ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Mumbai Bomb Blasts- II: When 'Terror' Talk Crushes Human Rights

Picking on an entire community for crimes committed by a few is not unusual in India. One would have expected the police to exercise some caution in the matter of the investigation of the Mumbai train blasts. Instead, the names and faces of the "suspects" are public knowledge, there is no one to defend them and virtually no questioning of the tactics used by the police on issues related to "terror".

MUMBAI BOMB BLASTS – II

When ‘Terror’ Talk Crushes Human Rights

Picking on an entire community for crimes committed by a few is not unusual in India. One would have expected the police to exercise some caution in the matter of the investigation of the Mumbai train blasts. Instead, the names and faces of the “suspects” are public knowledge, there is no one to defend them and virtually no questioning of the tactics used by the police on

issues related to “terror”.

A CORRESPONDENT

A
ugust 10, 2006, London, UK. July 12, 2006, Mumbai, India. The response of the police, and the information made public, on these two dates in the two different locations could not be a greater contrast.

On August 10, when the UK police announced that they had foiled a terror plan to bomb at least 10 transatlantic airplanes between the US and London leading to “mass murder on an unimaginable scale” and had taken 21 suspects into custody, the chief of the anti-terrorism squad was at pains to state that they would not reveal the identity of the suspects until more information was available. He also said that this was being done to ensure that every individual gets a fair trial.

Cut back to the month of July in Mumbai. On July 11, seven serial bomb blasts ripped through the city’s Western Railway commuter line. Bombs were placed in the first class general compartment in seven different trains, all leaving from Churchgate station. Within 11 minutes, they exploded in locations starting with Matunga Road and stretching right up to Mira Road/ Bhayander in the north-west of the city. Just under 200 people were killed and over 700 injured.

Even before the blood and stains had been cleared from the stations and the dead identified, theories were flying thick and fast in the media, fed by friendly police “sources”. It was the handiwork of the Laskhar-e-Taiba, we were informed. These were “sleeper cells” made up of former members of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) banned since 2001. Within days of the blasts, suspects were picked up, named, their photographs released in the newspapers. These men are still being questioned. There is no proof yet of their involvement in the blasts. Yet their names, faces, where they live, names of other members of their families, etc, are already public knowledge.

The direct consequence of this has been the tarring of a whole community as being supporters of terrorists. Ordinary Muslims,

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006 particularly those that choose to wear the outward signs of their religion – such as men sporting beards and wearing caps or women wearing the hijab – were targeted on the local trains in the days immediately after the blasts. In one case, as reported by the media, in two different incidents, two Muslim men were beaten up by their fellow passengers for no fault except that they were Muslim, and that they happened to be on a train within a few days of the blasts.

Why do the police in India, over and over again, name suspects without adequate evidence? And why does the media continue to hound the families of suspects without paying any heed to their right to privacy?

Picking on an entire community for crimes committed by a few is not unusual in India. This happened in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her personal guards. They happened to be Sikhs. The price for that assassination was paid by over 3,000 ordinary Sikhs who were slaughtered in Delhi over two days of organised killings and by thousands of ordinary Sikhs who had to suffer discrimination as they moved around, travelled, at their place of work or where they lived.

Gujarat 2002 is another macabre illustration of how an event, exploited to the full to push an ideology, can lead to massacres on an unimaginable scale. No one knows with certainty until today how the fire started in the railway compartment in the train that halted at Godhra on February 27, 2002. Yet, within a day, the hand of “Pakistan and ISI” was evidently crystal clear, according to the then union home minister and deputy prime minister, L K Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party. And within a few hours of his announcement, the systematic revenge killings of Muslims began.

Given the propensity of people in authority to jump to hasty conclusions, one would have expected that the police would exercise some caution, particularly in a city where the communal divide has grown since the post-Babri masjid riots of 1992

93. Instead, the names and faces of mere suspects are now public knowledge, there is almost no one available to defend these

Sage Ad

men, and there is virtually no questioning of the tactics used by the police on issues that have to do with “terror”. It is as if the word erases all perspectives that relate to human rights or that the individual has no rights when the “nation” faces a threat.

The concept is not dissimilar to that used during the Emergency when the need to safeguard the seat and position of one individual was used to bring the most draconian set of laws ever seen in the country since independence. Then too the justification used was the threat to the “nation”, not from terrorists but from antinationals within India. The only threat was the hold on power of one individual, Indira Gandhi. Yet for 20 months civil liberties were suspended, the police had unchecked powers of arrest and detention, the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was in place and press censorship ensured that news of these human rights violations was never reported.

Today there is no censorship, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) has been repealed and replaced by a law far less draconian. Yet, the human rights

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006

perspective appears to have disappeared from the discourse, particularly in the media. The fact that under the Constitution every individual is entitled to a fair trial and should be considered innocent until proven guilty has been conveniently set aside when it comes to terror suspects. The media, which earlier followed some norms of attribution and used terms like “alleged” or “suspected” when referring to individuals picked up by the police, now routinely refers to such individuals as “terrorists”. Worse still, when a person is shot by the police in an “encounter”, the label of “terrorist” is attached to the dead man even though we know that the dead cannot defend themselves.

Terrorism is an issue worldwide. Even the best police force and the most advanced forms of surveillance cannot guarantee that a city or a country will be safe from terror attacks. But dealing with the problem in a way that targets an entire community will, in the long run, prove as counterproductive as what the US is trying to do with its global war against terror. You wittingly or unwittingly demonise an entire religion, bring in undemocratic laws and use undemocratic means to achieve your end, and in the end push more people towards using terror tactics because they see no other way of hitting out against the perceived injustice. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006

To read the full text Login


To know more about our subscription offers Click Here.

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top