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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Besieged & Branded: The Burden Of Being A Muslim


By Mahtab Alam

“Serial Bomb Blasts in Delhi. Where are you, Are you safe?” read a text message on my Mobile, by Sonali Garg, a friend of mine from Delhi.
It was late in the evening of September 13th, 2008. “Oh My God! That’s really horrible. I am fine though and in Bihar. Hope you, your family members are all right,” I replied before forwarding this message to other friends in Delhi.
During those days, I was in Bihar, surveying the aftermath of the flood that had struck the Kosi region of the state in the second week of August that same year. Village after village had vanished in the flood. It was reportedly the worst flood ever seen by the people of that area. Most of them were left with no other alternative but to shift to the rehabilitation camps.
On 13th September 2008, the sun went down to serial bomb blasts in Delhi, killing 26 persons and injuring many more. In all, five bomb blasts within the time span of 30 minutes created havoc amongst the Delhiites. I heaved a sigh of relief as all the messages I received in reply to my forwarded message were positive.
My friends were all fine. The last reply I received was around midnight by a senior colleague of mine, A R Agwan, a former assistant Professor of Environment Sciences with whom I had conducted many workshops for Human Rights’ Activists in different parts of India, saying that he was all right and had been sleeping, thus the delay in replying. 
Do we want fear or hope in these eyes!
Still shaken by the news, I tried moving on with my work, thinking that the worst was over. But I was to be proved wrong. Around noon the next day, I received a frantic call from the Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), a Delhi based civil rights’ group I was working with then as a Coordinator.
He sounded tense and the poor network added to the problem. All I was able to make out, in interrupted tones, was that the situation in Delhi, especially Jamia Nagar, a Muslim populated area of South Delhi, was very bad. A pall of fear pervaded all in the area. The police had been randomly picking up Muslims from the area. I was asked to come to Delhi as soon as I possibly could.
Not satisfied with the details, I tried ringing A R Agwan, as he was based in that area. I grew worried when around twenty calls made to his mobile through the day went unanswered. Knowing him, it was quite unusual of him to react in this manner. Immediately after Iftar (since it was the month of Ramadhan), I proceeded to the nearest Cyber Cafe to book my ticket for Delhi.
An e-mail I received struck me numb with horror and rendered me incapable of any action for a few minutes. It was hard to believe that A R Agwan was under arrest! He had been picked up by Delhi Police’s Special Cell, equivalent to the Anti-Terror Squad or Special Task Force of other states.
A R Agwan, is a prominent social activist and has been attached with many social and human rights’ group. With a clear record, and an even clearer conscience, his arrerst sent shockwaves in the community. The leaders of the Muslim community were completely outraged by the arrest. His neighbours did not know how to react.

Anxiety, Fear, Paranoia...

Enquiries to other activists of the situation revealed that apart from Agwan, three other people had been detained from the area. After much pressure from community leaders, social and religious organizations, Agwan was released, along with Adnan Fahad, a DTP operator in his late twenties, who was also into some small Publishing business.
They were arrested around 11 AM in the morning and freed in the late evening around 7:30 P M.  Illegal detention would have been prolonged hadn’t the community leaders and activists pressurized the Delhi police for their release. On 17th September, immediately after coming back to Delhi, I went to meet Agwan. He was still recovering from the shock, having been forcibly subjected to the worst hours of his life. He completely failed to understand why he had been picked up.
“They asked me about my whereabouts on the day of the blasts, my activity in the evening that day. I told them I was at home meeting two non-muslim friends from Hyderabad. They had come over to discussing the opening up of an NGO. Then they questioned me about the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and its people. 
We are also like you, Does topi make us different!
They pressed me to give names of some SIMI people in my locality, and I told them that I didn’t know anything, but they kept insisting”. 
The interrogators also asked him about Abul Bashar, a Madarsa graduate, who was arrested from Azamgarh the month before and was later projected as the mastermind of the Ahmedabad serial blasts. “I told them I knew not more about Abul Bashar than what had appeared in the media”, Agwan recalled.
Not content with this response, they further alleged that Bashar had his cell number and that he had stayed at his home. Agwan flatly denied the charges. “But they did not believe me and wanted to put words in my mouth.  They just wanted me to confess to something with which I had absolutely no connection”.
“It was like there was no rule of law and the Police had become a Law unto themselves,” he told me, still unable to reconcile himself to what he had undergone. “When they realized that it would be too difficult to further my custody, as pressure was mounting from different sections of society to release me, they offered to drop me to my home. I refused to go with them.” “I told them that I was afraid that they would take me to some other place and torture me severely so that I confess to their charges, as had been done to hundreds of Muslims across the country”. “I asked them to ask my family to come and collect me”.

