In February last year, at least two events were organized in Delhi commemorating the execution of Afzal Guru. The one organised in JNU was followed with zeal by everyone. The other less discussed event was held in the Press Club of India. It led to the arrest of Professor S A R Geelani, who teaches Arabic at Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College. The police accused him of sedition, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful assembly, but have so far failed to file a chargesheet against him.
Geelani was granted bail by the court in March last year, but has remained suspended from his job at Delhi University since then. In a candid conversation with YKA at his residence, Geelani spoke about a host of issues -from Kashmir to Afzal Guru, status of education in India to life, emphasizing the fact that he won’t compromise his principles to keep a job. The excerpts produced here have been edited for brevity and clarity.
On The Narendra Modi Government: ‘Narendra Modi government doesn’t tolerate dissenting voices’
This (the sedition case) is a political drama. The problem is this. Narendra Modi government doesn’t tolerate dissenting voices. And they could not sort of curb this voice, so they wanted to put me behind bars. As I said, I will not buckle down. I will not toe their line. I will still call Narendra Modi what he is. I will call fascist tendencies fascist tendencies.
On Afzal Guru: ‘For me, Afzal Guru is a martyr, Maqbool Bhat is a martyr’
The whole thing (the 2016 sedition case) was concocted. If you ask me even today, I will say that for me Afzal Guru is a martyr, Maqbool Bhat is a martyr. I have said it. I will keep saying it. I will say that it was a judicial killing. It does not change.
If the Supreme Court has given a verdict and you cannot criticise it, then where is the democracy? There are many Supreme Court decisions that the Court itself has later reviewed and found that they were wrong. Even ex-Supreme Court judges say that Afzal Guru’s hanging was wrong. Ask Justice Markandey Katju. There are others who say it.
I have been the part of the trial. I know how the trial went on and I know that he was denied justice from the very beginning. From the word ‘Go’, from the word ‘Start’, justice was denied systematically. So how can you force me to say that he got justice? It (Guru’s execution) is a blot on Indian democracy.
On Kashmir : ‘I think Kashmir is under occupation and I will say it’
They just want to suppress the voice but how long can they? With this kind of oppression, I will not change my idea of Kashmir. I think Kashmir is under occupation and I will still say it. Two days ago I was talking in the Indian Law Institute and I said the same things.
But what scares me is that you know, for example, Trump came to power in the United States and there is an opposition. People are standing against his policies but unfortunately that is not happening in India.
On His Identity As A Kashmiri: ‘The problem again is that I am a Kashmiri’
The JNU students also had this sedition charge against them. There are no such restrictions on them as on me. After my arrest also, people weren’t supporting. The problem again is that I am a Kashmiri.
On The Condition Of Higher Education: ‘Today, it is difficult to hold a meeting in DU, JNU’
Today it is difficult for someone to hold a meeting in Delhi University, in JNU and in other places in the universities.
The whole debate that started after 9th February was about freedom of expression and whether you can criticise the judiciary or not. But where did we end up? Last year, lectures were held in front of the administrative building, which was named Freedom Square, but we were not talking about freedom of expression, whether the judiciary can be criticised or not. We were talking about nationalism and anti-nationalism. It was not our agenda. The BJP, the Sangh Parivar was actually laying down the agenda. We were getting trapped in it.
This is where education is going. If in an institute of higher education, people are scared of talking about ideas and ideologies, then what is the kind of your education system?
On The Last One Year: ‘If I see that something is wrong, I won’t call it right because it might keep me in a job’
The past year was difficult in many ways. I was arrested on February 15. The irony is that there was an FIR lodged against me but I was not informed about the FIR at all. Instead they chose to sort of abduct me when I was returning from my duty. They arrested me on Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. There was a huge contingent of police vehicles around. It was a huge drama. I mean normally they could have come to my college, said that there is an FIR against you, kindly join this. This shows, you know (laughs)…this is the so-called world’s largest democracy.
I had to spend some 35 to 40 days in jail. It has been more than an year now and there is no chargesheet. I am under suspension for the last 1 year. There are Supreme Court rulings that if the chargesheet is not filed within 3 months, the person was supposed to be reinstated. The university has not done it.
These things will not sort of scare me. I believe in certain principles and I live for those principles. And no matter what happens, I won’t deviate from those principles. So if I see that something is wrong, I won’t call it right because it might keep me in a job. I will not.
On Life After Bail: ‘The court has denied me permission many times to visit my home in Kashmir’
One condition of bail is that I cannot leave Delhi without the permission of the Court. This court has denied me permission many times to visit my home in Kashmir.
Media have been gagged. There are many media persons who have come and talked to me, but it was not published.
On Delhi University’s Teachers Association: ‘Perhaps DUTA and others don’t feel comfortable talking about a person who talks about the freedom of Kashmir’
The Delhi University Teachers Association is led by the Left at the moment. I haven’t seen any of them even enquiring about my reinstatement. Nobody has asked what is happening to me in the court.
We know what is happening, for instance, to the adivasis but people simply don’t talk about it. We have heard people talking recently about Bastar and Chhattisgarh but it was not in context of the adivasis. People only started talking when Nandini Sundar and other celebrated activists were attacked, when Bela Bhatia was attacked.
Perhaps the DUTA and others don’t feel comfortable talking about a person who talks about the freedom of Kashmir. Where is that freedom of opinion that you talk about?
Status Of Reinstatement: ‘I haven’t received any response till now’
I was released on 21st of March last year and I gave a written joining to the college on the 22nd. After many months, I got a reply that the review committee met and they said that the status quo be maintained.
After every three months or so, there is a mandatory review committee that has to be held. What they do perhaps is write to the Investigating Officer and get an opinion. They send me a letter that the review committee met and the unanimous decision is that the status quo be maintained till further developments.
Lately, I have received a letter from the college saying that the Governing Body meeting was held, your case was also discussed, and the Governing Body wants to know the status of your case. I replied to that in the month of December. I haven’t received any response till now.
On Life Under Suspension: ‘Otherwise when I have time, I keep reading’
I get visitors. People from Kashmir have been coming. There is a Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. I am the president of that committee. I have been doing that work. There were certain cases which were in Delhi. In between I took permission and went to Bangalore for some time for some cases of some Kashmiris. Otherwise when I have time, I keep reading. That’s all.