“Suspect” Muslims: Innocent Victims!

Legal as well as political developments regarding Ayodhya-issue only suggest that it may take years, perhaps decades, for the final verdict to be ever delivered. Nearly two decades have passed since the mosque’s demolition. The guilty parties responsible for provoking the people across the country seem to be virtually untouched by the long arms of law and the related judicial process. Yes, one is compelled to make this point in the context of the ease with which innocent Muslims have been held as suspect terrorists for months, even years despite there being no evidence of their involvement in those cases. True, some credit must be given to the National Investigation Agency to have recently charge-sheeted several members of certain extremist Hindu outfits for their alleged involvement in last October’s Goa bomb blast. Several members of similar outfits are now being suspected for their alleged role in Ajmer Dargah Sharif blasts of October 11, 2007, Mecca Masjid blasts of May 18, 2007 and the Malegaon blasts of September 29, 2008.

One is intrigued at the ease with which Muslims were initially held as "criminals" responsible for these terrorist activities. The fact that it took some time and investigation for gathering substantial evidence to take action against the actual culprits highlights yet another gruesome reality which cannot be either sidelined or ignored. The "suspect" Muslims were arrested without giving any importance to whether there was any evidence against them or not. They were apparently arrested primarily only because they were assumed to be responsible for those blasts. Assumption of their guilt clearly rested on their religious identity. Herein is the tragic twist questioning the secular as well as democratic and legal complications linked with the arrest of innocent individuals because of their religious identity as Muslims. What is equally perplexing is that they were taken into custody without much delay. It is indeed pathetic that little concern was displayed for collecting substantial evidence to legally build the case against the suspected individuals. Why was such a legal laxity displayed then? The religious identity of the arrested individuals certainly does not justify this laxity. Think again. Little time was spent in tainting the reputation of innocent Muslims, which spelt havoc, torture and misery for their careers, future and all their family members for no fault of theirs. Compare this with the time spent in collecting evidence and preparing cases against those who are actually suspected to be responsible for these blasts. Of course, one does not question the investigation authorities for building cases against the suspected individuals only on basis of substantial evidence. From all angles, this approach is legally justified but it should be applied equitably to all.

One remains perplexed at the difference in approach adopted towards innocent persons and the guilty ones. While action was taken against the former immediately and before any proof was discovered, the latter remained virtually unaffected till investigations revealed that they were the ones actually responsible for the blasts. It is well-known, the innocent persons were instantly held as "guilty" only because they were Muslims. But, if concerned authorities remained legally extra-cautious about taking action against extremist Hindus, why didn’t they exercise similar caution towards Muslims? Why are all the legal, secular and democratic values pushed aside when action is taken immediately against Muslims suspected to be responsible for blasts? Why don’t the politicians raise their voices then, demanding evidence for arrests of Muslims? The last question has been raised as most politicians remained practically silent when action was initiated against Muslims suspected to be responsible for blasts. Why didn’t the same politicians, who have started criticizing the power-holders now take the same stand earlier? Why did they remain silent then? By remaining quiet earlier, they apparently chose to close their eyes towards whether innocent Muslims were being wrongly held or not. Only a few loud and emphatic comments from politicians demanding evidence for Muslims’ arrest may have prompted the concerned authorities to cease harassing the innocent then itself. Sadly, these politicians are making noise apparently to display their sympathy and "support" for Muslims now to gain some political mileage and media coverage.

Irrespective of what the religious identity of a person is, legal action is expected to be taken against him/her only if he/she is suspected to have committed a crime and there is strong evidence to support the same. But the manner in which innocent Muslims are instantly labeled as terrorists and even pushed behind bars only implies that they are viewed as "guilty" only because of their religious identity. There prevails a major lapse in the system, legal as well as political, the main victims of which seem to be innocent Muslims. The other glaring illustration of this is the time being taken on the Ayodhya-issue. The key persons responsible for Babari Masjid’s demolition and the accompanying riots have yet to be pronounced as guilty. One wonders whether their religious identity has let their crime be virtually overlooked whereas reverse has been the case for innocent Muslims who have been held as terrorists in other cases.