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Why Shinde is right about sparing innocent Muslims in terror cases

October 15, 2013 13:54 IST

The Congress has kept quiet on the way the Union home ministry has handled innumerable blast cases under its rule. It has not openly condemned the bias that pervades its government and the security agencies, says Neeta Kolhatkar.

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde recently told a meeting of several chief ministers "to ensure that no innocent Muslim is detained wrongly in terror cases". The minute he made these remarks, there was outrage in the right-wing dominated media, on Twitter and other social media.

But if we see the trends, time and again after any bomb blast anywhere in India, the first needle of suspicion has pointed towards various Muslim organisations. Initially it was the Students Islamic Movement of India, which was then banned as it was accused of being a 'secessionist movement'. Its offshoot, for whose creation many critics blame the Intelligence Bureau, is the Indian Mujahideen, which is now named in various bomb blast cases.

The fact is that while the Congress has always appeased Muslims, it has kept quiet on the way the Union home ministry has handled innumerable blast cases under its rule. It has not openly condemned the bias that pervades its government and security agencies. Often the security agencies, at the central and state levels, have worked at cross purposes, with one contradicting the other in many cases, leaving a mess of dirty politicisation of the security issue and many innocent Muslims behind bars. Many still languish in jail and their families have been left to fight for justice.

I remember in 1993, after the serial bomb blasts in the then Bombay, a senior advocate friend Niteen Pradhan had called me over to his office. (Initially he was fighting the cases for innumerable Muslims who were charged under the draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act). I wasn’t prepared for what I was to encounter. When I went to his office, at the entrance I could get a strong whiff of biryani, mutton and kebabs. There was commotion and a jabbering of old Muslim folk. When I was called by Pradhan to his chamber, he said he felt overwhelmed seeing the hospitality of his clients, many who didn’t know the intensity of this draconian act and many who weren’t even remotely connected with the case. Yet, he would soon have to tell them how their lives were to be impacted forever and many would face jail terms.

Thereafter, when I covered many a story on the investigation of various bomb blast cases, invariably I would learn, through detailed study, that most were wrongly implicated, often deliberately. Muslim men were targeted and given extreme forms of torture to accept that they were the main accused. Some face extreme emotional and financial problems to date. In most cases, when they’d get a clean-chit or acquittal, newspapers and television channels would not go all-out with breaking news to inform readers that they were wrongly implicated and acquitted.

The sad part is, since 1992, after the pulling down of Babri Masjid, religion has become an openly divisive issue. And with every passing year, the division gets deeper instead of moving towards a more evolved cosmopolitan society. The country’s politicians play a huge role in playing on public sentiment. In fact the establishment also directly influences investigations and policies, which are often perceived as casteist and religious.

The best example is the National Investigation Agency, which finally concluded that the nine Muslim men who were arrested and jailed in 2006 in connection with the Malegaon blasts are innocent. After the men when arrested, I had visited Malegaon and spoken to their spouses, traditional Muslim women who had never stepped outside Malegaon. They launched a fast unto death to get their husbands released. This was one case which, from the beginning, pointed to the involvement of right-wing fundamentalist organisations.

Yet, the Anti-Terror Squad of Maharashtra picked up these nine men. The bomb blast had taken places outside a mosque and it was on a Friday. This simple, basic fact should’ve guided the investigating authorities, to follow a lead on right-wing organisations, who had been previously been implicated in other blast cases like Nanded, Parbhani, Vashi and Thane. It was not something new. Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil and other leaders made loud announcements of how such forms of terror should be stopped and the nine men and their families vowed to fight on.

In 2006, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar had been speaking to many state leaders and activists, apart from ATS chief Hemant Karkare. Pawar corroborated the initial findings of Karkare and finally he spoke at the NCP plenary meeting at Alibaug that the state home minister and investigating officials need to change their line of investigation.

Recently, when I spoke to him at length about this issue, Pawar confirmed this information. He told me, “Please understand Muslims have a stronger faith and are more devout than Hindus, who don’t have to practise their religion like Muslims do. Hence it is difficult for me to accept that any Muslim will ever throw an explosive near a mosque. I told RR, I strongly believe in this and may be it was time they needed to investigate the involvement of other religious groups.”

Pawar said, “Innocent Muslims were arrested unnecessarily and now they have been acquitted. Unfortunately, extremism exists in both the religions, creating hatred for one another.”

This isn’t a lone incident. In fact apart from the usual rounding-up and arrests of Muslims in every terror case, the way the jail authorities treat them in lock-ups is a shocker in itself. A recently released political prisoner recounted his experience in the Anda cell of the Arthur Road prison and he said there are five yards for different kinds of prisoners. Apart from underworld gangsters and other prisoners, a separate yard of different lock-ups are reserved for Muslims arrested in terror cases. They are kept there in isolation. The treatment meted out to them and the way the jail authorities allow these prisoners to be targeted reflects a larger conspiracy which is backed by the establishment.

The sad part is that when such cases are reported and incidents of violation of human rights are highlighted it is seen merely as planted stories and shred apart by the right-wing trolls who target the writers and lawyers who have brought it to the court’s notice. We are a society in denial that home-grown terror has no religion and that Hindu right-wing terror too has existed and their plans need to be halted.

Image: The Malegaon blasts site

Neeta Kolhatkar