Villagers look for ways to prevent stereotyping of the village youth

A week after four young men from Seethio were named among the six suspects in the Patna blasts case, the village, on the outskirts of Ranchi, is looking for answers.

After the Patna police on Friday announced that Tariq Alam succumbed to the injuries he suffered when a bomb he was allegedly carrying exploded, his family refused to travel to Patna to claim the body.

Villagers said they were searching for ways to resist stereotyping of Seethio’s youth that they feared might follow. The Ansari Mahapanchayat and the Anjuman-Islamiya Ranchi led an Aatankvaad Virodhi Aam Sabha (Assembly against extremism) in the village, attended by 300 men and boys though no woman was present.

There has been a stream of journalists here, some cast aspersions on the community. We suggested that only a few people from the community make public statements. We discussed examples of Seethio’s residents who have made a name in public service,” said Muslim panchayat head Mohammad Ali Hassan.

A majority of the villagers are retired staff of the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) Factory, located 10 km away. “Can families do anything more to keep watch when youngsters do not reveal even good things they are up to, forget the bad? Did the boys really meet and plan this together? With HEC jobs as well as traditional Ansari weaving livelihood drying up, what opportunities can they seek?” asked a village elder.

Seethio, where over 500 Muslim families follow the Deobandi school of thought — with an equal number of Munda and Oraon Adivasi families — has a main mosque and a smaller mosque built six years along an arterial road for those running shops nearby. Since last year, the village has witnessed a division over the question of land for and construction of a third mosque for 20-odd followers of the Ahl-e-Hadees school of thought.

“Imtiaz [who was arrested from the Patna railway station] started following this school of thought, and his father and four of five brothers also started following it after him. Maybe it was because of his intellectual and religious curiosity. We too consider the Hadees an important text but the followers of Ahl-e-Hadees say ‘Amen’ loudly after prayers, and they hold their hands closer to their chest, while we hold our hands closer to our navels. This drew attention and some people did not like it and preferred that they pray separately. So the talk of a separate mosque began,” said Mohammad Azimuddin.

Imtiaz’s father Kamaluddin described his son as the main source of knowledge of Ahl-e-Hadees in the village. “Imtiaz had the most knowledge of religion and I and all of my sons except Haqim started following it after him. There is nothing wrong in this, there are lakhs who follow it in many countries.”

At Tariq’s house, the family quietly mourned the boy, who was under 20. “If Tariq did this wrong, then we do not want to bring his body here to bury it. We got a letter from the police describing that he had died. The police know how to do the final rites for a Muslim and they may do it there,” said Tariq’s older brother, declining to be named. He said there was no visible change in Tariq’s faith and practice.

But State Indian Union Muslim League president Syed Amjad Ali, who along with some representatives of the party arrived at Seethio, said: “We will bring Tariq’s body back and bury it here. We will not accept investigative agencies’ attempts to frame boys from the Muslim community.”