Why is it easy to think of a Muslim as a terrorist and outrageous to mention phrases like Saffron terror?
Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde has revived the debate over ‘Saffron terrorism’ with his statement about BJP and RSS terror training camps and their involvement in Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blasts. Former home minister, P Chidambram had also spoken about the threat posed by ‘saffron terrorism’.
BJP has reacted sharply to Shinde’s remarks. Just like the phrases ‘Hindu terror’ hurts BJP and the ilk, Muslims are also hurt every time they are linked, howsoever subtly, with terrorism.
Linking religion with terrorism is nothing new in India. The worst victim of this stereotyping has been Islam. Terrorism, indeed, has no religion. Why is it then easy to think of a Muslim being a terrorist and outrageous to link members of any other religion with terrorism?
Since the Bombay blasts of 1993, police in different Indian states have been arbitrarily linking almost every terrorist activity with Muslim names, sometimes even before the preliminary investigations to divert attention from their own security lapses. Media has more or less accepted the official version without question.
Muslims treated as terror suspects is quite common. Some innocents are lucky to be acquitted while there may be many more still languishing in jails. Their only fault: bearing a Muslim name. And if a Muslim suspect happens to spot a beard also, it acts as a stamp of guilt.
Media has not done much to expose and condemn the labelling of Muslims as terrorists with some exceptions like Tehelka magazine. Infact, in some of its reports, Tehelka magazine has profiled innocent Muslims who were branded as terrorists before being finally acquitted by the court for want of conclusive evidence. It goes without saying that before their release, the victims and their families have to pass through harrowing experience.
The Special Cell of Delhi Police has been particularly notorious in framing innocent Muslim men. Formed as a counter-terrorism force, it shot into prominence by claiming to have killed many terrorists and to have solved several cases. But over the years it has also specialised in fake encounters and framing people by fabricating evidence. Since the emergence of militancy in the valley, Kashmiris have become soft targets for Delhi police. Being a Muslim and a Kashmiri has proved to be a double-edged sword for some men.
On March 6, 2010, Tehelka carried a story about two innocent Kashmiri men who were implicated in a false case. The victims were Gulzar Ahmed Ganai, a BA student, and his cousin Muhammad Amin Hajam, a Revenue Department official. Ganai went to Delhi with Hajam, who wanted to buy gold ornaments for his sister’s marriage. Instead, the cousins were paraded publicly by the Special Cell of Delhi Police as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members from whom 1.5 kg of RDX and Rs 6 lakh had been recovered. However, while cooking up the story, Delhi police made some grave mistakes in documentation of the case which convinced Patiala House Court judge about the innocence of the two cousins. Unable to come to terms with the ordeal after his release, Ganai told Tehelka, “I will never travel anywhere in India again.”
In the next issue (March 13, 2010), Tehelka profiled two more Kashmiris who were jailed in false cases- Nazir Ahmed Khan, a travel agency employee and a student, Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah. Working with as a tour operator in Daryaganj, Nazir was arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police and branded a Hizb-e-Islami terrorist trying to smuggle RDX. When the case came up for hearing, glaring loopholes came to light. The judge pointed out inconsistencies in the police’s statements. Nazir was released after a tormenting ordeal that lasted four-and-a-half years.
Shah’s story is equally agonizing if not more. A resident of Sopore town, he had gone to study at Delhi Public School in New Delhi. Shah and a Kashmiri friend of his, Gulzar Ahmed Wani, a doctorate student of Arabic from Aligarh Muslim University were picked up by police on charges of carrying out bomb blasts. He narrated how the interrogators would repeatedly refer to words ‘Kashmiris’ and ‘terrorists’ in the same breath. Shah was released after nine years.
These are some cases which came to light, but there are many more which go unreported. These cases reflect the strong minority bias in Delhi police which proves costly for many hapless Muslim youth. An innocent person, who is caught and tortured for no fault of his, is likely to develop strong antagonistic feeling against the establishment, irrespective of his religious affiliation. Far from preventing the blasts, police forces like the Delhi police’s special cell is pushing the innocent Muslims to the wall. Yet Delhi is not the only “unsafe” place. Anti-Muslim bias has also prevailed in security agencies in other states like Rajasthan.
Some rights bodies like Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have been raising the issue of targeting Muslims. Kavita Srivastava of PUCL has been particularly vocal about the plight of Muslims in Rajasthan. In the aftermath of the Jaipur blasts of 2008, she said in an interview, “Soon after the blasts innocent Muslims were arrested and interrogated by the police. The police somehow automatically assumed that Muslims were responsible for the blasts, without having any proof.”
“Some of the Muslims picked up by the police were asked if they believe in the Quran or in the Indian Constitution, this ridiculous question reflecting the entirely erroneous notion that a Muslim somehow is a traitor or a potential traitor to India. And then there is the media. They simply parrot the police version of any Muslim whom it picks up as a terrorist, and when it is found that this person is innocent and is subsequently let off, the media chooses not to say anything about it,” she said in the interview.
In hindsight, one wonders what would have been the reaction if Home Minister Shinde would have used a phrase like ‘Islamic terrorism’ instead of ‘Saffron terror’, would it be more palatable to BJP and its Parivar?