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When your name becomes your worst enemy

Nadim Asrar NadimAsrar

Updated: October 10, 2012, 4:55 PM IST
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A research officer from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences was recently harassed in Hyderabad while he worked on a report on terror cases across India. Here is an account on the website TwoCircles.net, which is gradually turning into a huge resource for information related to the Indian Muslims. Its reporter Mohd Ismail Khan, who accompanied the TISS researcher Sharib Ali, narrates how he and Ali were picked up by the Hyderabad police after they met a lawyer who was also the president of the Andhra Pradesh Hindu Vahini. The lawyer and the police repeatedly ascribed to their identity - their names - as their legitimate grounds to be suspicious of them and their work.

This is what Sharib had to say on the incident, "This reveals the deepening distrust between communities in the city. As a researcher from a reputed institute, I had gone to meet Mr Reddy in his capacity as a lawyer and I wasn't even aware that he was the President of Hindu Vahini. I had gone there after having discussed the project over the phone and after being invited by the lawyer himself, only to be humiliated later. I have been meeting so many lawyers, but this has never happened before. I was made to feel massively suspect. I am yet to understand why. The only reason that I can think of is that because I am a Muslim. It's quite sad."

Another article on the site tells you that an Indian doctor has been picked up by the Saudi Arab police for alleged terror links. The Saudi police on Monday reportedly arrested Usman Ghani, a doctor working for the National Guard Hospital in Riyadh. On May 13 this year, Fasih Mahmood, an engineer from Darbhanga in Bihar, was picked from his home in al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia in the presence of his wife Nikhat Perween. The Indian government and police agencies initially feigned ignorance about Fasih or his arrest. They admitted to his detention only after a habeas corpus petition was filed by Nikhat in the Supreme Court. Fasih is still in the Saudi custody.

TwoCircles.net is a far cry from any mainstream news portal in India. Since it is run by a few non-resident Muslims, the website can easily be branded as sectarian and even biased - with a heavy-accented sense of victimisation - by the Indian 'mainstream'. However, it does not take away the fact that countless number of Muslims in India continue to face the threat of being branded as suspects in the witch-hunt against terror, thereby perhaps also reinforcing the idea of state terror. It's a war beyond the simple law-outlaw binary. The binary has now acquired modern-vs-anti-modern dimensions, with the majority of Muslims often perceived to be resistant to benign ideas like democracy, secularism and statehood.

The truth is far more complicated than that. That violence and religion together make a potent mix which can influence and even capture state powers is a fact established through history. That every organised religion in the world today has a violent strand is a claim that cannot be easily refuted. So does Islam. But just as the violence valorised by a few Hindutva groups cannot be called a generic Hindu strand, or by the few Zionists in Israel as an essential Jewish strand, similarly the ideology of violence and terror propagated by certain Islamist groups cannot be branded as Islamic. In fact, many violent movements within the Muslim world have hardly anything to do with the spread of Islam, and actually have far more modest aspirations.

Reports like the ones on TwoCircles.net also point towards a deeper crisis. As such arrests and detentions happen across the country, the Indian mainstream media remains remarkably oblivious and indifferent to such accounts. Their silence, erasure and their unquestioned coverage of the state versions make them complicit in the miscarriage of justice being carried out by police and intelligence agencies across India. The legal cornerstone - 'innocent until proven guilty' - is turned on its head. Constitutional guarantees like the habeas corpus and right to fair trial are often denied in such cases, thus pushing those arrested into an abyss where they are tortured, humiliated and often forced to 'admit' their involvement in terror activities.

After the famous Batla House encounter, some teachers of the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi came together to form the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group (JTSA). The group defines itself as being "committed to the upholding of democratic and human rights, to the safeguard of justice, condemns terrorism of all kinds, including State terror." Recently, JTSA came out with its study titled 'Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a Very Special Cell', which documents 16 cases in which those accused of being operatives of various terrorist organizations (al-Badr, HuJI, Lashkar) and arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police were acquitted by the courts. The report is a 200-page document relying solely on the court judgements to bring out the pattern in which the Special Cell operates. Except for a few references in some publications, the report was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

While few can deny the right of the state to defend itself against any threat - real or perceived, no amount of threat can justify a blanket witch-hunt of its own citizens. That the witch-hunt is carried out in the name of the classic Bushism - 'us' versus 'them' - makes it even more sinister. Sixty-five years is a long time for a nation to shed its historical baggage. It is also a long time for constitutional principles like equality, justice and fundamental rights to assume solid foundations. Miscarriage of justice is something that a nation pregnant with superpower-like aspirations can ill afford to exercise.
First Published: October 10, 2012, 4:55 PM IST

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