Why Telangana police is on a mission to crack down on PFI

A former senior police officer said the police have enough reasons to be suspicious of PFI’s activities but observed that the charges against their members are “excessive”.
Why Telangana police is on a mission to crack down on PFI
Why Telangana police is on a mission to crack down on PFI

The Telangana police are on a mission to crack down on the Muslim political organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) in the state. Senior Telangana police officers, who spoke to TNM on the condition of anonymity, seemed convinced that PFI is a national security threat. Interestingly, neither the state government nor the ruling coalition seem to be behind the police action. Telangana police officers say they were acting more in the lines of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) stance on PFI.

The last few months have seen several public outreach programs of the organisation, including book and food distribution initiatives, stopped by the police who say that these were fronts for anti-national activities. Despite these allegations, the Telangana police seem to be struggling to present hard evidence against the PFI.

Take for instance the latest case involving a bust on a martial arts training institute run by a PFI member. Abdul Quadar (52), a Nizamabad-based martial arts trainer, was arrested by the police from his house in Autonagar in the wee hours of July 4. His crime: training PFI cadres in martial arts like kung fu and karate. He was charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Police claim that Quadar has so far imparted martial arts training to 200 PFI members. Just last month, Quadar was detained along with some other PFI members by the Six Town police who took down their details. “He was let off in a few hours. He said that it was not a big issue, but I did not expect him to be arrested in such a big case. We are innocent people,” laments Zubaida, Quadar’s wife.

Two days after Quadar’s arrest, the police arrested active PFI members Shaik Shadulla (55), Mohammed Imran (22) and Mohammed Abdul Mobin (27) in the case. The police allege that they arrested them from Shadulla’s residence in Gundaram village, where they were allegedly meeting to discuss strategy following Quadar’s arrest. While Shadulla runs a shop selling automobile spare parts, Imran works in a chicken shop and Mobin does welding work. As per Shadulla’s alleged confession, he approached Quadar a year ago to train PFI cadres in martial arts. For this purpose, the PFI allegedly paid him Rs 6 lakh in a phased manner, towards construction of the first floor in his house, which was to be used as a training facility.

The police have cited seven books (and papers) seized from the accused to register their arrest under UAPA.

 The first main piece of evidence cited by the police is a bunch of documents seized from Shaik Ilyas Ahmed’s house (accused no. 3), who is presently absconding. The material, apart from having content related to martial arts, allegedly had instructions to train PFI cadres to store stones in their house and throw them at people’s heads “to cause maximum damage to persons belonging to different communities/groups by pelting stones indiscriminately”.

“Hitting stones around the head, storing the stones on the top of PFI cadres are part of a big and long term conspiracy to turn peaceful processions or protests or any public event into violence (sic),” the police said in their remand report. The police claim that the training imparted by PFI was not part of ‘any style of martial arts’. “These are specially designed by the PFI leadership to destabilise the country.”

The rest of the six pieces of ‘evidence’ are account books, and lists of members and organisations maintained by various PFI members. A handbook, with notes written by Abdul Ahad (accused no. 2) on the struggle strategy of Kufr (non-believers), is the second evidence quoted by the police. “It seems that it was a PFI training class on the subject of Kufr wherein he noted down important points…”

“With the writing in this book it is clearly understandable that the PFI is giving continuous brainwashing classes to its cadres and keeping them in a belief that Kufrs always make efforts to break their morals and torture them physically and mentally and compare these situations with the struggle of Prophet Mohammed and his followers,” the report said.

It further added that Quranic verse 146 Quran Sura Al-Imran, Banu Quraiza, which apparently said ‘We should be like Mujahid’ was also written in the handbook. “It is nothing but advocating use of violence against non-believers,” the police report said. In reality, however, the Quranic verse says that those who fought for Allah’s cause never worried about the sufferings and nothing held them back. The sufferings did not weaken their spirit.

The third piece of evidence cited is a book referring to all the 15 wings of the PFI, which police term “frontal organisations” including the Social Democratic Party of India (PFI’s political wing), the All India Imams Council (religious wing), the National Women’s Front (women’s wing), the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations, and REHAB. The book also mentioned that “Master Regional Training completed”. Based on this book, the police claimed that the PFI was systematically giving physical training in a hierarchical manner. They said that the organisation is using educational and religious establishments for “clandestine activities”.

