Sharique N Siddiquie
26th November, 2008 will remain etched forever in our memories. It was the day when India saw the beginning of the biggest terror strike that the country ever faced. The attack lasted for three days.
Ten heavily armed Pakistani terrorists took hold of the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, the Orthodox Jewish-centre Nariman House and the Metro Cinema, after firing indiscriminately at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai.
About 164 people died in these attacks that saw Indo- Pak relations slumping to a new low.
Although our political system failed to wake up to the security of the country in time, the nation welcomed an astounding change in the mindset of the masses.
For the first time ever since independence, Muslims were not blamed for the attacks. Though all the attackers were shamelessly flaunting their religion as a justification of their deeds, Indians learnt to demarcate between Indian Muslims and Pakistani terrorists.
In a country, where religious tensions run high at the slightest provocation and every police encounter is seen with suspicion, this change in attitude was remarkable.
India has always been the hotbed of religious violence. Starting from the riots in 1947 during the partition of the country, India has always had simmering religious tensions.
So, in the past 62 years of independence, we have witnessed as many as nine major incidents of religious riots with a collective casualty of over 10,000.
Apart from the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, attacks on Hindus in the North East and some incidents against missionaries, all the riots included Muslims as one of the party.
Post September 11 terror attacks in the US, there has been a surge in suspicion surrounding Muslims across the world. Though India is essentially a very tolerant nation which remains united despite frictions among various religions co-existing, this suspicion did sometimes leave an imprint.
The continuing attacks by terrorists and upsurge in serial blasts across the nation added fuel to the fire of religious hatred. Serial bombings across the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and incessant disturbances in Jammu & Kashmir made the situation even worse. However, it was still a break away from the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts where the terror incident was followed by bloody riots. There has been a certain maturity regarding the way terror incidents are being viewed. And though they vitiate the environment and create panic, they have stopped having an impact on social harmony.
The continuous terror strikes in India did leave common people suspicious of Muslims, which was really a natural reaction. Even though Muslim organizations, both political and religious, denounced all sorts of terrorism, Muslims continued to face misgivings.
Then came a time after Hyderabad blasts, when police started picking up Muslim youth on basis of some basic leads only. Innocent Muslims began feeling the heat of this mistrust. Cases of human rights abuses against Muslims began to rise.
This led to a sense of deep rooted alienation and disillusionment with the existing political system and Muslim youth began to feel victimized.
It can be said that some such disenchanted youth, especially after the Gujarat riots or for the lure of money, may have been willing to tacitly help foreign terror elements. These people were given the acronym of “sleeper cells”.
The infamous Batla House encounter is a case in point, in which a similar sleeper cell of terrorists or rather misguided youth were captured. After the furore over the alleged “fake encounter” settled, we were left astounded by the psychological mayhem executed by the foreign hand.
An interesting point to note here is that sometimes elements arrested in India may actually be of Bangladeshi origin, but easily get mixed in the local populace. These people may be more willing to become sleeper cells as they have no emotional connect with the country.
All these incidents made the situation conducive for fundamentalists from both the religions to consolidate their position and use this communal divide to their interests.
Then came the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. The three day long siege saw 164 civilians and security personnel killed and 308 people injured. Nine out of ten attackers were killed and Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist was captured.
The country was numb with disbelief and anger over the attacks. But in a show of great wisdom, this rage was directed towards terrorists and not Muslims of this country.
Muslim citizens also came out in large numbers to denounce the odious attacks and even refused to allow the burial of the terrorists on Indian soil.
Media played an important role in bringing this radical shift in the mindsets. TV channels showed regular stories of Muslims suffering along with other victims. For statistical interest, it was an attack in which out of every nine people killed, one was a Muslim.
These statistics made people realize that Muslims are as much a victim of terror as anybody else. People also learnt to demarcate between a terrorist and a Muslim, a difference that was deliberately blurred by some astute politicians for their personal gains.
India has regained its belief in its plural and secular society, a rare example in the history of democratic setup.
Finally, India woke up to the truth!