The detention of two cricketers - who were in Bangalore to play the CK Naydu tournament - on suspicion of carrying explosives, has touched a raw nerve in Kashmir. Under 22 Jammu and Kashmir team player, Pervaz Rasool was detained by the police who say his bag contained traces of RDX. The bag has been sent to a forensic lab for testing and the report is likely to come out on Tuesday. On Monday, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, batted for Rasool and called his detention 'racial profiling'. The Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association has now demanded an apology from the Bangalore Police.
The question that was being asked on CNN-IBN's Face The Nation was: Does simply being a Kashmiri Muslim invite suspicion?
To try and answer the question on the panel of experts was former DGP J-K, M M Khajuria; MP and senior leader of the National Conference, Mehboob Baig; model and actor Tariq Dar; and filmmaker Ashok Pandit.
At the beginning of the show, 48 per cent of the people who voted in agreed that simply being a Kashmiri Muslim invites suspicion, while 52 per cent disagreed.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that it was unfair to pigeon-hole all young Kashmiris and brand them as militants. However, one must also take into account the fact that the Bangalore Police was simply trying to do its job - looking after the security of the state and the people who reside there. Parvez Rasool was not letting the sniffer dogs near his bag so why should the police not take security measures which they deem fit, is the question that people were asking.
Mehboob Baig saw a conspiracy here saying, "Simply because there is insurgency in Kashmir, every youth is thought to be a militant. This has been happening to us for a long time. The more this is done, the more the state will feel alienated from the rest of India. The timing is terrible, especially since an atmosphere of peace is being sought and built up in Kashmir and when the Home Minister of India himself says they are ready to have a dialogue with Kashmiris and welcome them into their fold. It seems some sections of the society thrive on the idea of an abnormal Kashmir. This is a nexus which the Government of India will have to break."
MM Khajuria responded to this saying, "This is a very complex problem because the police have to strike a balance between a need for security and not alienate a particular section of society. Discretion and sensitivity is important in a situation like this. The society is so paranoid about terror now and the focus has unfortunately shifted to a particular community."
He added that some of this was, however, unavoidable. "Information must be conveyed beforehand to security agencies from other concerned agencies so that harassment may be avoided."
Actor and model Tariq Dar, who is a Kashmiri Muslim and who was mistakenly imprisoned in Bangladesh and then in New Delhi, joined the debate at this point saying, "Being a Kashmiri Muslim played a big part in my being arrested. When I was arrested, that is the distinct feel which I got while I was being interrogated. When I saw the news about Parvez Rasool being arrested, I was sorely disappointed to see that cricketers going to play a match were arrested on suspicion of carrying explosives. They were not stopped at any of the airports when they travelled from Srinagar to Delhi and from Delhi to Bangalore."
Bias Against Kashmiris?
Tariq Dar and Parvez Rasool are not isolated cases. When SAR Geelani was arrested and subsequently awarded the death sentence in connection with the Parliament attack case, he said that he had been held simply because he was a Kashmiri Muslim. The question here is should society take the blame for suspecting Kashmiri Muslims?
Ashok Pandit responded to this saying, "I don't completely agree with this statement. Sadly, Kashmir is a hub of terrorism and suspecting Kashmiris is a very psychological reaction now. I would lay the blame squarely on the Bangalore investigative agencies which are supposed to investigate not punish. First the Bangalore Police arrested him, then they went to the media and labeled Rasool as a terrorist and then they released him. That child must have undergone so much of pain and trauma. How is he even supposed to concentrate on something so normal as cricket?"
But the fact of the matter is that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained at Newark airport and on Monday, Shahnawaz Hussain was denied a visa to the US - probably because of his name. Muslims are being suspected and investigated the world over, so is it not wise to submit to security procedures if there is nothing to hide?
Mehboob Baig said that security procedures must be submitted to but that Rasool did not let the sniffer dogs near his bag because he had a Koran inside it. "Even if the investigators now say he is innocent, his reputation and image has irreversibly been tarnished," he said.
Tariq Dar added to this saying that when people are let off, the investigative agencies simply say that a person was released for lack of evidence. "Why can't they say that they made a mistake and they apologise? They are crushing our dreams, lives and careers."
Guilty Until Proven Innocent?
Tariq Dar continued saying, "If these two boys were not a part of the cricket team which was sent by the Cricket Association of J-K, they would have been arrested and brutally tortured as well."
Khajuria answered Dar saying, "We are not helpless in this situation but you have to understand that there are two dimensions to this problem. In this particular case we shall have to wait for the forensic report to come through to know whether there is any truth in the information which the police had received or not."
Dar interrupted him before he could finish saying, "So does this mean that the Karnataka Police believe the J-K Police and the Delhi Police are incompetent and did not discover traces of explosives in the bag that Rasool was carrying? Is that the implication?"
"I was arrested and discriminated against and wrongly thrown into prison, but I am here now in Mumbai, pursuing my career and still have complete faith in the Constitution of India. But the point in, when I was in prison, I met people who were innocent, who were wrongly arrested," he added.
Khajuria responded to Dar's question saying, "We don't need to argue that point because we shall get the forensic report soon and then we shall know. But the larger point is that there should be no doubt in peoples' mind that Kashmiri youth are being discriminated against because they are not. For that we need discretion and sensitivity and politicians need to rein in their ambitions because incidents like this seem to fuel the fire instead of dousing it."
The question he was trying to raise was whether politicians are responsible for keeping the sense of alienation alive. Politicians he felt, try to prey on the sense of alienation and victimisation for the sake of votes.
Baig responded saying, "Not at all, but we have to accept that there is a political problem and unless you accept the problem, you can't address it. As leaders of the state, we have to talk about issues such as these and this is not fueling the fire. We have to address the issue of alienation."
Pandit reacted saying, "The politicians of Kashmir have always played on the emotions of the common man in Kashmir. But I strongly believe that in the name of security, nothing can be pardoned. Someone from Kashmir tipped off the Karnataka Police that's why this whole drama happened. The RDX could have been slipped to the people in Karnataka. He may not have been necessarily carrying it from Kashmir. If the police suspects me, it is my responsibility to allow the police to check me and not make a nuisance of myself. But the police also has to be equally responsible and not talk on anything that is not required. The police cannot label a person a terrorist without evidence."
He concluded the debate by saying that there were thousands of Kashmiri Muslims studying in all parts of India, but nothing like this has happened to them. "Everyone should submit to all security procedures," he said.
FINAL SMS/WEB POLL: Does simply being a Kashmiri Muslim invite suspicion?
Yes: 49 per cent
No: 51 per cent