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Opinion » Comment

Updated: April 11, 2013 02:17 IST

Profiles of prejudice

Jyoti Punwani
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When the police forces suspects to display their religious identity, it is committing an offence against the Constitution

STRUGGLE: Muslims from Azamgarh protest the Batla House encounter and the arrests of youth without evidence in terror-related cases. Photo: V. Sudershan
The Hindu STRUGGLE: Muslims from Azamgarh protest the Batla House encounter and the arrests of youth without evidence in terror-related cases. Photo: V. Sudershan

Is there a grand conspiracy among the country’s intelligence and police agencies to demonise the Muslim community and Islam as many allege? Or is it that when police of different States single out Muslims for different treatment, their conduct should be treated as unconnected random acts based on prejudice?

An apology

A senior officer of the Mumbai police had to apologise this week to the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind, one of the country’s two largest Muslim bodies. A circular issued by the Special Branch to police stations across the city, asked them to keep an eye on the Girls’ Islamic Organisation (GIO), the female students’ wing of the Jamaat. The GIO, the Marathi circular noted, was “trying to motivate girls towards Islam and asking them to live in accordance with the Koran and the Hadees.” Its main aim, said the circular, was to “inspire students towards orthodox Islam, prepare them for jihad, propagate Islam, and through such propagation, work for Islamisation of the world.”

Threatened with defamation, the officer apologised to the Jamaat — for the “hurt” the allegations had caused, not for the allegations themselves, though the circular bore his signature. This was the input he had received from “some other agency,” he maintained, and he had had to forward it. What he regretted was the leak of the internal circular. He would seek out the person responsible for the leak and make sure he was convicted, he said. Such determination to convict other colleagues who have hurt Muslims in rather extreme ways, not just their feelings, has never been shown by Mumbai’s senior policemen. The officer was livid not because his colleagues had made unsubstantiated allegations against a mainstream Muslim organisation, but because he had been embarrassed publicly. Ironically, the man in question is regarded as one of the few secular officers of the Mumbai police.

Outside Maharashtra

Police in other States aren’t so concerned about keeping up appearances. The Delhi Police Special Cell is quite open about the message it wants to convey about Muslims to the country. In 2008, they had draped the three boys arrested after the mysterious Batla House encounter in the red-and-white scarves popularised by the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The pictures of the boys, alleged to be members of the terror outfit, Indian Mujaheedin, wearing these scarves were flashed across the country. It turned out that the Delhi Police had bought these scarves in bulk, no doubt for the numerous Muslims they knew they would be arresting as “terrorists-who’d-slunk-into-the-capital-to-strike” (many of whom have since been honourably acquitted). Instead of the nondescript black hoods/coloured handkerchiefs/loose dupattas that detenus are made to wear in front of the camera, these scarves would leave an indelible, visual impression. Every time viewers saw these, they’d know some more Muslims with pan-Islamic terrorist links had been apprehended.

This long-term plan to stereotype terror accused was foiled by the furious response it evoked. But now, even more diabolic ways have been worked out by the police of other States to stamp Muslim terror suspects by marks of their faith. Yusuf Nalband was released in February after his name failed to feature in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) charge sheet in the Bangalore assassination case. He and four others, including Deccan Herald journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, had been arrested from their shared apartment last August. The allegation against them was that they were part of an Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) plot to assassinate Hindutva leaders.

The 28-year-old commerce graduate, who held a regular job when he was arrested, didn’t say much when he and Siddiqui met the media after their release. He should have, for what he later told The Hindu reporter was shocking. The Hyderabad police who assisted the Bangalore Police during their arrests, he revealed, forced all of them to wear namaz caps while taking them out of their flat. “I don’t know why they did that,” he said.

Was the young man being polite? Or just unwilling to face the ugly conclusion?

