Indore and Delhi: “The book was purchased in 2014. And he is sought to be arrested? Are you serious?”
That was the question Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud asked advocate Aljo K Joseph, state counsel for Madhya Pradesh, on the state’s dogged pursuit of Inamur Rahman PhD, who 43 days earlier had resigned as principal of the New Government Law College, Indore, over a book in the college library.
On 16 December 2022, the Supreme Court stopped the police from arresting Rahman, 63, with the Chief Justice saying there was no case for arrest. Relief for Rahman came after his pleas for anticipatory bail were rejected by an Indore district court and the Indore High Court.
When the Madhya Pradesh High Court granted Rahman anticipatory bail on 22 December, the same bench of the Supreme Court moved to dispose of the petition believing he faced no threat of arrest. The judges were surprised at a hearing on 23 January 2023 when the State’s lawyer said they would challenge bail.
Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud posed several questions to the State’s counsel.
“He is a college principal. Why are you arresting him?” asked the Chief Justice. “A book is found in the library which is said to have some communal undertones. Therefore he is sought to be arrested?"
The Chief Justice’s concerns about this arrest underscore the harassment that some Muslim academics are experiencing in Madhya Pradesh. The book’s author, principal of the Chameli Devi Institute of Law, Indore, Farhat Khan PhD, 41, has faced the ire of Hindu right-wing groups since 2021.
What began as complaints against the book have grown into allegations by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the youth wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that Muslim faculty are spreading “love-jihad” and religious extremism on campus.
Rahman was forced to resign in December 2022 due to pressure from the ABVP.
In December 2022, the police, pressured by the BJP government of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, registered criminal cases against three Muslim academics, based on complaints from right-wing Hindu groups. An inquiry committee that was to have been impartial completed its probe within a day on 6 December, basing it entirely on right-wing allegations and without speaking to the academics involved.
The three academics—Rahman, Farhat Khan, and constitutional law professor Mirza Moziz Beg, 41—are accused under eight sections of the Indian Penal Code of 1860.
These are “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” (section 153-A), “imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration” (section 153-B), “deliberately intending to outrage religious feelings” (section 295-A), defamation (section 500), “to provoke breach of the peace” (section 504), “statements conducing to public mischief” (section 505), “creating or promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes” (section 505), and “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention” (section 34).
If convicted , they could face up to 16 years in prison. Rahman and Beg are currently under suspension, not allowed to teach. Farhat Khan, facing health issues, is not currently working.
According to Rahman, the case singles out Muslim professors for criminal action.
"I was compelled to tender my resignation from my position amidst mounting pressure, despite no wrongdoing,” said Rahman. “It is my personal belief that these individuals targeted me solely due to my faith, with their disapproval stemming from my position as a principal belonging to the Muslim community."
Indore-based advocate Abhinav P Dhanodkar, representing Beg and Rahman, said the case against them was “lodged for political reasons”.
“Both were not involved in the publication or the marketing of the book,” said Dhanodkar. “My clients have been unnecessarily dragged into the case.”
Book Censored In 2021
The latest controversy over the book in question, Collective Violence and Criminal Justice System, is not the first raised by right-wing groups.
In 2021, the publisher removed sections of the book’s content following complaints from right-wing Hindu groups. The book discusses theory and law around the theme of collective violence in India, including sectarian strife.
Hitesh Khetrapal of Amar Law Publications and Khetrapal Law House said he “received calls from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), ideological mentor of the BJP, and ABVP workers taking strong objection to the content of the book”. They objected to what they regarded as narratives against the ideological fount of the Hindu right, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu community.
In March 2021, Farhat Khan was forced to provide a written apology addressed to the publisher. Khetrapal said 10 pages of “controversial” content were removed.
All copies of the book in circulation with booksellers were recalled and destroyed. The book was republished with the removed pages omitted.
Bhopal lawyer Wahid Khan, who is not connected to Rahman’s case, expressed his alarm at “attempts at censorship”, which he said emerged “out of intimidation instead of examining the systemic processes”.
"Such actions not only violate academic freedom, but go against freedom of speech. The Constitution's Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression,” said Wahid Khan. “Critics and writers play a vital role in exposing societal issues, and their work must be safeguarded, not punished.”
“The current trend of censorship by the mob is an alarming development,” said Wahid Khan.
New Complaints & Revived Protests
The ABVP brought the book back to the fore at the New Government Law College in December 2022, in the midst of a cascade of wider complaints against faculty members.
On 1 December, the Indore branch of the ABVP submitted a memorandum to Rahman, then principal, listing grievances against six faculty members—four Muslim and two Hindu.
The grievances included “people from a particular religion” being preferably recruited as faculty; “love-jihad” spreading on campus; Muslim faculty members praising Muslim rulers and criticising Hindu rulers; missed classes on Fridays due to professors taking students to offer Friday prayers in mosques; non-vegetarian food being eaten on campus; a secret WhatsApp group consisting of only Muslim teachers and students; Muslim faculty members spreading “negative thoughts” on the government and Army, among others.
In response the same day, then principal Rahman suspended the six faculty members for five days, and ordered an inquiry by a retired district judge.
Even after he took these strict steps, the ABVP continued their protests, reviving their objections to the book being taught to students with demands for Rahman to resign.
The ABVP objected to passages in the book critical of the RSS and Hindu right-wing groups, for instance:
"In the brief description above, we shed light on the activities of Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliated organisations. The sole aim of all social, political, and religious organisations formed by the Hindus is to destroy the Muslims in the country and make the Shudras slaves. Their aim is to establish Hindu Pedestalism (sic) and bring back the rule of Hindu monarchy, worshipping the Brahmin as the deity of the earth."
