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Criminalisation of Bengali Muslims after the 2008 Jaipur Bomb Blasts

Kanchan Gandhi ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali.

The lives of Bengali Muslims in a slum in Jaipur changed overnight after the bomb blasts of 2008. Through narratives gathered from the field, how the criminalisation and dehumanisation of a community was made possible is shown.

A previous version of this article was presented at the conference “Rethinking Cities in the Global South” on 22 January 2016 at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.The author would like to thank the Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi, and Ashwin Parulkar, the co-researcher for the fieldwork. The field notes were collectively compiled by the CES team.

In May 2008, bomb blasts killed 67 people in the city of Jaipur, including both Hindus and Muslims from five states (PUCL 2008). The aftermath of the blasts saw stigmatisation and criminalisation of Bengali Muslims who had been living in Jaipur for the last four to five decades. The Centre for Equity Studies (CES), a Delhi-based think tank, conducted a national-level study on destitution, the empirical findings of which are presented in this article. In Jaipur, Bengali Muslims were an already marginalised community and they were further dehumanised and discriminated against after the blasts. The members of this community living in the Manoharpura kachi basti (slum) in the southern part of Jaipur were interviewed.

Labelled “Bangladeshis,” their identities had been questioned by the same state that had once issued them voter identity cards and used them as vote banks. Several male members in the community were picked up by the police soon after the blasts. Their voter identity and ration cards were cancelled and their civil, political, and socio-economic rights were suspended. They were asked to prove their citizenship by the state in order to continue their right to reside in the slums of the city. Many Bengali Muslim families fled the city fearing police harassment. Others went back to Bengal to bring their birth certificates, a process that was far from easy. Most of the men and women from this community worked as ragpickers and domestic helpers. Their livelihoods and incomes were severely affected.

Further, the police often picked up men—and occasionally, women—from the community for interrogation when instances of theft took place in the city. Many families were pauperised and survived on bare minimum food, without much access to state-sponsored healthcare facilities or any other social protection schemes. The dominant local caste groups in the basti such as the Regars and the Bervas (Scheduled Caste groups in Rajasthan) and the elected representatives from these communities neglected the Bengali Muslim part of the basti in the provision of basic services and social schemes. With hostility from the state and society increasing, the Bengal Muslim community found it extremely difficult to survive in Jaipur. The community was struggling to win their citizenship rights from the state and their court cases were being fought pro bono by lawyers from the Jaipur chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Due to increased state hostility after the bomb blasts in 2008 and harsh policies against the migrants, the future of this community appeared very grim in the city of Jaipur. Their livelihoods, mental health, and well-being were severely affected in the aftermath of the 2008 bomb blasts.

A literature review on the theme of citizenship and the denial of human rights, particularly with respect to Muslims who have been criminalised based on their identity in different contexts across the world following terrorist attacks, is undertaken in this article. Narratives of violence gathered from the field are then analysed to understand the violation of the human rights of Bengali Muslims after the 2008 blasts.

Creation of the Non-citizen

Literature on criminalisation of Muslims after terrorist attacks in other parts of the world provides a useful lens to examine and analyse the situation of the Bengali Muslims of Jaipur. Several scholars have discussed the suspension or complete denial of citizenship rights of minorities, migrants, refugees, and the poor in different countries (Ong 1993; Sokoloff and Lewis 2005; Berg and DeLisi 2006; Mehta and Napier-Moore 2010; Gupta 2012; Teo 2015). More specifically, Muslim migrants faced several forms of discrimination and violence in receiving states after 9/11 (Cainkar 2002, 2004; Žižek 2003; Puar 2005; Miller 2005; Biswas and Zalloua 2011; Peek 2011). The subject position of a Muslim in the aftermath of the terror attacks can be likened to Giorgio Agamben’s theorisation of the homo sacer: a person who lives in a state of exception.

