Letter and spirit

Muslim insecurity is all too real, but Shinde's letter reduces it to a political talking point.

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has been roundly attacked for his letter to chief ministers, where he asked them to ensure no Muslim was wrongfully detained in terror cases. BJP president Rajnath Singh has asked for the letter be withdrawn for its "unconstitutional" premise, and others have questioned the propriety of the home minister singling out a minority group in this manner, because all citizens are equally entitled to justice. Earlier, Shinde had announced fast-track courts for terror cases involving Muslims, prompting the criticism that these cases need impartial investigation and swift justice, not gestures to a religious group.

Shinde's point may be valid, given the substantive inequality of minority communities. In many states, the Muslim presence in prison is disproportionate to their share in the population. This is not just in terror cases, but also for a range of other smaller crimes either because of the reflexive suspicion of law enforcers, or because deprivation and crime are linked. And when it comes to terror investigations, there is a strong sense in the community that Muslims are targeted by police and ATS forces across states. This has been borne out by impartial observers. In Uttar Pradesh, the R.D. Nimesh commission revealed holes in the state's special task force investigations on serial blasts in Faizabad, Barabanki and Lucknow. In 2006, Imran Kirmani was held for a "9/11-type plot" in Delhi, until freed four years later by the court, which commented on the "callous and inferior quality of investigation". Hundreds of Muslims were arrested without proof after the 2006 Mumbai attacks, when the ATS and Mumbai Police could not reconcile their stories. Nine Muslim men were imprisoned for the Malegaon blasts, and freed after five years when they were found to be innocent. In other words, the problem is real - social prejudice, unexamined biases within police and judiciary, the official stakes in quick answers and the special laws that operate in terror cases make for a bad combination.

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