For what sin are they being punished?
(An abridged and independent translation of an article by V.D. Selvaraj published in Kalakaumudi , soon after Ma’dani was released from Coimbatore jail. 2 years after the writing of this article Ma’dani was again arrested leading to much heightened controversies and sharp questions about citizen rights and state sponsored terrorism. Translated By Nada TK, and edited by Satya Sivaraman)
‘We have run out of chilly and coriander powder. What will we do tomorrow?’
The man in a ‘baniyan’ and ‘kaili’ (traditional dressing of Muslim men in Kerala) asked the office employee, as he was serving us tea.
“It’s all arranged.” This reply however didn’t seem to satisfy him.
He then turned to us and said, smiling like an old acquaintance,
‘Not one or two. 200 stomachs. Should provide daily. Five times a day, not just three. Tea and “vada” at 5 in the morning. Breakfast at 8 AM. At one, it’s time for lunch. Again tea and snacks at 4 in the evening. Dinner at 7. With Allah’s grace, everything is going well’
Must be the canteen manager at the orphanage. It seemed he had no plans to stop.
“Let them have their tea” he left saying this. A silence occupied the room.
This is Anwarssery. A madrasa in Karunaagapally panchayat of Kollam district. A compound spread over three and a half acres.
This place of Abdunnasar Ma’dani has always been at the centre of controversy. However, now it looked calm and peaceful.
We were escorted to the office and provided a seat there.
The table in the room was full of magazines and brochures. One with a picture of V S Achuthanathan (CPM leader and former chief minister) speaking at Anwarssery caught my attention. Seated on the stage were the then ministers M.A. Baby, Premachandran, Divakaran. Ma’dani and his father were present as well.
A footnote to the picture read:
‘Honourable Chief Minister inaugurating the 21st anniversary celebration of Anwarssery.”
The brochure said that the madrasa was started with 50 students on June 22 in 1987.
Ten minutes passed. We were still waiting. After another 15 minutes, a young man came and called us in.
When we were at Ma’dani’s office doorstep a car came and halted in the corridor. Three men hurriedly emerged out of the car and whispered something to the security guard. The guard let them inside and told us in an apologizing tone,
‘ A few more minutes. They will return soon.’
While we were waiting, two boys, both in white pyjama and kurta entered the verandah. They didn’t need any introduction. Ma’dani’s kids. The elder one, Omar Mukhtar resembled their father and the younger , Salahudheen Ayyoobi, looked like their mother, Soofiya.
Having seen the boys at home, I asked, “ Is this Christmas holidays time?’
‘No’. Omar was the one who replied.
‘Then? Are you on vacation?’
Omar stood silent. He looked reluctant to speak anymore.
‘ They have gone with Amma (mom). So we came back’, Salahudheen replied, visibly disturbed. Soofiya had been taken into custody by the police.
Omar, as if lost in some inexplicable thought stared at distance. What would he be thinking?
Omar was an innocent four year old, clinging on his mother’s fingers, when Madani was arrested on charges of involvement in the Coimbatore bombing.
Salahudheen was just three months then. He has no memories of his Bapa (dad) in jail. The children used to visit their father in jail, in the company of their mother. Ma’dani would stretch his right hand through the bars of his cell and lightly touch his little baby for a few seconds. During a visit, a policeman pulled back Soofiya with Omar in her arms. Omar broke his head in that day’s fall. This incident forced a four-year ban on visitors to Abdunnasar Ma’dani in jail.
Omar and Salahudheen grew without enjoying the warmth or a loving touch of their father. They were not just living with it. They were experiencing it.
When Ma’dani was harassed inside, outside the bars his children were punished, even more cruelly.
Which school would give admission to the children of a “terrorist”?
Omar was admitted in a school just a few months after Madani’s arrest. It was Peevee’s School in Nilamboor, owned by Muslim League leader and businessman P V Abdul Wahab. He continued there until Grade 4. None of his friends knew about Omar’s lineage. His friends would crack jokes about Ma’dani, but Omar would keep quiet. Ma’dani’s fate, at that time was a burning topic in Kerala. Later, with a view to providing some isolation, Omar was taken to a school in Mysore. Salahudheen, too, joined him there.