The fear that Agwan underwent reminded me of the stories that I had heard at the Impendent People’s Tribunal on the ‘Atrocities Committed against Minorities (read Muslims) in the Name of Fighting Terrorism’ at Hyderabad in August the same year (2008). We were told spine chilling stories of arbitrary detention and torture by the victims of ‘war on terror’, families of the accused who were in jails and human rights activists across the country barring Kashmir and North-eastern states of India.
The common complaints were that they were punched, kicked, beaten very badly. In order to humiliate them so that they break down, the interrogators made them stand for long hours and hung them upside down. In custody, they were denied all basic amenities and were forced to drink water from the toilets. Moreover, they were subjected to electric shocks by the police officials and made to repeat what the police were saying.

One of them recounted,”The interrogators repeatedly used name calling, sexually profane abusive language with me. The torture continued from about midnight/one o'clock until morning.” In most of the cases, the first question that they were asked was, “Why have you people become anti-nationals? You all are bloody Pakistanis.”

And the torture wasn’t limited to those arrested. The police made sure to use every trick to make those arrested confess to their will. The family members too were subject to similar torture. The police ensured that the most inhuman torture was meted out to them. Ataur Rahman, in his mid-sixties, lived in Mumbai with his family which included an engineer son who was an accused in the July 2006 Mumbai blasts.
Prove your patriotism every moment
At the tribunal, he had told us, “My house was raided in the night and I was taken to an unknown destination. After keeping me in illegal custody for several days, I was formally shown to be arrested on July 27, 2006, and an FIR was lodged against me.  Me, my wife, my daughter and daughter-in-law were paraded before my arrested sons while being abused by the police officers continuously. My sons and I were beaten up in front of each other.

The women of the family were called up by the ATS daily and were asked to drop their burqah (veil) before my arrested sons. Adding to their humiliation, my sons were abused in front of the women folk. An officer beat me up and threatened me that the women of my family were outside and they would be stripped naked if I did not remove my clothes before my children and other police officers. They brought in other arrested accused and I was stripped naked in their presence…”

The witch hunting of Muslims only intensified after the blasts on September 13th, which was followed by the infamous ‘encounter’ at Batla House of Jamia Nagar area of South Delhi. On September 23rd, a meeting had been organized in Delhi to discuss the police excess and the communal witch hunt, which was attended by well known lawyers, activists, journalists, academicians and community leaders.

When Cops Go On A Witchhunt

While the meeting continued, we received the disturbing news of the picking up of a 17 year old boy, Saqib. The men who had taken the boy were unknown and hence we decided to lodge a complaint with the local police station. Initially reluctant to entertain us, the presence of senior lawyers, Jamia teachers and journalists pressured them into register our complaint. We were later informed that the Delhi Police special cell had picked him up for questioning. When Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonzalves and the boy's relatives approached the Special Cell, they had another surprise in store.

The cops said -"hand over his brother and take him!” Saqib’s is not a unique case. People are picked up indiscriminately everyday and are harassed, some of them reportedly brutally tortured. Like Saqib, there are some victims in the area, but most of them prefer to remain quiet to avoid further harassment. Moreover, they fear about who would employ or give a house on rent to a 'suspected person'.

Today, even after three years of the Delhi bomb blasts and the Batla House 'encounter', the residents live in fear. A situation has been created wherein every Muslim is seen as a terror suspect, if not a terrorist. The infamous SMS which reads thus, “Every Muslim is not a terrorist, but all terrorists are Muslims,” had first made several rounds after July 2006 Blasts in Mumbai.

