Irfan Ahmed in Al Jazeera. Here
What is rarely visible in the Indian media, however, are the brutal, illegal methods used against suspected terrorists: torture cells, illegal detention, unlawful killings in “police encounters”; elimination of evidence against the illegal actions of the law-enforcing agencies; and rampant harassment of Muslims. In July 2009, The Week reported on the existence of at least 15 secret torture chambers meant to extract information from the detainees. The methods to extract information include attaching electrodes to a detainee’s genitals as well as the use of pethidine injections. To quote The Week, these chambers are “our own little Guantanamo Bays or Gitmos”, which a top policeman called “precious assets”.
In May 2008, a Muslim boy aged 14 was abducted by the Gujarat police. He was dragged to the police car at gunpoint and taken to a detention centre where he was tortured. He returned home ten days later when the court ordered his release following his mother’s petition. The police subsequently threatened the boy’s family with dire consequences if they pursued the case in court. The police harassment becomes even more acute in light of the fact that most lawyers often hesitate to take up the cases of “terrorists”. As a disempowered community - as the government-appointed Sachar Committee report (of 2006) minutely demonstrates - Muslims themselves don’t have adequate and qualified lawyers to pursue such cases. Muslims’ marginalisation thus renders their voice invisible in the media too.
It is believed that after SIMI was banned, soon after 9/11, its radical members formed IM. During my fieldwork (2001-2004) on Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI I did not hear anything about IM. SIMI activists and other Muslims I met felt terrorised themselves. It is worth noting that since 2001 far more people have been arrested as “SIMI terrorists” than the actual number of SIMI members, which in 1996 was 413 (when founded in 1976, SIMI’s members numbered 132). Until today, the Indian government has still not legally proved its rationale for banning SIMI.
In the fight against terrorism, evidence and the rule of law are subservient to prejudice. As of this writing, the Indian government has not yet tracked the perpetrators of the July 13 attack. However, only two days after the attack, Subramanian Swamy, a prominent politician and former minister (with a doctorate from Harvard University) wrote an article called “How to Wipe Out Islamic Terror”. Without any evidence, he blamed Muslims for the attack, in the same way that The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Sun suspected Muslim involvement in the Norway shooting nine days later.
What Swamy did is standard practice in Indian media. In September 2006, a blast killed 35 people at a Muslim graveyard in Malegaon (in the state of Karnataka). The media blamed Muslims. Likewise, in 2007, after a blast killed 10 Muslims praying in Hyderabad’s Mecca mosque, Praveen Swami freely wrote about the Muslim terrorists he believed caused it and about what he perceived to be the “Islamist threat to India’s cities”. However, investigations later showed that Hindu nationalists carried out the Malegaon and Mecca mosque terror attacks.
Returning to Subramanian Swamy, Swamy wrote: “We need a collective mindset as Hindus to stand against the Islamic terrorist. The Muslims of India can join us if they genuinely feel for the Hindus. That they do I will not believe unless they acknowledge with pride that though they may be Muslims, their ancestors were Hindus”. Those refusing to acknowledge this, Swamy advocated, “should not have voting rights”. He proposed declaring India “a Hindu Rashtra [state]”.
Stories of Muslim terrorists abound in both the Indian and Western media. Since the July 13, 2011 Mumbai bombings, vitriolic pieces like Subramanian Swamy’s have appeared frequently in the media. These pieces subtly influence the analyses of many liberal intellectuals. By contrast, stories portraying Muslims as the terrorised remain fairly sparse. One wonders if, and how, such stories will be told