In Kalyan a Muslim youth Bilal Shaikh was slaped with a non boilable cognizable offense (May 2012) under section 333, after he jumped the traffic signal. He was assaulted brutally by the police for having arguments with them, suffered a fracture in right arm and was in jail for eight days. The policemen who beat him up got released with the non cognizable warrant.
Another Muslim youth Mohammad Amir Khan, age 18, preparing for his school exam, was abducted by police, charged with being the mastermind of serial blasts in Delhi, was charged under all the possible sections, tortured in jail for 14 years and finally released in 2012 when no evidence was proved in the courts.
In the series of blasts, for which now Aseemanand-Pragyasingh Thakur and company is now cooling the heels in jails, many a Muslim youth were arrested after every blast in Malegaon, Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad), Ajmer and Samjhauta express. In all the cases the Muslim youth had to be released as police had no credible evidence of any sort. In the meanwhile many of them had to drop out from their studies and their careers were ruined.
In the recently released (June 2012) report by Tata Institute of social sciences, the observation is that 36% of the jail inmates in Maharashtra are Muslims while the population of Muslims in state is close to 10.6%. The report was sponsored by the Maharashtra States’ Minorities Panel. The findings of the report are in conformity with the Sachar Committee report and general observation of Human rights activists.
Most of the arrests of Muslim youth are prompted by the prevalent stereotype of ‘Muslims are criminals, terrorists’. These stereotypes are highly prevalent not only in society but also amongst the bureaucracy, particularly the police and amongst intelligence agencies. Many in the police force are totally in the grip of communal thinking and with their infinite power they unleash themselves against the Muslim youth at every conceivable opportunity. The rise of communalization of society and more particularly after the coming up of the terrorism of Al Qaeda variety, the stereotypes about Muslims have worsened. One recalls that this type of terrorism was subtly brought up by United States for pursuing its goal of controlling the oil wealth. The attitude of authorities has become more anti minority and this in turn has undermined their professionalism and they are guided more by their biases than by the rules of law.
There are multiple reasons for the Muslim youth being targeted by the state authorities. True, that some Muslim youth have fallen prey to the illegal activities due to the abject poverty which they have to suffer. Still the major reason for their being indiscriminately arrested by the police relates to the misconception regarding acts of terrorism and communal violence.
In communal violence, the major culprit instigating the violence is majoritiarian communal forces. The study of different inquiry committee reports by Teesta Setalvad (Communalism Combat, March 1998) shows that in most of the cases of violence it is the RSS related organization, already prevalent or floated specially for the occasion, which is in the lead. Even in Mumbai violence, Shrikrishna Commission held Shiv Sena as the major factor leading the violence. As such Muslims are 13.4% of the Indian population according to 2001 census, but amongst the violence victims 90% are Muslims. Police and many a times political leadership takes the attitude which increases the insecurity of the community.
The worst part of this phenomenon is that in popular perception it is alleged that it is Muslims, who start the riots. Dr. V.N. Rai, who has done a major study on the communal violence points out that generally a situation, is created where the minority community is forced to throw the first stone on many occasions. To worsen the matter, after the violence the majority of those who are arrested for communal violence are Muslims again.
The recent acts of terror and attitude of police are very reflective of the whole process. In most of these acts of terror, Malegaon, Ajmer, Jaipur and Samjhauta express blast, many a Muslim youth were arrested as the ones’ who have done the act. Police machinery produced evidence of their involvement with some Pakistan based terror group; SIMI was always blamed for many of these acts. Even at that time there were enough pointers that police investigations and action defies common sense. Police had the standard formula for arresting Muslim youth after every blast. They made it a practice to implicate the Muslim youth and put on their head the charge of blast and their link with Lashkar-E-Tayyaba, Indian Mujahideen, SIMI or some such group. Social activists kept pointing to the authorities about the leads showing in another direction from where the acts of terror were emerging. Police totally biased with prejudiced mind set kept on repeating the same pattern over and over again.
Once Hemant Karkar’s immaculate investigation showed the link of Malegaon blast to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s motor cycle and her links with many Hindutva groups the matters came to a halt. Sadhvi’s links with Swami Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, retired Major Upadhaya, Swami Aseemanand and many others of Hindutva ideology revealed that police till then was totally acting in a wrong manner. In this light Human Rights organization ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy), organized a tribunal in Hyderabad, ‘Scapegoats and Holy Cows’. The report of this tribunal was very damning of the actions of the investigation authorities and the state. Logically with the arrest of Saffron terror gangs the acts of terror seem to have come to a halt.
Despite this, the attitude of police remains as biased as before and in the day to day life they display this partisan behavior. This biased attitude of state machinery, police and intelligence authorities in the main, has been ruining the life and careers of many a Muslim youth. The feeling of insecurity amongst the community as a whole is on the rise. This feeling of insecurity is crippling the possible growth of the community. Those implicated in such acts are also boycotted by the community and have faced immense personal, social and economic losses. It is time that the Human rights groups intensify their campaign to protect the innocent Muslim youth, the legal measures need to be strengthened whereby the police cannot exercise its biased attitude in arresting any Muslim youth. Measures are needed to ensure that police-intelligence agencies takes up more professional attitude overall and more particularly in the matters related to minority youth. The Government needs to wake up and apply the correcting measurs.
Apart from preventive legal steps we also need to work against the prevalent social biases against Muslims in particular. The myths against the community, which are historical and contemporary issues, which are related to the causes of acts of terrorism need to be countered by spread of truth about these myths. It is the duty of state and social organizations to undertake and promote such awareness programs through lectures, workshops, popular booklets and through mechanisms like T.V. and media in particular.
(Ram Puniyani was a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai and works keenly on social issues. He is the author of three books including Communal Politics: An illustrated primer.)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.