The police and the media’s deep prejudice against Muslims lives on.
The bomb blasts in Hyderabad on 21 February were meant to cause maximum terror among the people of the city as they apparently had no target other than the ordinary citizens going about their daily lives. In their randomness these bomb blasts have successfully sowed insecurity and misgivings in the minds of the city’s residents.
The bomb blasts and their aftermath have only helped deepen communal divides in a city which has seen aggressive communal mobilisations and conspiracies over the past few years. As this journal had noted in earlier editorials (“Witches’ Brew in Hyderabad”, EPW, 1 December 2012; “Fifteen Minutes of Infamy”, EPW, 19 January 2013), there has been a concerted effort to reignite communal violence in Hyderabad, which has largely been free from it since L K Advani’s infamous Rath Yatra of 1990. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) affiliates like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been in the forefront of stoking communal fires. Hindutva forces have been caught throwing beef into temples, attacking Muslims before Eid-ul Azha and trying to expand the illegal temple at Charminar’s base. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which had kept a relatively low profile over the past decade and more, has also adopted a shrill communal tone, as the recent speech by its leader Akbaruddin Owaisi illustrates. All these attempts to create communal divisions and spark violence have taken place in anticipation of a separate Telangana state which has kept the city and its surrounding regions in the throes of political uncertainty.
In such a context, these bombs had the potential to reopen deep communal wounds on all sides. That this has been averted is largely the result of the good sense of the average citizen and not because of any sense of responsibility on the part of either the police or the media, particularly television news. Even a fortnight later, the union home ministry or the Andhra Pradesh government have refused to go on record on who could have committed this terrible act. However, the security agencies and the police – both in Hyderabad and elsewhere – as well as the media have shown no such restraint.
Much can be said about the incompetence of the police and intelligence agencies which allow such incidents to take place. What is far worse is that most of the terror attacks remain unsolved and the perpetrators go unpunished. That, however, has never prevented our worthies in uniform from spinning a fancy yarn and lining up a veritable army of suspects and perpetrators, who invariably are Muslims. There have been reports that often the police force these “suspects” to wear the Keffiyeh or skullcap, so that their chums in the media can helpfully identify them as “Jihadi” to the country at large!
Even in this instance, within less than two hours of the blast, a “leak” from Delhi police claimed that the “Indian Mujahideen”, whose very existence is something of a mystery, has been behind these attacks with enviable details being regurgitated by breathless television anchors. Before the night was out, this “theory” – based entirely on anonymous police leaks – was now presented as “fact”, leading the president of the BJP to demand that the Indian government take punitive action against Pakistan! What was astounding was that not a single police source or, worse, a single journalist asked questions about the Mecca Masjid blasts of 2007 in this same city.
In that instance, scores of Muslim men were picked up by the police who extracted detailed confessions from them and built up an elaborate story of how “modules” from Maharashtra, Hyderabad and Bihar had worked with their handlers in Bangladesh and Karachi to carry out this explosion. As we all know, this entire “story” was a fabrication, which these criminals in uniform had concocted. The Mecca Masjid blast was, as is now prima facie proved, carried out by Hindutva terrorists of Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha with links to the RSS. Yet, not a single journalist or security agency thought it worthwhile to mention this basic fact. Not one media-person thought it necessary to mention that close to the site of the bomb blasts, Hindutva activists had been caught throwing beef into temples. Rather, within 30 minutes of the bomb blasts taking place, when even the top police officers had not reached the site, television media was already speaking of “old city” links and “communal” politics, which as any Indian knows, are code words for “Muslim”.
It just got worse in the days which followed. The police picked up for questioning, without any legal warrant, six of the men falsely accused for the Mecca Masjid blast and who have been acquitted of all charges. The courts have said that those arrested and tortured in that instance were entirely innocent, and the fabrications of the police have been exposed. Yet, the officers involved in foisting these fake cases faced no action, far less any prosecution; in fact, they were promoted in due course and some of them could even be involved in the “investigations” of the present case.
It is the political shield for such criminal, incompetent conduct by the police provided by governments, both at the centre and in the states, which has allowed the communal targeting of Muslims by the police and the media to continue. Shedding crocodile tears, as the top Congress leadership is inclined to do, will not reduce the communal bias in the police and intelligence agencies, nor will it, perhaps more importantly, help make our cities safer. Unfortunately, the fourth estate, rather than being a check on the excesses of the powers, has become a partner in crime.