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For Indians, bin Laden still a no-no

Updated May 13, 2011

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Members of the All India Anti-Terrorist Front (AIATF) hold placards in New Delhi May 3, 2011, during a pro-US rally as they celebrate the killing of Osama bin Laden. - Reuters Photo

The death of America's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden on May 2, has managed to elicit reactions from the world over. While crowds were rejoicing at the news of bin Laden's death in the United States, reactions in India were quite sombre, barring the war of words unleashed by the politicians and bureaucrats.

Further dividing a world that has already been fragmented by Bush’s "either you are with us, or against us" doctrine, bin Laden's death has managed to expose the cracks in every society, including India.

Although there were no protests in Mumbai and Delhi, there was disbelief about the fact that the American Navy seals, in a midnight raid, had killed the al Qaeda supremo. "At this point, I’m not sure if they got the real guy," a youth said.

A journalist from Delhi said that the world would have to wait and watch to see what unfolds in the next few days. "The photos that were on the Internet were fake, so we will have to wait and see what the truth is," she said on the basis on anonymity.

Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna termed bin Laden's killing a "historic development, but urged the international community to continue to work towards eliminating "safe havens" for terrorists in "our own neighbourhood".

In a statement, Krishna said the operation in Pakistan's Abbottabad "brings to closure an almost decade-long search for the head of the al Qaeda".

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement, "I welcome it as a significant step forward and hope that it will deal a decisive blow to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The international community and Pakistan in particular must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilised behaviour and kill innocent men, women and children."

In Lucknow, plans to offer prayers for Laden faced stiff resistance from the community elders. The Lucknow Muslims feared that the call could trigger a law and order crisis. In fact, when some community leaders learned about the call to offer prayers for Laden, they rejected it. "Do we offer namaz-e-janaza for all the world's Muslims? Why just for Osama?" asked a senior community leader.

In Kolkata, the Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque Maulana Nurur Rehman Barkati also held special Friday prayer for the "peace of the soul" of bin Laden. All-India Minority Forum President Idris Ali, who participated, said, "Bin Laden wasn't given a burial and his bullet-riddled body was thrown into the sea. The prayers were held for his peace."

Meanwhile, in Chennai, an imam of a mosque also announced prayers for bin Laden.

In a report dated 6 May, 2011, in The Economic Times, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani stated that he would lead the last rite prayers in absentia on Friday in Srinagar for the al-Qaeda leader.

"All religious figures and people of Kashmir should perform namaz-e-janaza in absentia after the Friday prayers for the martyr. All should also pray for the end of foreign occupation in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kashmir," said the pro-freedom Kashmiri leader.

A 1,000-strong crowd turned up at the Batamaloo Ziarat Mosque that Friday.

Aligarh Muslim University Professor maulana Saud Alam Qureshi, in the Times of India (TOI), dated 8 May, termed Laden's death a "cold-blooded murder". He added, "I was among the first in Aligarh to condemn the 9/11 incident." Qureshi feels that bin Laden "should have been punished if he was guilty."

In Kochi, Islamic scholar Abdullah Manima, who sympathises with the Popular Front of India (PFI) told the TOI that bin Laden "is no longer relevant". "Look at the recent movements in Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia; Osama's name is not being mentioned significantly in all those struggles. All this indicates that the struggles for freedom in the Muslim world have assumed newer forms."

While the political and religious leaders were more open to issuing statements, ordinary citizens, particularly Muslim, chose their words carefully, at times giving the impression of being completely indifferent.

"I am surprised how he was there and how suddenly they killed him. I don't believe that Pakistan did not know about all this. This is so surprising and so sudden," said Umer Dar, a young, liberal Muslim, who lives in Delhi. He feels that the Indian Muslims don't really care about what happened and is unclear about what they stand for.

Shahnawaz Khan, an IT professional, said, "It's tough to feel either jubilation or otherwise about his death. Maybe it's because I am against both the antagonists - the USA military and Al Qaeda and I would rather they keep fighting rather than one prevailing over another. There is also a fear in my mind that the USA which propped out insurgents against the Soviets in Afghanistan will now feel relieved and will prop up some insurgent against another competitor country, like China."

Amina, a housewife from Mumbai is upset at the demise of Osama but "skeptical about the way he was buried against the Muslim Shariah."

"Her being upset is purely to do with him being a Muslim from an older generation." Her daughter Shirin stated categorically, "I don't believe Osama is dead. The way he was attacked and killed with no 'real' evidence."

Articles about Laden, from mainstream newspapers, journalists’ blogs and alternative media flooded pages on the Internet. Even bloggers joined in with conspiracy theories that were soon put to rest a few days later when al Qaeda issued a statement confirming that Laden had been killed in the May 2 raid at Abbottabad.

Meanwhile, blogger Mehboob Makhdoomi, a US-based Kashmiri - currently a research scholar in England - like many others, used his knowledge in international law to defend Laden. He wrote, "Contrary to the dominant narrative, Osama bin Laden died innocent as per International law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: 'Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence'."

He went on to say, "Unfortunately, this declaration does not impart any right, neither to media nor to the president of United States to say 'Justice has been done' in his valedictory speech to his nation, after committing injustice and breach of fundamental principles of International law, by stealthily violating sovereignty of Pakistan, murdering a 'legally-innocent human being' who was completely unarmed and could not show any resistance, shooting bullets into his head in front of his wife and children, burying his body at sea which is antithetical to the deceased's religious belief."

The writer is an Indian journalist and the recipient of Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her work in Indian-administered Kashmir.