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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A community under pressure

Media reports based on police claims suggest expansion of SIMI network in India

By Mohd. Zeyaul Haque

The Milli Gazette Online 

Last year the American magazine Time carried a cover story that said Indian Muslims had been pushed to the wall. Although it softened the statement by framing the sentence in the interrogative, rather than the affirmative, the message was clear that following the state-sponsored pogrom in Gujarat Muslims did feel cornered. At that time the NDA was ruling at the Centre, with the Ayodhya-tainted LK Advani as home minister-cum-deputy prime minister.

Events like Mumbai 1993 and Gujarat 2002 create orphans and destitutes. Denial of the basic rights of life, liberty and justice breeds militancy, a phenomenon abhorrent to a massive majority of Muslims. Nobody holds a brief for any wrong-doer. However, one must assert that fair play and establishment of rule of law is almost sure to end this phenomenon.

The report said clearly (quoting facts and statements of important people) that the Gujarat government’s acts of omission and commission and the Centre’s inaction had left the weak and the vulnerable to cope with their problems in their own way. It quoted an unnamed Hindu official of the RAW, who said that if an infinitesimally small minority among Muslims had taken to extralegal measures to redress their grievances it was only understandable. If somebody saw his sister being raped, hacked and burnt to death under state sponsorship he would most likely take to extremism. “Even I would have done the same”, he said. Or, something to that effect.

A more than 600-page book by Rand Corporation titled The Muslim World After 9/11 twice refers to a story in the Milli Gazette (by M Mazharul Haque) describing the systematic pressures India’s Muslims were being subjected to and the risks such pressures involved of extremist sentiment being fostered in the persecuted community. Now that we have the version of former President of India KR Narayanan how the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee refused to act to stop killing of Muslims in Gujarat despite Mr Narayanan’s clear communication, we can gauge the extent of the malaise.

The official American, European Union and UN position is that Indian Muslims as a whole are not given to extremism and are as stable as any other civilised population anywhere in the world. However, they are under tremendous pressure from anti-Muslim groups. The denial of US visa to Narendra Modi and his likely arrest in the UK (for involvement in the murder of two British Muslims during the pogrom) in case he went there reflects this reading of the Indian situation in the Western capitals.

Now, coming to media reports and police claims, MG has discovered in its past investigations that many of such reports accusing Muslims have not been found true. When MG published its findings none of the major media houses, which had published such reports, contradicted the findings. One of these was regarding a massive separatist network in the north-east. 

Placed in this context, recent media reports based on police claims that the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is spreading its tentacles in several states is causing anxiety to Muslims. Although there are reasons for taking at least some of the police claims with a pinch of salt, the development still remains a cause of concern. SIMI is claimed to be working with the banned Lashkar-e Tayyeba (LeT).

On March 5, the police shot dead three alleged militants (all of them Muslim) in Suraj Vihar-Uttam Nagar area in Delhi. Casting a wider net to catch their other associates, they grabbed a 21-year old student, Ahsan Mallick, in Dehra Dun two days later. After the arrest they claimed to have discovered and forestalled a plan to attack the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehra Dun during the passing out ceremonies.

Mallick, who comes from Bihar, is a student of the Dolphin Institute of Bio-Medical and Natural Sciences in Dehra Dun. The police claimed that he had got two invitation cards to attend the IMA passing out parade which he and other militants were planning to attack. No mention of any weapons, maps or currency recovery was made by the police following his arrest and raids on people’s premises suspected to be his associates. The police said Mallick was a close associate of Shams, one of the slain youngmen alleged to be a terrorist.

Following similar raids at different places more young men were nabbed. However, one of the alleged key figures, Salim, eluded their net. Salim, who earlier practised quackery, is also known as the “Doctor”, the police said. He is alleged to be associated both with LeT and Harkatul Ansar, which in turn are supposed to have links with the more scary al-Qaeda.

Mallick reportedly told the police that he was a member of SIMI. After that, detailed media reports based exclusively on police claims said the SIMI was spreading its network virtually throughout India, and even into Nepal. With its alleged links to LeT, which is already banned in several countries, this could be a security threat.

An interesting side of all this is that this time no madrasah was mentioned as a terrorist hub. Over the last several years a sustained propaganda barrage was opened against madrasahs. Almost all major madrasahs were raided, but not a shred of evidence was produced to sustain the claim about their extremist activities.

Militancy among Muslim youth is a rare and relatively new phenomenon, absolutely unheard of before December 6, 1992. Following the Ayodhya violence, which spread to most parts of north-west India, came the fortnight long anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai. The state looked on indifferently as Shiv Sena and RSS volunteers led mobs to burn Muslim homes and attack them with police help. The senior politician Chandra Shekhar, who was in Mumbai then, tried to cool tempers. Failing in his mission, a tearful Chandra Shekhar told the press that Muslims were being forced into militancy. Within weeks of that came the Mumbai blasts.

Events like Mumbai 1993 and Gujarat 2002 create orphans and destitutes. Denial of the basic rights of life, liberty and justice breeds militancy, a phenomenon abhorrent to a massive majority of Muslims. Nobody holds a brief for any wrong-doer. However, one must assert that fair play and establishment of rule of law is almost sure to end this phenomenon.

Now, coming to media reports and police claims, MG has discovered in its past investigations that many of such reports accusing Muslims have not been found true. When MG published its findings none of the major media houses, which had published such reports, contradicted the findings. One of these was regarding a massive separatist network in the north-east. When MG investigated the story it found the persons and places mentioned in the report did not even exist. The IG police rejected the mischievous report as bullshit.

The fact that despite widespread disapproval of militancy among Indian Muslims a few young men still find it attractive goes on to indicate the tremendous pressure under which the community is living.
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