Sunday, October 19, 2008

Institutionalised Bias?

L.K. Advani with security guards (file photo)
The last-minute removal of two Muslim policemen from the security duty of BJP leader L.K. Advani who visited Khozhikode on Tuesday has elicited strong reactions from some political parties and prominent Muslims.
Muslims have alleged "religious discrimination" by National Security Guard (NSG) which was the in charge of the security arrangements at the helipad in Khozhikode. The Muslim policemen, who had undergone special training for VIP duty, were deputed to be part of Advani's motorcade. At Khozhikode, NSG officials sought the list of police personnel on duty. After scrutinising the list two Muslim policemen were dropped from the motorcade without assigning any reason.
"This is an insult to the secular face of the state. Both policemen had participated in the training sessions for VIP visit. But last minute, they were removed on religious grounds. That should not have happened in Kerala," Indian Union Muslim League state general secretary P K Kunhalikutty said.
Following protests from the Indian Union Muslim League, the Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has ordered the probe.
The Kozhikode City Police Commissioner Anup Kuruvilla John has denied that the exclusion was on religious grounds as altogether six drivers had been dropped in the final round.
"A total of 12 police drivers were chosen for the motorcade, comprising six vehicles during the trial run. Six drivers were dropped which included non-Muslims also. Only that out of the six, two happened to be from the minority community," he said.
His claim is hotly contested by many.
Yoginder Sikand, author of many books on Muslim issues, has termed this incident as part of anti-Muslim agenda. "It only shows how pervasive and widespread anti-Muslim prejudice, stoked by Hindutva terrorists has become," he told Qaum.
Nigar Ataullah, associate editor of Banglore-based Islamic Voice says that these kinds of incidents tarnish the image of Muslim community. "Acts like these all add up to produce a wrong image of Muslims," she said.
Seema Mustafa, senior journalist and editor of Covert magazine says that the same thing happened to Sikhs 1980s. She is concerned about the growing intolerance and rising Islamophobia. "Sikhs were not allowed to be inside Asian Games taking place at that time. Muslims feel victimised because of the growing Islamophobia. Muslims are made to feel as 'others'," she said.
She blamed M.K. Narayanan, NSA (National Security Advisor) for the goof-up.
"National Security Advisor owes an answer not to the Muslims but to the country," she insisted.
Senior writer Mustafa Khan feels that this incident puts a question mark on the loyalty of Muslims. "The removal of the two Muslim cops shows that the right-wing leaders do not think that Muslims are loyal. Moreover they are abysmally low in their opinion about the minorities," he said.
Anti-Muslim bias of the security agencies is a well-known fact. India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has diagnosed this disease very early. Not many would know that Nehru was asked by IB (Intelligence Bureau) to remove Muslim cooks from his kitchen because of the angers of Partition. He categorically refused saying there is no question of it. His daughter Indira Gandhi did the same. She refused to suspect all the Sikhs after Operation Bluestar.
The grandson of noted parliamentarian Humayun Kaqbir was denied entry into RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), India's external intelligence agency because of his religion. There is an unwritten code which does not allow Muslims to become part of the premier intelligence agencies.
Nazia Erum, a Delhi-based journalist feels that Muslims are caught in the no man's land. "Very often Muslims are blamed not to be part of the national mainstream. And when we try to become part of the so-called 'mainstream' we are often pushed back to our ghetto," she told Qaum. "The idea of a pluralistic India is under threat from those who are supposed to be law-keepers," she remarked.
Qaum - Inquilab, October 18, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Police added to Malegaon Terror

Covert copy: Scanned version of the original piece

Mohammed Ishaque, 20, was sipping tea at Nisar Diary in Bhikku Chowk when a crude bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded, killing five and injuring at least 89. "It was as devastating as lightening," recalls Ishaque lying on a bed in Noor hospital. He suffered serious leg injuries.

The killer bike was parked outside Shakeel Goods Transport, barely 10 metres from Daregaon Police Chowki. Abdullah Ansari, the 75-year-old owner of Shakeel Goods, had instructed Iqbal, a waiter from Nisar Diary, to tell the police about the unattended bike. "The police was informed at 8.20 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes before the blast, but they failed to act," Ansari told Covert, pointing to his watch which had stopped at 9.35 p.m. Ansari is in hospital with head injuries.

Muslims of the area gathered, aggrieved about the police's failure to act. People were also angry that the police then attributed the blast to a gas cylinder burst. The mob attacked the police chowki; so the police responded with a lathicharge and finally resorted to firing the bullets to disperse people. About 35 policemen have been injured, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Virish Prabhu (IPS), whose condition is now stable.

Eyewitnesses said at least two persons were killed and 22 injured in the police firing. Maharashtra Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil told Covert, "Nobody died in the police firing, Police fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured."

This claim is hotly contested at Malegaon. Shoaib Ansari, editor of Urdu weekly Zaban-e-Khalk pulled up his sleeve to show a bullet injury on his right arm. "I had gone there to cover the incident. The bullet grazed me on the right arm," he said.

Nadeem Ahmed, a 17-year-old labourer passing by Bhikku Chowk, was hit by a bullet just below his kneecap. "I was not part of the mob. I was going to work at the powerloom factory when the police bullet hit me from behind," he told Covert. The attending doctor, Dr V.P. Vaidya, confirmed that Nadeem was hit by a police bullet. "The police wanted the recovered bullet but I have refused. I can't hand it over unless there is a Panchnama," he said.