While the fourth piece of evidence cited in the remand report is a book that reportedly contained details of the amounts contributed by PFI members, allocation of funds for meetings, offices and legal aid to fight UAPA cases, the fifth evidence was another book containing details of different meetings. These include state meetings, regional meetings, divisional meetings, Ramzan collection meetings, [PFI]  expansion meetings, “tactical”, “evasive movements”, and contribution of members to the organisation. The police also mentioned here that the PFI was not willing to disclose the source of certain funds.

The remand report then quotes the sixth piece of material seized, which are a bunch of papers containing lists of members in Bhainsa, a town in Telangana’s Nirmal district, and the contribution made by these members. The final and seventh piece of evidence are paper sheets containing PFI cadre names from Karimnagar and Bhainsa and their mobile numbers. The remand report then went on to say that these documents also contained procedures to follow while filing an application under the Right to Information Act and contents of the PFI’s legal awareness programme.

“The paper mentions which sections are non-bailable, bailable sections, and under what section notices will be issued by the Police [under] 41 A [code of criminal procedure (CrPC] (which allows police to arrest without a warrant). How sureties to be filed before the court and how court notices should be taken. Also, they have mentioned the sections of 107 CrPC and bondover duration.” (sic). The police report further added, “The IPC sections from 96 IPC to 106 IPC have been categorised as self defence and to use these sections in their defence after committing the crime. It may be concluded from this that the legal awareness program given to cadres includes the provisions wherein the cadres have advantage over the police.”

After going through the remand report and other case documents, Gorrepati Madhava Rao, a senior lawyer practising in Nizamabad who is also the President of the Human Rights Forum Telangana unit, is of the opinion that the police have been unable to prove that anything unlawful happened. “The case diaries show that training was being imparted in martial arts and on legal aspects. Confessions are to the effect that they wanted to recruit cadres to propagate the ideals of PFI. The case diaries do not establish that any unlawful activity is advocated, abetted, advised or incited. This case under UA(P) Act has no basis. Invoking the provisions of the Act is unwarranted. It is the over enthusiasm of the police to invoke UAPA,” he told TNM.

Jaya Vindhyala, the Telangana General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, also said that the charges levelled by the police against PFI would not stand scrutiny in court. She said that the police filing a case under UAPA without any concrete evidence only shows their “desperation”.

That the case against the PFI is a weak one is something that top police officers in the state concede off record, but they insist that it is part of a larger plan to keep the PFI in control.

“We have been watching them for years”

Anis Ahmed, the national general secretary of PFI, said that the Telangana police never give the organisation permission to conduct any programmes. In March too, the Hyderabad police refused to give permission for PFI’s national campaign ‘Save the Republic’. “This was the attitude of the police even in erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh. While the Andhra police have become cooperative now, their counterparts in Telangana have not changed.”

Anis said that he suspects the role of the Union Home Ministry in the recent arrest of its members. A few days ago, the Bihar police arrested two PFI members on similar charges.

A senior Telangana police officer who has worked with the state intelligence sees the Nizamabad case as a warning to the PFI. “There was a time when PFI was weak in Telangana, but over the years they have grown. They aren’t just a religious group nor are they just a political group, they spread hatred. We have been watching them for years,” he told TNM.

When it was pointed out that the current case makes no mention of any actual crime committed, the officer said that one should not look at this case in isolation. “We are going to crack down and this is a message to them. The case cannot be looked at in isolation, look at their activities in other states. They commit murders, indulge in arson and riots, this case is to chronicle their activities here,” the officer said.

Multiple officers TNM spoke to and PFI members themselves, however, point out that the police in Telangana were not under any pressure from the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi government to go after the PFI. It seemed more like a case of police officers in the state wanting to contribute to a national trend. “Look at the Bengaluru DJ Halli case where PFI activists were arrested for rioting, or what’s happening in Uttar Pradesh. When the PFI grows here and plans to indulge in violence, it is important to send them a warning,” the officer said. He also pointed out that all such cases would be useful for the Union government if it were to seriously push for a ban on the organisation.

A former senior police officer who worked in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh, while saying that the police have enough reasons to be suspicious of PFI’s activities, however observed that the charges against their members are “excessive”. “The assessment of the police is reasonable. The activities of PFI are not open, so the police have enough reasons to be suspicious about them. But we never went to the extent of applying UAPA against them. That is an extreme step. We can say that it either indicates the sensitivity of the state towards such organisations or increasing levels of suppression of serious dissent.”

Meanwhile, Zubaida has approached the Telangana State Human Rights Commission accusing the police of framing her husband. Stating that her husband was subjected to custodial violence, she said that the police extracted a forced confession from him and arrested him.

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