Jawed Naqvi


Saturday’s  (September 13, 2008) blasts in Delhi killed 20 innocent people, terrorised the city of 14 million and threatened to deepen its social fault lines. In fact the terrorists, going by an email apparently sent by the shadowy Indian Mujahideen, are now planning to wreak more havoc in Mumbai.


They have already taken a toll in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur and other urban centres. The federal government is planning to respond by setting up a pan-India anti-terror agency, instead of the state-level units that currently exist, to combat the scourge. Such an agency would be probably modelled on the US Department of Homeland Security.


There is a flaw in this. The United States is a wrong example for India to emulate for several reasons. First, even without the exacerbation it would bring, India is well on its way to becoming a fractured society in which its 150 million Muslims and a smaller Christian community have all but turned into a convenient counterpoint for rightwing Hindu forces to consolidate, by demonising both minority groups. Even as a very scattered number from among the Muslims (so far) may indulge in acts of terror, the wider community is subjected to abuse and mistrust. This anguish came to the fore dramatically recently after the popular movie actress Shabana Azmi claimed in a TV interview that she was denied a house in Mumbai because she was Muslim.


If Shabana was exaggerating, as some suggested to be the case, she was taking a great personal risk with all her credibility at stake. There is enough circumstantial evidence however to support her claim. The growing array of “Muslim ghettos” in Gujarat, Delhi, and Mumbai among other major prosperous centres does indicate that something sinister is afoot. A similar majoritarian consolidation in the United States has led to disastrous consequences for the world, even as it has deepened the ghettoisation of its own minorities. This despite a far more robust legal system than India can currently hope to have.


The second reason why America makes a poor example for India to follow in tackling social fault lines, the main catchments for terror, is rooted in history. India, when it embarked on a mission under Nehru and Gandhi, was any day a more mature, equitable and self-assured democracy than the racially segregated United States that existed on the other side of the globe. Its pluralism and promise to the lowest ranking Indian was what probably nudged Sheikh Abdullah to bring a secular Kashmir into the national fold rather than join a religiously-inspired Pakistan. If that promise is getting frayed (which partly explains among other reasons the near total alienation of Kashmiris), it needs soul-searching, not borrowed prescriptions. And what panacea can the United States counsel other than a military solution to all and sundry social issues? There are too many contraindications inherent in the prescription to offer any hope to India’s life and death struggle with its own reality.


A way forward would be to stop the murderous hordes that target Christians, Muslims, Dalits, tribesmen and other weaker sections across the country often with state assistance, as in Orissa and Gujarat. That would win the confidence of the minorities and enable them to isolate and neutralise extremist groups picking on soft targets in urban India, the latest being the outrage in Delhi. A lawyer and human rights worker has done excellent work in this regard. But in spite of writing detailed notes to newspapers and TV channels that were screaming there lungs out on Saturday and giving a field day to Narendra Modi and such like, Iqbal Ansari’s petitions have been largely shunned by the media. Granted that he can be tedious because he never makes a brief point in a seminar, but that is no reason to ignore Ansari’s invaluable insight. Three four days ago he had distributed yet another well-researched document to the media on ways to resolve the country’s worsening communal strife. It included excerpts from the pamphlet emailed by Indian Mujahideen just ahead of the Ahmedabad attacks which is otherwise pure poison. But why this group is determined to kill innocent people particularly when it actually helps the Hindu right while causing more problems for the larger Muslim community? The question concerns the authenticity of the email and deserves to be addressed. Ansari picked out two quotes from the email that were not lethal. On the contrary they seemed to invite open and objective scrutiny of issues raised. The language nevertheless remains shrill.


“Irrespective of genuineness of its authorship, I would like to draw  the attention of friends to the following observations made in the email signed by Guru-Al-Hindi and Al Arbi on behalf of ‘Indian Mujahideen’, after Jaipur and Ahmedabad blasts,” says Ansari, scrupulously keeping his distance from absolute belief that the email was in fact genuinely sent by Muslim fanatics.


“Think of the fraud perpetrated on us in the name of Nanavati Commission…You try to fool us in the name of fast-track courts made for ’93 riot cases, through which you wish to free the actual Hindu culprits like Madhukar Sarpotdar who was caught red-handed with illegal firearms while the innocent Muslims arrested in the bomb blast case are being tried in the courts for years and years. Is this the hellish justice you speak of? You agitated our sentiments and disturbed us by arresting, imprisoning, and torturing our brothers in the name of SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) and the other outfits in Indore, Ujjain, Mumbai and in other cities of Karnataka.”


Now, in the rush to avenge the killings that are going on, is there scope also to pause and consider if the Indian Mujahideen, or SIMI or whoever else, was making a point or two about the approach of the Indian state towards the minorities?


Ansari cites two cases dealt by a POTA judge. In 2003, he held two young Muslim men, Mohammed Yaseen Patel and Mohammed Ashraf Jaffary, guilty and sentenced them to five and seven years imprisonment for waging war against India and disturbing communal harmony. They were alleged to have been associated with the banned organisation SIMI and were apprehended by the police while they were allegedly pasting posters on the wall of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University  Library, which read: “Destroy Nationalism, Establish Khilafah.”


The police did not produce any independent witness saying that people did not want to be involved in criminal cases to avoid harassment.


Instead of questioning the police officials, the only witness in the case, the judge accepted their every word because “there is no reason why the investigation officer should have falsely implicated the accused person or the police persons should have deposed against the accused persons unless they were not actually caught indulging in the act of pasting anti-national posters on the wall”.


In another judgment delivered by the same learned judge in 1996, in a case arising out of anti-Sikh riots in Tirlokpuri, Delhi in 1984, he described the true character of the crime investigating agencies in India as “gifts of colonial era of British Empire. They are aimed to sub serve their political masters faithfully”. Ansari’s question is simple: “How come the same judge holds a diametrically opposite view now about the role of the police in this case, as independent, conscientious and dutiful servants of society dedicated to upholding rule of law? What inference, can be drawn about the role of the courts according to his lordship’s own observations?” We know even the case of Gujarat massacres how the Supreme Court felt compelled to transfer the cases out of the purview of the state’s judiciary. India needs early reconciliation between its aloof communities. That may be relatively easy. Facing the truth and being fair to all sides concerned is the trickier part. What is more outrageous after all, rioting or putting up a wall poster?


(Dawn, September 15, 2008)

Top - Home