surprising then that Shahina’s alternative mediation, to investigate into this and to reveal the fissures within many of our consensus has met with such a reaction. It is important that we reflect on these issues and extend our support to Shahina and to Madani, who is still in jail, also as a result of all these various, anti-minority mediations.

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