“The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said on Saturday that it has busted an al Qaeda module and arrested nine people who were allegedly planning to carry out major terror strikes in India at the direction of their Pakistan-based handler.”

The news hit headlines of all major dailies in India last week. Six of these suspects were apprehended from the district of Murshidabad in West Bengal and three others were arrested from Ernakulam, Kerala. The latter three are also from Murshidabad, the district with the highest Muslim population (4.7 million in 2011) in the country and went to Kerala to work as laborers. Further reports revealed some of the arrestees were students, others worked as migrant labor, contractual worker, and tailor. Ananda Bazar Patrika, the leading Bengali daily reports the articles that were seized from the suspected Al Qaeda terrorists include fire-crackers, two sockets, metal plates for making bombs, one country-made firearm, and one locally made body armor. The seizure list published on Ananda Bazar Patrika says that the seized articles from some of them only included their android phones, sim cards, and identity cards.

For the time being let us ignore the absurdity of the claim that these people were planning to launch multiple explosions in the National capital with firecrackers and country-made pistol or they were planning to go to Sri Nagar that is under siege for more than a year, to collect arms.

This is not the first time when NIA or some similar agency arrested Muslim youths and declared them to be the deadliest terrorists. If we look at the past, we can see a number of young Muslim men had been arrested, spent decades in prison only to be acquitted by the court. Many are still struggling without any access to a fair justice system and wasting their youthful days behind the bars.

Some stories from the past

Nisar-ud-din Ahmad was arrested by the Hyderabad police in 1994 for his alleged involvement in the previous year’s serial bomb blast in Mumbai. At the time of the arrest, he was a student at a Pharmacy college in Karnataka. When he was acquitted by the Supreme Court of India, he was 43. Ahmad spent 23 years in prison before the highest court overturned his conviction. Ahmad’s elder brother Zahir-ud-din Ahmad was also arrested and implicated in the same case and spent 14 years in jail before he got lung cancer and the court granted him bail.

Around the same time in 1994, police in Bhusawal in Maharashtra, arrested nine Muslim men for their alleged involvement in planning an attack to avenge the Babri Masjid demolition. The police claimed they had received a tip-off that Jamil Ahmad Khan, a member of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) along with eight others received training in the nearby forest to bomb government offices and attack Hindus.

This “tip-off” ruined the lives of 11 young men and snatched away the best years from their lives. Along with Jamil Ahmad Khan, eight others were arrested in Bhusawal and three more were arrested in Mumbai, one of them turned approved. All of them were charged under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. Major Indian news outlets carried the headlines how the highly educated Muslim youths were being radicalized, as among the arrestees there were a Ph.D. holder, three doctors, an engineer, and a six-time municipal councilor.

It took ages to file the chargesheet and initiate the trial and finally, the case was taken up in 2018 on orders of Supreme Court. Within a year, all 11 of them were declared innocent by the court.

After their release in 2019, while talking to a reporter Maulana Abdul Qadir Habib said, “The early 90s were a difficult phase for the Muslim community in India. We were all socially conscious individuals who were raising their voices against the injustices of that time. I guess that is one reason why we were targeted. Imagine, I was attending a protest march against TADA in Mumbai with the late BSP chief Kanshi Ram and days later I was arrested under the Act”.

Mohammad Aamir Khan was 18 when he was arrested by the Delhi police in 1998. In his memoir Khan wrote, in 1997 he planned to go to Pakistan to visit his elder sister who was living with her husband in Karachi. After Khan received the travel documents, he was approached by someone who introduced himself as an Intelligence Officer and asked him to work as a spy for the country. Then he was and assigned to complete some works in Pakistan during his scheduled visit. Khan however got too nervous and couldn’t complete the task. A few days later he found himself in police custody charged in 19 cases, for crimes including murder, terrorism, and waging war against the nation. Police claimed Khan to be the mastermind of the 17 low-intensity bomb blasts that occurred in Delhi and neighboring states between December 1996 and December 1997. It took him 14 years to prove his innocence and finally he was acquitted by the court and was released in 2012.

Syed Maqbool Shah from Srinagar was arrested for his alleged involvement in a blast that took place in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar in May 1996. Shah was only 15 at the time of his arrest. Shah was visiting his elder brother in Delhi while he was apprehended by the police and was declared as a JKLF operative. Khan was acquitted after 14 years as the police couldn’t provide any evidence to prove their claim.

Abdul Wahid Shaikh was working as a schoolteacher before he was framed as a terrorist and arrested by the Mumbai police in 2006. Mumbai police arrested 13 people including Shaikh for their alleged involvement in the local train bomb blast occurred in November that year. Police claimed Shaikh sheltered Pakistani terrorists who carried out the blasts. Shaikh was declared innocent by the court in 2015 while the other 12 were convicted. However, Shaikh claimed all 13 of them were framed but the rest couldn’t prove their innocence due to their circumstances.

Maulana Shabbir Gangawali Nadvi from Bhatkal Karnataka was arrested from a mosque in Pune in 2008 for possessing counterfeit currencies. Police claimed he has a connection with the terrorist organization Indian Mujahideen and later he was named as an accused in a blast case that took place in 2010 when he was already in prison. Nadvi was released from jail after more than 8 years as the court pronounced him innocent.

Ahmad, Khan, Shah, Shaikh are some of the very few who survived to tell their stories. Stories of brutal torture, hatred and injustice. There are thousands more who are rotting inside the prison cells just because they do not have the means to fight a fair legal battle.

The Hindu Nationalist Fascist force which is currently in power in India is notorious for their hatred towards the Muslim community, but we must remember BJP is not the only political force that nurtures Islamophobia. Muslims in this country have been incriminated for their religious identity for ages; no matter which political party is in power. Mainstream political parties across the spectrum have fostered the deep-seated anti-minority sentiment to achieve political milestones; the current government has just intensified to progress their agenda of establishing a Hindu nation.

Written with the inputs from Sujato Bhadra, a human rights activist based in Kolkata.

Bio: Sananda is an independent writer and political activist. She can be reached at sananda7ster@gmail.com     


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One Comment

  1. It was carried out organizedly afterGujrat CM post taken over by Modi.