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How do you re­act when some­thing like a po­lice en­counter hap­pens in your lo­cal­ity, and a few doors down, two men are killed – two of your neigh­bours, who have been la­belled ter­ror­ists. Imag­ine, for a mo­ment, that this hap­pened not in Im­phal or Sri­na­gar, where such oc­cur­rences are not un­heard of, but in your safe, cosy neigh­bour­hood.

It was Septem­ber 2008 in south Delhi’s Jamia Na­gar, in the vicin­ity of a cen­tral univer­sity called Jamia. Few here be­lieved that the en­counter was gen­uine, but an in­spec­tor of the Delhi Po­lice was killed. This gave an un­for­tu­nate twist to the story and added cred­i­bil­ity to the po­lice ver­sion. Stu­dents were found to be anti-na­tion­als. But the lo­cals, in­clud­ing my­self, found the story hard to be­lieve.

I was twenty-two when it hap­pened, liv­ing alone, about 200 me­tres from where the two young men died. When I read the re­ports in news­pa­pers, I re­mem­ber think­ing that they sounded rather like me. It was so close that it scared me. It was as if they were me – only the names were dif­fer­ent. They were liv­ing alone, away from their fami- n lies, just as I had since child­hood. One of them wanted to be an IAS of­fi­cer, an­other a pilot. One of those killed was study­ing at Jamia Mil­lia Is­lamia, like I was; the younger, about 17, and just a few months old in Delhi, was pre­par­ing for the Jamia en­trance exam. Along­side that, he was at­tend­ing English coach­ing classes, like I had once wanted to.

Go­ing by me­dia re­ports of the time, the rooms of the Ter­ror­ists were messy, as mine was. The lights in my house were usu­ally on till late at night, or per­haps I should say, early in the morn­ing. Neigh­bours would say, Neyaz is a very hard­work­ing boy, he stud­ies all night. My friends and I knew just how hard­work­ing I was. They didn’t open the door when the po­lice knocked. I wouldn’t have ei­ther – even God would have been hard put to wake me up if I didn’t have an im­por­tant class. Any­way, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­pers, the lights were on late in the nights in their home too. Based on the sto­ries of their ac­tiv­i­ties, nar­rated mostly by anony­mous sources, the pa­pers con­fi­dently an­nounced that these boys were in­deed Ter­ror­ists. They may as well have been: it was too early to call, but the news re­ports be­trayed no doubts about their cul­pa­bil­ity.

The en­counter fol­lowed within a week of the se­rial blasts in Delhi that had killed thirty. For a week af­ter the blasts, the po­lice had been raid­ing sus­pected Ter­ror­ists and their Hide­outs, in­clud­ing in Jamia Na­gar, and it was in the news all over. The men killed in the en­counter had, as it turned out, sub­mit­ted their orig­i­nal IDs and ad­dresses to the care­taker of the build­ing (who claimed that he had in turn sub­mit­ted these to the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion). Fol­low­ing the en­counter, lo­cals asked: why didn’t the Ter­ror­ists run away from Jamia Na­gar? The po­lice, for their part, claimed that the Ter­ror­ists had been over­con­fi­dent be­cause they were dis­guised as Nor­mal Hu­man Be­ings. In a sin­gle state­ment, they ren­dered ev­ery­one a sus­pected Ter­ror­ist.

The po­lice de­coded all these Facts in a flash, like ex­perts in Bol­ly­wood movies. And the me­dia con­veyed these to you and me, since, you know, that’s their job. A na­tion’s con­science was sat­is­fied.

But mine was not. Not at all. Maybe I was not part of the na­tion, I thought for a mo­ment. Or per­haps I didn’t mat­ter. I was scared. I had my doubts. So did ev­ery young man in our lo­cal­ity. The speed with which the au­thor­i­ties, and the news re­ports, reached their con­clu­sions made us sus­pect there was some­thing fishy; that there was more to it than what you and I knew or were told.

I had come to Delhi to study when I was barely old enough to wash my bot­tom... liv­ing in the Mus­lim ghetto of Jamia Na­gar, I learnt many new things...

That they dis­crim­i­nate against Mus­lims in IAS en­trance ex­ams and that’s why there are hardly any Mus­lim IAS of­fi­cers (Dada wanted me to be­come one). That they jus­tify the de­mo­li­tion of Babri Masjid in Ay­o­d­hya. Of course, ev­ery ed­u­cated Mus­lim knows what they are do­ing in Kash­mir. And in Pales­tine. I am not sure how much of all this I truly com­pre­hended, but I did im­bibe some­thing of it...


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