NEW DELHI: I have received the following letter dated March 1 of Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman of India’s National Commission for Minorities: “The terrorist blast in Dilsukh Nagar, Hyderabad on the evening of February 21 resulting in the death of innocent citizens and injury to many more has given rise to much discussion in the press and the media. However, the National Commission for Minorities has noted with concern that even before completion of investigation and on the basis of what appears unfounded conjecture, the media appears to have targeted a particular community, which seems — unfortunately — also to be reciprocated in the statements of some who are in positions of authority.
“B Raman of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, has stated in an article in Outlook recently that it seems to have become the trend that if there is terror, it has to be a Muslim. If he is a Muslim, he has to be from the IM (Indian Mujahideen). If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). That seems to be the thinking reflex of the police and the agencies.
“You will agree that such a trend needs to be discouraged. Fortunately, we have had some voices, even though scattered, raised in the media against such practice. The Commission is, therefore, approaching you to consider advising those in the media responsible for supervising release of news that they exercise restraint in reporting matters of this nature, which in the present case have brought much grief to a large section of Indian citizens, expressed in the article by Inscribe, a copy of which is attached.”
In this connection, my view is as follows: bomb blasts and other terrorist activities often occur in India. The particular persons who have committed such heinous crimes should correctly be identified, prosecuted and when found guilty, given harsh punishment. However, in my opinion, in India often innocent Muslims are arrested and incarcerated in prison for several years in this connection. To find out the real culprits requires scientific investigation. Unfortunately, in most parts of India, the police are neither trained in scientific investigations, nor have the equipment for this purpose.
Since an impression has been created in some quarters that most Muslims are terrorists, the police often arrest some Muslims merely on suspicion. Once such a suspect is arrested, it is difficult for him to get bail because when he applies for bail, the public prosecutor tells the court that the accused is a terrorist and consequently, bail is almost always refused. The person often remains in jail for several years and even if he is ultimately found innocent, nobody can restore so many years of his life spent in jail. The recent case of a man who was arrested when he was 17 years old and kept for 14 years in jail until he was found innocent by the courts illustrates the gross injustice which is often done to Muslims in India.
Shortly after I became Chairman of the Press Council of India, I gave an interview to Mr Karan Thapar in his serial “Devil’s Advocate”. I stated that within a hour or so of a bomb blast, many TV channels start showing on their screens that an email or sms had been received from the Indian Mujahidin, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkatuljibad-e-Islam or some other organisations having a Muslim name, claiming responsibility. I said in that interview that this was irresponsible on the part of the media because any mischievous person can send such an email or sms and it is not even necessary that the sender is a Muslim.
As stated by Mr Wajahat Habibullah in his letter, even before the police investigation is completed, a section of the media announced that the Indian Mujahideen is responsible, as it did in the case of the Hyderabad bomb blast.
I, therefore, appeal to the Indian media to avoid doing anything which may fan or promote communal hatred and animosity, and to exercise restraint in reporting cases of bomb blasts and other terrorist activities.
Justice Markandey Katju
Chairman, Press Council of India
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2013.