New Delhi: Delhi Minorities Commission chairman Zafarul Islam Khan has been charged with sedition for making a “provocative” comment on social media early this week “to cause disharmony and create rift in the society”.
In the light of the recent sharp reaction from the Arab world towards “the growing tide of Islamophobia in India” and urging the central government to take urgent steps to curb it, Khan had thanked Kuwait “for standing with Indian Muslims”.
In a Facebook post on April 28, he had said, “The Hindutva bigots calculated that given the huge economic stakes involved the Muslim and Arab world will not care about the persecution of Muslims in India”. He also reportedly named some Indian Muslims who had contributed to the Islamic culture and civilisation and named Zakir Naik, declared a fugitive offender by India, as “a respected household” name in the Arab and Muslim world. Naik, against whom there is a red corner notice by Interpol on India’s request, is presently in Malaysia.
Khan had also reportedly commented, “Mind you, bigots, Indian Muslims have opted until now not to complain to the Arab and Muslim world about your hate campaigns and lynchings and riots. The day they are pushed to do that, bigots will face an avalanche.”
After hundreds of Muslims who attended the Tabliqi Jamaat conference in Delhi in mid-March were affected by COVID-19, the right wing forces had accused the community of spreading the virus across the country. Several BJP leaders made provocative and communal statements on Twitter and to media outfits on the issue.
The Indian government, following the Arab world’s expression of concern over it, had issued a statement cautioning the Indian community in the Gulf countries to remain vigilant against attempts to sow religious divisions. The government had blamed “forces inimical to India” for creating “divisions within our community.”
Thereafter, the BJP national president J.P. Nadda had asked party men not to make “irresponsible” comments on the issue. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat too said the entire community can’t be blamed for the faults of a few.
Having found himself in a controversy for his comment, Khan issued a statement on his Facebook page on May 1, saying that he never tried to tarnish the image of his country and is a patriot. “I have not complained against my country to any foreign government or organisation nor I intend to do so in future. I am a patriot to the core and I have always defended my country abroad,” he said.
“However, at the same time I have always been vocal about the problems in our country like any other country but we and our political, constitutional and judicial system are capable to tackle them,” he added.
He accused some news channels of distorting his views.
As per news reports on May 2, an FIR was lodged by a resident of Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area, following which the Delhi Police special cell booked Khan under section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony).
Statement by Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan (1 May 2020) pic.twitter.com/9d5609e8rS
— Zafarul-Islam Khan (@khan_zafarul) May 1, 2020
Khan told Hindustan Times, “I have not seen the FIR. I will comment only when I see it or know about it.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the police action, a number of prominent citizens have issued a public statement expressing solidarity with Khan and have urged the government “to take strong legal action against those who are distorting” his Facebook post “and spreading vicious false propaganda against him”.
The statement signed by 92 persons, including Swami Agnivesh, Irfan Engineer, Jawed Naqvi, John Dayal, Arun Kumar, said, “Dr. Khan is known for taking bold public positions. He was the first Muslim scholar in the world who denounced ISIl, which later became IS or ISIS. He issued a statement opposing the barbaric crimes of ISIL (IS or ISIS) and Boko Haram against minorities. He takes strong stands against extremism of all sorts. That makes him a prominent critic of RSS.”
Khan had assumed the post of chairman of the Commission, a quasi-judicial body, on July 20, 2017. His three-year term is to end this July.