Indiaâ€™s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (in blue turban) and Sonia Gandhi, chief of Indiaâ€™s ruling Congress party visit one of Thursdayâ€™s bomb blast sites in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati November 1, 2008. Indian police detained three Muslims on Saturday after a little-known Islamist group claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 77 people in the troubled state of Assam.
NEW DELHI: Amid the backdrop of India having witnessed 64 serial blasts in six states in less than six months leaving around 250 people dead and more than 900 injured, the issue of terrorism has assumed a new importance in most circles here. Even before waves raised by Batla House encounter (September 19) have settled down, serial blasts in Assam (October 30), which killed around 77 people have hit headlines again. Not surprisingly, the issue of terrorism dominated the annual convocation of Jamia Millia Islamia (October 30). The university has been in news as a few of its students were arrested as â€œsuspect terrorists,â€ following the Batla House incident- viewed as a fake encounter by many.
During his address, Mushirul Hasan (Vice Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia) said: â€œAlready, our students are being denied jobs because Jamia is supposedly breeding ground of terrorism. Cab drivers warn their passengers not to enter premises. Delivery vans and service providers baulk at entering our neighborhood.â€ â€œIs this the price we must pay for being the chief protagonist of pluralist and secular nationhood,â€ he asked.
â€œLet us not forget that Gandhiji was killed because he was perceived to be a friend of the Muslims, and an enemy of Hindus while he strived against the violent actions of both Hindus and Muslims,â€ stated U.R. Ananthamurthy, the chief guest at the convocation. It is time, the noted Indian writer pointed out that all, â€œMuslims and non-Muslims alike, did a serious exploration of what constitutes the fundamentals of Islam. This is necessary to understand the core of Islam, and, more, importantly to, to extricate Islam and Muslims all over the world from clutches of religious bigots, protect it from misrepresentations of Western media and its lackeys, and to highlight the dynamism of Islam as religion and philosophy.â€
With Indian authoritiesâ€™ anti-terrorism drive having taken a new turn, marked by recent arrests of certain Hindus for their alleged role in Malegaon blasts, after the convocation, Ananthamurthyâ€™s opinion was sought. Did their arrests suggest a positive change? He categorically told TMO: â€œNo. Whether Hindus or Muslims, names of people arrested on grounds of suspicion should not be revealed.â€ They may be proved innocent later, but damage is already done where their reputation and careers are concerned, he explained. Laying stress that â€œrestraint is necessary,â€ he asked: â€œWhy should media give out names of all arrested under suspicion before they are proved to be guilty?â€
At the convocation, honorary doctorate degrees were conferred on Naseeruddin Shah (actor), Shabana Azmi (actor and social activist), Kapila Vatsyayan (scholar of classical Indian dance) and Asghar Ali Engineer (writer and scholar on liberal theology of Islam).
When asked for his opinion on recent arrests of radical Hindus as suspect terrorists, Engineer replied: â€œThis could be a politically motivated drive.â€ Blaming politics and media for having played a negative role regarding Batla House encounter, Engineer told TMO: â€œThe arrests (of Hindu radicals) may be linked to an attempt of authorities to try and improve their image among Indian Muslims.â€ On whether their arrests could be linked to new fervor with which secular Indians, Muslims and non-Muslims, have begun raising their voice against only Muslims being labeled as â€œterrorists,â€ Engineer gave a nod. â€œWith elections round the corner, the government cannot ignore the Muslim voice or vote,â€ he pointed out.
When opinion of A. Malik (deputy registrar at Jamia Millia Islamia) was sought on the new zeal with which questions are being raised on only Muslims being labeled as terrorists, he replied: â€œFor how long can Muslims remain silent and patient? They have taken it for too long.â€ The problem, however, cannot be solved overnight and/or with just a few arrests, he said. â€œLike-minded people need to get together and chalk out long-term plans to change communal mindset of certain sections,â€ he said.
â€œWe (Muslims) cannot afford to keep quiet any more,â€ according to Iftekhar Ahmed (director, Mass Communication Center, Jamia Millia Islamia). More so, because of the apathy shown by the government towards role of police in â€œencounter cases,â€ he said. â€œThe government (apparently) prefers remaining quiet so as not to demoralize the police force. But it forgets that the same attitude contributes to entire Muslim community feel demoralized,â€ Ahmed said. Questioning the manner in which â€œmadarsasâ€ have been targeted as breeding ground of terrorism, he asked: â€œWhat about schools run by saffron-brigade, with communal agenda being taught there? Why isnâ€™t any action being taken against them?â€
Undeniably, the urgent need of the moment sensed by secular Indians, Muslims and non-Muslims, is a change in the anti-terrorism drive, which is not shaped by political interests and/or a communal mindset.
Interestingly, while actors Shah and Azmi were all smiles for everyone who congratulated them for their new degrees, they refused to give any comment. Though Shah had an extra-big smile for one claiming to be from his native town (Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh), when approached for his views, he simply replied: â€œI will not say anything. This is not the place to give comments.â€ Azmi preferred wondering as to what would she be addressed as now: â€œDr, Dr, Dr… This is my third doctorate.â€ When asked for her views, she just said: â€œI am not here to give comments.â€
Considering that the actorsâ€™ comments may have been regarded as â€œnewsworthy,â€ they apparently let their ethics command them to remain quiet and not let their views overshadow the â€œconvocation-news!â€