26 September 2022

India Justice Project

We condemn the countrywide raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the police forces of several states on the offices of the Popular Front of India (PFI) and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the arrests of more than 45 of their leaders and activists. As organizations and individuals gravely concerned about the ongoing destruction of the democratic space in India, and especially the persecution of its minority communities, we consider these raids and arrests as an important part of the ruling RSS-BJP’s agenda of completely dismantling any organized efforts of the Muslim community as a precursor to their ultimate relegation to second class citizens and worse.

The raids on 93 PFI and SDPI offices and residences of its leaders were conducted in a highly systematic and coordinated manner on 22 September, in 15 states across India, in a manner reminiscent of Gestapo operations during the rule of the Nazis.. The raids were reportedly personally supervised by the Home Minister Amit Shah, who met on September 24 with the heads of the various security agencies and the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to review the results of the operation. Until now, not a single of the arrested activists of PFI has been produced in courts, although it is legally mandatory in India to do it within 24 hours of an arrest. The only version of the reasons for the raids and arrests available is that provided by the NIA, which says that the raids were because of “funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organizing training camps for providing armed training and radicalizing people to join banned organizations” which the government lapdog media is dutifully repeating and amplifying. Actions to ban PFI have already been initiated by the BJP state governments of Karnataka and Assam.

It is of great concern that these countrywide raids and arrests targeting an organization of the minority Muslim community has been marked by a muted response from opposition political parties, and even from civil society organizations, in India. The use of the bogey of “terrorism” and “anti-national activities” has been sufficient to silence most opposition to this action. This is the usual strategy of the RSS-BJP to target its opposition and critics, as has been seen in numerous cases in the past, such as the Bhima Koregaon case, in which 16 activists and academics have been arrested and imprisoned in countrywide raids since 2018. It is to be noted that the PFI and its associated organizations SDPI and Campus Front of India (CFI) are not banned organizations and everyone in India has the right to form associations and unions under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India which provides the fundamental right to “freedom of association”.

No specific evidence of any criminal and terroristic activities by PFI or its members has been provided. Even the police’s First Information Reports (FIRs) currently filed against PFI, such as in Karnataka, do not contain any references or reports to specific criminal activities by the organization but are full of surmises and assumptions. Under these circumstances it is clear that the raids and arrests targeting the PFI are a deliberate design of the RSS-BJP government to destroy the organization and dismantle its organizing ability.

The reason behind this is that PFI is one of the very few organizations in India which are actively organizing Muslims on the ground for the protection of their rights and is a vocal and active opponent of the RSS-BJP. PFI was established in 2006 with the stated objective of political and social upliftment of Muslims and its political wing SDPI was established in 2009 and contests in elections. PFI or SDPI members have not been convicted in any court of law for criminal or terroristic activities. PFI functions independently of the established religious organizations of the Muslim community, and mainly appeals to the Muslim youth. Their activists have been active in many movements, such as the countrywide anti-CAA-NRC movement in 2019-2020 against the law passed by the BJP government to effectively challenge the citizenship rights of Muslims in India. However, the government has constantly tried to accuse the PFI of criminal activities. The central and various BJP state governments have accused the PFI of being involved in anti-CAA protests, Delhi riots, protests in Uttar Pradesh and even the journalist Siddique Kappan, who is imprisoned for trying to report on the Hathras rape case, and his travel companion Atiq-ur-Rahaman have been accused of association with PFI.

The raids and arrests targeting PFI are therefore part of the new normal which has been established by the RSS-BJP government in India, a normal in which all opposition to its agenda and worldview is systematically bulldozed and destroyed. The targeted destruction of PFI is to destroy the even limited abilities of the Muslim community of India to organize and resist the onslaught of the RSS-BJP and is preparatory of what many international experts fear as an eventual genocide of Muslims in India. The destruction of PFI should awake us to the grave danger facing India, and with the risk of sounding clichéd, we would like to repeat what pastor Martin Niemöller said about the Nazis:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me —and there was no one left to speak for me.
—Martin Niemöller

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