Sushil Kumar Shinde would help the cause of Muslims a lot more if he spoke a little less. In February this year, the Union Home Minister declaimed on ‘Hindu terror,’ when the correct expression should have been Hindutva-linked terror. The remarks caused an uproar that needlessly returned attention to ‘Muslim terror,’ a phrase as offensive and inaccurate as ‘Hindu terror.’ There was substance in what Mr. Shinde meant to convey — that a Hindutva connection had surfaced in some terror acts earlier attributed to ‘Muslims.’ But the heat generated by his comments left no room for a realistic evaluation of the state of terror investigation in this country. The minister has now done an encore with his letter to Chief Ministers cautioning them against wrongful detention of innocent Muslim youths in the name of fighting terror. The Bharatiya Janata Party has predictably accused Mr. Shinde of going against the spirit of the Constitution and dividing the country on religious lines. The minister need not have made a case for “innocent Muslims.” The cause for justice would have been fully served even if he had only stressed the need for impartial and thorough investigation leading up to efficient and speedy trials. Because this is the key to ensuring no innocent person is harassed. And this is also the key to preventing vendetta policing and investigation against innocent Muslims.
The unfortunate truth is that Muslims are the first to be picked up in the aftermath of a terrorist strike. Anti-terror squads conduct ‘combing operations’ in Muslim neighbourhoods and what follows is the by-now well- documented nightmare of illegal detention, torture and forced confessions followed by denial of bail and years in prison. Case after case has ended in acquittal because of shoddy investigation, of course, but also often because the terror accused were never involved in the crime in the first place. Over the years, biases have got entrenched in the policing mechanism which can only be corrected by professionalising investigation and incorporating forensics and other scientific tools to minimise error and narrow down suspects. The Supreme Court, in the D.K. Basu case, laid down detailed guidelines for detention procedures to reduce the scope of arbitrary arrests and custodial torture. It should surprise no one that the guidelines are rarely, if at all, observed. The tragedy with Muslims is that the system that treats them as suspects is also conditioned to stymieing measures aimed at their rehabilitation. What Muslim youth need is genuine equality before the law, something that is often denied them. Sadly, Mr. Shinde’s statement makes it sound as if they need to be shown some special favour.