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Why the common Muslim is scared

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
July 14, 2006 20:24 IST
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Each time there is communal tension in Mumbai, Sultana Bi, a domestic worker, sends all her important documents to a relative's home. The relative lives in a predominantly Muslim area.

After she lost her husband in Mumbai's worst communal carnage in January 1993 and her house was burnt to cinders, she has learnt a lesson: Never to leave important documents -- like ration card, etc -- unguarded.

"It was very difficult to get a new ration card after the riots and more difficult to get new house papers made after my house was looted and burnt down," said Bi.

A mob killed her husband Razak Shaikh, a carpenter.

The couple used to live in Jogeshwari (East), one of the worst hit areas during the 1993 riots.

"Life was difficult for me and my three children after my husband was killed, but it was more difficult for me to get the ration card and house papers from government officials," Bi adds.

After seven bombs ripped through seven trains on Terror Tuesday, Bi sent her papers to the relative.

"There is tension in the city and it will last another 15 days. It is better to be careful," she says.

Bi's words are not hers alone. They mirror the fear and apprehension in many Muslim areas in the city.

Many Muslims jumped onto the tracks to rescue the victims of the blasts -- as did many Hindus and many Christians -- and condemned the terrorism in the strongest words.

But Muslims in Mumbai fear if terrorism continues, communal trouble might flare up.

Riyaz Pathan, a 25-year-old resident of Mahim in northcentral Mumbai, knows that whenever there is a bomb blast in the city, most people feel some Muslims are behind it.

"Miyabhai (Mumbai slang for Muslims) equals bomb in such situations," says Pathan, a call centre executive.

"Even if Muslims have not done it, the entire city believes now there is some Muslim organisation behind the blast," he adds.

The finger of suspicion has been raised at the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India and Pakistan-based terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

"They say these people are involved but never show their faces to the public when they arrest them," says Ayaz Rokadia, a chemist.

"They should show their faces so we know what they look like. Till this day, I would want to know what the Gateway of India blast terrorists look like. But no one shows their faces. They just say Muslims did it," points out Rokadia.

He does not forget to add that one of the accused in the Ghatkopar and Mulund blasts, Khwaja Yunus, went missing.

Yunus' fate remains a mystery, but the man on the street is convinced he was killed.

Senior police officers were suspended and arrested for Yunus' disappearance. His associates remain in prison under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.

"I am sure they will catch some Muslim whose face will be wrapped with black cloth and after one year you will get the news that he died in an encounter while trying to escape -- as they did with Khwaja Yunus," says Rokadia.

Is it not true that some Muslims have been behind bomb blasts and terrorists attacks?

"This is a wrong notion," counters Rokadia. "The media does not highlight Hindu terrorism. There was a blast in Nanded town of Maharashtra in which the conspirators died on the spot but the media did not highlight this issue," he points out.

"Moreover, remember that the Mumbai municipal election is due next year. If communal harmony in the city is disturbed, then it is obvious that the Shiv Sena will benefit from it," Rokadia says.

"There are Naxalites, there are terrorist organisations in the northeast. No one talks calls them Hindus; just the organisation is blamed. The same terrorist act, when a Kashmiri is involved, the media calls them Muslims and jihadis," he says.

"This is a problem in our country. When a few misguided Muslims do something wrong, the entire community is blamed for their terrorist acts," adds Rokadia.

He points at policemen in the Muslim-dominated Wanjawadi area, where many of the 1993 blasts accused lived.

"They always patrol our areas in such situations. They always suspect us. They will catch some small-time thief and paint him as a terrorist," feels Rokadia.

His friend Ayub Qureshi, 25, joins in. "I am too young to remember 1993, but nothing has changed. Every time there is a blast or any communal tension, the police are present in large numbers in our area."

"For the last 13 years this place has been completely peaceful. But the constant police presence makes things worse. They want to keep a watch on our community all the time. This is what they did in Bhiwandi and therefore the violence broke out."

Pathan believes the Mumbai police treat Muslims differently.

"If I am caught jumping a signal, the policeman is courteous and itching for a bribe. But as soon as he sees my Muslim name on the driving licence, the attitude changes. It is more difficult for Muslims to travel at such times late at night because they will be questioned more. They (the police) don't trust us; we too don't trust them," Pathan says.

"This distrust was there when my father was young, when my brother was young and when I am young," he adds. "I don't think it will end in my lifetime."

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai