//Targeting Muslims

Targeting Muslims

Tanweer Fazal, © The Times of India

Prisoners of faith? When a blast claims innocent lives, we, with a fair degree of conviction, point to Islamic militants of whatever ilk, Kashmiri jehadis or desperate groups out to avenge Gujarat. No sooner does an incident takes its toll, the story is laid out threadbare – the organisation and its module that carried out the operation, its link with Pakistan, antecedents of the terrorists involved, their training camp in Jalalabad.

Incriminating documents, AK-47s, suspects and their confessional statements are out in double-quick time. We can hardly restrain our pride at the ability of our sleuths to track down the culprits – SIMI, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, teachers and students of madrassas. The plot and the protagonists remain the same; it is only their ability to constantly discover one vulnerable site after the other that grants a novelty to the terrorist strikes.

 But if so much was known, why couldn’t the strike have been averted? We are outraged over racial profiling of Asians (had it been only Arabs?) in US and in Europe. But religious profiling is what Muslim youth in India, especially those in the ghettos, live with every single day. SIMI was an instant suspect in all eyes following the Mumbai train blasts. The anti-terrorism squad of the Mumbai police, therefore, relinquished all other lines of investigation. Irrespective of their involvement in the blasts, a witch-hunt for all ex-activists of this radical Muslim students organisation was launched.

An overzealous superintendent of police in Tripura found the beard and the cap of the Tablighis too offensive – 11 members of the Tablighi Jamaat from Mumbai were detained in Tripura for a week on mere suspicion. Only in April this year, two Bajrang Dal activists died while making a bomb in Nanded, leaving a trail of evidence – detonators, timers, remote control devices, costumes associated with Muslims, maps of the mosques nearby. And indeed, mosques were bombed, in Parbhani, Purna and in Jalna. But for the Maharashtra police, this was not worth investigating. It is not security agencies alone that stand to be blamed.

Mohammad Akram, a madrassa teacher in Gaya, was arrested for his involvement in Mumbai blasts. While his arrest hit national headlines, his subsequent release, having been cleared of all charges, failed to enthuse the media. Perhaps some lessons could be drawn from the Ghatkopar bomb blast case. The Mumbai police had charge sheeted around 20 Muslims based on their links with SIMI and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the police drew confessions, produced documentary evidence, and even witnesses, but failed to impress the court.

The special POTA court acquitted all of them – but it was too late for Khwaja Yunus, who was killed in custody. The script, however, seems to have changed with Malegeon The Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) is in no hurry to name the culprits; neither have India’s elite intelligence agencies pointed the needle of suspicion towards any outfit, Hindu or Muslim. The foreign office, as of now, has not given any briefings on Pakistan and its involvement. There is little frenzied speculation in the media about the identity of the perpetrators. Also absent are those Muslims, who with placards in their hands ‘Down with Pakistan’, would come out to display their loyalty lest anyone doubts it.

This time, they are taking to the streets, in Malegaon, in Akola and in other parts, to ask certain fundamental questions. Why is the police so reticent in naming the suspects or the organisation to which they belong? Why has Malegaon remained so neglected? Malegaon has a history of communal riots, so newspapers inform us. But the last big flare-up in 2001 was less a communal clash and more an instance of state terrorism unleashed on its Muslim residents.

Some local youth were distributing pamphlets after the Friday prayers. The pamphlet ‘Be Indian, Buy Indian’ made a fervent appeal to boycott US goods in protest against the American war on Afghanistan. But the state reserve police posted there tried to stop distribution of the pamphlets. Indiscriminate police firing left three dead. If this is not religious profiling at work, what is? Why must every political move of Muslims be met with suspicion and dread? Amidst these unanswered questions, there are other pertinent issues. Malegaon mirrors any other urban locality with a predominantly Muslim population.

It is marred by infrastructural decay – narrow lanes, open drains, inadequate sewage disposal, frequent power cuts, madrassas making up for the lack of schools, and no public hospital. There are many other similar towns – Bhiwandi in Maharashtra and Murshidabad in West Bengal that reported starvation deaths, Bahraich in UP with the country’s lowest human development index, impoverished Mewat abutting the millennium city of Gurgaon, Bihar’s Kishanganj with the lowest literacy rate, and Muslim-dominated old-city areas in major metros. That Malegaon is a town populated by weavers has not helped. Call it the darker side of globalisation or sheer governmental apathy, weavers across the country are seeing the dwindling of their businesses.

Most of them happen to be Muslims, Ansaris or Julahas, as they are called. Dearth of government orders, shortage of yarn, inadequate marketing and credit facilities, erratic power supply and stranglehold of Marwaris and banias have contributed to their impoverishment. It is this everyday brutality of deliberate state neglect and unrelenting suspicion that violates their dignity and being — more than three mysterious bombs ripping through the streets of a sad, desolate and decaying town.