Hopelessness & Despair Breed Terrorists

Updated: Sep 7 2003, 05:30am hrs
I can fill this column, nay, the whole page, with names of Muslim men and women all Indians , who have achieved distinction in different walks of life. Because, among the 110 million Muslims, there are thousands of distinguished men and women. We can start with President Abdul Kalam.

At the other end, though it is inappropriate to call it that way, there are millions of ordinary Muslims who live, work, marry, raise families, pray, prosper, suffer and die like millions of ordinary men and women belonging to other faiths. I remember when I was a child, our tailor was a gentle man by name Zynulabdeen. We knew he was a Muslim but we did not think that made him different from us.

These 110 million Muslims are Indians, they belong to India, India belongs to them as well, and they have to live and die in this land. They cannot be banished from this country. From time to time, a whole community may become the target of attack or may be believed to be the aggressors but, at the end of the day, the men, women and children of that community are entitled to a place in Indian society.

Not many years ago, the Sikhs were in the eye of a storm. The years from 1984 to 1990 were the worst years. Every day brought bloodshed, death and destruction. There was a strident demand for Khalistan. Some faint-hearted people even said lets give them Khalistan and put an end, once and for all, to this festering problem. Thankfully, the government of the day did not heed to this counsel of desperation.

We adopted a two-track approach. To the militants, we showed the iron fist. Militants were fought on their own turf and eliminated. There were, indeed, some excesses. The turning point was the Operation Black Thunder II. When the Golden Temple was retrieved and the militants were arrested, the back of Sikh militancy was broken. From then onward, it was a slow climb to normalcy. Finally, elections were held in 1992 and Punjab returned to the path of peace and prosperity.

During this period, the government was careful not to paint the entire Sikhs in black or treat all the Sikhs as terrorists or anti-nationals. On the other hand, the government reached out to them. It was a battle for the hearts and minds of the Sikh youths. While the militant outfits were busy recruiting young boys, the government offered them jobs in the Punjab police, CRPF and Army. Many young men were swept away by the thrill and glamour of the life of a terrorist. Money, guns and women were believed to be available to the ultras. The fear of death did not deter them. On the other hand, the government, especially the Punjab police, befriended the youth.

Many institutions, groups and individuals made significant contributions to this effort. Hundreds of names come to the mind. Of them, two stand out Sardar Beant Singh (later chief minister, who was assassinated) and the redoubtable KPS Gill. The point to be noted is that both are Sikhs.

The situation today is qualitatively not very different although the problem is more complex. Ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Muslims have been deeply hurt and alienated.

The Narasimha Rao government was inept and ineffective in dealing with the sense of alienation. When BJP came to power, the situation became worse. After the Gujarat pogrom, Muslims all the country believe that they are under siege. And every day words are spoken or deeds are done that only drive more Muslims into despair and alienation. An example of this pernicious trend is the official celebration of the Independence Day by Gujarat by converting it into a Hindu festival.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi claims that his government did everything to quell the riots and it continues to do everything necessary to rehabilitate the victims. The bitter fact is despite doing everything the riots left 2,000-3,000 Muslims dead. No one has bee punished so far. And as for rehabilitation, the facts speak for themselves.

Uday Mahurkar, reporting for India Today, has documented case after case of Muslims whose lives have crumbled after the riots. There is one Yusuf Malik, a taxi driver in Pavagadh village, who was not allowed to ply taxis in the village and now works as a daily-wage labourer. There is Rafique Pittal, once a wealthy businessman, who was able to re-start his grocery business, but no Hindu buys from his shop. And there is Sirajuddin Kansara, whose house was plundered twice by the mobs, now works in the village during the day and returns to the relief camp by the evening. According to Mahurkar, the Gujarati Muslims have been pushed to the last frontiers of hope.

Out of hopelessness and despair will rise new waves of terror. Otherwise, how does one explain the phenomenon of graduates and engineers and doctors taking to the path of violence Mohammed Abdul Mateen Abdu Bashid was implicated in the Ghatkopar (Mumbai) bus bomb blasts on December 2, 2002. He is an MD in forensic science from the Aurangabad University. Anwar Ali has been accused for the March 13, 2003 bombing of a local train in the city. He holds MA, MCom and MCA degrees and was a part-time lecturer at the National Defence Academy, Pune. Such examples abound.

The most important challenge faced by civil society today is the growing communal divide between the Hindus and Muslims. The divide is taking new and dangerous forms ghettoization, social boycott, discrimination in employment and the blurring of lines between state and religion. If BJP and the ruling establishment are sincere in their claim that they desire to bridge the communal divide, they must find Muslims who will take up this challenging task, and give them the power and the responsibility to do so. Alas, BJP will not find any one in its ranks. The party cannot also find even Hindus who enjoy the confidence of the Muslims. BJPs man on the spot holding the reins of power is LK Advani and, by any measure, he, accused in Crime No.198, is the wrong person for the task.