The condition there was pathetic. The school was in a very bad shape. The children were forced to sleep on the floor. Very often they were served the previous day’s food. Bathing was sort of a luxury allowed just once in a week.
An incident made things worse. A Kashmiri was arrested in Mysore. School authorities feared a probe and became restless about the presence of Ma’dani’s kids in the school. They asked Ma’dani to take the children out. Omar and Salahuddin had to return home. The worst was yet to come. Soon after their return, the family was forced to sell their house to meet the expenses of pursuing their father’s case.
Later on they joined a school in Calicut but it didn’t make any difference. Everywhere things turned out the same way. Presently, both are pursuing a Quran course in a Madrasa in Kayamkulam. They are allowed to appear for their annual state school examinations. Accordingly, the elder one is in Grade 8 and the younger in Grade 6.
A phone call I recently received from a friend in the Gulf reverberated in my memory. Can you pinpoint any other children in Kerala who are as isolated as Ma’dani’s kids, he asked. Initially I took it as an emotional outburst of a young leftist. But what he said was a bare truth.
Omar was still silent and gloomy. To change the topic, I asked, “Do you watch films?” “No,” came the answer.
“ What is your favourite subject?” “ English”
“ Do you learn public speaking,” “ Yes,” Both replied together. “But we don’t take part in speech contests outside.”
A big silence followed every brief answer.
“ What do you read other than the Holy Quran?,”
“ I like Vaikom Mohammed Basheer ,” replied Omar.
“ Which novel of Basheer you like the most?”
“ Pathummayude Adu” (Pathumma’s Goat)
“Which part of the novel you find the most interesting?”
“Isn’t the very first line itself so interesting,” replied Omar, with a smile and quoted those lines. That was the only time I saw him smiling.
Omar walked into his father’s room, after saying goodbye to us, with his arms laid on his brother’s shoulders.
An aged man with a torch in his hand entered. Ma’dani’s father, Abdul Samad Master. Age 66. Retired head master of Venga V. V. School. He was there to visit the eldest of his seven children.
He narrated to us the story behind Anwarssery.
“The place was known as ‘Pandaravila’ before. It was a remote rural area. The madrasa started working at Anwarssery in 1987. It was the Hindus living in the locality who provided land for the madrasa at very low prices.
Pandaravila Raghavan, well known as Singapore Raghavan was the first to give land. Then Uthaman, Kuttappan. Even today, Ma’dani has warm relations with all these families. Raghavan’s daughter Priya was Ma’dani’s classmate. Just the other day, Priya visited Ma’dani. She burst in to tears seeing the hardships that came over Ma’dani and his family.
Christians also gave land for the madrasa. Merikutty, Yohannan….
“Everyone looks at Anwarssery with great respect. It has always been a part and parcel of their life. No one in this land saw us as terrorists,” said Abdul Samad Master.
‘Anwar’ literally means ‘ ray of light’. The institution is named as Anwarul Islam- Radiance of Islam. It is located in Mainagapally Shasthankotta Panchayat of Kollam district. The institution took birth under a thatched roof raised on a small piece of land donated by a man called Azeez Sir. There wasn’t a single madrasa in the whole locality at that time.”
Anwarssery stands not in a Muslim majority area. There are not more than five or six Muslim families in this ward in Mainagapally Panchayat. They too are recent settlers. When Anwar ul Islam was established, there was only one Muslim family in the area. Ma’dani’s father was working with the Islamic Cultural Society (ICS). He had tried a lot to get approval for a school in the name of that society, but later he turned away from the society due to some differences.
It was his long cherished dream to set up an educational institution for the deprived. It was at this point Azeez Sir, a relative, offered a three cent piece of land. Initially a mosque was set up there and later a school started under thatched roof, with around 40 students. Ma’dani at that time was a student at the school and sort of an organizer.
The narration was cut short as the visitors came out of Ma’dani’s room and we were called in.
Ma’dani was sitting on a large cot with one leg stretched open. He was resting his back against a pillow by the wall. He greeted us with a pleasant smile.
