What Does it Mean to be a Muslim in India Today?

What does it mean to be a Muslim in India today, asks Mahtab Alam

Recently, Shanina K K, a journalist from Kerala, who worked with Tehelka news weekly and now works with Open magazine, received the Chameli Devi Award for being an outstanding woman journalist. While receiving the award she said, “See, I happen to be a Muslim, but I am not a terrorist.” What made her say that and what was she trying to convey or explain? It means, as she explains, “If you belong to the minority community, they will also profile you. It is very difficult to prove that you are not a terrorist. It is equally difficult to prove that you are not a Maoist in our life and times.”

Shahina has personal experience of it, so she must know. As most of us are aware, she has been falsely framed in under sections 506 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code, for ‘intimidating’ witnesses in the Abdul Nasir Madani case. Her only ‘crime’ was that she investigated the case of Kerala PDP leader Abdul Nasir Madani, who is an accused in the infamous Bangalore blasts case, and asked the question, “Why is this man still in Prison?” Madani had already spent 10 years in prison as an under-trail in the Coimbatore blast case of 1997 and who was later acquitted in 2007.

(Photo Courtesy: anhadin.net)

In fact, this writer has also had a similar personal experience, but thankfully, to a lesser degree of threat to his life during a fact finding visit of Giridih Jail in the state of Jharkhand, in July 2008. I was branded a Maoist along with two other friends, and illegally detained for five hours by Giridih Superintendent of Police, Murari Lal Meena who is now being promoted to the rank of DIG, Special Branch of the Jharkhand Police. He had also threatened to put us behind bars in the same prison without any hope of being bailed out for at least a year.

But this is not the story of some Shaina and Mahtab alone. This is a story, very typical of what happens to hundreds of Muslim youngsters who are arrested and tortured by the police with no evidence or on false charges. The testimonies published in two reports that have been released recently by ANHAD and Human Rights Watch show what it means to be a Muslim in India today. They are nothing short of spine chilling.

Nisar Ahmed, whose son Saqib Nisar is an accused in the 2008 bomb blast cases and who was arrested by the Delhi Police after the infamous “encounter” at Batla House says in HRW’s report, “When I asked my son if he was tortured, he said, ‘They are hardly going to treat me with love. They want to build the case… They used to make us memorize a story of the police version of the case. We were not allowed to sleep until we could recite the police version.”

Another testimony reads, “In August 2010, Mohammed Salman, a 17-year-old held in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in connection with bomb blasts in the capital, appeared in court with his head bandaged. Salman told the judge that two inmates had repeatedly slashed his face with a razor blade earlier that month. He said that the jail authorities “did nothing” to prevent the incident – international law prohibits the incarceration of children under 18 with adults – although he had twice requested transfer because he feared for his safety and when no action was taken against the attackers. He also accused guards of laughing and saying: “He is a terrorist and this is what should happen to him, anyway.”

I also remember Ataur Rahman of Mumbai, in his mid-sixties, whom I met during the people’s tribunal on the ‘Atrocities Committed against Minorities in the Name of Fighting Terrorism’ at Hyderabad in August 2008. At the tribunal he had told us, “My house was raided on July 20, 2006, by the anti-terrorism squad at around 9.30pm… they frisked our house and took three computers unlawfully and whisked me away to an unknown destination. For several days I was kept in illegal custody. I was then formally shown to be arrested on July 27, 2006, and an FIR was lodged against me… Me, my wife, my daughter and daughter-in-law were paraded before my arrested sons. We were abused and foulmouthed at by the police officers continuously. For all these days I was beaten up before my sons, similarly my sons were beaten up in front of me. The women of the family who were called up by the ATS daily were asked to drop their burqah before my arrested sons, and the sons were humiliated in front of the women folk by hurling abuses at them… The third day: I was again taken before my sons, who were handcuffed in the adjoining room. Here one officer… whom I can identify, beat me up and threatened me that the women in my family are outside and they will be stripped naked if I do not remove my clothes before my children and other police officers. Some other arrested accused were also brought there and I was stripped naked…”

There are hundreds of stories like this. Not only that, even if you are a non-Muslim and believe that Muslims have right not to be tortured, illegally detained and unnecessarily harassed, then you are doing a crime! Take the case of Vinod Yadav, a human rights’ activist and friend of mine from Azamgarh. Vinod was very active after the ‘encounter’ at Batla House and declaration of Azamgarh as ‘Nursery of Terror’ by both security agencies and media houses. In October 2008, when a joint fact finding team of PUDR, APCR, Janhastakshep and NCHRO visited Azamgarh and to which I was part of, he played a major role in to carry out the fact finding. But that cost him a lot. Within a week of our visit, he was arrested on a flimsy charge of cheating along with another activist Sarfaraz Alam at Lucknow station as they arrived from Azamgarh. They were taken by the state police to a secret detention centre in Lucknow and severely beaten for two days for participating in rallies against abuse of Muslim suspects in the bombings. Vinod was repeatedly told… ‘you are a Hindu and you are questioning the statements we make about Muslim boys and that is not good… You should not be seen with these Muslim people again, and if you don’t understand this, the future will be bleak for you’.

To be a Muslim in India today is to be encounter-able, to be constantly suspected of being a terrorist, to be illegally detainable and severely tortured, to have the possibility of being killed without being questioned, no matter if one is a believer, agnostic or an atheist. Carrying a Muslim name deserves and qualifies for the above treatment!


The article first appeared on Kafila.org. Mahtab Alam is a civil rights activist and independent journalist. He can be reached at activist.journalist@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.

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