October 14, 2008
Muslims in Gujarat are worried about continuing harassment by the police in the aftermath of serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat.
Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
Close on the heels of the recent bomb blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat, the state’s infamous police swung into action to detain Muslims and targeted their premises to look for more bombs and materials which were used in the mindless acts of violence.
Muslims in Gujarat never tire of airing their resentment about the routine checking but the way investigating agencies are behaving the moment they see a person with a beard and a skull cap. This really hurts Muslims. Today some special operation was made in Ahmedabad. Vehicles were checked and harsh questioning was visible at all cross roads in Muslim areas. Juhapura, the largest Muslim ghetto was the prime target.
Apart from it, many of Muslims who were victims of the mass blood-letting, fled from their homes six years ago but they are staying in some or the other safe place now. Even as they recall the massacre of February 2002, Muslims living in Naroda Patiya here have not panicked in the aftermath of the serial bombings in the city recently.
“How long do we keep running? How and where can we flee? Now we are living here on the mercy of Allah. If we are destined to die here, we would die,” said Naseema Banu, a resident of Hussain Nagar in Naroda Patiya on the outskirts of the city. Naseema, in her early forties, works in an elastic manufacturing company while her aged mother Jameela Banu has worked for a Hindu family for past four decades. “I came to this place from Lucknow with my parents when I was two months old and today my grandchildren are two years and four years old. This is my place where and why should I go anywhere from here?” Naseema questioned with anguish.
They as well as their neighbours look less scared and are not planning to shift away from their Muslim-dominated lower middle class locality after the bombings – which its alleged perpetrators Indian Mujahideen said in an email were in revenge for the 2002 violence. It was not so six years ago. A day after a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire on Feb 27, 2002, a mob had attacked the locality, resulting in the worst massacre of the communal violence across Gujarat which went on for weeks. Many women were gang-raped and at least 83 people were killed in the area, forcing many to run away from their homes without a moment’s delay.
Nazirbhai, 50, a scrap merchant of the same area, said: “However, this time the role of SRP (Special Reserve Police) was different. Last time they were helpful to the killers while this time they were guarding Kalupur, Shahpur, Dariyapur. But this does not save the residents from prolonged questioning and harassment by the authorities which were cordoned off with heavy police bandobast.. In some streets, the police of Naroda and Naroda Patiya where heinous riots took place after Godhra ware also under scanner.
According to reliable sources, about two hundred people, most of them Muslims, were taken into custody including two maulanas—one from Danilimda and one from Mangrol. Meanwhile, malls in Ahmedabad have been asked to beef up their security after the city was rocked by a series of coordinated bomb explosions. Shopping malls and market places still wear a deserted look, and their owners are taking no chances. Shopkeepers in Ahmedabad and Gujarat complain that they have lost business to the tune of millions over the past few days.
Gujarat government and the police believe that there was substantial local support for the blasts that took place in the city and planting of several bombs in Surat. “Though the conspiracy has a pan-national angle, it could not have been possible without the local support,” a government official said. The investigating agencies are after the locals who helped in carrying out such a massive operations. They have also launched combing operations to nab them, the officials said.
Surat Police Commissioner R M S Brar also believes that the planting of so many bombs in odd locations in the city was not possible without local help. “The terrorist operations on such a massive scale are not possible without local support. The planting of bombs, the selection of places, transportation of explosive materials was not possible without locals,” Brar explained. Both Ahmedabad and Surat police have launched massive combing operations for the last few days in various parts of the two cities to nab the locals involved in abetting terrorist acts.
Ahmedabad crime branch had carried out massive operations and detained several persons. The Surat crime branch had also carried out massive combing operations after the blasts, which luckily were defused before they were set off. “In the combing operations we had questioned 280 people and detained some others.
Muslims in Ahmedabad are worried about continuing harassment by the police in the aftermath of serial bomb blasts. Let us take the case of Juhapura, the largest Muslim locality in Ahmedabad.
Fear hung over large parts of Ahmedabad as the city’s minority community huddled indoors after news of the serial blasts spread. For them, it was a flashback to the post-Godhra communal riots of 2002.
In Juhapura, Shah Alam and Naroda, silence and deserted roads replaced the usual bustle. People in the Naroda Gam area where one of the worst massacres of 2002 had taken place left the village last night, while residents of Shah Alam kept a night-long vigil. Some panicky survivors of the 2002 carnage even called up NGO activists seeking their advice on what to do.
“Though people were calm, there was palpable tension visible in them,” said community leader Sharif Khan Pathan, one of the prominent organisers of the Shah Alam relief camp after the 2002 massacre.
In Juhapura on the south-eastern periphery, which got its first bank branch only three months back, people kept asking “what will happen now?” said Dr Shakeel Ahmed of the Islamic Relief Committee. “Thankfully, nothing happened this time as nobody made any provocative speeches.” On the Juhapura-Sarkhej belt, where one of the 17 blasts took place, fear is omnipresent and few want to talk what happened on Saturday evening.