Quick to learn these tricks (or was it their own brainwave?), the Delhi Police Special Cell went one step ahead last week by superimposing an oversized fez cap on the face-sketch of an alleged Hizbul Mujaheedin terrorist. This man, said the police, had left arms in a guesthouse for Liaqat Shah, the Kashmiri who returned to India to surrender and was arrested by the Special Cell as a terrorist. The man was identified on the basis of the CCTV footage of the guesthouse.

The footage (telecast by a news channel) shows a man, head down, climbing up the stairs. His face is not visible. So whose sketch was released by the Special Cell? More intriguingly, the footage shows the man wearing a Nike cap. Where did the fez come from?

The Special Cell’s attempt to project the suspected terrorist as a devout Muslim would have gone unnoticed some years back. Now, the police’s continuous targeting of Muslims has made them alert. The mischievous substitution was exposed by the Muslim Mirror, an online portal.

Making suspects display signs of their religious identity when presenting them before the world is not the police’s job. Surely, such religious profiling constitutes an offence.

The Jamaat-e-Islami, that threatened to sue the Mumbai Special Branch for defamation, may let the matter die with a written explanation, for the latter’s communal prejudice now stands exposed. But the Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi Police can’t be let off. Who will force them to explain?

(Jyoti Punwani is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer.)

More In: Comment | Opinion

Sir, it is not the police but the judiciary also which has been infilitrated by communal elements. Take for example the Gujurat riots case. All the people implicated in the Godhra burning case were arrested immedialtely, languished in jails for some 10 odd years and many of the masterminds were later acquitted by the court. The convicted in the case were awarded death sentences. On the other hand the Kingpins who orchestrated the pogrom that followed afterwards, continued to roam scott-free and also held high offices in the Govt. These were however only awarded life imprisonment. So, my question is why this bias when dispensing cases such as these. The second example is that of Afzal Guru who was awarded death sentence based on circumstanstial evidence, was hanged and not allowed to meet his family members and take recourse to law whereas this didn't happen with other death row convicts. These & many other cases make me question the credentials of the judicial system of India.

from:  Misbah
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 17:42 IST

This is not only an issue of rights violation but also a serious
security issue. The Police is doing a great disservice to the nation if
its personnel hold hatred against the entire Muslim community and are
victimizing innocent Muslims. The honest Police officials will have
tough time investigating real terrorist masterminds if innocents are
targeted -- in all the chaos, the terrorists can take cover and escape.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 16:30 IST

Undoubtedly Indian police are not secular The country itself
claims to be a secular country and working against the Muslim. In real
its the RSS agenda which is now spreading through the police department
and most of the top bosses in Indian police mainely IPS officers are
coming from the family who follows RSS ideology.

from:  Irshad Hussain
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 12:10 IST

On the one hand we say that terror has no religion, and on the other
hand esteemed paper like The Hindu is publishing articles with just one
side of the story which is based on inferences and assumptions. It would
have been good if the police version was also added to the article. One
more thing - rather than jumping on to conclusions about relation
between religion and terror, it helps to just visit NCRB (national crime
records bureau) and the CBI websites for most wanted terrorist list.
Facts speak louder than words.

from:  sanjay
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 12:02 IST

First, police forces need training in efficient interrogation techniques sans harassment preferably from british/ american agencies. Agree with a comment that all religions can be dangerous if not checked. Lets not forget that when Satanic Verses was demonised & death threats issued against a hapless writer, so-called leftist intellectuals attacked rushdie! It took US attacks of 9/11 for even the West to see that this was only the start.

from:  Neeta
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 11:39 IST

It is not the mistake of the police who go by the pattern of the
behavior of the culprits or by the profile of the innocent victims who
suffer from such acts of terror and it should not be construed that
Police go by communal assessments. If most of the time things happen
in a particular way, they have to chase the people based on modus
operandi. The predicament of police is "if you act, you are acting or
overacting rudely and if you don't, you are inefficient or passive
spectator". Journalists should not demoralise the police who have
genuinely done their duty if there is no political interference.

from:  MVJRao
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 11:23 IST

Another brilliant article. Its now reality that police is targeting Muslims all over. Its the story of every state. I really wonder why Muslims are being targeted? Only because of religion a community is being targeted. What our mass media is doing to expose it? And what about our secular leaders. Its a shame on secular India.

from:  Md Marghoob Inam Naghmi
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 10:34 IST

These days its more shocking to read the comments , in support of intolerance and prejudices that are coming form so called 'educated' persons. God save this country.

from:  james
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 10:31 IST

We have terrorist attacks happening on a regular basis. They have
claimed tens of thousands of innocent lives over the years. Most of
these have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists.

