KOLKATA – Despite his reputation as a tough, no-nonsense police officer who has stood up to the government on several occasions, Nazrul Islam is soft-spoken and gentle, even when refusing to discuss thecontroversy surrounding his latest book, “Musalmander Koroniyo” (What Muslims Should Do).
“My intention is not to create, or fuel, any kind of controversy,” he said politely. (He also asked that his photo not be used in this interview.) But in the 102 page book, Mr. Islam minces no words in criticizing the West Bengal’s governing party, Trinamool Congress, and its leader, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the policies towards Muslims in the state. While taking care not to name Ms. Banerjee directly, his use of the term “Shashak daler Netri,” or female leader of the governing party, leaves no doubt about who he is referring to. In particular, the book criticizes new promises that Ms. Banerjee has made to provide stipends for imams and muezzins, who give the call to prayer, and the state’s plan to recognize 10,000 madrasas, calling the promises a “trick” to keep India’s Muslims poor and uneducated.
On Wednesday afternoon, India Ink met with Mr. Islam to discuss the book and his career:
Your Web site describes you as someone who has risen from being a village boy to a successful police officer.
Successful police officer? No. I don’t think so. I would get removed every time I tried to do anything.
You lasted barely more than a month in Bolpur, where you were sub-divisional police officer in 1983?
Yes. I had arrested the son of the legislator from the Communist Party of India, which was the ruling party then. They had beaten up supporters of the opposition party, dragged them out of their homes, urinated on them and stripped their women.
It is not very common for policemen to disobey the orders of the ruling party. Were you not scared to defy the party?
I always stood by justice and neutrality. I never considered who belongs to which party while discharging my duties as a policeman. I was not scared. Why should I be? What would have happened in the worst of cases, I could have either been transferred or, maybe, killed. What more can anyone do beyond this? So I never cared. I was born a good human being and want to die a good human being too.
What does your family have to say?
They never stop feeling concerned about me but do not interfere. Even before I had got married, I had told my wife, Dr. Kumud Gupta, that being with me may not be the best of experiences. It could mean a lot of suffering because I am never going to give up my ways.
Do you think vote-bank politics have come in the way of the progress of Muslims in India?
Yes. But, it is not just the Muslims. Many others including the low-caste Hindus and tribals have been prey to vote-bank politics. It is just that the case of Scheduled Castes and Tribes is a little better because they enjoy reservations in educational institutions and jobs.
Are you in favor of similar reservations for Muslims as well?
You were born in a village which did not have a single primary school, and you have done well without reservations. Why do you think they are necessary?
I did it, but it was not easy. I had to work extremely hard to compete with those who had come from good backgrounds and had access to the best facilities. You see, many Muslims, especially those in Bengal, were low-caste Hindus earlier. Their life never improved even after conversion. Being a Muslim, they are neither entitled to any reservation. Something needs to be worked out for them.
You have written 71 books, both fiction and nonfiction. That’s quite something.
I write when I get the urge to speak out what goes on in my mind. When I first came to college in the town of Behrampur, I saw that the educated people were more communal in their mindset than the simple people in my native village of Basantapur in Murshidabad district. People in the village were religious, no doubt, but were more tolerant of other religions and lived peacefully with other communities.
I began to question religion, education, and started studying the different faiths, which resulted in the book “Banglay Hindu-Musalman Samparka” (Hindu-Muslim Relations in Bengal). “Bakul” is fiction, yet it is drawn from my experiences as additional superintendent of police in Siliguri in the late ’80s.
Siliguri was your favorite posting?
Yes, because I could do a lot of work. For example I successfully curbed the smuggling of timber and contraband goods. People loved me there. I remember once a man who had overheard a secret meeting of some businessmen in neighboring Bihar had come all the way to Siliguri to just inform me that my life was in danger and that a plot was being hatched for me to be killed or transferred.
Just a few days ago, I got a call from a lady in Siliguri. She called to say that her husband, who recently passed away, wanted to apologize to me. He was sympathetic to the Communist Party (Maoists) and had apparently worked against me. I don’t remember, of course.
An earlier book, “Police Prasanga” (About Police), put you in trouble with the Left Front government of the time.
Yes. In that I had written about how the Communist Party was using the police for its gains. I was asked to withdraw the comments. I refused to backtrack. Then they got the vigilance commission to initiate an inquiry against me. The matter went to the High Court and there it was proven that the charges were baseless. When I was asked how I could be compensated, I asked for one rupee from the salary of the person who started the inquiry. I was paid by check.
You will retire in one and a half years. Have you already started planning what to do after that?
There is so much to do. I am the founder and chairman of the Basantapur Education Society, which is responsible for setting up several schools and colleges (one of them offering engineering courses) in my village where once there wasn’t even a single primary school. The next step is to set up a university there.
(The interview has been lightly edited and condensed