- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

Three months after the terrorist siege of India’s commercial capital left more than 160 people dead, the bodies of nine Muslim attackers remain in a city morgue because local Muslims refuse to bury them.

The rejection of Muslim tradition that requires bodies to be buried swiftly, usually the day after death, reflects Indian Muslims’ outrage at the attacks as well as fear that it will be seen as tainted - even though the attackers all appear to have come from neighboring Pakistan.

“These terrorists are a black spot on our religion; we will very sternly protest the burial of these terrorists in our cemetery,” Ibrahim Tai, the president of the Indian Muslim Council, told the British Broadcasting Corp. last year.

After the siege, Mumbai’s Bollywood stars as well as worshippers at mosques across the country wore black badges to express their condemnation. Once again, India’s Muslims felt pressure to prove themselves patriotic because their religion had been linked to violence.

“More than one-fourth of those killed in the Mumbai attacks were Muslims. It’s ridiculous and offensive to blame India’s Muslims for such attacks just because those terrorists were Muslims and they came from Pakistan,” said Sabitendranath Roy, a noted book publisher, at a seminar on Hindu-Muslim relations in Calcutta after the attacks.

Indian officials have not blamed local Muslims for the attacks, yet the community has expressed a sense of nervousness.

“There is no denying of the fact that in everyday life Muslims are victims of discrimination in Hindu-majority society,” said Mr. Roy, a Hindu whose Center for Hindu-Muslim Understanding organized the seminar.

With more than 150 million Muslims, India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. India’s Muslims alone could form the world’s eighth-largest country, ahead of Russia and Nigeria. But Muslims comprise only 13 percent to 15 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people.

Sixty years after the partition of British India into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim Pakistan, India has had three Muslim presidents, Muslim cricket stars and a film industry presided over by Muslims.

But in general, Muslims remain second-class citizens. They are poorer and less educated than Hindus, figuring lower than many lower-caste Hindus on several social indicators. Muslims also face discrimination in finding jobs and housing.

The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, worried that poverty and illiteracy could make the Muslim community a breeding ground for violence, set up a committee four years ago to study Muslim status. The committee findings, presented in November 2006, found that the literacy rate among urban Muslims was 59.9 percent, while the overall rate for urban residents was 80.5 percent.

The commission also found that the country’s Muslim population grew by 2.7 percent from 1961 to 2001, while the overall population grew by 2.1 percent and Hindu and Christian populations by 2.0 percent. During this period, the share of Muslims in the population rose from 10 percent to 13.5 percent.

Manisha Banerjee, a Hindu schoolteacher who spoke at another Calcutta seminar, said that although Muslims were not part of the traditional Hindu caste system, their status is now close to that of Dalits, or untouchables. Muslim representation in government jobs is between only 2 percent and 5 percent, she said.

The government report “also found Muslims are more likely than Hindus to be illiterate, to live in areas without schools or medical care and, in comparatively more developed urban areas, to live in poverty,” Ms. Banerjee said.

Shabana Azmi, a prominent actress, author and women’s activist, aroused controversy when she said in a television interview in August that India was unfair to Muslims. She referred to her personal experience in being denied the chance to buy an apartment in Mumbai because she is Muslim.

Critics said her comments were irresponsible and a newspaper reported that Ms. Azmi already owned four apartments in the city. But her remarks resonated among many ordinary Indian Muslims.

Laila Atif, 30, a marketing executive, said she has had to move within Mumbai nearly every six months because of discrimination.

“How do you ensure the mainstreaming of a community when there is active discrimination on a basic issue like housing?” she asked. “Every time there is a terror blast and a Muslim is arrested, it is as if an entire community must accept the blame. Do we demand the same sense of collective guilt from other communities?”

In the television interview, Ms. Azmi, daughter and wife of well-known Muslim poets, said Indian politicians make only “token gestures” toward security for Muslims and don’t address the “real issues.” She also urged India’s Muslims to move out of the “victim mode” and work for internal reforms on education and gender equality.

Mumbai-based analyst Amaresh Misra, participating in a New Delhi seminar, said the communal divide has remained for decades.

“There is an anti-Muslim undercurrent [which] though small is dominant in levers of power and the corporate class and the business elite. It is this section which has started throwing Muslims out of companies, businesses and [apartments],” he said.

Tensions are such that even the outcome of a cricket game between India and Pakistan can trigger clashes in India, especially in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.

The destruction of a mosque-temple structure in Ayodhya in northern India - which Hindus believe was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram - led to carnage in Mumbai and the western state of Gujarat in 1992-93, resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths. A series of explosions in Mumbai in March 1993, blamed on a Muslim crime boss, killed 250.

A train filled with Hindu pilgrims was set on fire in Gujarat state in February 2002, purportedly by a Muslim mob, killing dozens. In the following months, the state exploded in violence that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims. A commission of inquiry later reported that the Hindu nationalist government in the state and the police deliberately failed to stop the killing of Muslims.

Analysts say the slaughter provided incentive for Islamist militants.

A majority of terrorist attacks in the country in recent years have been blamed on Muslim militants, most linked to Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The rise of a local group, however, has given a domestic face to Islamist terrorism. The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) began as a political movement in 1977, but turned extremist over the next decade and was banned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The group has since been blamed for dozens of attacks. SIMI, which purportedly received funds from Saudi and Pakistani sources, has said its aim is to create an Islamic state in India.

On the Hindu side, there have also been disturbing trends.

Indian investigators said in November that a Hindu terror cell that included a senior military officer and a Hindu nun was responsible for several bombings, including one at Malegaon, a predominantly Muslim town 174 miles northeast of Mumbai, which left six dead in September.

“Last year, 10 Hindu terrorists were caught for terror bomb attacks on Muslims. Yet, they lay blame for all attacks on Muslims. Even attacks on mosques have been blamed on Muslims by the Hindu groups and even by police,” said Mohammad Ismail, chief cleric of the textile town.

His words resonated.

“There are tens of thousands of instances of communal bias by a police force who often consider Muslims nothing more than criminals or terrorists,” said Sujato Bhadra, an executive member of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights.

Tehelka, a news magazine known for its hidden-camera investigations of corrupt politicians, conducted a three-month-long probe that found “a chilling and systematic witch hunt against innocent Muslims,” the magazine’s chief editor, Tarun J. Tejpal, wrote.

“Sadly, … even the judicial process is often complicit in the terrible miscarriage of justice,” he wrote. “India has 160 million Muslims. Even if 10,000 are radicalized, it’s barely a tree in a forest. To create an atmosphere that blights the entire forest is a mistake.”

• Shaikh Azizur Rahman reported from Calcutta; Anubha Bhonsle contributed from New Delhi.

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