What defines the status of homo sacer is therefore not the originary ambivalence of the sacredness that is assumed to belong to him, but rather both the particular character of the double exclusion into which he is taken and the violence to which he finds himself exposed. This violence—the unsanctionable killing that, in his case, anyone may commit—is classifiable neither as sacrifice nor as homicide, neither as the execution of a condemnation to death nor as sacrilege … This sphere is precisely what we are trying to understand here. We have already encountered a limited sphere of human action that is only ever maintained in a relation of exception. This sphere is that of the sovereign decision, which suspends law in the state of exception and thus implicates bare life within it. (1998: 52–53)

This idea of a state of exception has been employed by various scholars to understand the lived experiences of different marginalised groups. For example, discussing the lives of Sri Lankan migrant workers in Lebanon, Smith (2010: 49) invokes the image of the homo sacer:

The lack of laws which attended to domestic laborers, and/or the lack of acknowledgement and enforcement of such laws contributed to the production and reproduction of an “exclusionary zone”—a zone characterized by the permissibility of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. The private home, in particular instances, could be defined as such an “exclusionary zone” or “state of exception.” In addition, it was not only state actors who had the power to exclude domestic migrant workers from State protection but the wider sovereign as defined by subjects with state recognition.

Muslim migrants who are poor almost always fall with in the state of exception. Unskilled labourers are at the lowest rung of capitalist hierarchies and often find themselves outside the purview of state protection or of the law. In the modern-day context, a homo sacer is a figure who does not have legal value or legal rights. The Bengali Muslims in Jaipur faced the double jeopardy of being poor and viewed as “illegal” migrant Muslims. Kabeer (2006) points out that in “poorer countries” it is difficult to ensure human rights for the poor since “in situations of extreme scarcity, the formal guarantee of rights is likely to be irrelevant since seeking redress for the violation of even the most basic of civil rights entails unaffordable costs.” The poor tend to get trapped in exploitative work relationships, leading to an indivisibility of basic needs and basic rights.

Citizenship is deeply related to ethnicity. Citizenship, in the sense of membership of a state, is inherently ethnic because it is acquired with a person’s birth (Joppke 2003: 7). The experience of inclusion or exclusion from the state depends on group membership. Ethnicity is an important factor in determining how a particular group gets access to their rights. The concept of graded or graduated citizenship is not only observed in the so-called poor nations, but also among the wealthier ones. In the case of Singapore, public housing has been largely built on the periphery of the city, thus forcing the bulk of working-class citizens to live on the edges of the city state. This makes sure that the core of the city is reserved for private housing, which can only be afforded by the “productive citizen” (Teo 2015).

The Study

Bengali Muslims in Jaipur were studied as part of a national-level study on the theme of destitution in both urban and rural contexts that was undertaken by the CES. As part of this study, a team of two people, comprising the author and a co-researcher, Ashwin Parulkar, conducted fieldwork in the Manoharpura kachi basti in two phases in March and July 2012. Our local partner was the Jaipur chapter of the PUCL. Its then general secretary, Kavita Srivastava, introduced us to community leaders of the Bengali Muslim community. The primary research objective was to look into the reason(s) behind the pauperisation of the people in the basti. We found that there was a massive increase in destitution since the blasts and hence our study focused specifically on the question of Bengali Muslims post 2008. The study was qualitative in nature and involved in-depth discussions and open-ended interviews with the members of different communities in the basti. Apart from that, we spent long hours walking around the basti and observing the everyday lives and spatial interactions of the communities. During this fieldwork, which was conducted in two phases of a month each, we attended meetings and met government officials and members of elected bodies to gather critical data. Pseudonyms are used to protect the identities of the Bengali Muslim informants in the study. However, in the case of government and non-government officials, real names are used with informed consent.

Manoharpura Basti

Skilled workers from West Bengal migrated to Jaipur after 1947 (PUCL 2008). While the educated class got government jobs, the unskilled workers from the districts of Malda, Nadiad, Hooghly, and Howrah (also referred to as Cooch Behar) worked in the construction sector or as domestic helpers. The first generation of Bengali Muslims of Manoharpura basti were working class migrants from West Bengal and Assam who moved to Jaipur in the 1970s and 1980s in search of a better life and to escape communal violence and poverty in Bengal.

The first wave of Bengali Muslim migrants lived on the streets of the old city for 15 years. In the mid-1980s, Baqaar, a member of the Communist Party of India, created a “basti federation,” which led the state government to sanction 10 plots of land in Jaipur to house the city’s homeless. Manoharpura basti was created out of forestland in the Malviya Nagar area in southern Jaipur. Rehana, a community leader in her 60s and a Cooch Behari by birth, told us that in 1986, more than 190 families, of which 70 were Bengali Muslims, were shifted out from the Janta Market area, near Chandi ki Taksal in the walled city, and brought to Jagatpura, which at the time was like a jungle on the outskirts of the city. A PUCL report states that

After 1992 people from the Bajaj Nagar Kachhi Basti also moved into this area. The entire Basti presently has more than 3000 families with over 2627 being patta (title) holders given by the Jaipur Development Authority. It is mini India with Bengalis, Madraasis, Biharis, Rajasthanis and Muslims from Tonk living there. (2008: 10)

When their community had first moved there, Rehana recalled, men from the Meena community would harass the Bengali Muslim women. They would drag them into the jungle and sexually assault them. Rehana initiated a self-help group for the protection of women and the community collectively resisted the abuse. In 1998, a man who was harassing women was beaten to death. After that episode, instances of rape and sexual abuse ended. Rehana praised the efforts of a ward administrator called Hanuman Meena who helped them get ration cards. It was around his time that pattas, or land titles, for their houses
in Manoharpura were issued to them by the Jaipur Development Authority. These pattas however were cancelled after the blasts.

We spent the bulk of our time interacting with Bengali Muslims as the instance of destitution was the highest among them following the blasts. We did, however, conduct a few interviews and discussions with members of other groups.

Manoharpura kachi basti is one of the 10 slums in ward number 35 in the southern part of Jaipur. It is home to 10,000 people. According to the local corporator, Ram Baksh Berva (interviewed in March 2012), there were around 2,600 households in the basti. It comprised both migrant and local communities, including Bengali Muslim migrants, Valmikis (who are considered untouchables because they are the lowest in the caste order among Hindus), Regars (traditionally shoemakers), Bervas (construction workers), and kathputli-makers (traditional puppet-makers).

Although the Valmikis, Bervas, and Regars are all Scheduled Castes, the Valmikis are the most deprived among them since they are manual scavengers and involved in work that is considered dirty. The Regars and the Bervas are mostly engaged in construction work. Since the local ward corporator was from the Berva community, the other communities felt that he did not care much for their welfare. We observed that this was indeed the case since the metalled road, water connection, public taps, and other physical infrastructure was better in the Berva and the Regar side of the basti. The Valmikis and the Bengali Muslims were the most deprived in terms of amenities like water and roads.

Narratives from Civil Society

The voter identity cards of Bengali Muslims were cancelled immediately after the blasts. According to the PUCL, even before the blasts, these cards were issued only to “use the Bengali Muslims as a vote bank.” Srivastava said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ordered an investigation into the citizenship status of the community after the blasts. She said that Bengali Muslims in the Bagrana basti of Jaipur were pulled out of their houses and put on trains to the border. The dominant political discourse was to “punish the illegal Bangladeshi migrants and send them back to their homes” (PUCL 2008).

According to Srivastava, two days after the blasts, all district collectors and police departments in Rajasthan were issued orders to identify Bangladeshi immigrants by checking their voter identity and ration cards. On 16 May 2008, Economic Times reported that

illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Rajasthan will be identified in 30 days and could be deported as they came under the scanner of the state government after the serial blasts while a hotelier claimed he saw one of the suspects in Udaipur two days before the attack.

The orders had an immediate impact on the lives of Bengali Muslims in the slums of Jaipur. In the first week after the blasts, 116 Muslims in the 10 slums of the basti federation were arrested without warrants under Section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code (aiding and abetting a crime). According to Srivastava, when the CBI ordered the investigation into the citizenship statuses of suspected Bangladeshis, the responsibility of carrying out the surveys was given to the station house officer (SHO) of each police station. The SHO of the Malviya Nagar police department did not carry out the investigation with due honesty. He asked every household for their identification cards and they complied with the orders. Each of them possessed a below poverty line (BPL) ration card and a voter identification card issued by the Government of India. Most of the families had lived in Manoharpura basti for two generations. The younger generation had been born there. However, the SHO reported to the district collector that all the BPL and identification cards presented by the Bengali Muslims of Manoharpura basti were fake. He further recommended the cancellation of those cards and the district collector acceded. The community thus lost their socio-economic, civil, and political rights and their access to social protection programmes. Their cards were marked red and in some cases they were confiscated by the administration.

Prem Kishan, a high court lawyer associated with the PUCL, took the Bengali Muslims’ case to the Jaipur High Court on the grounds that their BPL cards had been unjustly cancelled. He pled that they should either be returned immediately or the community members should be allowed to apply for new ones. The PUCL collaborated with a Kolkata-based non-governmental organisation called Masum to verify the origins of the Bengali Muslims residing in Jaipur. The team from Masum confirmed that the community had their roots in West Bengal but since they had left in the 1970s, most of them did not carry proofs of their origins.

Kishan submitted the report by Masum to the police station and filed it in the court in 2009. However, the court cited the report submitted by the SHO to the district collector as evidence proving that the people were Bangladeshis. The PUCL managed to get a stay order on the deportation of the Bengali Muslims. But, to regain their citizenship rights, the community was required to furnish several documents, including their birth certificates, their parents’ birth certificates, their duration of stay in India, their proof of work, and proof that they had never travelled abroad. Arranging these documents was near impossible for most families who were struggling to earn their livelihoods. Going back to West Bengal and getting these certificates issued or reissued was a challenging prospect. It would mean dealing
with another set of officials and spending extended amounts of time and money. Court proceedings also involved time and money which was scarce, especially since their resources had severely dwindled following the blasts.

‘Criminal-migrant’ Muslim Trope

Following the blasts, 12 people were arrested from the basti (PUCL 2008: 10). Eleven of them were Muslims, while one was a Hindu. Two or three families felt that they were especially targeted by the police.

Shabnam’s son had been on the police record since 2006 for being a “bully” and a “thief.” When the police picked his son up for the petty crimes he had committed, Shabnam said she could bear it. But, to her, being stamped Bangladeshis after the blasts was unbearable.

Shakeel Kabaadi and his sons ran a flourishing rag-picking and recycling business in the basti. After the blasts, Shakeel was threatened by the police and asked to leave the city. He refused to move. His son Aftab was kept in detention for several months because he had made a trip to Bangladesh in 2007 and his passport had a Bangladeshi visa. Aftab said that his family might have been targeted since their business was doing well and others in the basti were jealous of them. Shakeel was a well-respected person who generated employment for other communities in the vicinity. Young men from the Valmiki community said that they had worked with him before and found him a kind man. But things changed after the blasts. His business suffered huge losses and he was unable to employ as many people as before. After the blasts, the police raided the basti along with some media persons. Aftab said that his father’s name was announced on the television and the radio as one of the suspects who had been picked up after the blasts. Apart from his son, Shakeel’s wife and his pregnant daughter-in-law were also picked up for interrogation.

Terrorist attacks across the world have been met with similar responses from different governments. After the 9/11 attacks, a binary was drawn between the “citizen” and the “terrorist” in the US.

Subsequent to September 11, over twelve hundred non-citizens have been swept up into detention. The purported basis for this sweep is to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks, yet none of the persons
arrested and detained have been identified as engaged in terrorist activity. While the government has refused to release the most basic information about these individuals—their names, where they are held, and the immigration or criminal charges filed against them—we know that the vast majority of those detained appear to be Middle Eastern, Muslim, or South Asian. We know, too, that the majority were identified to the government through suspicions and tips based solely upon perceptions of their racial, religious, or ethnic identity. (Volpp 2002: 1577–78)

The US government adopted a policy of racial profiling, and male migrants from Islamic countries on different types of visas were put through investigatory interviews. Miller explains how there was a “criminalisation of immigration” post 9/11 where the binary between the citizen and the non-citizen was strengthened (2005: 83). The government became more intolerant towards petty crimes committed by the non-citizen, which could now lead to detention and deportation. The Government of Rajasthan adopted a similar policy by profiling the Bengali Muslims in the state and cancelling their citizen status. The PUCL argued that the government unfairly invoked Section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code instead of the Foreigners Act to keep the entire process in their own hands (2008:14). Invoking the Foreigners Act would have put the cases under judicial scrutiny and the government could not have controlled the procedure. When we surveyed the basti in 2012, we were told that only 35 of the 70 Bengali Muslim families now lived there. The other 35 had fled due to fear of police harassment and torture. All the 35 that stayed were subject to police suspicion. Further, the PUCL report states that some of the Bengali Muslims were denied the right to defend themselves in court and that accused and their kin were mishandled by the police in the courts (2008: 15).

Narratives of Violence and Abuse

Shabnam’s story: Shabnam was the first person we met in the basti. She was introduced to us by Srivastava as the community leader who would introduce us to the Bengali Muslim community in the basti. She was at the forefront of the struggle to gain citizenship rights for her community. A woman in her 50s, Shabnam worked as a domestic helper in a Hindu family in Malviya Nagar, an elite area that is in the neighbourhood of the basti. She told us that seven male members from her immediate and extended family were picked up by the police for interrogation after the blasts, including her husband, sons, brother and brother-in-law. They all spent two to three weeks in prison while Shabnam ran from pillar to post to arrange the papers required for their bail. The PUCL helped her with the bail applications.

Shabnam had come to Jaipur about 40 years ago, when she was a little girl. Her father had been a cow herder in West Bengal and she had five brothers and sisters. Having lived in different places in Jaipur through her childhood, she went back to Calcutta for a brief period when her father died. She got married soon after and returned to Jaipur along with her spouse, who worked as a rickshaw puller. All her children were married when we met her. Life was difficult for the family, since all her children were illiterate and earned their living doing odd jobs such as recycling, selling paper, and washing dishes. She told us that her youngest son was involved in petty thefts in the past. He stopped stealing after being persuaded by family members but was still being picked up by the police for interrogation whenever any case of theft was reported in the neighbourhood. Shabnam said that one of her sons was once detained for seven days and starved. After the blasts, her family’s voter identity cards and the
ration card issued by the government had been stamped red, marking them as Bangladeshi. Their right to vote and access to subsidised food items were cancelled by the state.

Shabnam felt harassed and humiliated by the police and other investigating agencies. In a determined tone, she told us that she was not going to leave the basti. She came across as a fearless and honest person and reiterated that Jaipur had been her home since she was a child and that the police could not scare her away. She also praised the efforts of the PUCL in helping her family fight the state’s repression.

Rahim’s testimony: Another community leader we met in the basti was Rahim. He told us that he had met with the then chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, who had assumed office in December 2008, along with some other workers of the Congress party, to discuss issues regarding citizenship and the problems faced by the community due to police harassment. After this meeting, he said, the police harassment decreased a little.

In the absence of proof of citizenship, the police arbitrarily excised people from their homes. Rahim said that even though they had been living in the basti for over 20 years, the government had not done enough to record their presence and give them their rights. According to him, the government had conducted numerous surveys, but people had still not received appropriate ration cards. He talked of the problems in getting a BPL card and said that deserving people were left out of the enumeration while those with connections were issued cards. Rahim’s wife also worked as a domestic helper in Malviya Nagar. Both she and Shabnam said that they were quite fortunate to have kind employers who did not expel them from their jobs even after the media reports criminalised their community following the bomb blasts. Thus, it was quite clear that the neighbouring communities did not find the Bengali Muslims “suspicious” and that it was a state-created discourse that they were “responsible for the blasts.” Due to the lack of evidence against them, the arrested male members of the community were subsequently released. However, the community as a whole was devalued and suffered mental trauma and serious losses in terms of their livelihoods. Several families left the city or were pushed into destitution.

Noori’s story: On our second visit to the basti, we met Noori, a 27-year-old mother of two whose brother had been arrested by the police for stealing a mobile phone. Her brother had passed the phone on to her and she said she had accepted it as a present from him, not knowing that it was stolen. She told us that the police came to her house and said that they needed to talk to her outside. When she stepped outside she said they asked her to sit in the police car and when she did, they started driving. She claimed that they took the mobile phone from her and then started verbally abusing her and
interrogated her about where she had got the phone, which they informed her was stolen. Noori says she insisted that there must have been some mistake, but the interrogation continued until she began to cry. She claimed that this sort of thing happened four times and that her house was raided. Finally, she said, they admitted that it was a mistake and asked for her forgiveness. They told her that it was her brother who was stealing phones. Eventually, they put him in jail. When we spoke to Noori, her brother was still in jail since the family did not have the ₹ 5,000 that they were told was required to get him out.

Denial of Socio-economic Rights

A group of young Bengali Muslim men were sitting and chatting in the basti on 19 March 2012. We had a group discussion with them about the problems and challenges to livelihoods that they had faced after the 2008 bomb blasts.

We are people who do not even get to eat if we do not go rag-picking and here they are accusing us of causing bomb blasts. Where do they think we have the time and money to engage in such activities? We just want to make a living and live peacefully. (Majroo, 23 years old).

Me and my family were actually the main targets after the bomb blasts. Not because we did something wrong but because we were well-off and owned a few properties and businesses in the basti. My father Shakeel Kabaadi had made a good fortune from his rag-picking business and had set up a few other businesses, such as a furniture shop, a butcher shop, and a painting business. Before the bomb blasts, around 35 workers were employed by my father in his different businesses. He was known for his kind heart and generosity. But after the blast, things changed. Our entire family was picked up by the police and we were declared suspects. My passport was confiscated by the police and I was labelled a Bangladeshi because I had a Bangladeshi visa on it. I had visited Bangladesh the year before, but that does not make me a Bangladeshi. I was doing a Bachelor of Business Administration course in 2007, but I quit after I got married because of the new responsibilities. I had to earn for my family. The blasts happened in 2008. Our entire family was picked up, including my mother and my pregnant wife. (Aftab, 25 years old)

Aftab said that following the blasts, a police officer prepared an arrest warrant for him at 2 am. His mother and wife got bail the next day. Tej Kumar, a lawyer working with the PUCL, helped them with the papers for the bail. Aftab was released much later, after around a month.

The young men revealed that each of them had spent 20–30 days in detention, some of them even more. They mentioned that a local political person called Gulab Singh Mandoria from the Regar community had been very supportive of their community. He had helped them with official paperwork, getting election cards, and ration cards, but of late had been quite indifferent towards them. Singh had contested the election for the local corporation and all the Bengalis had voted for him. However, after he lost the election to Ram Baksh Berva, he had become a bit cold towards the community and their interests.

The Bengali Muslim youth expressed that they wanted the right to earn a livelihood in the city. They wanted the authorities to issue identity cards which would identify them as ragpickers so that they would not be unnecessarily harassed by the police. They said this was the most important need in the aftermath of the blasts. None of the authorities, however, were interested in addressing these issues. The local corporator looked down upon them and others in the basti as “dangerous” people, thus strengthening the state’s discourse against the community.

Narratives of Criminalisation


The local corporator: We met Ram Baksh Berva in his office one afternoon in March 2012. He told us that the basti was full of “weird, criminal people.” He said that 30% of the basti residents belonged to the land mafia and that 20% belonged to the liquor mafia. He said that the basti is a “dangerous” place and no one wants to “mess up” with the people there, and that is the reason they have not mended the internal roads of the basti. He said that a fresh survey had been done by the government and “deserving people” who met the criteria would get BPL cards by May 2012. On our second visit in July 2012, we found that this had not happened and that the same BPL list was being followed for the renewal of the cards. People living destitute lives were still excluded from the list. Another stereotype Berva promoted was that the people in the basti were “lazy,” that “they were busy drinking and gambling rather than working.” When probed about the dismal condition of infrastructure and services in the basti, he said “There are thousands of poor, who all do we look after?”

