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India`s Hindu Taliban

January 25, 2008

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“WILL you arrest anybody and identify him by any name that suits your case?” a judge asked the police while setting Aftab Alam Ansari free. He was imprisoned on suspicion that he was involved in the serial blasts at the courts in Lucknow some two years ago.

He is an electrician working at Kolkata in the government's power corporation. He was picked up from there. The UP police chief described him as 'a hard core' belonging to the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami. Sheepishly, the police have admitted that it was a case of 'mistaken identity'.

What Aftab went through in jail is something too familiar in the subcontinent to be repeated. I do not know whether he is suing the authorities for his illegal detention. But this is a case which some NGO should take up to demand not only compensation for him but also punishment for those who misused the law. It has become a practice with the police to arrest anyone without even a semblance of evidence to allay the people's fear in the wake of a blast.

One more example of the police getting away with 'false testimony' has come to the fore. This is the Bilkis Bano case in Gujarat. Eleven people who raped her and killed 14 of her relatives, including her three-year-old daughter, have been sentenced to life imprisonment. At last some persons have been punished, thanks to the persistence of Bilkis and Teesta Setalvad, a human rights activist, supported by the media. Yet, five policemen have been acquitted. Bilkis wants to pursue their case of 'false testimony'.

The case had to be heard outside Gujarat because of pressures within the state. Yet the main culprit, state chief minister Narendra Modi, who had planned the ethnic cleansing and had it carried out, moves around freely because there is no 'legal proof'” against him. The Nanavati Commission appointed to find out those responsible for the carnage has been sitting for the last five years; it is still examining witnesses.

Modi, without any qualms of conscience, had the audacity to talk about the centre's failure to curb terrorism when he was touring Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. What happened in Gujarat was something more terrible than terrorism. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced financial help and his government's support for concerted action against terrorism. He wants Pakistan to be part of the drive.

But he should know that terrorism is only a symptom, not the disease. Fundamentalism has very much to do with it. The terrorism witnessed in Gujarat was the work of Hindu fundamentalists. Without curbing them or their counterparts among Muslims, there can be little progress on this front.

Gujarat continues to be in the grip of Hindu Taliban. Sainiks destroyed the NDTV office at Ahmedabad a few days ago because the channel reported M.F. Hussain, a world famous painter, as one among the people's choice for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award. The land of Modi has such a pathological hatred for Muslims that there is no question of taking action against the culprits because they are the warp and woof of the state's Hindutva apparatus.

There has been no word of explanation, much less condemnation, from the BJP spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, otherwise an urbane person. When the entire structure of his party, the BJP, has been built upon anti-Muslim sentiments, its youth followers, the sainiks, are only instruments of terror and tyranny, at the beck and call of the party.

The same sainiks or their type broke glass at the NDTV office in Bhopal. This is the capital of the BJP-run Madhya Pradesh. It is assumed that no action will be taken against them. True, it is a minor incident compared to the Ahmedabad one. What the nation must realise is that Germany was not taken over by the Nazis in one day. They nibbled at the country ideologically and socially.

People would shrug their shoulders saying that the NDTV incident did not hurt them. The Nazis too did not take on all the people at one go. Only one set of them was attacked first. Left aside, the other sections asked themselves why they should raise their voice when they had not been touched. Ultimately, when the Nazis came for the last set of people, there was nobody left to speak out.

The Muslims accused in the Godhra train arson case have been denied even a fair hearing and have been deprived of basic freedoms. In all there were 135 accused in the incident. The last bail order was granted by the Gujarat high court on October 30, 2004. The court has not heard any bail application since. Many serious discrepancies in the arrests, including some glaring inconsistencies, have been pointed out to the state which simply refuses to address the concerns.

Compared to the Hindu Taliban, the Muslim Taliban may be less active. But they are very much there. They demonstrated against the Godrejs, a house of industrialists, recently because they had hosted Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses. The demonstrators demanded a boycott of the goods produced by them.

Not many Muslims were associated with the hooligans. But then nobody in the community dared to speak against them. People were simply afraid of what the fundamentalists might do to them. In fact, the fear they instill in the general public is their weapon. They have already silenced the government of India in the case of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author who has been installed in a house in Delhi, isolating her from the outside world. She has protested against the

'house arrest' but neither the government nor the Muslim community is sensitive to her freedom.

I do not know why New Delhi is soft on fundamentalists. The example of Pakistan is before us. There was a time when the madressahs and maulvis did not pose any danger. Religious parties would never cross double digits in elections to the provincial and national assemblies. The madressahs went on brainwashing the youth studying there. Thousands of them are now an integral part of Pakistani society. The government did not lift a finger against them.

Now that they have begun to challenge the state, the army has been deployed to curb them. Several suicide attacks on the military have demoralised the army as have beheadings of security officials.

Still, the terrorists have come to occupy a large bit of Pakistan's territory. Waziristan is under their command. President Pervez Musharraf has tried to convince Europe that the terrorists have been nearly ousted from the country. Very few believe him. That is his and Pakistan's tragedy. His credibility is zero.

The writer is a leading journalist based in New Delhi.