This has always been believed as nothing but the gospel truth. The implicit message among a major section of the public is that every Muslim is a potential terrorist, regardless of whether he is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist.  Take the case of Shaina K K, a journalist and a declared agnostic, while receiving an award recently had to comment with the following words, “See, I happen to be a Muslim, but I am not a terrorist”.

The clarification was given because of the feeling that if one belonged to the minority community, they would but be profiled. Shahina has a personal experience of it, so she would know. She has been falsely framed for ‘intimidating’ witnesses in the Abdul Nasir Madani case. Her only ‘crime’ was that she investigated the case of Kerala People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  leader Abdul Nasir Madani, who is an accused in the infamous Bangalore blasts case, and asked the question, “Why is this man is still in Prison,” in the form of an article which appeared in Tehelka, based on the facts.

Madani had already spent 10 years in prison as an under-trail in the Coimbatore blast case of 1997 and who was later acquitted in 2007. It was only last month that Shahina managed to get an anticipatory bail, which put an end to her ‘underground’ life. Another Muslim journalist from Bangalore, working with a leading news-weekly was grilled several times in the same case.

In fact, this writer also had a similar personal experience but thankfully, to a lesser degree of threat to his life during a fact finding visit of Giridih Jail in the state of Jharkhand, in July 2008. I was branded a Maoist along with two other friends, and illegally detained for five hours by Giridih Superintendent of Police, Murari Lal Meena who is now being promoted to the rank of DIG, Special Branch of the Jharkhand Police.

Later I was informed by the PUCL Secretary of Jharkhand, Shashi Bhusan Pathak, who was the local organiser of the visit and had contacted officials concerned for our release, that Mr. Meena had told him, "Since the guy (meaning me) comes from a frontier area of Bihar which borders Nepal and has studied at Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi, he is a Pucca Aatankwadi (Hardcore Terrorist)!"  He had also threatened to put us behind bars in the same prison without any hope of being bailed out for at least a year.

Implicating the Innocents

In the month of July this year, just a few days before the recent Mumbai blast, a Muslim photo-journalist of Mid Group, Sayed Sameer Abedi, was detained for taking innocuous photographs of a traffic junction and an airplane. He was threatened, roughed up and even called a terrorist because of his Muslim name.
Indian Muslims against Terrorism

According to a report in Mid Day, at the police station, when Sub-Inspector Ashok Parthi, the investigating officer in his case, asked him about the incident and he explained everything, emphasizing that he had done no wrong, he was told by the inspector, "Don't talk too much, just shut up and listen to what we are saying. Your name is Sayed, you could be a terrorist and a Pakistani”.

The inspector also told him that he (the inspector) was asked by the seniors to inform the Special Branch and file all kinds of charges, including those of terrorism, against him (Sayed).

Unfortunately this is not limited to police and security agencies. The common men also somehow believe that Muslims are responsible for the all the terror strikes. They are the real culprits! This is not a new phenomenon.

In fact, it is deepening day by day. In 2001, I was on my way to Patna by train. I noticed an old man consistently asking a bearded Muslim youth in his teens for an English magazine that the youth was reading with much concentration. He politely asked the old man to wait till he finished reading the article. Unmoved by the politeness and angered at this rebuttal, he abused the youth by calling him and other Muslims terrorists, who were destroying India’s sanctity after having destroyed America.

He further voiced his prejudice by commenting that all Muslims belong to Pakistan and should leave for that place. I was a kid of fifteen and didn’t want to be identified as a Muslim, so thought it unwise to comment. Moreover, the matter had subsided when the youth gave over the magazine to the old man (which the old returned proclaiming unashamedly that he wasn’t literate in English).

I took this to be a matter in isolation, and tried not to give much attention. However, at home, I was faced with questions of a similar nature from a non-Muslim friend who enquired me about my whereabouts. He was surprised on hearing that I was studying at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, which he had thought to be a madarsa. Quelling his doubts, I told him it was just like any other University (Delhi University as example).     

