Praveen Swami

Unable to communicate in Punjabi, police misspelt Lashkar operative’s caste

MUMBAI: More than a week after the arrest of a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist, taken alive during last week’s terror strike on Mumbai, the world’s media still cannot agree on his name.

Muhammad Amin Kasab, Azam Amir Kasav and Azam Amir Kasab are just some of the names that have figured on print and television reports, much to the delight of Pakistani critics, who argue that the terrorist is a fiction invented by India.

His name is in fact Mohammad Ajmal Amir, son of Mohammad Amir Iman, a resident of the village of Faridkot in the tehsil of Dipalpur in [Pakistan] Punjab’s Okara district.

The confusion over Iman’s surname, investigators told The Hindu, stemmed from the fact that the Mumbai Police officers who first questioned him were Marathi speakers, unable to communicate with the south Punjab resident.

While recording Iman’s particulars — his name, address, family details and, in line with standard Indian practice, caste — the officers spoke to the arrested terrorist in Mumbai’s unique Hindi patois.

Iman, mumbling in pain owing to the injuries he had sustained, correctly answered the question about his caste, replying that he hailed from the Kasai (butcher) community. The Marathi-speaking Mumbai Police officers recorded this as Kasav or Kasab, a name unknown in Pakistan or, for that matter, in Maharashtra.

One junior policeman involved in Iman’s early questioning described the process as a little comical. He said: “Here we were talking to the most important suspect we had ever questioned, but we couldn’t understand half of what he was saying and he couldn’t understand us!”

As the records made their way up the Mumbai Police hierarchy, the misspelt caste name, often used by the media in India as a surname, set in concrete.

Later, Hindi-speaking officers who understood that Kasav was not a name known in north India, took it to be Kamaal, further adding to the confusion. It was only when native Hindi and Punjabi-speaking officers interrogated Iman that the error was corrected.

Since The Hindu broke details of Iman’s background, news organisations, including the Press Trust of India, Rediff.com, ABC News and The Economist have set the record straight. Others, however, continue to use the misconstrued, incorrect, surname.

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