The arrest of Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi on March 6 this year had left many stunned. A well-established journalist, accredited with the government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB), and someone who regularly interacted with top politicians, he suddenly came to be described as a player in an Iranian plot to attack Israeli diplomats in India. Convinced he was being framed because of his harsh and vocal views on American and Israeli policy, many had rallied around Kazmi to campaign for his release. He was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court on October 19 and stepped out of Tihar after spending seven months in jail. His first interview since his release, questions related directly to the case were answered by his lawyer (see accompanying story), but Kazmi himself told Debarshi Dasgupta that he was threatened in order to make him confess. He also spoke of his social isolation since his release and claims he was targeted for his critical views on India’s foreign policy. Excerpts:
How were you treated in jail?
Torture is not just physical. For me, it was more mental trauma, almost unbearable levels. There was always the uncertainty every morning of when I would be freed, if at all. I used to see the government’s version and could not believe it was actually me they were discussing. There were threats—from top officers—of having my children kidnapped, of having explosives recovered from my home or car. They told me I’d languish in jail if I didn’t tell them all, that my beard would grow so long in custody that even my children would not recognise me. On the whole, I have lost the social status that I once enjoyed. I was made a scapegoat just for my professional background.
Do you think you were picked up for your harsh political views on India’s close links with US/Israel and their role in global affairs?
You can judge it yourself from my television appearances. In this changing scenario, people do not like the truth. Probably, this was one of the reasons....
"There were threats—from top officers—of having my children kidnapped, of
having explosives recovered from my home or car." Would you still argue that India needs to correct its present course of foreign policy?
We need to have a foreign policy based on national interests, and not for short-term interests but long-term ones. A gas pipeline from Iran, Pakistan to India is not feasible but a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan to India is feasible. Does it make sense?
What would your comments be on the current crisis in West Asia and India’s role in the region?
The MEA issued a balanced statement on the ongoing crisis between Israel and Palestine but we need to make tactical diplomatic moves, independent of western perceptions and objectives, if we have to emerge as an effective force in the region. We should, for instance, take into confidence the elected government of Hamas in Gaza and have diplomatic contacts with them and not just the Al Fatah faction. Powers on the ground need to be engaged more. For instance, Hezbollah, described as a terrorist entity by westerners, is a crucial player in Lebanon. You cannot form a government there without their support. We made mistakes in Iraq too. Post-Saddam, we could have furthered our business interests more had we nurtured close contacts with the guiding leaders in Najaf. And in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the Americans and Israelis have done much more than India to establish close links with the new government. We are left behind since we are overcautious. I would argue we are an emerged power in this region, not an emerging one. America, on the other hand, is a weakening force in this region and we must further our independent role.
"We need to make tactical diplomatic moves, free of western perceptions and objectives, if we’re to be effective in West Asia." You are viewed as a very harsh critic of Israel...
What do you mean by a critic? If you read just 60 years of Israel’s history, you’ll become a harsh critic of the country...just read it and analyse it. People do not want to question the way the state of Israel was created and ignore the way it’s being expanded illegally into Palestine every day. How much time do you need to undserstand the history and geography?
Has it been difficult to voice political opinions that match yours?
Prominent journalists who worked earlier for several years are off the screen for many years now for this reason. You name important journalists who worked around a decade earlier and are alive. All of them are sitting in their apartments when they should be editors. A prominent journalist who used to author leads for India Today is now leading a small-time Urdu paper. This is the changing situation of this country. This is part of a conspiracy.
Will you go back to doing what you did before your arrest?
I will resume writing my weekly column in Urdu on international affairs soon. My readers probably are waiting for my experiences in jail too. Besides, there is already the offer to go back to working for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s Tehran Radio, to which I was contributing political reports every day for its Hindi service. I would also appear frequently on their Urdu channel, Seher TV.
"Just read 60 years of Israeli history and you’ll turn a harsh critic. People don’t want to question how the Israeli state was created." Do you feel socially isolated post-bail?
While in jail, I wondered if people would come to see me or suspect me after my release. I decided not to initiate any meetings or make phone calls once out. Let me see who contacts me, I decided. This is still the position. A huge number of people came to receive me at Tihar Jail but there is one set who feel meeting me is something wrong. As far as my professional career is concerned, I do not know if I can go back to work with Doordarshan, maybe when I’m discharged.