Another passage read:
"Hindu communalism is emerging as a subversive ideology. Organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad aim to establish a Hindu-majority state and subjugate other communities, making them powerless. They justify their actions with barbarism.”
At the time of his resignation on 3 December 2022, Rahman confirmed to Article 14 and other media organisations that the book was not part of any curriculum or being taught in the college.
The book was available in the college library, though only to students from marginalised communities through a book-bank programme. While the book in the library was the old edition, Rahman said he did not know this.
Criminal Case On Orders Of MP Home Minister
As these protests unfolded, Lucky Adiwal, a student of the law college, filed a complaint against Rahman and others with the local police.
Adiwal’s allegations included that "the book written by Dr. Farhat Khan portrayed Hindu kings “in a bad light” and praised Mughal emperors and Muslim culture." He alleged that the “atmosphere of the college promotes religious frenzy, debauchery, and a conspiracy to spoil the sovereignty and integrity of the nation”.
He also accused Farhat Khan’s book of promoting “Islamic extremism among students”.
The two students leading the protests for the ABVP, Adiwal and Dipendra Thakur, were battling the college administration, as they had not paid the college fees for two years. In January 2022, Adiwal and others threatened another professor.
Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra ordered the police commissioner of Indore to register a case within 24 hours. On 3 December, the police registered an FIR against Farhat Khan, Rahman, Beg, and Amar Law publications.
None of the accused are currently in custody. Khan, undergoing dialysis, has been served notice to appear whenever she is required for the investigation. Beg and Rahman have been granted anticipatory bail by the Supreme Court.
The police have served notice to Khetrapal’s wife, in whose name the publishing house, Amar Law Publication, is registered, to appear in court when required.
Principal Forced To Resign, More Demands For Action
Rahman told the media he was forced to resign as principal on 7 December 2022. Rahman said he believed “the true motives behind the students' actions were not to uncover the truth, but rather to pressure me to step down from my position”.
Rahman said the book was not even acquired during his tenure, and when the first accusations were made, he “promptly” assembled an internal probe committee.
“Along with the student-led protests, external individuals not affiliated with the college further exacerbated the situation by insisting on my immediate resignation,” said Rahman. “Despite my repeated assurances to the students that the investigation would be conducted with impartiality and integrity, I ultimately was compelled to resign from my post.".
The book was purchased by the Law College in 2014, after a recommendation by three professors in 2012. Sudha Suresh Silawat was the principal in 2014.
Even after an FIR was registered and Rahman resigned, a delegation of ABVP students met home minister Narottam Mishra on 12 December 2022 to demand a judicial inquiry against the college faculty, whom they claimed were “involved in anti-national activities”.
Mishra said he would “write to the concerned department to get Khan’s doctorate revoked”. On 19 January 2023 Khan wrote a letter to the MP governor, challenging the allegations against him.
Inquiry committee echoes ABVP allegations
On 6 December MP higher education minister Mohan Yadav ordered a seven-member inquiry committee to probe the allegations of the ABVP students and submit a report in three days.
A member of the committee, on condition of anonymity, told Article 14 that they had only a day to conduct their inquiry.
Committee members went to classrooms to take written statements from students, using a questionnaire of 20 questions that related solely to 17 allegations made by the ABVP.
The member confirmed that the committee did not meet any of the six accused professors, or with Rahman. The six professors were fearful of the protestors, the member said, and requested that the committee speak to them off campus.
Rahman was ill and in hospital the day the committee conducted its inquiry. The committee did not meet any of the six or Rahman.
In the absence of written statements or hearing from the six faculty and Rahman, the committee’s report reinforced ABVP allegations of “disruption of social harmony” at the college.
The committee pointed to the implicated faculty marking 5 August as a “black day”, the day of the abrogation of Article 370, which nullified the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir; and the organisation of a signature campaign to protest the government’s New Education Policy.
The committee held Rahman responsible for not removing the book from the library in 2021, a government official privy to the report told Article 14 on condition of anonymity. The committee member previously quoted confirmed on 5 March that they had not received any response from the government since they submitted their report.
‘Harassed Because They Were Muslim’
Apoorvanand, a Delhi University professor, who uses only one name, said the religious identity of the academics was central to the events in Indore.
"Because they were Muslims, they were additionally harassed, religion is an important factor here,” said Apoorvanand. “The debate on whether the book should be taught is another topic.”
Arvind Khare, a retired deputy superintendent of police of the Madhya Pradesh police and commentator on police reforms, said "the charges brought against the principal and other accused lack a solid foundation”.
Khare described police pursuit of the academics as “aggressive efforts”, specifically their appeal to the Supreme Court to revoke anticipatory bail to Rahman and Beg.
Khare said sectarianism influenced politics in the city and Malwa region of MP.
“The city's political and financial significance, with many political parties relying on donations and significant funding from Indore, contributes to their active presence in the region,” he said. “Indore frequently hosts rallies and events for major political parties.”
This Indore case is not an isolated instance, and such harassment is not limited to Madhya Pradesh. Apoorvanand pointed to “several instances” (Bhubaneswar, Lucknow, Gujarat and Delhi) across India in which right-wing groups, such as the ABVP or RSS, “have been responsible for the suspension or assault of professors”.
Apoorvanand demanded that courts protect academic independence. “Censorship of academics represents a grave threat to progress in our country,” he said. “Universities are sitting ready to hear complaints of ABVP or RSS because of fear and will continue to suspend professors if this fear does not end."
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(Akansha Deshmukh is an independent investigative journalist covering serious crime, political corruption and communalism.)