A young man named Mushtaque Ahmed is also believed to have been killed in the firing. "My son was martyred in the police firing," his father Yusuf told Covert. Dr Saeed Farani of Faran hospital, where most of the injured were brought, is more hesitant. "I think at least three of the injured have bullet wounds. But I can't say with certainty since we have not recovered any bullets," he said.

The motorbike was traced to Eknath Pingle, a lab assistant in Panchavati College, Nasik. Pingle told the police he had sold it in 2002 to a dealer in second-hand vehicles. The second-hand dealer confirmed the purchase, but could not provide any information about the buyer.

Sanjeev Dayal, Additional Director General of Police (State Law and Order), has ruled out the involvement of the Indian Mujahideen in the blast at Malegaon because there were no similarities either in the mode or in the execution of the blast. He added that radical Hindu groups were also under the scanner.

The police is said to have detained at least six persons from neighbouring Chalisgaon and Malegaon, but Nasik SP (Rural) Nikhil Gupta denied this. Combing operations have been carried out at Jaffer Nagar, Golden Nagar and Naya Bazaar. The people are terrified of large-scale arrests. Mustafa Khan, a resident of Jaffer Nagar, pointed out, "Nothing will happen. Only the innocent will be harassed and victimised".

COVERT, October 15 - October 31, 2008

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Malegaon Bomb Blast: The Smell of Blood is Still in My Head

Azmi Farzan: The youngest victim of Malegaon bomb blast

The deadly bomb blast which ripped apart the bodies of believers on September 29 has left a deep scar on the psyche of the town. Without losing any time, I was at Bhikku chowk, the epicentre of the blast, which resembled more like a battlefield than an ordinary chowk in a Muslim neighbourhood. The members of leaderless Muslim community were busy helping the injured in their own individual way. A few emotional Muslims protested against the police claim that it was a cylinder blast. It hurts me deeply that a stone-pelting incident can alter the destiny of my community. Clashes between Muslims and Police followed. Police first-lathi-charged and then opened fire. People fell like a pack of cards.

From Bhikku chowk I rushed towards Noor hospital like a madman searching for sanity. Police bullets seem to have an ingrained bias against Muslims. Bullets chase Muslims till death. As I entered the hospital to inquire about the injured, I could hear the gunshots being fired outside (in Mushawerat chowk). With each shot, I trembled with rage and fear. Each shot increased my heartbeats. The palpitation was so seismic that I feared that my heart would jump out and leave me dead. On one hand Dr. Saeed Faizee, Dr. Sohail and Dr. Faisal continuously worked to restore the faith of Muslim community, outside the naked dance of official bias was at play. Where was the humanity of the people?

The scene at Faran hospital – where the majority of the injured (58) were brought – was chaotic. Curios onlookers and some family members of the injured were caught in the mêlée outside the Faran hospital. As I entered the hospital the smell of fresh blood became unbearable. It is still in my head. The injured were being treated by Dr. Saeed Farani and his dedicated team of doctors. The entire hospital was in collective mourning. The cry of a toddler will haunt me for the rest of my life. It could have been my nephew or anybody else’s. A bared burnt back of a bearded old man almost brought me to the brink of cry. But then the call of my métier restrained me. I made sure that tears didn’t spill out of my eyes. In the operation theatre, I saw an open surgery being performed on one of the injured. The ruptured veins of his left foot were a terrible sight to behold. I could stop there while beholding the sanguine scene or gently pass out. The sight of the three dead bodies neatly lined one after another froze my soul. I felt as if I was in the awesome presence of death. As I clicked their pictures, a thought crossed my mind: Is it fair for a journalist to take pictures of the victims mowed down by flying balls, nails and bullets? It was a call of the conscience. In the spilt of a second, I decided to go ahead. I thought I was Muslim as well as a journalist. The job of a journalist is not to write but to communicate. The Muslim in me thought that I must communicate to the world that my own community has been hit in its own backyard. Not once, but twice.

When the guns fell silent, I returned to Bhikku chowk at 3am. Uninformed media persons were orchestrating the official line that the bomb blast site is below the building where Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) once had its office. But nobody bothered to say that the bomb blast site is rather in front of a Police chowky as well. These are matters of perception.

Why was Bhikku chowk chosen for the blast site? Bhikku chowk represents a strong Muslim identity where Muslims from all diverse sects and walks of life gather for a cup of tea or socializing after traweeh prayers in Ramadan. The attack was on Muslim identity. Why can’t the security agencies accept that there is in essence a turf-war going on between communalists of different faiths in the form of bomb blasts? It is unfortunate that in this war Police often seem to be on the side of the majority community. It is a bitter truth albeit uncomfortable.

Next day, home minister RR Patil uttered the usual platitude of repeated bombings of recent past. “It was an attack on national integration.” I am sorry, Mr. Patil. Bhikku chowk is not the place for bridging the gulf that has divided two communities. It is a traditional Muslim ghetto. The attack was on Malegaon’s Muslim identity and not on national integration. There were eyebrows raised when I bluntly asked him ‘How many people have died in the police firing.’ He paused for a moment; Nikhil Gupta, Nasik SP, bent and whispered something. “Nobody has died in the police firing. Police had fired 58 rounds in the air so no one was injured,” Patil claimed. This goes against the public perception and a doctor’s claim in Malegaon. According to Dr. Saeed Farani at least 3 persons have been injured in the police firing. The actual figure is obviously higher but nobody is willing to say because the town is reeling under fear.

Each Muslim mother in Malegaon is praying lest her son becomes a “suspect.”

Things will never be the same in this forsaken corner of Maharashtra but this much is certain: Indian Muslims will not allow India to become another Pakistan.