By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
Workers climb up a Ferris wheel in preparation for a fair in Mumbai December 29, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
NEW DELHI: Ironically, several recent developments are suggestive of the Indian Muslim assuming a new image in national as well as international circles. Though, it is as yet too early to assume that this image has been accepted with a positive approach by one and all, the fact that it has begun spreading- gradually but definitely- has its own significance. The much publicized WikLeaks also contribute to this development. David Mulford, former US envoy to India, acknowledges in a commentary written on Indian Muslims, at request of Washington DC, that Muslims in the country are joining the national mainstream and not turning to extremism.
Mulfordâ€™s comments (released by WikiLeaks) state: â€œIndiaâ€™s vibrant democracy, inclusive culture and growing economy have made it easier for Muslim youth to find a place in the mainstream, reduced the pool of potential recruits, and the space in which Islamic extremist organizations can operate.â€ Analyzing the national consciousness of Indian Muslims, Mulford cites instances of several Muslims as popular cultural heroes, including Shahrukh Khan (Bollywood) and Sania Mirza (sports). â€œThe message for young Muslims is that they are Indians first and Muslims second, and that they can fully participate in Indian society and culture and win the adulation and respect of other Indians, regardless of religion,â€ Mulford points out.
Mulford also credits the Indian secular education system for helping Muslims join the mainstream which in turn has prevented them from being vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. His commentary, written in December 2005, is understood to have played a crucial role in the then US President George Bush taking note that there were very few extremist recruits from India.
Undeniably, Mulfordâ€™s commentary also defeats the trend to link Indian Muslims with terrorism. A similar message is conveyed by several Indian authorities reconsidering the terrorist incidents for which Indian Muslims were held earlier as suspects. In fact, during the recent past, probe carried by Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) points to involvement of Hindu extremists for a series of terrorist incidents. One of the accused in Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast (May, 2007), Swami Asimanand is also suspected of playing a role in Samjhauta Express train blasts (Feb 2007). Speaking on National Investigation Agency (NIA)â€™s decision to question Swami Asimanand, an official said: â€œSince NIA is looking into the entire conspiracy behind Samjhauta Express blasts including links of Hindu extremist elements, Asimanandâ€™s questioning is just a logical step. CBI had found him at the center of conspiracy behind Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blasts carried out by Hindu extremists.â€ Arrested on Nov 19, Swami Asimanand was sent to police custody till Jan 3 by a special court in Panchkula (Haryana) on Dec 24. He is member of right-wing Hindu group, Abhinav Bharat.
Earlier, investigations revealed that Malegaon blast (Dec 2008) were allegedly carried by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Purohit. Besides, the CBI recently filed a charge sheet against Devendra Gupta and Lokesh Sharma, both of whom are linked with Hindu extremist group, for their alleged role in Ajmer Dargah blast case (2007). These investigations suggest that considerable evidence has compelled concerned Indian authorities to take serious action against Hindu extremists suspected to be responsible for these terrorist incidents. This development is also a major eye-opener for all, who till date held only Indian Muslims as responsible for conducting these activities.
Another major development is the message conveyed by Dr Mohammad Haneef and his family members. He was detained three years ago in Australia for his alleged terror links. He was detained in 2007 without any charges. Haneef was set free when charges against him were withdrawn and his passport returned. He returned to India on July 29, 2007. However, he and his family members viewed his wrongful detention as a very traumatic experience. They decided to pursue action on this. Haneef reached Brisbane around a fortnight ago for mediation talks. The â€œmediation process,â€ Haneef stated was â€œabout some practical recognitionâ€ of how his wrongful detention had â€œaffected my family, me, my reputation internationally and my career.â€
The major step taken by Haneef has won him a â€œsubstantialâ€ compensation and an apology with the government admitting to have committed a mistake in wrongly detaining him. Besides, his job at the Gold Coast Hospital has been restored with the â€œsame service conditions and privilegesâ€ he was entitled to before his arrest.
Pleased at their victory, Iqbal Siddiqui, maternal uncle of Haneefâ€™s wife said: â€œWhen we sued the Australian Government for Haneefâ€™s wrongful arrest, we knew what it meant for us. It was neither about money nor getting his job back. The fight was to have his honor and dignity restored. Our message was very clear – donâ€™t take Indian Muslims for granted.â€ He had joined Haneef for the two-day mediation process in Brisbane. â€œWe wanted to prove to the world that pointing fingers at someone merely because of his religion is not as easy as taking candy from a baby. And, thankfully, we have fully succeeded in that,â€ Siddiqui said.
While Haneefâ€™s case also sets a precedent of compensating those who have been wrongly blamed for terrorism, together with Mulfordâ€™s commentary and arrests of Hindu extremists, the point of Muslims being falsely linked with terrorism primarily because of their religious identity is reaffirmed. These cases also act as an eye-opener to their being a gradual but definite change in this approach towards Indian Muslims.