His artificial leg stood behind the cot as a testimony to his lost leg, in a bomb attack five months before the Babri Masjid demolition.
That day’s newspapers were piled on both sides of the bed. A writing pad and a bundle of papers, on his right.
Ma’dani removed his cap exposing a bald head. Combing his graying beard he enquired: “Can you guess my age?”
He answered himself, while we sat silent.
“ 44. Even before the loss of my leg I started losing my hair. May be because of the many hour long speeches I delivered my head would constantly sweat under the cap.”
Saying this, Ma’dani handed over a printed sheet of paper.
“All facts about the Kalamassery incident are there in this paper. There is nothing new from Soofia’s response to the anti-terrorist squad’s questioning. Police officers have spread news that Soofiya has confessed to the charges. There is some drama behind this. I will reveal that later.”
We said our interest was not in the Kalamassery incident. It was about his kids. We need to know what they want to say to the people of Kerala and Ma’dani’s own dreams for them. Before everything else, we would like to know your father’s expectations from you.
Spreading a sheet on his torn-off leg, Ma’dani gave us a smile, pregnant with pain.
“I lost this leg when I was 27. It was in August 1992. I was returning after my evening prayers from a mosque 100 meters away. The Court acquitted all the accused in this case. The day after, Soofiya was arrested. It was I who pleaded to set the culprits free”, he said conflating several incidents all in one go.
It had taken 18 years for the verdict to be delivered in that bombing case.
One should learn about this case to see the human heart beating under the ‘terrorist’s disguise.
Regretting his provocative speeches that led to the bomb attack, Ma’dani said:
“There was fire in my words then. Later I came to realise that it was too much. I knew nothing about the social structure of Kerala.”
The attack happened in August 1992, while I was returning from evening prayers. Those RSS people hiding in the grass threw three bombs. The first one went over my head. The second one exploded destroying my colleague’s hands. It was the third that took my leg. Lots of people returning from the mosque were at the spot. They rushed me to Thiruvananthapuram medical college.
“My father was horrified to see his son coming to the hospital with legs torn apart. He was there since morning with his sister who was admitted for some treatment.
The attack was totally unwarranted. But, the Babri Masjid issue was heating up at that time. Advani’s rath yathra intensified the tension. Muslims all over the nation feared that the mosque would be destroyed any moment. I knew my speeches had provoked the RSS people. I formed the ISS (Islamic Seva Sangh), conducted rallies and gave speeches demanding the protection of Babri Masjid.
In Bhagalpur, Bihar communalists had chopped and disposed off people in wells. For days, the air was filled with the cries of those unfortunate people alive in the well. Thirteen year old Malika Biwi, who somehow survived the cruel ordeal is still alive. There was a report about these incidents at that time. I used to narrate with great emotion these inhumane things going on all around. My speeches were filled with anguish over those incidents in Northern India. It was nothing more than a fiery response against such cruelty.
At that time, I wasn’t much aware of Kerala’s social conditions. Later, when I learned its geography, social structure and pubic mentality, I really regretted those fire-spitting speeches. Jail life intensified this feeling. That was why following my release I gave my apologies to the people of Kerala.
The first accused in that bomb attack, Jayan came to me three months after the incident, seeking my pardon. Jayan hugged my legs for hours wetting them with his tears. He repeatedly asked me to pardon him. He unraveled the whereabouts of those who masterminded that attack. They were from Kollam and outside the district. He asked me to take him as my bodyguard and facilitate his conversion to Islam.
‘You don’t need not convert to Islam or serve as my guard. I will contact the police and make the way for a bail, in case you are arrested,’ was my reply.
Later Jayan was arrested and as I promised, he was released on bail.
Almost 10 years after this I was arrested in the Coimbatore case. Years of torture have gone by. But that 1992 bomb attack case remained untouched. The culprits were outside and the victim was behind bars. What a paradox!
After my release, addressing a welcome function at Trivandrum I said: I have sincerely pardoned all those who destroyed my life, my legs.
It was this November that the case was finally heard by the Kollam additional sessions court. I was the second witness in the case. The first was my father’s brother. Jayan and others were standing like jawans when I reached the court, tired, on my wheelchair. I could, at once have pointed my fingers at them and described everything.
