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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | NEW DELHI | 9 FEBRUARY, 2016

FROM 'IM' IT IS NOW 'IS': WIDESPREAD ARRESTS OF MUSLIMS ACROSS INDIA

Terrorism has allowed governments across the world to assume extraordinary powers, and thereby to take ‘action’ with no questions asked. The mainstream media in democracies has turned into an effective propaganda machinery for the states, giving governments the power to unleash terror as by the United States in other countries, or by mass arrests of their own citizens.

The propaganda machinery that comprises largely the big media across the world has been used deliberately and cynically by governments to place Muslims per se in the dock of heightened suspicion. In that Muslim extremism has been used to brand the community through a sustained campaign that has impacted on the common man, as the number of attacks by vigilante groups in the US itself reveal. 

In India the pendulum of suspicion has been used by both the Manmohan Singh government, and now increasingly by the Narendra Modi government against the Muslim with arrests of targeted individuals in different states across india. Interestingly, the intelligence agencies have created organisations to justify this ‘crackdown’ with SIMI being the first group to be given what many Muslim leaders said at the time, and now, a larger than reality dimension. A spate of arrests, mainly from Kerala and the southern states, marked the early years of the Congress government at the centre with SIMI being blamed for spreading extremism and promoting terrorism in India. This organisation was officially banned by the government, and while with a rough hierarchy given out by the intelligence agencies, remained largely alien to the Muslim population whose cause it was said to be espousing. Several young people were arrested as a result, with many being released as ‘innocent’ by the judiciary after 5-15 years in prison, undergoing severe torture.

Some of these cases have been documented, but many remain unreported largely because those who are acquitted after a lengthy incarceration are too terrified and broken to go to the media that never supported in the first place. Their families are rendered destitute because of the court fees, are in debt, are shunned by society, with low middle class families being driven into poverty and debt as a result. Figures of course, remain a ‘secret’ with no details of how many Muslim youth have been arrested over the last 15 years for instance, a state wise break up, and how many have been acquitted. 

The SIO turned somewhere along the SIMI, again under the Congress government into the Indian Mujahideen. A shadowy organisation, without a clear cut leadership, or a hierarchy where the Indian intelligence agencies claimed to have sufficient information to make regular and constant arrests, but were never really able to identify the structure in real terms, the base, the headquarters, the membership despite the number of young men arrested. The IM arrests moved from the south to Maharashtra and the northern states, with Azamgarh and Uttar Pradesh in focus. It remained at best an amorphous entity, getting the smaller headlines every now and again with either arrests, or an occasional acquittal that did get reported. 

Till last heard of from the special cells and the anti-terror squads of the police forces, the IM was a thriving organisation. But it seems to have disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, and has now been replaced by the new kid on the block, the Islamic State. The Indian agencies have now forgotten about IM, and are focusing on the IS that the media is faithfully reporting with no questions asked. According to the source based reports, IS has shown its face in India, and the extent varies from those who were caught trying to leave the country to join Daesh in West Asia, to the emergence of IS members within India itself. The arrests have started, and news of youth being arrested from different parts of the country—this time mainly the north—is scattered over the media.

Terrorism has been so linked with nationalism that arrests under this pretext do not lend themselves to scrutiny. The media here, thus, accepts the authorities version of the arrests, drops the word “alleged”, does not ask any questions, and goes along with the state in branding those arrested as terrorists. No reporter from the mainstream cares to visit the families of those whose boys have been taken in, without warning. And no one cares to interview the youth acquitted after years in prison, of the torture and of how his family was ruined as a result.

Muslim organisations that had been mute spectators to this travesty of justice for a long while have come together to hold a press conference on Monday about the indiscriminate arrests that, facing no challenge, are increasing by the day. However, the issue is not of the Muslims alone but of secular India that has been placed under threat first by the Congress government through indiscriminate arrests in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in particular, and now by the BJP government in the name of countering the Islamic State.

The resentment and fear amongst the large Muslim community is growing. More so as under the BJP led establishment the attack on the minorities has been compounded by private armies in the form of the Hindtuva brigade, that has unleashed a reign of terror in UP, Maharashtra, Haryana in particular with beef, love jihad, ghar wapsi being used as the potent weapons to enter homes, attack and as the Dadri and Pune incidents demonstrated, lynch with impunity. As a senior Muslim leader told The CItizen, “it is either the attack on the basis of propaganda, or arrests, but it is now relentless as not a day passes without the minorities being assaulted in some form or the other.”

Unfortunately, while on the other issues there is some resistance and an opposition, the arrests seen by the Muslims as even more debilitating and frightening, have evoked little protest.On January 19 four Muslim students were picked up by the notorious Special Cell of the Delhi police from Hardwar. The reason: the accused had planned to target the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Haridwar. This, despite the fact that the boys had no criminal past and were students from different colleges. The parents have been running from pillar to post to seek justice, maintaining that their boys are completely innocent. The brutality was evident in the manner of arrest with the police terrorising the boys and their families.The parents had to wait for hours before they were able to meet their sons, who they told the media had been mercilessly beaten and were terrified for their lives. They were, of course,now all charged with being terrorists of the Islamic State by the Delhi Special Cell.

The parents of the boys approached the Jamiat Ulema i HInd and told the media then that the police went to the residence of Meraj along with him on January 22 and after searching his house did not find any incriminating evidence. They then took Rs 41,000 from the pocket of his brother Sarfraz, and asked him to sign a paper showing that it was recovered from the cupboard. The brother refused “the police team abused him and put the revolver on his forehead to force him to sign but he did not do so.”

The parent told reporters, “We firmly believe that Police have been implicating our sons in the trumpeted charges because of our religious identity. We also firmly believe that our sons have committed no crime and we have no trust in police that it will do justice”. But the mainstream media barely covered the parents plight, with no questions being asked of the intelligence and police as to how and when the Indian Mujahideen turned into the Islamic State. And on what evidence were the youth being arrested in what is now fast assuming the dimensions of a ‘crackdown’ on Muslim students?


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