By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ Alarmed by the alacrity with which Muslims have been arrested in the recent past on mere suspicion of planning major terrorist operations, a delegation of several Muslim leaders called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week (April 15). The delegation included leaders of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) and the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM).
Prime Minister Singh proposed a joint panel consisting of Muslim leaders and top intelligence and security officials to stop harassment of young Muslims in the name of â€œfight against terrorism.â€
Led by Maulana Qari Mohammad Usman, President JUH, the delegation presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister about the hardships being faced by Muslims in India. â€œThe community continues to face the onslaught not only by the communal forces but the perverted bureaucracy and hesitation of various government agencies to take bold steps,â€ the memorandum said.
Taking objection to â€œcommunity profilingâ€ by security agencies and the media, the memorandum said: â€œInnocent Muslims are being picked up across the country on flimsy grounds and even initial investigations are being leaked to the press in a way that brings entire community to shame.â€
Expressing that the Home Ministry must stop â€œwitch hunting,â€ the delegation said that initial investigation must not be published in a manner, which would tarnish the image of entire community. There was the need to work out a mechanism for confidence building with the community.
During their meeting, the delegation also drew Prime Ministerâ€™s attention to non-implementation of Srikrishna Commission report on 1993 Mumbai riots. Besides, they asked for an alternative banking system for the community and its classification as socially the most backward group in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) list.
Though the Prime Minister heard the delegationâ€™s grievances and expressed sympathy, the delegation members did not seem too impressed by his suggestion of forming a joint panel. Even if the idea is implemented with the formation of such a panel, Zafar-ul-Islam Khan (AIMMM) voiced skepticism about it being effective. Given that next general elections are due in about a yearâ€™s time, prospects of constructive moves being taken in this direction appear to be limited.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Indian Muslim leaders are making constructive moves to have their voices heard. There is no denying that arrests of several young and bright Muslims in the recent past followed by arrests of members of banned group â€“ Students of Islamic Organization (SIMI)- has received substantial media coverage but practically no analysis.
It may be pointed out, there is a difference in arrests taking place after a terrorist operation has taken place with their being substantial evidence against the arrested people and the arrests taking place merely on ground of suspicion. The arrest of young Muslim techies has taken place simply on ground of their being suspected to be planning major terrorist operations. It has not yet been fully revealed by concerned authorities as to what was the nature of terrorist activities, the arrested people were suspected to be planning. This only raises questions on credentials of the claims being made about the arrested people being terrorists without their having yet committed any such crime. Even if they were caught at a site after a terrorist operation or later with substantial evidence against them, technically each individual is supposed to be regarded as innocent till proven guilty judicially. Once they are proven guilty, under no circumstances can they be held to be representative of the entire religious community they belong to. The tragedy is, without the arrested Muslims yet having been proved guilty of being terrorists, they have been labeled as such.
With the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in about a yearâ€™s time, there is the nagging concern that this drive targeting Muslims may be a part of the campaign to create communal division within the country and play upon exploiting religious sentiments to gain votes.
The AIMMM, also known as umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations, held a meeting before calling on the Prime Minister and, among other national and international issues, took note of young Muslims being arrested in the name of SIMI. It passed a resolution stating: â€œThe Muslim community is unaware of any particular activity by this banned outfit and firmly believes that the sudden flurry of arrests, raids and investigations involving former SIMI cadres and Muslim youths, in general, has political connotations as local and national elections draw close. Communal and fascist forces are trying to polarize the society using these high-profile arrests trying to repeat â€˜Gujaratâ€™ in one way or another.â€
Describing the attempt being made to â€œimplicateâ€ educated Muslim youths in â€œfictitious terrorism cases,â€ the resolution noted with â€œwith deep concern the attitude of the mainstream mediaâ€ in presenting these reports with â€œalmost no scrutinyâ€ even though it is the duty of the press to do so.
The resolution laid stress that civil society and human rights groups should form â€œfact-finding committees to probe into the recent spate of arrests and claims in order to unearth the facts.â€