Losing faith in Indian democracy: Farooq’s sister

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 9/24/2019 1:03:26 AM

JAMMU, Sep 22: After Farooq Abdullah’s detention under Public Safety Act, more than a month after he was put under house arrest, his younger sister and an educationist, Suraiya Abdullah, broke her silence maintaining that her faith in Indian democracy had been shattered.
In an interview to the Telegraph, she said, “I’m losing my faith in Indian democracy…. If it is not shaken now, when will it be?” she asked.
Suraiya said the present situation had parallels with the arrest of her father Sheikh Abdullah, then the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in Gulmarg in 1953. She said the family had been sleeping in adjacent cottages when the police knock came.
“My brother Mustafa, who was 15 then, and I were in one cottage. I was 12 or 13. They knocked on the door and Mustafa opened it. There was a DIG (deputy inspector-general) Thakur who said, ‘Sheikh sahib has been arrested’,” she recalled.
“They asked Sheikh sahib to accompany them but he wanted to hear the All India Radio news in the morning. The first news was that Sheikh sahib had been deposed and (his deputy) Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad had taken over. When he heard it, he accompanied them.”
Sheikh Abdullah was accused of travelling to Gulmarg to meet people from across the border. “It was just an allegation,” Suraiya said.
Gulmarg has been in the spotlight this time too. The army’s Valley chief, Lt Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon, recently said the forces had conducted 350 operations in the area after receiving reports of infiltration by militants, and that he had himself visited the area around half-a-dozen times.
Suraiya said the only difference between the two episodes was that no Bakshi had arisen this time so far. “Bakshi was his (Sheikh Abdullah’s) right-hand man. It’s not clear who the new Bakshi could be.”
Suraiya’s daughter, Nyla Ali Khan, an academic based in USA recently wrote on her facebook post about her mother’s experience when the Sheikh was arrested.
“It has always been difficult for my mother to talk about Nana's long years of confinement as a political prisoner, which is why she chose to maintain a distance from politics,” Nyla wrote in a long post that added:
“My mother, Suraiya Ali Matto née Abdullah, poignantly recalled the period of her parents’ political banishment and exile. Akbar Jehan and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah asked their younger daughter to join them in Kodaikanal, a place hitherto unknown to her, in 1965. “My father,” she recounts, “had been banished to this South Indian town soon after his return from the Haj pilgrimage along with my mother.”
“Kodaikanal is in Tamil Nadu, and back then it was known not just for being a tourist resort but also for its good missionary schools to which children from elite families were sent. Akbar Jehan, the Sheikh, and Suraiya were lodged in an old, well-preserved manor house of an erstwhile nawab [nobleman], called Koh-i-Noor. The three of them were given the uppermost apartment; the basement and the ground floor were occupied by security officials and guards.
“Mother recollects that the authorities grudgingly allowed her father some mobility within the small town, which had a golf course, a lake, and a shopping mall. The touristy hotels were situated around the lake, and every evening they would go out for long walks either around the lake or on the golf course (Conversation with author, 21 November 2009).
“With a yearning in her voice and a despondent look on her face, she says, “My father was a strict disciplinarian who stuck to his regimen—studying Tamil in the mornings; indulging in his favorite pastime, cooking, in which he was assisted by my mother, Akbar Jehan, and at times by me. Reading newspapers regularly, listening to the radio or television news, and reading good books became his daily routine.” Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, notes Mother, was a deeply religious man, said his prayers five times a day and recited the Quran, which became his routine. His punctuality, discipline, and regularity saved him from either going insane or being afflicted by depression, except once (Ibid.).
“She pensively tells me that all three of them had more or less adjusted themselves to their “God forsaken prison,” where anyone who was cordial toward them was regarded as a suspect by the security personnel who followed them like shadows wherever we went.
“Nani, Nana, and Mother were monitored so closely that none of them had access to the telephone which had been installed for the security officials, and letters addressed to any of them were censored. The claustrophobic environment in Kodaikanal was so morose and dismal that they “were on the verge of giving up hope of papa ever being released from Kodaikanal.”
“Mother’s eyes well up when she tells me that one morning Nana complained of a parched throat and fatigue. He would be despondent and dispirited, especially when feelings of persecution set in, and he thought that he was being subjected to slow poisoning. His condition was reported to the government of India by the District Collector, T. N. Seshan, who later became the 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India (Ibid.).”
Suraiya, who is now in her late 70s, in her recent interview to the Telegraph said that she felt India had ceased to be a democracy. She had no issues with the statement by Karti Chidambaram, son of former finance minister P. Chidambaram, equating the present government with the Nazis, she said in the interview. Karti had made the remark after the octogenarian Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and Suraiya’s brother, was booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows detention without trial for up to two years.
“(Besides), if they (the Centre) get an opportunity, they will harass Muslims. They are always crying, ‘Hindutva, Hindutva’,” Suraiya said.
She cited several incidents of the lynching or harassment of Muslims in the country, including the lynching of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand and Assam police’s alleged stripping and torture of three Muslim sisters whose brother had purportedly eloped with a Hindu woman.
“They (the sisters) were disrobed by the police. Is it how things are done? There was a time there used to be democracy in the country,” Suraiya said, according to the Telegraph.
She said she was no longer shocked at the developments relating to Kashmir, particularly the PSA detention of her brother, since the revocation of the state’s special status and the clampdown that followed.
“There is no law and order (in Kashmir). They have arrested (former chief ministers) Omar (Abdullah) and Mehbooba (Mufti) Ji under some order. There was no (formal) order to put him (Farooq) under house arrest. The home minister (Amit Shah) said in Parliament that he (Farooq) was free and enjoying (himself). How free was he?” she said.
Suraiya accused the Centre of back-stabbing, saying it had done it to a man who had always stood by the Indian establishment.
“Our people (Kashmiris) were unhappy with what he (Farooq) was doing. In Delhi, there was a function where he said something ‘Bharat’ (Bharat Mata ki jai). Did you see people’s reaction (at Hazratbal) where he was insulted (afterwards)? Thankfully, he was not shoved,” she said.
She said she felt the pro-India constituency would shrink in the Valley after last month’s decisions and crackdown.
“If you are in trouble, you look to the policeman for help. But if the same policeman throws stones at you what will you do, what respect will he command?” she said, drawing an analogy with New Delhi.
Suraiya said her appeal to India’s intelligentsia would be what Farooq had said on August 4, when it seemed the Centre was poised to make a big-ticket announcement.
“My brother said that day, ‘I have stood by them through thick and thin; I expect they would stand with us through thick and thin’. He was appealing to the Indian intelligentsia,” she said.



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