I still face this question, time and again. It is almost like under living under constant suspicion. Thanks to our media and security agencies, which leave no stone unturned to prove this wrong despite the fact that over the years, it has been proved that Muslims have no monopoly over terrorism. In the last three years, I often ask myself the ask question, ‘Am I Safe?’ To be frank and honest, I doubt it.

The Climate Of Fear

I am not confident about whether I am safe or not.  However, my biggest worry is that the ordinary Muslim youth, who doesn’t have the network of people like Agwan or me, as they are in real danger. After every blast every Muslim youth fears that he could be next. They can be, in fact, are, easily picked up, tortured, packed and thrown into jails, sometimes even killed in cold blood.

In India today, to be a Muslim is to be encounter-able, to be constantly suspected of being a terrorist, to be illegally detainable and severely tortured, to have the possibility of being killed without being questioned, no matter whether one is a believer, agnostic or an atheist. Recent communal witch hunt in the wake of Mumbai blasts only proves that. And if that is not the case, why hasn’t a single non Muslim person, as named voluntarily by Swami Aseemanad, in his confession, detailing role of Hidutva outfits in several blasts?

Why have two of the prime accused, belonging to Hindutva outfits, of Malegaon blasts been granted bail while bails of the Muslims accused in the same case are refused time and again. How long will the Muslims of India have to bear the Burden of being a Muslim? People have started considering this (sense of insecurity) as a part and parcel of their lives.

I still have no answer to the question, ‘Will this never end?’ , once asked by a teacher of mine, when I informed her about the illegal detention of Mohammed Arshad, an Engineering student from Azamgarh who was later released. I can only wish my answer would soon turn affirmative!

[Mahtab Alam is a Civil Rights’ Activist and Independent Journalist based in Delhi. He can be contacted at activist dot journalist at gmail.com]          

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Can Narendra Modi become Prime Minister of India?

Can just a hug do it?
The hype surrounding Narendra Modi's fast has once again generated speculations that Narendra Modi is the BJP's next Prime Ministerial candidate but can Modi ever become India's Prime Minister?

Though it is not an impossible proposition, if things are analyzed in perspective, one would find that his chances of becoming Prime Minister are quite low, at least in the upcoming election 2014.

Speculation is not easy, at least in politics but one can try to do a dispassionate analysis.

To begin with, the BJP doesn't have even 150 seats in Parliament. In fact, it has a mere 116 seats in 545 member Lok Sabha. Did you remember this figure! The party knows it well. Even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at the helm, it could get 180-odd seats with difficulty despite his acceptability.

A Modi-led BJP can't have Mamata Bannerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, even JDU rallying around it. How will it manage to get the seats? The compulsion of coalition era politics is such that most parties in respective states wouldn't like to be seen as close to a party led by Modi.

In no Indian state, a regional party--ranging from Trinamool Congress to Telugu Desam or even JDU wishes to be linked to him. Let's imagine a situation where BJP manages to ride the anti-corruption wave, the anti-incumbency factor against Congress-led UPA and also somehow gets one or two allies [say J Jayalalithaa, even though she won't concede seats to BJP in Tamil Nadu where the party has little support], it needs real numbers in Parliament.

Unless electorate in Uttar Pradesh (UP), that has 80 Lok Sabha seats, suddenly get into a 'change regime' mode and dump Mayawati, the BJP can't hope much in terms of MPs figure in Lok Sabha. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, the party has already been getting optimum seats and still failed to get anywhere near to the magic number.
Will they let him go ahead so easily!

Undoubtedly, a section of the vocal urban middle-class supports him. The voice of this section always gets amplified and is heard. TV channels and media also commit the same mistake.

Remember, the India Shining campaign! The BJP had almost believed that it was going to get a second term but nothing worked out for NDA then.

The point is that even after Anna Hazare's anti-corruption agitation on the issue of Lok Pal, the failure of Congress in tackling terrorism and the rising prices, elections are an altogether different phenomenon. When a leader like LK Advani couldn't become acceptable, how could Modi ever be?

Rajiv Gandhi has received tremendous flak for his role in the anti-Sikh riots. But there was no satellite TV then. Even in LK Advani's rath yatra, the video news casettes had just arrived. But Gujarat pogrom--the communal riots on mass scale and the genocide--were all seen on live TV and thus they evoke far greater response.

