If it’s terror, blame it on Muslims

In the wake of Hyderabad attacks, India’s Muslims once again find themselves in the line of fire

By Aijaz Zaka Syed,

Support TwoCircles

Isn’t it an interesting coincidence that within hours of a humbled Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde apologizing for mixing saffron with terror Hyderabad gets whacked by terror? And within minutes of the blasts, India’s television sleuths manage to identify the culprits–even before the police reached the scene and victims’ bodies were removed. It’s Indian Mujahideen of course, we’re told, who’d done it with the blessings of Pakistani agencies and terror outfits.

This time around it’s not just the national networks; their cousins from the South have been equally swift to crack the case within minutes thanks to their highly placed sources. On being alerted about the blasts by my daughter in Hyderabad, I scanned several Telugu channels. It was the same story everywhere. It was Muslims alright. Clearly, regional media, like their counterparts in Delhi and Mumbai, had their ear to the ground and access to information that isn’t available to even those in power.

As activist-lawyer Shafeeq Mahajir put it, “the media seems to know a great deal more than even the police.” He goes on to ask: “Despite the innumerable Muslim accused having been found by law to be innocent, and despite the confessional statements of Hindutva group members and corroborative evidence, how is it that only Muslims are stated in the Press as being investigated and interrogated?”

But then what’s new? We’ve been here before. It’s a familiar game–played and replayed with the same cast even as politicians pontificate against jumping to conclusions and linking religion to terror. If it’s not SIMI, it has to be Indian Mujahideen, which Press Council chief Katju trashes as a figment of imagination of paid media and security agencies.

I am not sure who sets the agenda—a biased media that gets away with murder, attributing its received wisdom to ‘sources’ in the administration or it’s the other way round. The result is always the same: A swift and predictable witch-hunt of the usual suspects–as I saw it happen all over again in Hyderabad. What do you expect when the Home Minister himself sets the investigation direction by suggesting that the bombing may have been a reaction to the execution of Kasab and Afzal Guru?

No wonder there’s fear in the air once again in the city that I call home. As soon as the attacks were reported, a palpable pall of gloom descended over the ever bustling city that seldom sleeps. Muslim businesses and shops were shut. Streets were all deserted even the next day when I went out with the kids for a pizza.

Given the pattern of police investigations over the past few years, the Muslims’ anxiety is understandable. As a press statement by Jamia Teachers’ Association points out, from raiding Muslim neighborhoods to torturing young men at private farmhouses to recovering RDX and fictitious records of terror training in foreign lands, Hyderabad Police have been quite ingenuous. If the media is to believed, Hyderabad is crawling with the IM and Lashkar sleeper cells and Pakistani spies. Little wonder then Muslims are afraid—very afraid.

As feared, there have been indiscriminate, mass arrests from across the city although results of the investigation into CCTV footage and other evidence are still awaited. Even those honorably acquitted in the Mecca Masjid case have been detained again.

Who needs evidence or anything else to pick up Muslims? If it’s terror, Muslims must be behind it. It matters little what the law says or evidence suggests or the fact that these cases don’t stand in courts as has repeatedly been the case. You could pick them up from anywhere in the country and beyond without fretting about public outcry or political consequences. Nobody gives two hoots about Muslims.

No wonder, as an anguished blogger puts it, every time a bomb goes off anywhere in India, there’s an explosion in the hearts of its Muslims. And the efficient law enforcement agencies never fail to oblige. Little has changed even after the incriminating evidence and official admission that all the recent terror attacks, from Mecca Masjid to Ajmer shrine to Samjhauta, that were blamed on Muslims have been the handiwork of the RSS men and its offshoots.

Swami Aseemanand, a senior RSS ideologue, is in police custody and on record singing all about the series of attacks and the plot to target the Muslims. Home Minister Shinde, no less, chose the Congress session in Jaipur to talk about Hindutva’s terror links. Yet Muslims remain the prime suspects.

The police witch hunt and trial by media has acquired such absurd proportions that a hawk like B Raman notes in Outlook that “instead of waiting till the investigation makes substantial progress, the police and agencies, with the help of sensation-hungry media, have already started pointing the finger at the Muslim community, Indian Mujahideen and Pakistan. If there is terror, it has to be a Muslim. If he is a Muslim, he has to be from the IM. If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of ISI. That seems to be the thinking reflex of the police and the agencies.”

In its desperation to shock and awe, the media can go to ludicrous lengths as it has once again by flashing the picture of slain MQM leader Manzar Imam as the IM mastermind behind Hyderabad attacks. It was withdrawn only after some Pakistani papers exposed the blunder. There was a time when the Indian media took pride in standing up for the underdog and confronting the excesses of those in power. Today, in the cutthroat age of TRPs, circulation numbers and marketing gimmicks, there’s no place for accuracy or fair play. What matters is what sells and bottom-line of balance sheet.

Everyone in the news business, with some noble exceptions, has joined the race for eyeballs and big bucks. CP Scott’s dictum that comment is free but facts are sacred has few takers. Today, the media doesn’t merely take sides and eggs on governments and security agencies in this endless war on human rights, it sits in judgment dispensing swift, summary justice. Even those from its own tribe aren’t spared, as has been the case with Delhi-based Kazmi andDeccan Herald journalist Siddiqui.

The accused are pronounced guilty and condemned even before they appear in courts. Meanwhile the real culprits get away with murder and prepare for the next round of fireworks. In the words of Faiz:

bane hain ahl-e-hawas muddai bhi, munsif bhi;
kise wakil karen, kis se munsifi chahen

Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder
To whom does one turn for defense, from whom does one expect justice?

A whole community is put in the dock with insinuations and accusations of treachery hurled at it day after day. Save for some valiant conscience keepers, there’s no one to speak for the harassed, voiceless minority. The less said of “Muslim leaders” the better. A couple of stray voices that dared to speak have been silenced with a barrage of cases.

While politicians on both sides play games with them, the dispossessed find themselves under perpetual onslaught from the media on the one hand and security agencies and Hindutva forces on the other. Muslims seem to have been left with few friends in this vast land.

How did we end up here after being part of this land for a thousand years? And how long can a people under constant fire take it? What do they do and where do they go? I worry about my children—and scores of millions like them. What does the future hold for them? Will they grow up normal and reach their full potential in this overwhelming environment of hostility and distrust? And what would it mean for the future of a country if 200 million of its people are so hopelessly alienated? Do India’s politicians, media inquisitors and civil society leaders have any answers?


*Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer. Email him [email protected]