Almost every other day, newspapers are agog with stories about 'dreaded Muslim terrorists' being nabbed across the country. At the same time, savage violence unleashed by Hindutva groups continues unabated without any effective steps being taken against them. In the ongoing 'war on terror', globally as well as within India, Muslims have come to be framed collectively as 'terrorists', while terrorism engaged in by people belonging to other communities is generally condoned or ignored altogether or, at least, is not described in the same terms.
In India today, Muslim youths are being indiscriminately picked up and tortured by the police, in many cases falsely accused of being terrorists. Many of them have been languishing in jails for years now and yet no one ever seems to care.
Take the case of Muhammad Parvez Abdul Qayyum Shaikh of Gujarat. According to his aunt, Qamar Jahan, on April 2, 2003, while he was on his way to fit a water appliance, he was arrested by CBI officer Tarun Barot and others. For three days his family knew nothing of his whereabouts. On the fourth day, she says, 'We saw the news and realised that Parvez had been arrested under allegations of having a Chinese-made pistol and some gun powder. However, this powder is used for cleaning the Aqua Guard machines.'
Parvez, she says, was brutally beaten and tortured by the officers, with Officer Vanzara allegedly asking Parvez to refer to him as Khuda (God) and beating him ruthlessly. While in jail they forced him to sign on blank papers. He was reportedly taken by the CBI officers to Gandhinagar where he was further tortured for 21 days. He was then charged in the DCP-6 case, tiffin bomb blast case and in the Haren Pandya murder case (the last mentioned of which, incidentally, Pandya's own father accuses Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] as having instigated). He was sentenced to 14 years in jail for the last-mentioned case, although his aunt maintains that he is innocent.
27 year-old Sardar, a Muslim youth, works as a plumber in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. He was arrested at the age of 17, some months after the February 1998 Chennai bomb blasts. The initial accusation against Sardar was that he had been involved in a street fight. He was apparently kept illegally imprisoned for a month, and only after that was an FIR was lodged against him. This time he was accused of carrying two pipe bombs and rioting. The offence was non-bailable. He was remanded and kept in the Vellore Jail for first 15 months, even though there were no witnesses against him. The special court set up for the bomb blasts refused to let him be tried as he was a minor.
Eventually, nine and a half years later, in the final judgment the court apparently found him not guilty of any of the charges put on him and he was acquitted, but only after having spent almost a decade languishing in jail, where he was brutally tortured. Even after his acquittal the police have allegedly not stopped harassing and hounding him, and they still restrict his movements.
Noor ul-Hoda, the son of a desperately poor daily-wage labourer from Malegaon in Maharashtra, is yet another hapless Muslim man who has, so he insists, been falsely implicated as a terrorist by the police. In September 2006, he was picked up by the police from his home. On the same day, they brought him back, searched the house (without producing a search warrant), and, finding nothing, took him back into police custody. The next day the police charged Noor with possession of 20 books considered as 'illegal literature'.
While in police custody, he is said to have been forced, through torture and threats by his interrogators that they would kill his family, to sign a blank piece of paper, which was later used as evidence of a 'confession'. This was, it is claimed, used to charge him under the draconian MCOCA for allegedly being a member of the team that carried out the Malegaon bombings. This, he says, is completely false as he was at the local mosque on the day of the bomb blasts. The local special executive officer has given an affidavit validating this. Noor claims that Police Inspector Sachin Kadum had threatened him thus: 'Although I am aware of the fact that you are not involved in the bomb blast, we will still capture you and we will see if you can get out of this situation.'
In October 2006 Noor was taken to Bangalore for brain mapping and narco-tests. These proved negative, but the experience was harrowing. During the narco-test he was given powerful electric shocks and was badly beaten. His ribs were also battered. The doctor, Malti, asked him to say what the police wanted him to say or else he would be more deeply implicated in the bomb blast case. 'When I did not repeat the words electric shocks were given to my ear', he says. While he was in the custody of the Nasik police, they tortured him severely at the ATS office, saying that he should state what the police wanted him to -- in other words, to give a false 'confession'.
'In the month of Ramzan while I was fasting I was beaten so much that I fainted', he says. 'Inspector Sachin Kadum and Inspector Khan Gekar used to abuse me and say that if you do not confess we will bring all your sisters here. We will make them naked and photographs will be taken and they will also be beaten,' he adds. They also threatened to implicate Noor's brother in the case. Finally, they were able to force him to make a false 'confession' by taking his signature on a blank piece of paper, but he later retracted this 'confession'.
Muhammad Hanif Adul Razzak Shaikh from Gujarat is yet another victim of state terrorism. On April 28, 2003, around two dozen men rushed into Hanif's house, but since Hanif was said to have been away attending a friend's funeral in Himmatnagar, they dragged his brother, Yasin, to the police station where he was beaten up. They picked him up without an arrest warrant and detained him for 12 days until May 3, when Hanif came back and presented himself at the Crime Branch. He was immediately put into detention and the CBI searched his factory but recovered nothing.
Mohammad Hanif was in the business of making bags. The police claimed that the bomb which was used in the tiffin bomb blast and in another such blast had been made in his factory. But when Hanif refused to accept these allegations, the police tortured him severely and even threatened to arrest his brother Yasin if he did not comply with their orders. After this, they allegedly forced a false 'confession' out of him to implicate him in the blasts. His interrogators tortured him mercilessly and he was then presented in court on May 10, 2003. There, Hanif refused to accept the charges against him, which allegedly prompted the magistrate to say that the police should take Hanif in for some more khatirdari ('hospitality'), by which was meant even greater torture.