True, Narendra Modi has now emerged stronger, has wider acceptability and has managed to change his image in popular perception as a chief minister whose sole plank is development. He has many supporters in the corporate world. But whenever his name is mentioned, the same media also starts raising questions.

When he began fast, it got great coverage. But the protests, detention of riot victims, issues raised by Mallika Sarabhai, again brought controversy to the fast. Leave the issue of asking for apology or questioning about riot victims' rehabilitation, the officers like Sanjeev Bhatt and B Sreekumar, will continue to play spoilsport for the BJP.

Then the verdicts in riot cases like the ones in which BJP ex-minister Mayaben Kodnani is charged are awaited. Besides, cases of extra-judicial killings and encounters in Gujarat are under various stages of trial in higher courts. There are many other issues.
Gujarat to Delhi: Can Modi make it?

Yet, Modi has succeeded in getting quite far in terms of image makeover. Even if BJP manages to get 200-odd seats and finds allies, the question is that whether the top leaders like Advani, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj let him wear the crown so easily.

Nitin Gadkari, who has managed to steer the party at the critical juncture, in the right direction, has kept a low-profile all the while, and kept divisive [communal] issues on the back-burner. Gadkari is an RSS favourite and only the naive can overlook him.

The Chief Ministers ranging from Raman Singh to Shivraj Singh Chouhan are almost as secular as other Congress CMs [except in cases when RSS makes a push]. Will they accept it?

The more media pushes his name, the more other top BJP leaders get insecure [privately]. And can the ambitious Nitish Kumar ever let it happen? Frankly, it doesn't seem too easy a task for Modi. It is really a long way for him. Of course, miracles can happen and if, as section of media is speculating, he is destined to create history, then nothing can stop him.

Personally I feel, 2014 elections are too near. I think despite praises showered on him, he is far from having that pan-Indian acceptability. There are lot of stumbling blocks in his way. He has clearly won over Gujarat but I think for Modi, Hanoz Dilli Door Ast. Of course, one can't be too sure for 2019. Let's wait and watch.

Right now, my hunch is that BJP [and Sangh] would use his persona and his strong pro-right wing [Hindutva] image to mobilize middle-class electorate [and a section of other voters] just to get more seats and for creating a wave in its favour but if it comes to forming government, the party would instead go for a 'moderate' or a 'choice of consensus'

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Passing By Kanpur: Ganges And Greenery But No Gazelles

The Great Ganges at Kanpur
I couldn't believe my eyes. The sight was breathtaking: Azure, green and the blue all around even as the train was approaching Kanpur.

I had passed the dusty town innumerable times, have even been to the place on a couple of occasions but it had never looked so enchanting.

The monsoon had turned the City beautiful. The sight of the Great Ganges was indescribable. For years I saw the Ganga in the form of a narrow stream here.


But this year as one passed Unnao and then read the famous signboards 'Ganga ki Chhammak nali-1 & 2', to enter the city, the overcast sky and the greenery around amazed me. The town suddenly appeared charming. Great cities are formed by great rivers.

And the magical effect was of the Ganga this year. I could now realise why this city attracted people for generations, both during the later Mughal's rule, the British India and even thereafter. It was only in late 80s that the downfall of Kanpur began.

On the walls, as usual there were advertisements of Hakeems promising cure for 'Gupt Rog' [sexual deficiencies], which one finds more in UP. I am familiar with the City to an extent but I don't have fond memories of the place.

On the banks of the Ganga
In my childhood, I have been to Civil Lines and some other localities. It is the place known for the famous Urdu daily Siasat Jadid and has been the hometown of poets like Fana Nizami Kanpuri, Nushoor Wahidi and the inimitable Gopal Das 'Neeraj'.

Not surprisingly, the powerful Congress politician Sri Prakash Jaiswal's name is visible everywhere as the train goes across the City. He is described as MP, Cabinet member and a crusader.

Phone numbers were also painted along side his name. One of them seemed to be minister's contact number.

