Kolkata: The Narendra Modi government has awarded Kazi Masum Akhtar the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, in the fields of literature and education. But the 49-year-old teacher and author, one of the five Padma awardees this year from West Bengal, says he still fears for his life.
Back in 2015, Akhtar was beaten up by a mob of fundamentalists when he asked students at a south Kolkata madrasa, where he was serving as headmaster, to sing the national anthem every morning.
So while the Padma Shri is a “moral victory”, Akhtar is still fighting the assault case in court, and says his tormentors are still moving freely, thanks to the “appeasement policies” of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government.
A long wait for justice
Akhtar was assaulted on 26 March 2015 with rods and sticks. Bleeding profusely, he was rushed to the state general hospital, but there, he was assaulted again, and sustained critical head injuries.
Akhtar says he lodged an FIR with the Rajabagan police station on 26 March 2015, a copy of which is with ThePrint. But he claims no action was taken on the FIR.
“In last five years, I have filed three petitions in the Alipore court. The court asked the investigating officers to take action in my case, but the police filed a report and stated that the accused persons were absconding. On 10 January, the court issued an arrest warrant against the culprits,” Akhtar said.
He accused the Trinamool Congress government of practicing appeasement politics, and said that was the reason he wasn’t getting justice.
“I know the government will not touch them as it will go against the appeasement policies of the ruling party. I still fear for my life and I can be murdered any day,” he said.
Ostracised by own community
The assault wasn’t the only reason Akhtar fears for his life. He has also had multiple fatwas issued against him for “introducing” Hindu practices, such as celebrating the birthday of Bengali cultural icon Rabindranath Tagore, into the madrasa.
He has written articles about the upliftment of Muslims, and against the vote-bank politics that revolves around them, and also spearheaded a movement against the practice of triple talaq, collecting over one lakh signatures and submitting a memorandum to the President of India.
Akhtar was stripped of his position as headmaster at the madrasa after a section of Muslim clerics petitioned the government against him, stating he was trying to “mislead” the students and insulting the religion by singing national anthem and writing “anti-Islamic” pieces in newspapers and books.
Almost ostracised by his own community, Akhtar is now headmaster of a government school in Jadavpur. Ironically, the same Mamata Banerjee government he accuses of protecting his attackers gave him a ‘best teacher’ award in 2017.
CAA protesters are ‘actors’
Akhtar also spoke about the ongoing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Bengal and many other parts of the country, and insisted that Indian Muslims had nothing to worry about.
“The Act was passed by both houses of Parliament. In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP did not have numbers, but non-BJP parties supported them. The same parties are now fuelling protests and lawlessness for their vested political interests,” Akhtar said.
“Indian Muslims have nothing to worry about. There is one discriminatory clause in the Act, for which we all should approach the judiciary and not protest by blocking roads,” he said.
Akhtar also said Muslim protesters singing Jana Gana Mana to protest the CAA were “actors”.
“I feel so amused and surprised when I see the same people who hit me with rods and sticks in broad daylight for asking my students to sing the national anthem, are now sitting at protest venues with national flags and singing the same. This is a farce,” said Akhtar.
Akhtar recounted the days when he was barred from the madrasa for not growing a beard, for singing the national anthem and for condemning mob violence in different localities.
“Political parties are pushing my community behind, and using them as mere political pawns. They are completely brainwashed. They were encouraged to set public property on fire and then asked to sing the national anthem and wave the national flag to cover their criminal activities. I can be murdered any time, but I will continue speaking the truth,” Akhtar said.