“Whoever has done these unholy and inhuman acts should never ever be forgiven. The severest of the punishments should be meted out to the guilty,” said maulana M.A. Sheikh, a senior teacher at the Jamiah Darul Qur’an Madrasa, which is a couple of yards from the blast site. Recently, the madrassa had organised a workshop on “Steps to be taken to build bridges between the Hindus and the Muslims”. “We had even gone to the Swaminarayan temple where we got a very warm welcome and a very good response. Now see what has happened,” said Sheikh.
Fatima Bibi, a woman in her thirties and residing in the Dhal area near to the blast site, is worried about losing her daily wages. “I go to the city area to make rakhis with a Hindu organization. But today I had to take a day off as my husband and children felt scared.” Economic considerations have ensnared the locals who depend on the Hindus for some piecemeal work; they are alienated socially but are linked to the other community economically.
Ghaffar Siraj, another resident of the area, said: “If it is the handiwork of the so-called Indian Mujahideen, then I think the blast in Sarkhej-Juhapura must have been planned to show to the outside world that even Muslims of the targetted areas have not been excluded.”
Fearing danger to Abdul Halim’s life, his wife Noor Saba on Friday moved the Gujarat High Court expressing concerns about safety of the cleric, who was arrested by the city crime branch immediately after the serial blasts from his home in Danilimda. Abdul Halim has been arrested in connection with a 2002 case for conspiring to incite 33 Muslim youths to take to arms and of sending them to terror training camps near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. However, while seeking his remand, the crime branch claimed that his interrogation was needed in order to get leads in the recent blasts. This only means that they want to extract confessions by force to please their masters.
In her petition filed by advocate Hashim Qureshi, Noor Saba has sought direction from the court to the crime branch to follow guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. The apex court has given general directions to police that a person cannot be put to torture in custody. Noor Saba has also requested the court to permit her to meet her husband. She has narrated in her petition how a police team raided her house and picked Abdul Halim without giving any reason.
Have you seen Huggies, Aslam Khan asked me. You mean the diapers, I asked him, not knowing what he was driving at. “Now think of those unexploded bombs in Surat recall their pictures. Didn’t they look like diapers? Everyone here feels so,” Aslam Khan said, summing up a popular viewpoint, of incredulity, among the Muslim community of Surat towards the many bombs found in the diamond city.
“If terrorists wanted to explode the bombs they would have done what they did on July 26,” says Hanif Shaikh, a tourist operator in Surat. Asked who he thinks is behind the plot he takes recourse to a song from the Rajesh Khanna film Roti, “Yaha sab shanti hai, yeh public hai sab jaanti hai (It is calm and peaceful here and the public knows everything).” When told to elaborate, he said, “In our opinion, it was done by the opponents of (Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi . They want to make him unpopular. So far Modi has always been saying he has given security to the people of Gujarat, but these blasts have exposed him. And everyone knows who benefits if Modi is under attack.”
Five days after 24 live bombs were found in Surat, Muslims in the diamond city are in a state of shock. They feel their city is under attack by someone who wants to create communal disturbances. They fear that the combing operations by the police will lead to the arrest of innocent Muslims. Without naming anyone, Hanif says, “We all know there are leaders in Narendra Modi’s party who want him out. You see, parliamentary elections will be held next year and if the Bharatiya Janata Party wins in a big way in Gujarat, the credit will go to Modi.
He added, “He he is the most popular leader in the BJP after L K Advani His rivals don’t want him to become very powerful after the 2009 elections.” At this point Aslam intervenes, “That is why I asked you about Huggies. If any terrorist wanted to explode bombs he would have done it, not done a shoddy job like this.” Surat has not faced a disruption in its communal harmony since 1992, and there have been no major riots in the last 16 years. Even during the post-Godhra riots that killed around 1,000 people elsewhere in Gujarat, Surat was peaceful.
Asked if he suspected local Muslims of being involved in the incident, Aziz Merchant, a tailor from Bade Kha Ka Chakla area, said, “I don’t think so. Local Muslims know their city is the most peaceful city in Gujarat. Why would they want to disturb the peace? Moreover, what will they gain by such an act? Even if you consider they wanted to do it, why will they place a bomb on a tree? When I saw the images of those unexploded bombs, I felt they looked like cakes.” He agrees that this kind of job can only be done by a local Surti but he has his reservations about Muslims being involved. “The way these bombs were placed it is sure there is local involvement. The terrorists have targeted the diamond market in particular.”
Out of 24 bombs, 23 were kept in the city’s diamond hub. So there is definitely some big motive, but I don’t think Muslims can be involved,” added Merchant. His friend, Haroon Saudagar, intervenes to say, “Some people talk of revenge for the post-Godhra pogrom by the Muslims. Why will they target Surat, because there were no riots here since 1992?” The only possible involvement will be of Muslims affected in the 1992 riots. But I don’t think they will take revenge after 16 years,” he points out. Merchant adds, “After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, many Muslims were killed in the riots. And, I feel Muslims learnt from that incident that there is no point in fighting with each other as business suffers the most.”
Imran Patel, a college-going student, says, “This is just a ploy to defame the Muslim community in Gujarat. My friends and I are worried about our future. We were just returning to normalcy after the Gujarat riots of 2002 and now this has happened. We all don’t know who is behind it, but we just pray that innocent Muslims won’t be rounded up.”