The City which was once poised to be the fifth metropolitan city of the country, suddenly lost the race in development, I think, in the period 1987-1989. In the 1990s, it witnessed communal riots as a result of which the economy got a further setback.

Once it was common for citizens to mention this commercial capital of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as the Manchester of North India. Kanpur was famous for trade, textile industries & tanneries. Kanpur couldn't recover thereafter.

The city [then spelt as Cawnpore] that played a major role in the first freedom movement [mutiny] in 1857 is today known for more for pan-masala production. During the 1857 revolt, Nana Sahab and Azeemullah had made Kanpur, the centre of their activity.

Of course, it has IIT and some other institutions  [and of course comedian Raju Srivastava belongs to the place]. Two towns that are so close rarely develop into big cities but Lucknow and Kanpur are an exception just like Lahore and Amritsar were in the pre-independence era.

Photo of a boatman taken from the train on bridge
Now Lucknow is growing faster and may eclipse Kanpur in the next decade or so in terms of population.

However, as far as civic infrastructure and development are concerned, these two big cities of yesteryear have remained far behind, compared to other middle sized Indian cities.

The dust & smoke and the power-cuts [electricity] along with the density of population is what even the local residents complain of, these days.

One positive aspect is that the dacoits who operated from Kanpur Dehat  until a few years back, are almost extinct now. But urban gangsters have replace them in urban area and law-and-order remains another issue here.

But yes, Kanpur, remains a quintessential town of North Indian that has a distinct culture of its own and a different street humour. I remember having seen the performances of fakirs, alm-seekers and vendors. Heard Ram-kathas and 'Naats' in the most amazing voice from people who board the train at outer Kanpur and get a few coins from passengers in return.

The train passes Govindpuri where I see scores of working women [termed up-downers, as they shuttle from Lucknow to Kanpur for job daily] waiting at the station and trying to save themselves from the rain. Alas, I couldn't see any gazelle-eyed* beauty.

The 24 compartment Pushpak Express suddenly picks up speed and the town is gone in a flash. One remembers the words of Kanpur's legendary Hindi poet Gopal Das Neeraj, 'Karwaan guzar gayaa, Ghubaar dekhte rahe'.

The Shahar went past but there was no 'Ghubaar'. It was just mist and rain, as far as one could see from the train's window. For now, Khuda Hafiz Kanpur. But I'll be back soon to explore the alleys of this unique town.


[*Neeraj. Haven't you ever heard him reciting his poetry. Check it on Youtube then]
[Gazelle, Gazelle-eyed or Ghizaal is an expression used for beautiful women in poetry]

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Ganesha on a Muslim couple's wedding invitation card, surprised!

If a Muslim family gets a marriage invitation card published in Hindi, it may seem uncommon but not rare. However, Gulzar's marriage invitation card exactly looked like a Hindu family's wedding card.

It not only had a design featuring Lord Ganesha but the language and the use of Sanskrit terms made it look distinct. That was the reason this card raised eyebrows.

Many people lauded the spirit while some didn't approve of the change. The marriage occurred sometime back in Mandsaur, which is situated in Western Madhya Pradesh on the border of Rajasthan.

Gulzar, a labourer, was married to Najma Bi. When he was asked by media persons, he said that he got his card printed in Hindi because most of his friends were Hindu and he wanted to send a message of communal harmony.

Gulzar's father Ismail said that he had no objection to his son's plan to invite his friends as per their culture and traditions. The terms like 'aamantran', 'chiranjivi' and 'mangal parinay' and other ceremonies were also in accordance with the local Hindu customs.

It is no rule but generally Indian Muslims [except in Kerala & some other states) get marriage invitation cards printed in Urdu. The upper middle class and the middle class Muslims often gets the cards printed in both English and Urdu.

Though I have seen some wedding cards in Hindi also [particularly in recent years in North India] anguage remains Urdu though the script is 'devnagari'.

While Hindus overwhelming go to mazaars and dargahs of Sufi saints, several Muslim youths also participate in Hindu events and help organising the programmes during Ganeshotsava and Holi-Diwali celebrations, which reflects the communal harmony in Indian society.

Now see and read about a Hindu family's wedding invitation card in URDU at this LINK.

