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The scapegoats of terrorism

Nov 19, 2008

At a recent People’s Tribunal in Rajasthan, western India, it was clear that the state is acting in a partisan and prejudiced manner in the name of curbing terror. OneWorld South Asia correspondent sits through the public hearing where victims narrate their tales.

Jaipur: The first thing that happens after every terrorist blast is that ‘spin doctors’ in administration – be they government functionaries in intelligence agencies or the police, or their political masters in government, or the great imaginative editors and reporters in media – begin weaving a story that can have only one villain with a name identifiable with a particular religion or a group that uses a nomenclature from an otherwise beautiful language: Harkut-al-Ansar, Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and lately Indian Mujahiddin [dubbed as another avatar of Students Islamic Movement of India].

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People are caught with diaries and laptops in their possessions with complete details like their identities, their plan of actions, maps, incendiary literature, the names of their masters and their accomplices. In fact, they are found with everything that can easily nail them to the crime they have just allegedly committed.

They are otherwise very clever and cunning, yet so foolish to be carrying self-incriminating evidence with them all the time. They are well-trained hardcore dreaded terrorists, yet docile enough to be belching out everything at the drop of a hat and confessing to not just the crime currently under investigation but many more that happened before in a distant and not-so-distant past.

Media commentators use elaborate vocabulary to describe them. One day they are described as poor and uneducated and therefore susceptible to be lured by money and unearthly enticements such as a secured place in jannat or heaven. Another day they are described as people educated in ‘regressive’ madarsaas and therefore coming straight from ‘jehadi factories’ – orthodox and well-indoctrinated. Yet another day they become highly educated and tech-savvy, who can orchestrate their crimes in a well-coordinated manner, using high-tech devices.

Having given the socio-economic-religious profile of these ‘terrorists’, they would go on to untangle their complex terror networks and indulge in a perfect display of verbal calisthenics by using the terms like ‘sleeper modules’, ‘proxy terrorist groups’, ‘low intensity war’ and so on.

Blasts in walled city

When serial blasts happened in Jaipur, Rajasthan on May 13 this year, these were almost immediately attributed to Bangladesh-based group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI). Raids and crackdown followed and hundreds of Bangla speaking Muslims were rounded up from across Rajasthan but mainly from Jaipur city.

Whatever happened in Jaipur since then was akin to ‘ethnic cleansing’.

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Many bastis (slums) like Bagrana, Transit Camp, Manoharpura Beed, Buxawala, Tila Number 7, Sanjay Kachchi Basti and others came under the scanner in the lookout for hiding ‘terrorists’. In the week following the blasts, over 140 people were sent to jail under preventive detention.

Persistent harassment, torture and threats forced hundreds of thousands to flee out of the city. More than 10,000 Bangla-speaking people were driven out by the end of September, according to People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan.

As Prakash Chaturvedi, a social activist, said: “These raids were also about the intention of grabbing the land and livelihood of these poor Muslims.”

Many who fled to West Bengal to escape the wrath of the Rajasthan Police are now languishing in Murshidabad Jail.

Victims speak

During a People’s Tribunal in Jaipur on November 7-8 organised by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan along with other social organisations, victims of police brutality spoke of their bitter experiences.

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Among those who spoke was Sadaf, wife of Shahbaz Ahmed. The Rajasthan Police describes Shahbaz as the mastermind of Jaipur serial blasts. Sadaf vouched for her husband’s innocence. She said her husband was an educated and law-abiding person who ran a cyber café to earn his living.

Renowned social activist Sandeep Pandey, who was part of a joint fact-finding team that investigated the case of Shahbaz, said in his opinion the police had concocted the case against Shahbaz on the basis of fabricated evidences.

Rashid Hussain used to work as senior network engineer at the Jaipur office of Infosys, an IT company. Rashid narrated the harrowing experiences that he had to undergo during his nine days of detention. The police had to release him when they could not find anything to substantiate their claim that he was involved in Jaipur blasts.

Rashid said that while he was being interrogated he was subjected to extreme mental torture. Giving an instance of the extent of prejudice that runs deep not just among the rank and file but also among senior officials of the police department, he said: “An officer of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police told me that any engineer who reads Koran becomes a terrorist.”

Rashid’s life has come to a standstill since his arrest. Infosys, where he worked, showed him the door. Even though the police have cleared his name, no company today is ready to employ him.

The police also picked up Mohammad Sajid in connection of the blasts.

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He remained in the illegal custody of police for 24 days from May 16 to June 8. In this period, he was never produced before a magistrate. His past association with the banned SIMI, as its ex-president, usually brings him among the first people who come under suspicion after every terrorist blast. The police, however, have never been able to prove any case against him.

Deposing his case before the jury consisting of Justice (retd) S.N. Bhargava, writer Ram Puniyani, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and senior journalist Neelabh Mishra, Sajid said he feared for his life. “We have reached at such a pass today that even if courts exonerate you there is no guarantee that you will be able to live a life of dignity without any fear. The police can still kill you in an encounter.”

Many other victims came forward and recounted their tales of victimisation at the hands of police in the name of fighting terror. There was Dr Amanullah Jamali, a practitioner of Unani medicine, who was picked up twice. He was tortured and humiliated. Also Dr Abrar Ali, an intern at SMS Medical College in Jaipur, who was illegally detained for seven days. There was Dr Anwar Hussein, who had to remain in illegal custody of police for two days. The list is long and so are the tales of miseries.

Ram Puniyani observed that for past many years now politics in the name of religion is being used to destroy the democratic values and secular fabric of this country. Demonisation of an entire religious community is another manifestation of this politics.

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