And what does this article concentrate on.... it complains about
Police who make the suspected terrorists to wear certain pieces of
clothing which may stereotype them. Fine you may have a point, but
what a weak thing to argue for.

If you want to write about something useful, why don't you focus on
the real problems.... the terrorism, it's roots in extremist Islam,
the people who fund it and propagate hatred of Indians.

from:  Sriram
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 09:54 IST

People are struggling for water, food, growing population, limited resources, unending corruption, falling economy, increasing foreign debt; and we are still fighting for religion. Once again this country is going to loss its freedom. As Rupee continuously loosing its value, that day is not far when India will be required to sell its land to pay the debt over it.

Let Police do their work sir. Still now we have seen, the politician dividing the country but it will really dangerous if visionary, Highly talented, Genius, Secular, educated, qualified journalist are helping the politician to divide and make us slave again. Please stop such news of diving nation. We have already paying a lot, paying our lives because of the communal-ism.

from:  Rupesh
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 09:32 IST

Police should come clean now. How can such largest law and order
restoring organisation of such largest democratic country like India can
go on rampage on its prejudices against the largest minority?

from:  farhan
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 09:15 IST

Every article on religion , starts with the premises that religion is
undoubtedly harmonious , even when there are intra and inter religion
conflicts , so much so that it is impossible to reconcile everything.
Moderation of religion is the key to peace and harmonious social
order.
In every religion there is a trend towards fundamentalist version ,
very much pronounced in Islam, thanks to Saudi Arabia and its effect
all over the world.
In the common parlance of usage to word religion, I am strictly
against any religion. Only acceptable form of religion which is in
consonance to Constitution and universal law of the land is when
religion restricts itself to "purely" individual way of spiritualism
not conduct of social life.
- An ardent promoter of "New Atheism".

from:  Vikrant SIngh
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 09:10 IST

It's most unfortunate that even the custodians of the Law and Order in
the largest democracy of the world have been gained over by the vested
interests to malign the role of Indian Muslims in the struggle for
freedom movements,in its reconstruction of post-independence socio-
political secular fabric and Islam as their guide and mentor to
respect the Rule of Law and constitutionality.We,save the minuscule
fanatics unaware of the Islamic Responsibilities towards the
State,are,by and large, law-abiding,responsible,accountable for our
acts of omissions and commissions and are always faithful and
dedicated to India, our Motherland. Islamic profiling of a suspect
before the world is indeed a grave offence and the culprits should be
penalized immediately.

from:  SK.GOLAM ALI
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 08:56 IST

A concerted attempt is being made by all Muslim organizations that somehow Muslims are being discriminated in India and are being targetted by police unnecessarily due to prejudice. This is farthest from truth. Unwittingly, some journalists and newspapers are also involved in carrying out this propaganda for their own reasons. It is the Hindus who feel being treated as second-class citizens in this country. A news item in today's Hindu of a complaint in Perambalur district in Tamilnadu is a case in point. When some misguided Sikhs were violently targetting India demanding Khalistan, almost all those arrested by the police were Sikhs. Can we call it religious profiling or targetting ? The time is long overdue to boldly accept the fact that some Muslims in India are on a short fuse when it comes to religion or to events around the globe. Channai was held to ransom for three days recently due to a film made in the US. In fact, the police did pretty little.

from:  S.Sridharan
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 08:48 IST

a very good article......

from:  ram
Posted on: Apr 11, 2013 at 06:20 IST
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