Guest Post by Warisha Farasat
The recent opinion piece by Ashish Khetan in the Hindu has yet again reiterated the false and malicious stereotype: that Muslims somehow have something or the other to do with terror, either when they are directly involved or when they are silent about others of the community being involved. It is disappointing that the debate is framed in the stereotypical, “good Muslim”, “bad Muslim” tenor rather than a real engagement with issues of shoddy investigation and communal bias that marks terror investigations in the country. Perhaps the greatest disservice that has been done to idea of justice has been linking an entire community to terrorism.
While acknowledging the problem that beset terror investigations including that many innocent Muslims have been wrongly implicated in these cases, Khetan then relies on the information provided in these very investigations claiming that Indian Mujhaideen exists, and have been “busy bombing” places in India. Furthermore, he says that the evidence that support his conjectures are Investigation Reports (IR) reports on which he seems to place great reliance. He states, “Unlike confessions, which are of doubtful utility because they often involve coercion, interrogation reports are never intended to be made public or produced before any court.” It is precisely because of the fact that investigation Reports cannot be held up as evidence in a court of law, that we cannot rely upon them for our selective purposes to either make or break the facts of the case. Sharib Ali in his response to Ashish Khetan on Kafila has also outlined several reasons why the piece was problematic. I am raising some additional points as well as reiterating some of the arguments made in that piece.
Within the criminal justice system, there is a hierarchy of materials that can be relied upon as evidence, and Section 164 statements recorded before the Magistrate is something on which courts have placed great reliance. In fact, even statements recorded by police officers under Sections 161 and 162 can only be use to contradict the witness and no more. It is surprising how such a serious charge of terrorism against a group can be made based on evidence that can never be tested in a court of law. Nonetheless my point is not about whether Indian Mujahideen exists or not. Honestly, I do not know. But the sad fact is that we may never know for sure.
My point is much more fundamental and hinges on how justice has been consistently subverted by the police and investigating agencies in this country and after most bomb blasts, young Muslim youth have been implicated. Two recent examples: even before any official had said anything after the recent Mahabodhi temple blast in Bodhgaya, there were media reports quoting unnamed sources and claiming IM was responsible which implicitly meant a Muslim hand. The NIA, that is investigating the case, had issued a sketch but still the media speculation was focused along predictable lines. Similarly immediately after the recent Hyderabad bomb blast, around 400 Muslim boys were rounded up in the city.
Unfortunately, we have compromised cardinal rules of legal and procedural justice for terror investigations in such fundamental ways, that it will take a lot of time and effort if at all faith in these processes could be restored. And, yes, it will be most difficult for those persons or communities that have been targeted in these processes. It will still take far longer for a Dalit woman to walk into a police station and register a complaint of rape. And, yes, it is far more difficult for someone poor or belonging to the Muslim community to establish their innocence. These deep set class, caste and communal biases cannot be wished away by saying that most Muslims are good but some of them are terrorists and the Muslim community should own up to them. These biases can only be fought by delinking religion with terrorism and not by pitting “good Muslims” against the “bad ones.”
Finally, Khetan’s advice for the members of the Muslim community to move from the discourse of “minority rights” to that of justice is quite patronising. Minority rights is not something that the Muslim community has chosen for itself but is the framework in which historically governments choose to look at them. Here is what Khetan concludes: “And the demand for reinvestigation should come, besides others, from the Muslim community itself. This will help Muslim discourse move from minority rights to justice for all.” Why should the Muslims specifically come up with such a demand as a community? And what does Khetan mean by Muslim community here? Is it some homogeneous monolith that exists in one block across India? Besides it lends itself to the same convoluted argument that Indian Muslim have a responsibility to shout condemnation for each and every incident of terror. Why should fair investigation be subservient to a demand by Muslims only because Muslim youth are the receiving end of the shoddy and biased probes?
In fact, if anything the discourse of the Muslim community has been marked for a struggle for justice by survivors of communal violence. The support of secular and democratic groups too has been based on the principle of justice and the rule of law.
There are dozens of high profile terror cases like Samjhauta Express blast, Mecca Masjid blasts, Malegaon where the willful fabrication of evidence to implicate Muslims by police has been established by government’s own investigating agencies. Stage-managed encounters are national news and who are the victims of such cold blooded murders: Muslim youth. So if anybody needs to confront anything in this country, it is not the Muslims. It is the government, the parliament, the judiciary that need to urgently confront the police and other law enforcement agencies and ask direct questions about these innumerable false cases. If the surface is scratched a little bit, there is no doubt that it will expose the inherent biases and communalism against Muslims at every level of law enforcement.
And if the pitch of the condemnation is the yardstick to ascertain the so called Muslim opinion, that too has been done. There is not a single Muslim group – political, social or religious – in India that has not come out strongly whenever there has been an act of terrorism. It is, however, unfair to ask Muslims across India to trust a few dozen Interrogation Reports recorded by the police to establish the existence of Indian Mujahideen when the police across the country have been fabricating evidence and facts to implicate Muslim youth.
Lastly, there is no monolithic Muslim identity, and I am at a loss to understand who Khetan is appealing to? All the stereotypes that have plagued these terror investigations are reflected in these subtle and overt biases, and unfortunately, Khetan has somehow reiterated these rather than challenging them.
Warisha Farasat is a lawyer based in Delhi.