At a time when assembly elections in UP are around the corner and every effort is being made to polarise the society, it seems Mohammad Iftikharuddin, Chairman, U.P. State Road Transport Corporation (U.P.S.R.T.C.), is being targeted, writes  Syyed Mansoor Agha

Mohammad Iftikharuddin, a senior bureaucrat of UP, is being investigated for alleged “conversion racket” by SIT and Kanpur Police and is being hounded by pro-Hindutva media on flimsy charges without any substance. This reminds us of the case of Dr. Kafeel Khan of BRD College and Hospital Gorakhpur who was wronged after some 100 children died due to non-supply of Oxygen in 2017. Yogi Government suspended him twice and jailed him under fabricated charges. After a court ordered for his release, he was again detained in January 2020 for his address at an anti-CAA gathering at AMU Aligarh. When he got bail orders, the Aligarh administration invoked NSA against him to deny him liberty. However, for his good fortune, the Allahabad High Court revoked NSA and unhooked him of all charges.

At a time when assembly elections in UP are around the corner and every effort is being made to polarise the society, it seems Mohammad Iftikharuddin, Chairman, U.P. State Road Transport Corporation (U.P.S.R.T.C.), is being targeted. An IAS officer of the 1985 batch with a clean track record of 36 years who is due to retire on 19 February 2022, is reportedly a practising Muslim. He has compiled a Hindi booklet Shudh Bhakti (Unadulterated Worship) for free distribution, quoting the Qur’ān and sayings of the Prophet  ﷺ, to explain the virtues of a pious life.

He is now being investigated for “running a racket of illegal conversions” during the period he was Commissioner of Kanpur (14 Feb 2014 – 17 April 2017). The SIT comprising senior police officers is said to have almost completed the probe in less than a week. A Hindi daily report suggests he is likely pronounced as guilty. He is alleged of demeaning ‘other’ faiths and induced people to convert people who approached him. No case of conversion at his hands has been reported. He is being blamed to violate the official position by arranging Salah in congregation at the official residence. There is no such bar. Many devout Hindu officers perform Puja and manage to makeshift mandir at their residence or even in the office. Mr. Iftikhar is also being investigated whether he is guilty under “Anti-Conversion Law, of 2020”, which was non-existent during 2014-17. He is being threatened by up to 10 years of jail if found guilty.

A saffron-clad local leader in Kanpur Nirmal Kumar Tyagi and a woman have alleged that when they approached Mr. Iftikharuddin regarding a metro rail route, he introduced them to the virtues of Islam and morality. He also gave them some booklets.

Showing him addressing some 15-20 people dressed in typical Muslim attire, a video is viral in social media. Mr. Neeraj Jain, an RSS and BJP activist and Deputy Mayor of Ajmer, shared it on his official tweeter.

WHAT IS SAID IN VIDEOS?

The 106-second video purportedly shows him preaching the virtues of Islam as his audience nod their heads. He may be heard saying:

“Hazarat Muhammad ﷺ was the Messenger of Allah for the whole world. He is the last prophet. So who will spread the message of Deen? One who believes in Allah, who believes in Muhammad ﷺ as his last messenger, follows his way and who among his devotees – obviously, it is the duty of that one to carry forward the message….” (The Quint)

In another video, a young man is narrating a story of a person who embraced Islam after he was hurt seeing his sister’s last rites.

The videos were purportedly recorded at his official residence in Kanpur in 2016-17 after Taraweeh salah. One is astonished at what is wrong in his addresses to people of his own faith, where no person of other faith is present. However, referring to these videos, Islamophobic elements are spreading high decibel propaganda against him. These narrations are being cited as “utter coercion to convert people’s faith.”

To motivate people to strictly adhere to the call of the religion and to abide by moral values cannot be considered a guilt under any law. In fact, the intent and object of bringing anti-conversion laws, in BJP-ruled states defies the basic spirit of our Constitution and due respect for freedom of faith as prevailed universally in cultured societies and even in Hindu traditions of millions of years.

CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS

The question is whether preaching any religion or converting to another religion can be categorised as a crime or immoral and so whether an arbitrary law enacted by a legislature can make propagations of a religion or conversion a crime? The constitutional position is very clear. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution gives two rights. One is the right to follow a religion at will. And the other is the right to propagate religion. Sure, conversion under duress is bad in law as well as un-Islamic. But stopping a person to convert at will by creating nonsense and hampering the preaching of religion, surely fall within the ambit of crime.

UNJUST, ARBITRARY, AND UNDESIRABLE

Several BJP-ruled states have enacted such laws. Obviously, these are unjust, unfair, arbitrary, and against constitutional guarantees. The validity of these laws is under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which needs to be expedited. The action against Iftikharuddin is under the same impulse.

Two more aspects should be counted. One, the desirability of the law and the other the justness of each provision. Justice Akil Kureshi, CJ of Tripura HC, has recently pointed out, “The justness of law is now codified in our legal systems. If it’s arbitrary, it is not just.”

He said while speaking on Gandhian Principles in Contemporary Laws, on 2nd October, “The law may be made validly but it also has to be just,” he said. Evidently, anti-conversion laws in their present form are arbitrary and their justness is marred. Curtailing the religious freedom of one group or another cannot be just. It is a manifestation of hegemony and majoritarianism.

PUSHED WITHOUT DEBATE

Honourable CJI Justice N.V. Ramana has also indicated shortcomings in the prevailing process of enacting a law. He noted that the disquiet over the absence of adequate debate or discussion in the legislature is quite widespread. Concerned citizens and sections of the Opposition bemoan the evident haste with which laws are pushed through. Describing it as a “sorry state of affairs”, he indicated that crucial pieces of legislation are indeed passed without sufficient debate.

A fuller debate in the legislature, as had been the practice, provides greater insight into the intent behind laws. It may be noted that during the recently concluded monsoon session, the Government managed to introduce 15 bills and get Parliament’s approval for 20. Some crucial bills were passed in din during minutes.

“In some cases, there is no clarity in the laws. We don’t know for what purpose the laws are made. In the absence of quality debate, we are unable to fathom the intent and object behind the new law. This happens if intellectuals and legal professionals are not there in the Houses,” the CJI said.

[The writer is Chairman Forum for Civil Rights. email: [email protected]]

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