Will the biases about terrorists remain permanent?

We have witnessed a number of acts of terror in India during the last two decades. While those involved in the acts of terror hail from different religions, the net outcome of the actions of investigation agencies and police has been to arrest Muslim youth, to put charges against them and in most cases to release them after the charges are not proved on any ground. This pattern had a ‘mini-break’ for sometime after the Malegaon blast of 2008. The professional, unbiased and meticulous investigation of the Malegaon blast by the then chief of Maharashtra ATS, Hemant Karkare, came as a big step in getting to the terrorists. Due to this, starting from Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Dayanand Pandey, Swami Aseemanand and many others belonging to the ideology of Hindutva nationalism are currently cooling their heels in jails. Investigations into Malegaon and many other blasts are showing the imprint of these Hindutva groups and people.

One thought that this major breakthrough into acts of investigation will change the mindset of police authorities and they will overcome their biases and do a more professional job in investigation into the acts of terror.

Alas that was not to be and guided by Pavlovian reflex, in a knee-jerk fashion, police continues to repeat its pattern of issuing statements immediately after acts of terror in which  organizations like Indian Mujahedeen, Lashkar and others continue to be named without any thorough probe. This is followed by the usual arrests and framing them. Recently, the case of Hyderabad twin blasts on 21 February, 2013 in which 17 people died and over a hundred were injured. These bombs were kept on a bicycle and “Indian Mujahideen” were blamed for this dastardly act. Later in Bangalore on 17 April, a bomb exploded 300 metres from the BJP office. For this blast, a motorcycle was used. In this blast around 16 people were injured. It was propagated that the blast took place near BJP office! As usual, Indian Mujahedeen were blamed. In this blast again there was an additional factor: propaganda that the blast took place “near BJP office”, when in reality the blast was 300 metres away from their office. Congress spokesperson Shakil Ahmad said that this blast and the propaganda of its being near BJP office will benefit BJP in the forthcoming elections, while another Congress spokesperson and BJP countered the statement of Shakil Ahmad.

These incidents are very disturbing and revealing. Just ten days before the Bangalore blast, on 6 April in Kannur (Kerala) a blast took place out of  motorcycle and its rider, the RSS swayamsevak A. V. Dileep Kumar, who was carrying four kilograms of explosives, died. One recalls that the RSS associates also got killed in blasts in Nanded, Kanpur and many other places. This Kannur incident was underplayed and not much is known about the investigations so far. It is interesting that police authorities who immediately name Indian Mujahidin have been totally silent on the Hindutva connection of probable terrorists, as by now the nation knows the involvement of Hindutva groups in many acts of terror. The real loser of these biases held by authorities and common people is the country as a whole. The real reason being that if we don’t nab the real culprits and remain trapped in our usual prejudices and biases, the real culprits will continue to carry on their nefarious activity over and over again.

 As such, apart from other things on this trend of Muslim youth being arrested, a good amount of documentation and people’s investigation has been done by various human rights groups. ANHAD held a people’s tribunal and published its report, ‘Scapegoats and Holy Cows’. Lately, a significant report by Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association led by Manisha Sethi has published ‘Framed, Damned, and Acquitted’. This report in an analytic way tells us the stereotypical manner of police investigation and actions and the plight of those who were arrested particularly by the Delhi Police Special Cell on charges of being part of terrorist outfits. In most of these cases they were acquitted by courts. This report as such should have created awareness about the police methods and led to pressure on police to mend its ways. The report also points that biased atmosphere has been created as media is publishing the police version uncritically. This is in contrast to the journalistic ethics where the official versions have to be checked, cross-checked and examined critically before publishing them.

Human rights groups also have been struggling for getting compensation to these victims in good measure but to no avail so far. And then the question comes up as to what about the police officers who are guilty of these acts of wrongful investigation and implicating innocent youth, ruining their lives in a serious way? Should they not be punished?

The pattern of police reporting is also very stereotypical and needs to be seriously criticized. The question is: what the senior leadership is doing in the face of findings of such reports? Is it not important for the policy-makers to take cognizance of such important reports and respond to them in the form of policy change for the investigation authorities?

Amongst others, another human rights group, Rihai Manch from Uttar Pradesh is also campaigning on this issue and trying to get the innocent youths released. UP Government had appointed Nimesh Commission to investigate these cases, but for reasons best known to itself the government is not releasing the report and is doing some patch work here and there.

While the UP Government is dodging the issue of implicating Muslim youths, one of its ministers had the taste of these biases in United States, where he was detained at Boston airport for questioning. While he is blaming Indian External Affairs Minister for this, he is forgetting that these biases against Muslims are equally widespread and before him, people of the stature of former President Abdul Kalam and celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan have faced similar situations in American airports. Is it not an indication enough for the UP minister to set his own house in order as far as the implication of Muslim youths in acts of terror is concerned. The real worrying point of all these incidents is the way biases against Muslims are becoming rooted more and more. What efforts are needed to counter this stereotypical nature of understanding by security agencies and perceptions at popular level needs a serious course correction on urgent basis. (Issues in Secular Politics)