Mumbai probe eyes local Muslim group
India's Muslim community has a moderate reputation, but pockets of alienation exist in growing ghettos.
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In 2003, Mr. Qazi was arrested following a set of bombings. He had been mistaken for a SIMI activist because of his work with the Students Islamic Organization (SIO), part of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a moderate religious social organization working for Muslim uplift and at one time associated with SIMI. "The word 'Islamic' in my organization's name makes all the difference."Skip to next paragraph
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"They [Mumbai's police] came in large numbers at 1:30 a.m., in pitch darkness, and arrested me," he recalls. "My neighbors thought I was a terrorist."
More Muslims live in India than in most Muslim-majority nations, and they've long been upheld as a moderate community, showing little passion for jihad in Iraq, Afghanistan – or even Kashmir. Not one of India's 150 million Muslims, thus far, has been found associated with Al Qaeda.
Although Muslims in secular, democratic India have access to greater rights and freedoms than in most Muslim countries, statistics paint a picture of a marginalized community. According to one study, the income of the average Muslim is 11 percent less than the national average. There's a dearth of Muslim police, government officials, and soldiers – only 29,000 Muslims make up the 1.1 million-strong Indian army.
Outbreaks of communal violence in recent years have caused some Muslims to relocate to Muslim-majority areas.
Mumbra, a suburb 25 miles from Mumbai, saw an influx of Muslims after Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai in 1992 and blasts in 1993. Mumbra's squalid quarters, dubbed derisively as "mini Pakistan," are notorious havens for criminals – and, police allege, terrorists.
In conversations with young men at SIO meetings, Mr. Qazi has observed a hardening aggression, and impatience with perceived mistreatment and prejudice. Tough questioning and long detentions of Muslim locals by police are often viewed as state harassment – and breed anti-state notions, he says.
Locals note that police have approached this week's investigation sensitively. A senior Mumbai police official says detentions are necessary to crack the local nexus of militants to prevent future strikes. Terrorists, he says, easily permeate Muslim-dominated areas, and thus combing operations are necessary. "Only if we interrogate locals can we zero in on the main accused."
The sluggish pace of bringing to court those responsible for the Gujarat riots also rankles Muslims here.
"The wounds of the Gujarat riots have still not healed. There's barely been any justice," says Sayeed Khan. "It might be easy to brainwash the youth by welling up memories of the Gujarat killings. Those wounds are still fresh."
One theory on why last week's bombs were planted in first-class train compartments ties into this frustration over Gujarat. Commuters in those compartments are usually traders from Mumbai's diamond industry – most of them Gujarati Hindus. Nearly 50 Gujaratis are believed dead in the bombings.
To ensure that youths don't easily fall for the violent preaching of fundamentalists, Mr. Khan, the imam, emphasizes the need to give Muslim youths better education opportunities.
"Our madrassahs need to be reformed," Khan says. "There's a need to teach subjects taught in regular school, like science, besides [memorization of] the Koran ... to bring Muslim men into mainstream society."