There are perhaps as many stories hidden in their lives as there are Muslims in India — some 160 million. But the meaning of being a Muslim could also vary dramatically, depending on the political situation and the types of myths and stereotypes that are manufactured and spread in an attempt to project the community as the “other”.
In this era of ‘war on terror', Muslims both nationally and globally are perceived to be the not-so-normal people, who are out of step with modern civilisation. The book sheds some light on a similar perception within the community and the danger it poses for inter-community relations.
The publication is an outcome of two events that ‘Act Now for Harmony and Democracy' (ANHAD), a prominent civil society organisation fighting Hindu fundamentalist elements, held in the recent past — in Hyderabad (2008) and New Delhi (2009). It presents the testimonies of several victims of communal violence and state oppression as also commentaries by many well-known scholars and activists, who served as juries in these tribunals. They include: K.G. Kannabiran, Rama Malkote, Justice Sardar Ali Khan, Justice S.N. Bhargava and Asghar Ali Engineer (Hyderabad); Zoya Hasan, Tarun Tejpal, Hanif Lakdawala, Prashant Bhusan, Zahid Ali Khan, and Admiral Ramdas (New Delhi).
In an insightful foreword, the noted scholar and activist, Ram Puniyani, records that the testimonies of victims “moistened the eyes of many jury members.” He says what is sickening is not just the communal attacks but also the reckless and indiscriminate manner in which the security forces went about arresting Muslim youths in the aftermath of terror strikes, as evidenced in the case of the Samjhota Express, Ajmer, and Mecca Masjid bomb blasts. Among the testimonies of the victims of violence and their relatives, the one by Mussarat Jahan is heart-rending. She gives a graphic account of the circumstances under which her sister, Ishrat Jahan, was killed. Her narrative of Ishrat's life brings out her (Ishrat's) innocence. Some of the victims' accounts are pretty long.
Discussing the issues in a larger perspective, Rajiv Yadav analyses the working of electoral politics and the “politics of terrorism” and shows how Azamgarh is now projected as a “new Pakistan” in India. As for the cases presented by activists in the field, Nihal Ahmed Ansari narrates the story of Noorul Hooda, a powerloom worker who was arrested as a suspect in Malegaon case.
Another interesting account has come from Nisaben, whose son-in-law Mohammed Zahid has been accused in the Malegaon blast case. Then there is the case of Shah Alam of Ahmedabad, worker in a junk shop, being picked by the Anti-Terror Squad and accused of having planned to blow up a temple. How, in the absence of Shah Alam, his family suffered for want of money to educate his three children is told poignantly by his sister, Seema.
Without doubt, the attempt to weave together real life stories about the hardship, agony, and misery the families of the victims of communal violence have suffered is commendable. First and foremost, it helps the people at large understand what such violence and the official agencies' knee-jerk, and often partisan, response has meant to members of the minority community. For the victims themselves, it provides an opportunity to share their experiences and offer their viewpoints.
Above all, it serves as a morale booster and infuses in them a sense of confidence that there are indeed people who really care for them. This in itself is very uplifting, given that people's general attitude is marked dominantly by apathy and indifference. Moreover, the value of a compilation of this kind is enormous for any researcher on ethnic violence.