Clearly, Berva was an indifferent corporator who turned a blind eye to the denial of justice and looked down upon many residents of the basti. The Bengali Muslims had never seen him visiting their part of the basti and did not have any hopes of improvement from him.

The party worker: We met Premlata at Rahim’s house. She was a Congress party worker who claimed that she, along with a few of her colleagues, had helped the Bengali Muslim community in their struggle for citizenship. In 2009, they had petitioned the chief minister to stop the harassment of the community by the police and to reinstate their rights. They had asked for the community members’ BPL cards to be issued and for their pending pensions to be cleared. Premlata said that the petition stated that since the parents of many of the Bengali Muslims in the basti had migrated to Jaipur, and then lived, worked, and died there, they could no longer be considered as “outsiders.” She claimed that upon receiving this petition, the chief minister wrote a letter to police departments to stop the indiscriminate torture of the members of the community. We asked her for a copy of the said letter but she said she did not have one. The members of the community informed us that cases of police harassment had lessened since 2009.


The empirical material reveals how the citizenship of Bengali Muslims in Jaipur was suspended by the state in the aftermath of the 2008 bomb blasts. The community was deliberately criminalised by the police and there was an organised media campaign against them. The leaders of the community felt that the then ruling government was against them and wanted to evict them from the city. The inquiries by the police into their citizenship status had been conducted in a wrong and unfair manner. Due to a lack of evidence, the police had to subsequently release those they had arrested or detained, but they continued to harass and hound them. One of the community leaders suspected that this could be because the plot of land that the community was occupying was going to be a prime area for development in the future. The members of the community said that they got some respite when there was a change in regime in December 2008 and a Congress government was elected. However, many of the Bengali Muslim families had already fled Jaipur by then. Their livelihoods had suffered serious setbacks and they found it difficult to make ends meet. There was also the stigma which made other communities look down on them. They were stamped “illegal Bangladeshis” and asked by the state to prove their citizenship. The suspension of the human rights of the Bengali Muslims after the 2008 blasts corresponds to post-terrorist attack scenarios in other parts of the world that have led to the criminalisation of Muslims. The manner in which the criminal justice system dealt with the Muslim community after 9/11 and after the 7/7 blasts in London followed a similar pattern (Spalek et al 2009: 171). After such events, Muslims find themselves seen through the lens of extremism, which is unfair to the “overwhelming majority that live law abiding lives.”

The lives of Bengali Muslims too were brought under the lens of terrorism after the blasts. Most of them had lived peaceful lives before the blasts and did not have a criminal record. The disposability of the Bengali Muslims reminds of Agamben’s sacrificial figure of the homo sacer (1998). By virtue of being Muslims, they were impure and thus, sacrificial. As a minority migrant community, their negotiation power was also weak. Agamben points out that sacer is a double meaning term since it

Designates the person or the thing that one cannot touch without dirtying oneself or without dirtying; hence the double meaning of “sacred” or “accursed” (approximately). A guilty person whom one consecrates to the gods of the underworld is sacred. (sacer esto: cf. Grk. agios 1998:51)

The analysis of the different communities in the basti shows that although all of them were perceived as “criminal” and “dangerous,” Bengali Muslims were denigrated to the lowest level and seen as “impure.” The Bengali Muslim body was one of a homo sacer, it was seen as an “evil” and “animalised” body that the police did not consider wrong to torture. The lawyers fighting for them said that “they were fighting a losing battle to win citizenship rights from the state.” Already pushed into destitution and resorting to begging for survival, most of them did not have the means to fight their cases. The indignity of suspicion made this situation worse. In such a scenario, the future of the Bengali Muslims of Jaipur appeared abysmally dismal.


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Updated On : 5th May, 2019


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