Muslim reactions to Mumbai blasts
In the wake of the blasts, several Muslim organisations all over the country have organised meetings to condemn them, to argue that Islam does not allow such heinous deeds and to demand that the government constitute an impartial investigation into the blasts. They have appealed to Muslims to struggle for their constitutional rights as citizens of India through democratic means
Although the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai have been widely condemned by numerous Indian Muslim organisations and leaders, their voices have gone unheard in large sections of the Indian media or else have received only passing mention. While the identity of the perpetrators of the blasts is still uncertain, scores of Muslims have been arrested by the police in different parts of the country. Muslim and human rights organisations claim that many of these people are innocent and have nothing whatsoever to do with militancy. Always on the prowl for any excuse to hound Muslims, the Hindutva lobby has seized the opportunity created by the blasts to castigate the entire Muslim community.
Muslims from a wide cross-section of society I have interacted with in Delhi in recent days are visibly upset about the way in which the Mumbai blasts have been used to tarnish the image of the community. They argue that, in the absence of firm evidence, it is unfair to blame Muslims for the blasts. They insist that before coming to any conclusion regarding the identity of the perpetrators the government must institute an impartial inquiry. While they admit that the blasts could indeed have been the handiwork of some Muslims or a radical Islamist group, they argue that the culprits the could equally possibly have been a non-Muslim outfit, who might have engineered the blasts to trigger anti-Muslim sentiments to win public support for an anti-Muslim vendetta.
Heena, a college student, tells me, “Yes, a self-styled Islamist group may have orchestrated the blasts. Or, perhaps, relatives of some Muslims massacred recently in the state-sponsored pogroms in Gujarat, in order to seek revenge. Who knows? But the blasts could just as easily have been carried out by some Hindutva, Zionist or Western group or some such anti-Muslim agency in order to blame Muslims and give them a bad name. Till such time as the identity of the culprits is confirmed, we should desist from passing judgment.”
“Islam condemns the killing of innocent people”, says Wali, a shopkeeper in Matia Mahal. “Even if the blasts were engineered by some Muslims, why should the entire Muslim community be condemned for it?” Wali speaks of how the Mumbai blasts, coming close on the heels of similar blasts in Varanasi and Delhi, have only further entrenched deeply held anti-Muslim prejudices among many Hindus. “If the blasts were orchestrated by some anti-Muslim group to give Muslims a bad name, they’ve succeeded in their mission”, he says. “But”, he hastens to add, “if some radical self-proclaimed Islamist group or the Pakistani ISI were responsible, they’ve done the greatest possible disservice, not just to India as a whole, but also to the Indian Muslims themselves, who now feel even more threatened and insecure than before.”
“The blasts are totally unwarranted and no religion can sanction this, no matter who has done it, whether Muslims or Hindus or someone else”, says Hussain, a shopkeeper in Dariya Ganj. “But”, he also asks, “why is it that when three thousand or more Muslims were recently killed in a state-sponsored pogrom in Gujarat, the Hindutva lobby and the wider Hindu society did not express similar outrage? Why is it that Modi, who orchestrated the pogroms, is still sitting comfortably in his chair?” “Why”, he wants to know, “are Hindutva goons, who indulged in such an orgy of bloodshed in Gujarat and elsewhere, not condemned as terrorists? Why are they instead projected as patriots? Why have the Hindus responsible for the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in 1984 and the murder of I don’t know how many Dalits not been brought to justice?”
Hussain reminds me of the literally several thousand cases of communal riots, anti-Muslim pogroms and police killings of Muslims that have happened in India since 1947. “Not a single person involved in these heinous crimes has been hanged”, he claims. “Jamshedpur, Mordabad, Bhiwandi, Nellie, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Gujarat — the list is endless, and the number of innocents, mostly Muslims, killed runs into tens of thousands”, he says in despair. “Yet, they have not got justice and the state has done nothing at all to rope in Hindutva terrorists.” He tells me about the brutal slaying of some 50 innocent Muslim youths by the Provincial Armed Constabulary in 1987 in the notorious Hashimpura massacre. No action was taken against the accused. Instead, some of them were promoted.
Several Muslims I have met in recent days relate that, particularly after the Mumbai blasts, they feel a heightened sense of insecurity when they venture outside Muslim localities, mostly squalid ghettoes in which they have been condemned to live. Wasim, a madrassa student in Zakir Nagar, says that when in a bus he usually gets strange looks from passengers, who recognise him as a Muslim from his beard and skullcap. Arjimand, a sales executive, relates that he recently sought to rent a house in an ‘upper caste’ Hindu locality because his wife insisted that they should move from the Muslim ghetto of Batla House. “When the landlord found out that we were Muslims, he flatly refused to let out his flat to us, telling us bluntly that he did not want Muslim tenants.”
Many Muslims I have recently met relate some such anecdote. They point out that such cases of prejudice against Muslims are not new, but they also claim that they have mounted in recent years, thanks to incidents like the Mumbai blasts.
In the wake of the blasts, several Muslim organisations all over the country have organised meetings to condemn them, to argue that Islam does not allow such heinous deeds and to demand that the government constitute an impartial investigation into the blasts. They have appealed to Muslims to struggle for their constitutional rights as citizens of India through democratic means. They have denounced both Hindu and Muslim militancy and have suggested that Muslims join hands with people of other faiths to promote genuine secularism and democracy. The general response of the Muslims I have been meeting seems to be that both Hindu as well as Muslim militants pose a grave danger to the Indian Muslim community, in addition to the country as a whole. At the same time, they insist that the state address the very serious issue of widespread Muslim poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, a result, in part, of the neglect by and apathy of the state towards Muslim concerns and discrimination at the hands of the wider society dominated by ‘upper caste’ Hindus. Growing Islamophobia occasioned by incidents such as the Mumbai blasts, they fear, will make their case for social justice for Muslims even less acceptable to the state and many Hindus.
As Ayesha, a housewife in Old Delhi, tells me, “Indian Muslims have to live and die here. This is our country. Hindu and Muslim militant groups have their own nefarious agendas, seeking to hold ordinary Hindus and Muslims to ransom by setting them against each other. If the Indian state and society at large are serious about preventing attacks such as in Mumbai recently, all forms of terrorism in the guise of religion, Hindu as well as Muslim, need to be effectively countered with equal vigour.”
“At the same time”, she adds, “sustained peace can only be based on justice, and if we are genuinely concerned about peace, a simple law-and-order approach alone will not do. The state has to be also serious about addressing the continued denial of justice to marginalised communities, be it Dalits or Adivasis or Muslims, as well as their lack of access to resources, education and representation.”
The writer is post-doctoral fellow at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, Leiden. He also edits a web-magazine called Qalandar, which can be accessed at www.islaminterfaith.org