“Cancer, Parkinson, diabetes, memory loss…,” Amal Thahseen tries to name chronic illnesses of his father Erappungal Abubacker, the founding chairman of Popular Front of India — a Muslim socio-political group banned by the Indian government last month.
The 70-year-old Muslim leader is currently in Delhi’s Tihar jail for a case investigated by the National Investigation Agency under provisions of India’s terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Investigation Agency Act.
In his three decades of political leadership, it is the first time he has been booked and arrested in a case, Thahseen told Maktoob.
“He has grown pale and lost weight. He will not make it in jail for long,” the 33-year-old son lamented.
Last week, a trial court directed NIA to file a report on a bail plea moved by Abubacker on medical grounds. His family shared the medical records with Maktoob that suggests Abubacker is suffering from several illnesses.
On 22 September, Abubacker was one of the first PFI leaders to be arrested by the NIA in their first nationwide crackdown against the group. Nearly 100 PFI activists were either arrested or detained on that day across 10 states in what the investigation agency stated: “largest-ever investigation process till date”.
His residence in Koduvally, a town in Kerala’s Kozhikode district, was raided at around 3 am by NIA officers from Kochi and Delhi with the help of local police and paramilitary forces. At 5:05 am Abubacker was arrested and later taken to Delhi.
In the following week, on 28 September, India banned PFI and its associates including Campus Front of India, Rehab India Foundation, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.
Abubacker has been either the founding chairman or patron for all of these outfits. The organisations are declared “unlawful associations” for a period of five years.
For most of the days during police custody and now in judicial custody, Abubacker remains in medical facilities due to deteriorating conditions.
Thahseen refutes terror funding claims against his father and maintains that he was committed to developing the backward classes of Indian society.
“Can’t even button his shirt”
After surgery for cancer in 2020, Abubacker has been housebound under the “extreme” care of family members. He had two special recliners in his study, built as an extension of his home— Shamiana to maintain the specific position.
“80% of his stomach was removed during the open surgery. After that, he can only lay down at a 35-degree angle,” Abubacker’s daughter, Shabeena told Maktoob. She has been distressed since she got to know he now sleeps on the floor.
Abubacker also has a strict dietary plan which got disrupted since the arrest.
A medical certificate by Dileep Damodaran, senior consultant and Head of surgical oncology at MVR Cancer Centre and Research Institute, said he requires “three monthly follow-ups and is due for annual investigations with CT scan — Thorax abdomen and pelvis and Upper GI Endoscopy next month (October)”.
Another medical certificate states his Parkinson’s condition and medications. Four doctors have recommended medical attention for Abubacker due to various conditions.
“When we visited him, He couldn’t remember the word “blanket”. He forgot the name of his grandchildren,” former PFI member and Abubacker’s son-in-law TT Muneeb said.
Former PFI leaders told Maktoob the arrest of Abubacker, commonly referred to as Abu Sahib, was to break the spirits of the cadres.
“We have been expecting the ban for a long time. We see it as a recognition for our unflinching stand against Sangh Parivar,” a former cadre said. But he shared the situation of his leaders is worrying him.
Abubacker’s conditions are well known among the cadres of the organisation.
The former Arabic teacher was the Founder President of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), Founder Chairman of National Development Front (NDF), Chairman, Popular Front of India (2007, 2017 & National executive council member till ban); Founder Chairman of Rehab india foundation; Secretary, All India Milli Council (2005); State President, Students Islamic Movement of India (1982); founder Member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board; Managing Editor, Thejas Daily News Paper (2006) and Editor, India Next Hindi Magazine.
Dozens of alleged PFI members are arrested every week since the ban in the last week of September under the provisions of UAPA. Before the ban, the group was active in 20 states. Several critics of India’s Hindu nationalist regime have questioned the ban.