DISGUISED AS NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS
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...