During this remand, Hanif was said to have been subjected to third degree torture, brutally beaten and forced to sign numerous false statements. The forced 'confession' was apparently used as evidence to prolong his remand stay. He retracted his statement in the court but after appearing in court for the second time the judge ordered that he should be treated to some more 'hospitality'. After this, he is said to have been compelled to sign another 'confession', on the basis of which he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. During the five years he has spent in jail so far Hanif's wife as well as his mother died. A father of four, one of his daughters has tuberculosis. His small bag-making unit has been closed ever since he was put into jail and his family now lives in abject penury.
Maulana Mohammad Naseerudin of Hyderabad was arrested in August 2004 immediately after addressing a meeting of fellow Muslims at a local mosque. The Anti-Terrorism Squad accused him of conspiring to blow up a Hindu temple in Hyderabad, a charge that he denied. The next month he was released on bail, but on the condition that he would report to the CID office on a weekly basis.
On September 31, 2004, when the Maulana reached the CID office he found the Gujarat police waiting for him. They took him into custody, accusing him of incitement violence in Gujarat in his speeches in the mosque. In actual fact, so it is said, he had preached for relief and aid for Muslims in Gujarat who had been brutalised by the state, the police and Hindutva forces. The police failed to give any evidence at the time of his detention and subsequent trial, simply claiming that he was inciting communal hatred during his sermons.
The news of the Maulana's arrest spread quickly and he was put into a bus and given a drug to incapacitate him. The protestors asked the police for the arrest warrant. 23 year-old Mujahid Saleem Azmi, a friend of the family, started questioning the procedures during the arrest, and, after some prompting by the expanding crowd, the police released the Maulana. A heated exchange between Police Officer Narendra and Mujahid began. The officer shamelessly shouted at Mujahid, 'Have you people forgotten Gujarat? I will finish you all off.' Mujahid replied that he was not scared of his threats and that the officer should conduct himself on the basis of the law. The police officer then said that if he was looking for a warrant he would show him a warrant and took out his gun and fired point blank at Mujahid. The rest of the police officers started firing in the air. They pushed the Maulana back into the van and drove off. The ATS provided safe passage for the police to flee Hyderabad. Meanwhile, Mujahid, 23, was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Thousands of people collected outside the hospital and they asked for a case to be filed against the police. Several different Hindutva organisations came together to try and disrupt the funeral procession the following day. The police used their special division -- the Greyhound Task Force � normally used to combat Naxalism to beat and tear gas the processionists. The Greyhound Task Force forced their way into Mujahid's house and attacked the family with sticks.
Meanwhile, the Maulana was transferred to a prison in Ahmedabad [Images], where, it is said, he was forced to make a 'confession'. He appealed against it, but the special POTA court denied the appeal and accepted the 'confession' of Maulana produced by the Gujarat police. His first bail application took four long months to be heard from the day of his judicial custody. A judgment on the bail application took another year. The application was rejected on the grounds that he was 'anti-American and pro Osama bin Laden'. Another year passed and the high court upheld the POTA court's order. Six months later, the Supreme Court asked for a swift trial, but rejected bail.
Two years have passed since the Supreme Court's order and yet nothing has happened. The Maulana continues to languish in jail and is presently seriously ill. He has only one kidney, a thyroid problem, and early signs of arthritis, none of which has been taken into consideration during his time in prison. His illnesses have worsened. He cannot walk or handle food that he has to chew, but yet, despite several appeals, the authorities continue to refuse to send him to hospital. In the meantime, the police have also arrested two of his sons for allegedly conspiring to take revenge for his arrest.
Scores of cases of innocent Muslims being deliberately targeted by agencies of the State, in addition to Hindutva forces, abound across the country, and the situation seems to be getting worse with every passing day. This is not to say that none of the several blasts that have occurred in India in the last several years could have been the handiwork of Muslims. Sympathisers of some fringe radical Islamist outfits or Muslims seeking to take revenge for the atrocities and large-scale slaughter of their co-religionists, as in Gujarat, might well have planned some of these, and Muslim leaders themselves have rightly called for stern punishment for their perpetrators.
However, the mounting indiscriminate arrests, torture and detention of vast numbers of innocent Muslim youth across the country in the name of countering terrorism not only makes a complete mockery of our claims to secularism and democracy but is a perfect recipe for making Muslim terrorism a self-fulfilling prophecy. And, to make matters worse, at the same time as the hounding of innocent Muslims continues, Hindu mobs are allowed to operate free of any effective restraint, lionised as ardent 'nationalists' as they continue to wreak murder, mayhem and naked terror on Muslims, and now, as in Orissa and Karnataka, Christians. That, surely, is no way to combat terrorism. Far from it, it can only further exacerbate the problem.
Note: The details of the above-mentioned cases have been procured from the testimonies submitted to the jury of the People's Tribunal on the Atrocities Committed Against Minorities in the Name of Fighting Terrorism [Images] organised by Anhad and the Human Rights Law Network in Hyderabad, August 22-24, 2008.
Dr Yoginder Sikand is the editor of Qalandar, an electronic magazine on Islam-related issues, and also an author of several books on the subject.