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Gujrat Police notorious for its anti-Muslim bias has struck again
By MH Lakdawala 

The Gujarat police, notorious for its anti Muslim bias, has struck again. First it was Surat police who arrested innocent Muslim activists last month on the allegation that they belong to Students Islamic Movement (SIMI).This week end Vadodara police arrested seven Muslims and put them through police interrogation and in a couple of cases, subjected them to a 22-hour detention on the suspicion of having links with SIMI. One of them, Iqbal Ahmed Siddiqui, who ironically is a recipient of several national integration awards, had to undergo the ordeal of a police raid as well, apparently on account of having given 'zakat' (alms) to SIMI some time back.

This has seemingly caused a good deal of panic among the Muslim community in Gujarat. Jamshed Shaikh, a city-based businessman fumes, "The police are unfairly and indiscriminately targeting Muslims. The Vadodara incident clearly shows that. And now with POTO, I am certain that all those innocent Muslims who escaped TADA will be booked under POTO under some or the other pretext!" "A department that is supposed to function on careful investigation, should not undertake raids and searches on mere assumptions," feels Chinubhai G Shah, noted Gujarati writer. But are such indiscriminate searches and raids in public, though legally justified, affecting the reputation of innocent citizens? Historian Dwijendra Tripathi feels so. "I condemn the incident totally. We have been reduced to a farcical democracy, the Muslim community being the only minority that has to prove its patriotism time and again." 

Hundreds of relatives of the 123 accused persons arrested last month in Surat including a few elderly and some minor children who landed in Surat to take a look at their near and dear ones in police custody are still unsure about the release of their relatives. Some had come from far off places like UP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. 

The modus operandi of both Surat and Vadodara police is same. Contrary to popular belief the accused persons were considered guilty before trial by the rightist organisations and the police. The cops raided the houses of the accused and did whatever they could to create fear psychosis amongst the people. 

The victims have alleged torture at the hands of the Surat police. "We cannot describe how badly we were tortured and the nature of the torture", some of the accused persons told the court hesitantly. Advocates however said that the cops made the accused consume their urine. "The accused are under fear and some have given the allegations in writing before the court. We are trying to encourage others to do the same", Zulekha Sayied, advocate for some of the accused said. The advocate is the daughter of Mohammed Surti, the former dignitary of Gujarat who was jailed for six years under TADA. The lady chose the profession to fight for justice for victims of state sponsored oppression. 

The Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) an NGO from Mumbai had two of its members present in the court of PV Pandya, First Class Judicial Magistrate, 2nd court to monitor the proceedings in Surat. The court did not allow the members to sit in the court premises without giving any reasons. Most of the newsmen did not take interest in the case at all. Some who did were not allowed to enter the court. "We had to argue that we were advocates and entitled to attend the court of law. The magistrate was hesitant. She did not ask the accused whether they were tortured or not. I had to interfere thrice to raise the point", advocate Aishwarya Shetty, a member of the team said.

"This is a rare phenomenon. We were allowed in the court to cover the proceedings even in the trial of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray or any other persons in the heaviest of police security", an irate journalist remarked. He felt that the trial was taking place in a private court and not a public court. The main issue here is not whether the arrested group of Islamist activists is guilty or not. The issue is the presentation and handling of the entire episode. The sustained Sangh Parivar propaganda is creating the image amongst the masses that Muslims are extremists and are pro-Pakistan and anti India. 

The ban on SIMI, the episode of the arrest of Afroz in Mumbai, Malegaon riots, the attack on Parliament and the subsequent arrests, and now the arrest of Muslim activists on the pretext that they are members of SIMI, has revealed an alarming trend. Previously Muslims were branded as communal. Now the strategy of Sangh Parivar has changed. Instead, Muslim are being often branded as anti-national.

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