But, instead, I wrote a letter to the court asking it to pardon all those involved. 18 years I lived with a single leg. Now, punishing the culprits won’t give me back my lost leg. Kerala’s communal harmony should not be disturbed by the verdict in this case.
Reading my letter Judge Vasavan gave me a look. Then he said ‘the court gives its verdict on the basis of evidence. Showing the blood coated dress that I wore on the day of attack the court asked: ‘Is this yours?’ ‘I can’t recall things that happened 18 years ago,’ I said, emphatically.
At last all the culprits of the bomb attack were set free on December 17. I will never forget that day.The day when my wife was arrested. When those who took my leg were set free on the basis of my pleading, my wife was arrested for no reason.”
Did you ever think of a conversion away from Islam as a way out of your hardships?
“No!” Ma’dani was stern in his reply. “Let the hardships soar, I will live my life as a Muslim’.
Do you think all these sufferings are for being a Muslim?
“I had answered this question when I came out of the jail. I don’t really think so. Things happened in some special circumstances.
But, looking at my experiences I feel Muslims are treated here as second class citizens. There are deliberate attempts to portray the entire Muslim community as a source of terror. The familiar stereotypes- men with a beard or a prayer cap- even pardha has been projected as a symbol of terrorism.
I won’t say the Hindus are behind all these. Sangh Parivar may have vested interests. But they are not the genuine representatives of the Hindu community.
Media are waging a hate campaign against me. The common people trust the media a lot. Only a very small minority thinks in a different way. Channels are spreading lies. When Soofiya was questioned by the anti-terrorism squad, they invented the lie that she ‘confessed’ to the charges.
Soofiya was asked just three questions that were not asked before. Are you a member of PDP? Do you participate in party rallies? Did Ma’dani use a cell phone when in jail? She responded precisely to all the three questions. Nothing more was asked or said.
During the early 90s my only theory was that all non-Muslims are enemies of Muslims. Hindu meant RSS, that was the equation I believed in. I had very little social awareness. That was the time of ISS. Later, when PDP was formed, lots of Hindus and Christians became its working members. Ex-MLA Wilson, Sebastian, Viyayaraghavan… They were my co-workers. This changed my ideas and outlook. I came to know more about the hierarchy within Hinduism. That was the second stage of my transformation. Those days I took an anti-Brahmin stand in my speeches.
I was given a lot of books and magazines while in jail. They knew books could make me passive. There was not much physical torturing but I was harassed mentally. The officers who questioned me cooked up lies about me, as we see in Soofiya’s case now.
The most disturbing of my jail days were when I came to know about the Gujarat riots. I felt so helpless with the realization that I could not even raise a defending voice against it. C.K.Janu’s arrest too saddened me a lot. I felt my eyes watering seeing her tortured, fallen face. Her fight was not to build up an empire. It was for her people. The very moment, I telegraphed Soofiya to visit Janu in jail.
Abudarr was another haunting memory. The Palestinian boy who was shot dead by the Israeli police. The series of pictures showing the murder of the little boy who was out with his father to buy a bicycle.
Once, during a visit, Soofiya was pushed by the guards and fell down. My three-year old son, who was in her arms, broke his head and was bleeding. This was a rude shock to me. The next four years, I was allowed no visitors. Four years without a look at my kids.”
“I could not raise my children as my father raised me, pampering them with love.” His voice trembled.
“Do you want to ask something to the kids..?” Ma’dani asked us, looking at Omar and Salahudheen.
“Which news about your father was the most hurting?”
“It was when we were studying in Mysore. We were full of hope that Bapa will get bail and will come to pick us up. Me and my brother cried the whole night when we came to know Bapa was denied bail,” said Omar.
“ Did your friends know that you are Ma’dani’s children?”
Friends use to boast about Ma’dani, jokingly. But they didn’t know who I was.
“Do you wish to leave Kerala?”
‘Sometimes, we have that feeling. But wherever we go, if a bomb explodes, Ma’dani will be dragged into it. Bapa will be arrested.’
A heavy silence followed. Salahudheen looked at his father’s face.
“No more questions please,” their faces were pleading with us.