Photographs: Sahil Salve Vicky Nanjappa
Following the bail of the accused in the 2006 blasts case, Malegaon has become a political hub. There was much debate following the release, and now the general feeling among the people is not only full justice to the innocents, but a stringent conviction to the real culprits involved in the attack.
But the problems of this small city in the Nashik district of Maharashtra do not end here. People here, are more worried about how to overcome the 'notorious' tag.
Aleem Faizee, executive editor, ummid.com and also the chairman of the Noble Education & Society has been following the case closely. In this interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, he points out that there is a mindset that it is a badnaam town, and the sooner this changes, the better it is for its people.
How is the scenario post the release of the youth in Malegaon?
Yes there is a sense of relief. However, there is also a lot of politics. But this was something expected, as each one would want to walk away with the credit.
There has been a relay hunger strike in your town for the past 200 days, demanding the release of these boys.
The hunger strike was on for 202 days. This came to an end with the release of the youths. In fact, the strike ended after the released youths reached Malegaon and offered the protestors juice.
Do you believe that there was absolutely no truth in the investigation relating to Malegaon 2006?
Yes, and very much so. The incidents during the course of the investigation were strange. A person by the name Zahid Ansari who was 620 kilometres away from Malegaon at the time of the incident was arrested for planting the bomb. This says a lot about the investigation.
'Hindus and Muslims need each other in this town'
Was there any particular reason to target Malegaon and its people?
I noticed this in the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid case. If you notice, all the victims were Muslims there as well. The accused too were Muslims and there was police firing after the incident when people were trying to save their near and dear ones.
This has been a deliberate ploy to weaken the Muslim community. The general feeling is that when they find the Muslim population is dominant in a particular area, they try and weaken it.
Earlier, it was through the politics of communal riots and today it is through bomb blasts. These incidents and conflicts were deliberately staged to keep the Muslims divided, and also to weaken them in areas where they have some economic stability.
Have you got the desired support from Muslim politicians at least in fighting this cause?
Politicians always have an agenda. Today we see a flurry of politicians speaking for the accused in the case. Trust me, most of them were not anywhere nearby when the fight was justice was being fought.
A false case always results in retaliation. Do you believe this would be the case in Malegaon as well?
No, that will not happen. At least not here. Malegaon's history shows that the people have always lived in peaceful co-existence. In Malegaon, the main source of income is the textile industry.
Both Hindus and Muslims need each other to further this trade. There is no time to get involved in rioting, terrorism or retaliation. It is a simple matter of bread and butter. People say that it is a communally sensitive place. But then again, that is just a claim by the police.
Do you find Malegaon to be united today?
Yes very much. The Hindus supported us when false cases were being filed against the Muslims. I strongly deny that there is any sort of communal divide in Malegaon.
'The battle for an acquittal is still on'
Photographs: Krishnendu Halder/Reuters
In Hyderabad, the allegation is that the police are raking up communal sentiments. Is that the case in Malegaon as well?
Earlier there were such instances. It is relatively better today.
How do you come to that conclusion?
Two months ago, there was an incident where dead cows were left off on the highway. A few right wing groups were quick to react and started connecting this incident as international terrorism, and even said this was a deliberate attempt to insult Hindus.
However, the police handled the situation very well. They arrested some butchers. It turned out that these people had overloaded the trucks carrying livestock, which resulted in the deaths of some cows. So they just left the corpses on the highway.
Do you think it is the right wing groups that are whipping up a communal sentiment in Malegaon?
They are not just limited to Malegaon. They will try and disrupt peace wherever they can, and unfortunately they have their sympathisers in the system as well.
How have the families of the youth coped up with the arrests after the blasts?
The fact remains that no one can return those five years these boys spent in custody. The battle for an acquittal is still on. The families are coming to terms with the trauma.
Is the fight more for compensation or the conviction of the real accused?
It is for both.
'We need to change the mindset of the people'
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
Why does Malegaon still remain so backward or is termed as the badnaam town of India?
There is a mindset which refuses to change. Everyone believes this town is communally sensitive. We have been in a fight to have a centre of the Aligarh Muslim University in Malegaon. In fact, I even got a positive response from some Hindu leaders for the same.
But then again, there are some from our community who have said that it would not be right to have such a centre here. I am pained to say that the mindset is not changing at all.
Thanks to this attitude, Malegaon remains a badnaam town. But this is just the general picture. When government officials are transferred here, they are reluctant to come here. But once here, they are reluctant to go out of here. This is because of the warmth and love they get from the people here.
Do you feel that there are some Muslim elements who are trying to take advantage of the situation and will try and coax the youth to take up arms?
Malegaon does not support criminal activities. There is no time for all that. The economic structure is such that the people have no time for religion or fanaticism. I have heard of small groups trying to take advantage of the situation.
But there is no proof for that. Moreover, it's a small town where everyone knows everyone, and hence, we are a united group of people. If at all there is an infiltrator, he will not get away unnoticed. I would not deny that no such attempts have been made, but I can say confidently they have not been successful.