Remembering Sirajunnisa, Lest We Forget!

By Fasila A K,

The public sphere of Kerala recently witnessed a furious debate on justice for Muslim women through the entire media apparatus, political and social movements. The issue, started over an ‘Arabi Kalyanam’ (marriage to a Saudi citizen), concerned the appropriate age of marriage for Muslim women. The Media and other stake holders stood for Muslim women and raised their voices and burnt effigies of community leaders. But this ‘well wishing’ attitude of this public conscious media is put to doubt when one comes to know of a girl brutally killed by the police when she was all but 11 years old. Her name was Sirajunnisa, an ordinary girl from Puduppalli Street of Palakkad district of Kerala. The only offence which ‘justified’ her murder was that she was a ‘Muslim’. Justice has not yet been done to the soul of that girl and to the conscience of thousands of others who were startled by the action of the then head of police, Raman Srivastava.

It was in December 1991 when the BJP chief Murali Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra reached Kerala. The communal venom spread by the Sangh Parivar created an atmosphere of communal tension wherever they went. Palakkad was not any different. When an Upyatra was attacked in Mepparamb, a tense situation prevailed for the few next days and police had to resort to lathi charge and firing. One side of the Puduppalli Street was occupied by Agraharas of Brahmins and the other side occupied by Muslims. The street was calm and quiet when a police squad of Shornur ASP Sandhya passed through. Until then no violence was reported from the area.

Siraj

Sirajunnisa and her sister were playing in their courtyard while their neighbour, Muhamad, was watching them play. They were the only people in the scene. The police communicated this peaceful situation to the control room manned by Raman Srivasatava, the then DIG. He was informed by ASP Sandhya that the situation was under control and no police action was required. However, Raman Srivasatava ordered firing at the ‘Muslim bastards’ in order to ‘let them die like dogs’. When Sandhya handed over the Walkie-talkie to the DSP, as directed by Srivastava, the latter said to the DSP: “I want dead bodies of some Muslim bastards” and ordered him to shoot the girls down at once. The order was promptly heeded and two constables executed the order by firing at Sirajunnisa. The bullet hit just under Sirajunnisa’s nose and came piercing out through the back of her head. She succumbed to her injury on the spot. The incidents that followed showed the insensitivity and the barbarity of the police. They beat everyone who came forward to take the body of the girl to the hospital.

Sirajunnisa’s incident was a reflection of the politics of that time. CPM led LDF won the next election using Sirajunnisa as a trump card against the Congress led UDF. Successive governments and political parties celebrated the name of Sirajunnisa. As the Babri demolition fuelled to form identity based political groups all over India, in Kerala, the Sirajunnisa incident was played as an important factor that led to the formation and strengthening of groups like INL and PDP etc.

But this commitment of the parties never resulted in the execution of any justice for Sirajunisa and her family. It was Kolakkadan Moosa Haji, who was a witness to the entire incident, who filed a private complaint in the court of the judicial first class magistrate, Palakkad, which was later taken to the Supreme Court. The complaint was for taking action against 8 police officials, including Raman Srivastava and Sandhya, for the offence of committing murder. In 1997, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation in the case by an officer of the rank of IG. But the order of the Supreme Court was considered by the State only after a gap of one and half years and in the while, the then government protected the culprits. When IG (Crime) Sibi Mathews, who was the investigating officer of the case, approached the then DGP Sastri, he passed an order of prohibition of investigation of the offences by Srivastava and others. Later the file was closed down by the Police.

There were strong witnesses to the conversation that Srivastava had over the wireless that day, including the then irrigation minister PM Jacob and some other people’s representatives who were holding a meeting at Palakkad district collector’s chamber. ,. Even then, the story of Justice for an 11 year old girl ends in darkness. The government violated basic principles of natural justice in the entire case, the prohibition of investigation by the then DGP amounts to nothing less than contempt of court. Raman Srivastava was elevated to the post of IG and then to DGP in 1999 by the then chief minister Ooman Chandy. No one was there to point out the blood in the hands of that police officer.

As per the FIR lodged by the police, another case had been presented before the court alleging that Sirajunnisa was leading a violent mob which was burning the homes and shops of Hindu brahmins nearby, against the prohibitory orders of police, which resulted in the police opening fire. The Kerala Government at the time of the incident had appointed the Yohannan Commission which supported the police claim and made false evidences to convert the murder to accident. And the Commission did not bother to take the testimony of the prime witnesses. The then government of EK Nayanar ordered for a Crime branch investigation, which also ended up in vain since no one even knows whether it had started or ended.

In 1999, the Crime branch ‘found out’ an important fact that Sirajunnissa was not the leader of the rioters. They discharged her from the tag of being a terrorist and a communalist. Our system took nine long years to ‘prove’ that she was innocent. Even this ‘justice’ was given to her by compelling her relatives to withdraw the complaint filed by them and they were induced to do so by stating that they would not claim the insurance amount.

It was a cold blooded murder in a way more brutal than any other police firing in Kerala. Even then, Keralites who cried out the names of Koothparamb martyrs, never in the least remembered the name of Sirajunnisa. The brahmanic State existing here has always tried to brain wash the minds of people into forgetting her name as she was a Muslim, and, Muslims can never expect justice for themselves. It is sad when one realises the fact that parties and movements established for ‘protecting’ the interests of the community also followed the guidelines laid down by the brahmanic State to erase the memory of this girl.

Sirajunnisa in many ways resembles Ishrat Jahan who was killed by the State in a fake encounter and then tagged as a terrorist. Even Ishrat, in the land of Savarna Hindutwa Fascism has found justice at last. Sirajunnisa, however, is far-far away from the light of justice. There is no ray of hope for justice because our well educated, cultured public sphere and civil society finds nothing ‘interesting’ in the case of a Muslim girl who needs justice from the state.

(The author is a final year law student at Government Law College, Kozhikode, Kerala.)