South Asia

Indian Muslims blamed for 'saffron terror' want justice

Muslim residents show blood-stained prayer caps at the site of the bombings at the Nurani Mosque at Malegaon on 9 September 2006
Image caption Residents hold up blood-stained prayer caps at the bomb site: At least 37 people, mostly Muslim pilgrims, died in the 2006 Malegaon bombs

Dr Farogh Maqdoomi was arrested by Indian police in 2006 - a month after blasts at a Muslim cemetery in the town of Malegaon killed 37 people and injured 125 others.

Police said they had cracked the case and arrested nine men, including Dr Maqdoomi, for involvement in the attack in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

"Farogh is a doctor; he had rushed to the nearby hospital to help the injured. Why would he have done that had he been part of the conspiracy?" asks his father Iqbal Maqdoomi, a retired school teacher.

He has a point, given November's arrest of a Hindu holy man.

'Hindu radicals'

Swami Aseemanand has allegedly confessed to the bombings in Malegaon, previously thought to be the work of Muslim militants.

Image caption The Maqdoomi family says it is living in hope

He has allegedly also admitted to involvement in similar attacks on the Samjhauta Express train to Pakistan, at the famous Sufi shrine in Ajmer and the Mecca mosque in Hyderabad.

He said the explosions had been organised by Hindu radicals to avenge attacks on Hindu temples by Muslim militants.

Since the reported disclosures, the number of visitors to Dr Maqdoomi's home in the narrow, winding lanes of the congested Islampura area of Malegaon has shot up.

"People tell us that we must bring the boy home, now that we know who the real culprits are," says Mr Maqdoomi Sr.

He recently met some ministers in the government of Maharashtra state to plead his case.

"People in Malegaon are relieved," Jaleel Ahmed, a local lawyer and brother of one of the accused, Abrar, told me.

"Right from the day of the blast in 2006, we have been saying that no Muslim can carry out an explosion in a Muslim cemetery."

Confessed under duress?

Mr Ahmed is part of a legal team which this month filed a petition to a court, seeking bail for the nine men accused over the bombings, including Mr Maqdoomi who is now 37.

The families of the accused are livid that their loved ones are still in jail despite the alleged confession being "a clear-cut proof of their innocence".

More than four years after the incident, their trial has yet to begin.

Uncertainty about their fate lingers but the families say they are hopeful.

Residents in Malegaon scoff at claims by Mr Aseemanand's lawyer that his confession was extracted under duress.

The town has a large population of unemployed and poorly educated Muslim youth, and is considered communally sensitive.

The perception among officials and parts of the media is that many locals are hardliners and have links with extremist elements - there were anti-US rallies when the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, prompting accusations that people in Malegaon supported the Taliban and other extremist groups.

The people I met were very religious but showed no support for Muslim extremism.

Badrunissa, wife of another accused, Raes Ahmed, is furious at what she calls "a grave injustice due to dubious police investigations".


Police said Ahmed was a member of the banned group - Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi) - and that he was suspected of having planted the bomb in the cemetery.

"Can anyone return the last four years of my life? Only I know what I have gone through. Finally the truth has come out. Now I am not ready to wait even for a day for my husband's release," said Badrunissa.

Image caption Swami Aseemanand's reported confession has put the spotlight on hardline Hindu parties

She blames the deprivation in the community for its voice being ignored.

"Hindus get jobs so easily, but Muslims don't because they lack both money and education," she says.

Badrunissa said her husband's arrest had traumatised her five children and they were bitter about what they had been through.

Her son Osama, 12, says he wants to be a lawyer to "free jailed Muslims like my father".

Mr Aseemanand's reported confession has raised the spectre of Hindu militancy.

The spotlight has been thrown on India's main political opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and its ideological parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

It has also raised uncomfortable questions about the role of the police and investigative agencies.

In his statements, RS Pasricha, Maharashtra state police chief at the time of the blasts, had alleged support for the attack from Pakistan.


This month, he told the BBC that one cannot simply believe what's in the media, and he would not comment further since the matter was before the courts.

Image caption Dr Farogh Maqdoomi has been in jail since 2006

The case was initially handled by the anti-terror squad of Maharashtra police, before the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took it over.

Now, the CBI is reinvestigating the case following Mr Aseemanand's alleged confession.

But this has failed to impress the people of Malegaon.

There is a serious concern within the community that Muslim boys have been picked up randomly, tortured, imprisoned and branded terrorists, without proper investigation.

Mr Aseemanand's reported confession has confirmed for them their worst fears of victimisation.

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