Saturday, 18 October 2008

Politicising Encounters

After having driven Ratan Tata out of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee seems to have forgotten about getting acquired land back for the farmers of Singur. And she's now doing a good turn to Amar Singh who was there to lend her moral support on Singur. So Mamata-di and Singh are chorusing on the Batla House encounter and demanding an enquiry.

Mamata-di has said if the inquiry proves the encounter was not fake, she will resign. Singh was thundering in Azamgarh today that the youth arrested on terrorism charges were innocent and if it is proved that they are terrorists, he himself will shoot them.

The antics of these two is amusing but this entire debate over the Jamia encounter and the so-called branding of all Muslims as terrorists raises several issues.

One, are probes any use? If the findings don't suit a section, the report will be debunked. If an inquiry finds the encounter was a genuine one and the slain youth were actually terrorists, will Singh, Mamata, Mushirul Hasan and sundry others insisting the youth are innocent accept it? They won't. Just like the BJP won't accept the U C Banerjee report on Godhra and the secular brigade won't accept the Nanavati report. Each side will question the credentials of the author of the report, no matter how upright and honest he/she is.

Two, always questioning the police version on everything, if it doesn't suit us. I am no admirer of the Indian police force. It is perhaps the most venal, corrupt and insensitive force in the world. Yes, it has sullied its hands with fake encounters and some which are bizarre mistakes (like the Connaught Place shoot out, where it was just a case of mistaken identity). But to question every arrest or encounter is carrying things a bit too far. The media is also to blame for this. Every time a suspected terrorist is arrested, off it goes to interview the parents who then say their son is innocent, he wouldn't harm a fly, he is being framed. What else will a parent say? Regardless of what the charge - drunken driving or rape or terrorism - parents will always say their child is innocent. But whether it is the Jamia shootout or the arrest of Yahoo engineer Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy for sending terror emails, the police is unearthing evidence, incriminating documents etc. Surely all this can't be fake?

It is a bit hard to believe that the police randomly pick up innocent youth without any leads and then put them behind bars or engage and kill them in an encounter. Why does the police zero in on only XYZ innocent Muslim youth and not ABC or GHI? These charges that the police are picking up innocent youth gives the impression that the police does eenie-meenie-mina-mo every morning with a list of Muslim names and then just goes and arrests/kills them without any proof. This is ridiculous.

That brings me to the third issue - this whole fuss about racial profiling and the lament that all Muslims are being viewed as terrorists. I think that is exaggerated. Ordinary people are not branding all Muslims as terrorists. It is the Amar Singhs and the so-called secular brigade who are giving terrorists and ordinary criminals a religious identity. A terrorist is a terrorist. Why, if he has a Muslim name, should it mean all Muslims are being targeted? If a terror suspect happens to have a Muslim name, should the police not arrest/question him? The counter to that may well be that how come only Muslims are being picked up? But if the terror is being unleashed in the name of Islam, are Hindus, Christians and Sikhs to be picked up? During the Punjab trouble, Sikhs were picked up, in Sri Lanka Tamils are picked up, in Ireland, Irish were picked up. That is natural. Terrorists are known by the cause they espouse.

These people who claim to speak on behalf of the ordinary Muslims are doing them a terrible disservice. By rushing to sympathise with a terrorist (instead of distancing themselves and saying the law must take its own course) just because he has a Muslim name, it is these people who are indulging in racial profiling.

Finally, it is not my case that the police don’t pick up innocent people or torture suspects. The human rights of all have to be protected. But the right way of doing that is not to rant against arrests, but ensure that those arrested get whatever rights are due to them. It was appalling that the police did not allow the families of the Delhi blast accused to meet them even as it allowed journalists to interview them. That is absolute nonsense and it is good that Prashant Bhushan and other public spirited citizens got a court order to allow a meeting with the families. That is a perfectly valid way to help the accused. But to say that all arrests are frame ups and all encounters are fake is a bit much.

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