Friday, September 02, 2011

'Terror' convicts temed as 'servants': Is section of media soft on right-wing groups!

I don't consider myself an extra-intelligent person. I try to understand things and when I fail, I have no hesitation in discussing or asking others.

Recently, court held two Sanatan Sanstha members guilty of bomb blasts. While many cases involving Hindu and Muslim radicals are currently being tried in different courts, in this case the court gave a verdict and convicted them.

Still, newspapers didn't give much importance to the news. What I found even more strange was that some newspapers reported the matter in a bizarre fashion. Particularly, Mumbai-based English newspaper DNA's reports surprised me the most.

I am simply writing my observations here:

1. When police claim arresting a person for terror links, he is often pronounced terrorist even before trial. But on Monday, two Sanatan Sanstha members who were arrested by Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) were convicted by a court. Most newspapers didn't term them terrorist even after conviction. I agree that for the arrest or conviction of some members, an entire organisation shouldn't be branded but this is the first time journalistic propriety have reached such dizzy heights that those convicted of blasts have not been called terrorists.

2. When I read English daily DNA I was even more surprised. Its reports doesn't call them militant, radical or extremist. The report terms them as 'sevaks', yes sevaks [that means servants] of Sanatan Sanstha. Whose servants! They were not even volunteers as in that case paper could have labelled them 'swayamsevaks' or even activist. But the daily seems to be so soft on the group.

Or to avoid showing affinity to RSS [that has swayamsevaks], it terms them as simply 'servants'. I don't say that you defame the Sanata Sanstha, an organisation which is quite candid and accepted that they were its members and said that the group had nothing to do with the handiwork of the duo. But paper, instead of writing activist, member or volunteer, uses the term 'servant'. Can there be such a mistake or use of the word erroneously at the desk or it was done after thinking over it.

3. A day after conviction, the journalists would have tried to do story about these persons, their backgrounds or why some members of an organisation would go astray. But instead of that, DNA printed a long story that threw light on the group for its wonderful social work.

Hmm. Why should someone be negative all the time and hound everybody! This article was published when the conviction was made but  the next day the court had to deliver the quantum of judgment. One may appreciate that paper has no prejudices against any group.

It is a different matter though that the state government intended to ban Sanatan Sanstha for its alleged role in Goa and Thane-Panvel-Vashi blasts. Hope the paper will continue similar non-biased approach and also write positively about other groups after their members are convicted or jailed (and highlight the social concern of other organisations).

4. Now that the persons convicted of bomb blasts and sentenced to ten years of jail terms have not been called as terrorists, will the paper maintain the same standards of journalism in future. Or will it still call any Muslim or Hindu youth who is simply rounded up, not even jailed or convicted, terrorist!

5. This is the same multi-edition English newspaper that had published Subramanian Swamy's article that put all Indian Muslims under suspicion and labelled the community as prone to extremism and terrorism and what not. The article had put onus on Indian Muslims to prove a whole lot of things. The particular piece has been widely discussed, criticised and even National Commission for Minorities took cognizance of complaints against it.

Just like the newspaper had liberty to publish it, which I support in principle, I too think I can take a little liberty and write about what's going in my mind after reading these reports. I don't know what is going through the minds of those who run this paper or decide the editorial policy.

The little an average reader and Indian citizen like me expects is that the paper should show decent standards of journalism. Either you should don't turn suspects into terrorists or don't term terrorists as 'SERVANTS'. Will servants object to the usage? Perhaps, it's a new style, which they will adhere to in future [for both Hindutva inspired groups as well as Islamist extremists]!

Sorry to say but even RSS mouthpieces Panchjanya and Organiser are [at least] consistent in their policy. On the otherhand DNA sells copies in lakhs [tens of thousands] and I wonder how many readers are mediocre and what percentage of readers are intelligent enough to figure out the unique journalism practices adopted by this great media institution. Pray for me so that my mind could become capable of understanding these issues.

Frankly, I always liked the paper and as a reader felt happy when the DNA made a space for itself in the crowded English market. In Mumbai, the paper has a large circulation now. However, such selective and biased reporting is really upsetting for a reader like me.