Have you lost your PIB accreditation?
I just checked the website yesterday. It says my card is not ready. I had the card last year. This year’s was delayed for procedural reasons. Perhaps it was ready when I was arrested, maybe I could not collect it. But yesterday when I checked, it said the request is still under process. I feel they have suspended it and held it for the next season.
You got a lot of support from the public because you are a journalist. But there are many others behind bars, waiting for a free and fair trial. Are you going to undertake any work to help them?
I have full sympathy with those who are innocent and behind bars. I plan to work with anyone who fights for them in whatever way. I will work for justice.
The interview with Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi (‘I was made a scapegoat...’, Dec 3) was poignant and revealing. Speaking and writing truth today is a crime for which anyone can be put behind bars. The biggest problem the country faces right now is the growing influence of the far right and the penetration of extreme right-wing thought not only in intelligence-gathering, but also bureaucracy at all levels.
K. Jeltek, Dammam
Your interview states that Kazmi was “accredited with the Press Information Bureau”. This is to state that Kazmi is not accredited with PIB at present. Please correct at earliest.
Nitin Wakankar, Director (PF), PIB, New Delhi
Kazmi’s arrest and release on bail after seven months speaks volumes of the hollowness of our judicial system. Like others, Kazmi would have endured physical and mental torture in jail; and now has to deal with the stigma of being in jail. In fact, he has paid for being an outspoken critic of the US and Israel. India’s stand on Iran and its policy on the Palestine issue is deficient on a number of counts. As the world’s biggest democracy, it has to forcefully put it to the Western powers that Palestinians have the right to live and breathe in their own homeland.
M.Y. Shariff, Chennai
India is still a dangerous country if one cares for justice. It fares only better when compared to other underdeveloped countries or evolving democracies. Intrepid journalists like Kazmi need to think if their work towards justice and equality is going to be remembered with gratitude. Young Indians only care for money.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
I think the interviewer let Kazmi off easily, almost as if the thing was engineered to let him have his own version of things. The reporter didn’t seem to cross-examine him—about his other activities, his whereabouts when the attack on the Israelis took place, etc.
A.N. Banerjee, Newcastle
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
India's interests lies in supporting US and the western powers.
I don't know if Mr AHMED KAZMI is culprit or innocent but his stand on US - Israel is totally wrong.
["We need to make tactical diplomatic moves, free of western perceptions and objectives, if we’re to be effective in West Asia."]
What will we achieve by effective in West-Asia? We need to be first effective in South Asia. You have terrorists neighbours like Pakistan. See Pakistan wants to be relevent in Muslim world, spent 60 years in realizing that and todad budget is dependent on IMF or foreign hand.
There are muslims in India with background that wants India to be sympathtic with Palestine casue: For what, for terrorists.
[America, on the other hand, is a weakening force in this region and we must further our independent role.]
This is typical pakistani muslim approach, Muslims can not not understand USA and her power. We need technology and democratic freedom. Palestine does not stand for both of them. Their deep internal religious wish is keep India weak and not be enough powerful by aligning with USA.
Does Mr Kazmi believe in freedom of Baluchistan? the former Kalat state since 500 years in existence? Him pains more Gaza...
Iran has always voted against India on IOC just for being Muslim country.
India interest is to be onside with USA and keep terrorist and terrorist nations on check.
Abu Jindal was handed over due to USA and no Hamas.
He should wake up and start thinking as India.
India is still a dangerous country to work for justice.It fares only better when compared to other underdeveloped countries or eveloving democracies.People who work for justice for others need to think deeply if the people whom they work for are going to remember them gratefully.In India current generation does not bother about values or ethics but money.Mr Kazmi can reflect on this.
Whats the point of asking these stupid leading questions? Why did the repoter did not cross examine him? Where was his whereabouts ? etc etc ...
Male Unblocked >> At least this male is a minority and has some media sympathy. What about the rest?
The rest are supposed to 1) Support the establishment blindly or 2) Be prepared to BURN in hell.
It is as simple as that.
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