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Victims of Terror

By Jyoti Punwani



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With Malegaon also being attributed to Muslims, the alienation is complete. Initial fears of a communal backlash to the July 11 bomb blasts in Mumbai quickly disappeared as the media flashed images of Muslims helping out feverishly at blast sites and hospitals. If indeed Muslim extremists had carried out the blasts, it was obvious they were completely out of touch with their community in Mumbai.

But within four months, the police have succeeded in effecting a turnaround among Mumbai’s Muslims that any jehadi would envy. Perhaps this was what the bombers wanted. For a change, initially, even the Urdu press was out of sync with its readers. It condemned the blasts, but blamed the CIA, Mossad, and the RSS for them, unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility that Muslims could have been responsible. Outraged by this mentality, two Muslim groups, one religious, the other secular, decided to carry out antiterrorism campaigns within their community to isolate those supporting it. Today, these crusaders are not sure they can succeed. The Urdu press’s stock has never been as high as it is now, and the English press’s credibility as low for being a mouthpiece of the police.

"After the Malegaon arrests, astute Muslims are wondering whether the Indian government is trying the US tactic of pitting Muslim sects against one another. "

The police’s handling of the blasts has sent someone else’s stock soaring. His community had voted him out two years back. Today, even those who detest his methods acknowledge that state Samajwadi chief Abu Asim Azmi is the only politician to have taken up, at the highest level, the way Muslims are being exclusively targeted by the police. It’s no secret that the PMO’s intervention has had some impact on harassment faced by Muslim families.

Dismissing allegations of harassment, the ATS chief cites the Al-Qaida manual which directs its operatives to accuse the police of torture as soon as they are arrested. Does one need to visit Al-Qaida’s website to make allegations against Mumbai police? What these families have allegedly undergone is not half as savage as what was done to many Muslim families after the March 12, 1993 blasts. The targets then were random (anyone surnamed Memon, for instance). Now, they are uniform: SIMI and Ahle-Hadees followers.

After the Malegaon arrests, astute Muslims are wondering whether the Indian government is trying the US tactic of pitting Muslim sects against one another.

The Ahle-Hadees obey the Qur’an strictly; their women wear the much maligned naqab. Tearing it off, throwing it on the faces of male relatives who are the accused, trampling it under foot, and threatening that this would happen to all the women in the family — what could be the consequences of such action by the police on the victims and the community?

"It condemned the blasts, but blamed the CIA, Mossad, and the RSS for them, unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility that Muslims could have been responsible."

A substantial number of SIMI and Ahle-Hadees followers are educated. At least five of those arrested, and many of those “picked up’’ (for questioning, often for days, with no record of their detention), are professionals. First-timers at police stations, they initially felt incredulous and indignant, and finally helpless and bitter at the way they, their parents and their religion have been humiliated, for no ‘crime’ other than being related to a SIMI member, or being active members of a mainstream Muslim sect.

They have not been allowed to inform their families of their detention, and, in exchange for their release, have had to point out a friend’s home to the police for ‘questioning’.

All this has been done with ‘suspects’, or families of the accused. Treatment meted out to the accused has been vintage Mumbai police. One of them was reported by the press as having being “propped up’’ when brought to court. Yet the court dismissed his mother’s application alleging torture, because he refused to say anything against the police.

Have such tactics been used to investigate another blast in April, where two Bajrang Dal boys died while making bombs inside an RSS activist’s house in Nanded? How widespread were the links of that conspiracy, given that fake beards and moustaches were found at the site? The ATS has been uncharacteristically discreet here.

If having once been a member of SIMI makes you a terror suspect, what does that make members of the Bajrang Dal, which openly instigates violence against minority Indians? What is certainly suspect is the July 11 investigation.



The writer is a political commentator

courtesy The Times of India


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