Whatever Happened to the ‘Fake Beard’ ?

The Malegaon Bomb Blast Trail

Shab-e-Barat, the day when Muslims pray for their departed ones and visit their graveyards, saw blood of innocents getting spilled in Malegaon, Maharashtra. It saw deaths of 31 people and injuries to hundreds.

From day one, there have been allegations that the police has not remained even handed while dealing with the case. Apart from providing lax security at the time of the Shab-e-Barat celebrations, it is also alleged that it did not follow some vital clues.

Now comes the claim, as per ATS (anti terrorist squad) in Maharashtra, that a group of Muslims, supposedly associated with some extremist Muslim organisation, implemented the gory act. It is understandable that why the latest claim has been received with lot of disdain as news pouring in from the city informed that a bandh had been planned on 14th of November to protest the arrests.

Can it be now said that the truth is finally out as far as Malegaon bomb blast is concerned ? And the real perpetrators of the gory carnage have been apprehended ? Or there are still loose ends which are to be met.

If one goes by the formal communiqué from the ATS (anti terrorism squad) of Maharashtra police then it has finally ‘cracked the case’ and it wants the rest of the people also to believe that the three accused under custody and their (yet to be arrested) accomplices are the real culprits. Interestingly DGP of Maharashtra while making the announcement of the arrests did not blame the usual suspects like ISI, Lashkar to be the real kingpin of the blast. Perhaps the unstated position is that it is an act of the locals only, supposedly owning allegiance to a radical Muslim outfit, which wanted to precipitate ‘communal riots’. Media is also agog with news of the ‘narco test’ which have been conducted on these accused and the way they have ‘revealed’ their real game plan under the influence of medication.

Of course the confidence exuded by the police officers is no guarantee that they have a foolproof case against the accused. It may just happen that the case may fall flat in the court for lack of substantial evidence. This has happened umpteen times before. The memory of  the poor, hapless Kashmiri fruit seller who was paraded as the real kingpin of the bomb blasts in Delhi last year, must be still fresh in people’s minds. Presented as the ‘prize catch’ by senior police officers before the media, he was later declared innocent by the same police.

The most recent case showing the modus operandi of the police in poor light, is related to the four year old attack on the Raghunath temple in Jammu. Four innocent persons had to languish in jail for such a long period for no fault of theirs. The courts have finally absolved all the accused of any charges and have advised the police to properly use its minds in handling sensitive cases of such nature.

Coming to the Malegaon bomb blast, the police version tells us that ‘bombs used in the explosion were assembled at the garage of one Shabbir Ahmad Batterywalla who was the real kingpin.’ It need be noted that this said person was languishing in police custody since August 2 itself under the infamous ‘Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’ for some other offence, more than a month before the blasts. The other two accused also had been apprehended earlier for the bomb hoax in Malegaon a few days later after the tragic incident.

One cannot deny that Maharashtra police which has received lot of flak for its acts of commission and omission while dealing with cases of such nature must have been more careful this time. A close scrutiny of the case may reveal that it is moving on correct lines. But the biggest problem at hand is that is that it suffers from a terrific credibility gap vis-a-vis the Muslim community and therefore its claims have rather failed to generate any confidence among the people.

Everybody is aware of the way in which it targetted the whole Muslim community in the immediate aftermath of the recent blasts in local trains in Bombay and the way it has been less than enthusiastic in following the Nanded bomb blasts case involving RSS/Bajrang Dal activists. The partisan role played by the same police in the 1992-93 post Babri Mosque demolition riots has even been well documented by the Srikrishna Commission.

The state administration also did not fail to show its anti-Muslim bias even  in times of tragedy. While shading crocodile tears over their plight, it saw to it that victims in Malegaon blast, majority of whom were Muslims, receive less compensation (1/5 th) as compared to victims of Mumbai blast, majority of whom were Hindus. (Iqbal A. Ansari , The Milli Gazette online, 14 th Sept 2006)

The institutional discrimination against the Muslims was for everyone to see. Whereas the police had maintained high vigilance in patrolling the town during the Ganpati festival which ended on the 6 th September, but it failed to provide similar security on Shab-e-baraat, Friday, 8th September. On this tragic day there were no police patrolling or security measures in place.

The post-blast investigations also proved to be far from impartial. After the blast apart from the extremist Muslim organisations the role and activities of the organisations associated with the RSS and other formations of the Hindutva brigade also came under scanner. The role of its activists in various bomb blasts cases earlier had already become a matter of concern. It was at this juncture that, when even the Prime Minister himself had clearly stated that he could not confirm or rule out the possibility of the involvement of Bajrang Dal in the bloody act at Malegaon, a concerted campaign was taken up for spreading unsubstantiated rumours. Quoting unnamed sources the police engaged in investigating the blasts were quick to rule out the possibility that the bombs might have been the handiwork of Bajrang Dal, which has been active in the Marathwada region.

Stigmatizing of Muslim groups and formations had already started despite the fact that “…[I]slamic militant groups in India from the days insurgency began in Kashmir in the 1990s have not attacked mosques or shops where religious books are sold’’ ( Indian Express, 18 th September 2006)

People seating in the media sympathetic to the Hindutva cause were also cooking vacuous arguments to rationalise ‘clean chit’ to the Hindutva brigade. One of the logic used was the crudeness of bombs used by the Hindutva groups earlier and  the technical expertise supposedly needed to make/use a RDX. It did not matter to them that “Outlook’ did a cover story on the same theme making it clear how easy it is to get RDX. The famous lyricist Javed Akhtar in a meeting held in Bombay under the auspices of CJP rightly asked with indignation ‘Does RDX have a special stamp establishing its link to Muslims?’

As far leaving many vital clues unattended it would be opportune to quote Radhika Koppikar of the Outlook (13 September 2006, Web Only):

“That the investigators should so blatantly rule out involvement of any Hindutva outfit is cause for concern. …. the fact remains that the cops are not chasing some clues. Take the case of “fake beard” as it has come to be known here. A tailor Aqeel Ahmed Ansari who works near the Bada Kabristan told cops and bystanders that he had picked up a body from near one of the bicycles and handed it over to volunteers in the ambulance, that this body did not have the lower part of the torso and it’s beard had come off in the ambulance. The suggestion being that it was a fake beard and therefore the body of a perpetrator. Coincidentally, the two hospitals that conducted post-mortems said that they had together handled 30 bodies and none was without the lower half.”

People who are familiar with the recent communal situation in Maharahstra very well know the significance of a ‘fake beard’. It was in Nanded only, where the police had discovered fake beards as well as dresses and caps normally worn by Muslims, in a raid on a deceased Bajrang Dal-RSS activists house in the aftermath of the bomb blast in April.

One thought on “Whatever Happened to the ‘Fake Beard’ ?”

  1. The Outlook article on the availability of RDX certainly blew a hole through the usual implication that RDX means Lashkar was involved.

    It was in Nanded only, where the police had discovered fake beards as well as dresses and caps normally worn by Muslims, in a raid on a deceased Bajrang Dal-RSS activists house in the aftermath of the bomb blast in April.

    Do you have a source for this? I’d like to read more on the specifics on the Nanded investigation but I’m not able to find anything…

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