Two days before India’s Independence Day, a theatre activist, who likes to believe the world will become borderless someday, was arrested and “illegaly detained” for a week in Rajasthan simply because police though he seemed “suspicious”.
Telangana-based Mohammed Akram Feroze, who cycled through more than 40 villages over three months in 2011 and organised plays with local residents as part of his “ Cycle Natak ” project, was released on bail on August 26.
Though 26-year-old Feroze was arrested in Jaisalmer on August 13, the FIR against him – under Sections 151 and 101 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows police to arrest people to tackle potential threats to security and order – was registered only on August 20.
His brother Alam reached Jaisalmer on August 23 and started the process to get him freed on bail, and it was granted three days later.
Feroze, a speaker at TEDx events across India, was in Jaisalmer for his latest travel project “ Theatre at Borders ”, an ambitious plan to walk and hitchhike along more than 10,000km of border regions and sensitise people about what the frontiers mean.
All of Feroze’s travelling theatre projects are well documented through Facebook pages and have been covered by leading newspapers such as The Hindu and Deccan Chronicle.
Kavita Srivastva, general secretary of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, who assisted in Feroze’s release, criticised the detention as social media users lashed out at authorities in the past few days.
This is the poster that went viral on the internet after news broke that Akram Feroze was detained in Jaisalmer. (Photo: Facebook)
Feroze spoke to Hindustan Times on his arrest, why he feels the police’s version of events is flawed and his travelling theatre projects. Here are excerpts:
Intelligence officers have told the media you were "suspicious" because of your links to Jammu and Kashmir. Where does the story start?
I was detained at Ramgarh police station on August 13 after I was taken there for issuance of a permit to visit areas further towards the Pakistan border. I was put in prison and my laptop and mobile phone were snatched away.
For a few days, nothing happened. On August 17, I was taken to the Joint Interrogation Centre, where personnel of all intelligence agencies are present. They had found video footage and photographs from Kashmir on my computer and hard disk, and serious allegations, including that of anti-national activities, were levelled against me.
The point is I have been closely associated with certain people’s movements in Kashmir, like the RTI in Jammu and Kashmir movement. Anyone who has followed me on social media will know how closely I’m associated with it.
Moreover, I visited Kashmir last year to provide relief after floods. While there, two of my documentary filmmaker friends who were in Kashmir asked me to join them in shooting videos and photos of how the common man’s life in Kashmir was devastated by terrorism. That’s when I shot visuals of shelling in Kashmir, army men and their camps, and the people.
Without the context of my association with Kashmir, how can you brand me as a "suspected person" just because I have some footage and photos?
This is a photo of Akram Feroze taken in Kashmir. He is seen here with one of the documentary film-makers he travelled the villages with. (Photo: Facebook)
When I called up the Jaisalmer Superintendent of Police, I was told you were arrested because you ventured into villages where you shouldn’t have without permission from district authorities.
That’s not true. I was taken to the police station from Ramgarh village market, which, I was told, is around 100 km from the Pakistan border. There might be security concerns in Ramgarh but there were no notices on that. The only board about permits said foreigners need permissions to visit Ramgarh.
The police kept on insisting later that “foreigners” mean anyone other than local residents.
And moreover, after the Ramgarh locals called the intelligence guy and police, I told them I was willing to undertake all formalities and get a permit. That’s why I accompanied them to the police station. I gave them all available documents I had with me.
None of the policeman clarified by reading out some specific orders to me as to who needs permission to visit Ramgarh – only foreigners or both Indians and foreigners.
You were “suspected” and interrogated by intelligence agencies. But then the FIR mentions only Section 151 and 107 of the CrPC, which are negligible to what you were suspected for.
Yes, this beats me. If they suspected me of anti-national activities, as they have told sections of the media, then why not put those charges? That’s why it’s clear that the seven-day late FIR was a ploy to cover up the detention.
Lawyers have told my brother Alam if police arrests anyone under these sections, bail is usually granted quickly within a day. In my case, it took three days for my brother to get me out.
Video | Akram Feroze delivers a speech at a TEDx event
Police says verification from your hometown came in late.
I don’t agree. I have checked and the verification documents, clearing all their doubts, had come in by August 18.
Do you think you might have been "suspected" because you’re a Muslim with a beard?
It might be, I’m not sure. In Jaisalmer prison, where I was shifted on August 20, everyone looked at me in suspicion and some of my fellow inmates asked me to shave off my beard.
What made you start the Theatre at Borders project?
I feel a world without borders is a better place to live in. I'm not the only one who’s saying this. Several thinkers and political theorists have talked about it.
What do you do primarily do in this project?
I talk to people who reside in villages near borders and enact small plays for them to convey the idea of a borderless world in a subtle way. You just can’t shove the idea of a world without boundaries down people’s throats.
After this episode, what was the first thing that came to your mind?
I remembered what Jean-Jacques Rousseau had said: "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains."