A Special Court yesterday (18 December) convicted four accused in the 2008 Jaipur serial blast case in which over 70 died and close to 200 were injured. The hearing on the quantum of sentence for the convicts will take place today (19 December).
The four convicted are, Mohammed Saif, Mohammed Sarwar Azmi, Saifur Rehman and Mohammed Salman. The fifth accused, Shahbaaz Hussain who was accused of sending an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attack was acquitted for the lack of evidence.
Three other accused - Yasin Bhatkal, Asadullah Akhtar, and Mohammed Aariz - are at present lodged in Tihar Jail in Delhi, facing trial in other blast cases.
The convicts were aged between 21 and 25 at the time of their arrest.
Eleven years ago, on 13 May 2008, the Pink city was rocked by multiple explosions. Bombs strapped to bicycles were used by the terrorists at different tourist spots during peak hours to increase the casualties.
The explosive devices were designed to cause terrible damage. Explosives and ammonium nitrate were mixed with ball bearings and wired to timing devices. Reportedly, the blasts were strong enough to toss some of the victims several feet up in the sky, and the blast scene was splattered with blood.
Starting at 7.10 pm, nine bombs at seven locations exploded within fifteen minutes. A tenth bomb was found near a Hanuman temple and diffused.
The locations included: Bari Choupar, Manak Chowk Police Station area, Johari Bazar, Tripolia Bazar, Choti Choupar, and Kotwali area.
The terrorists planned the blast on a Tuesday at Tripolia Bazar, where large number of devotees turned up at a Hanuman temple and Johari Bazar, Manas Chowk, Badi Choupal and Choti Choupal -- all located within a two-km radius.
The first two blasts occurred at Manak Chowk and as the crowd ran towards the Johri Bazar, two blasts near the Handloom Centre blocked the exit, and pushed the crowd towards Tripolia Bazar and Chandpol area, where subsequent blasts caused major casualties.
The devotees visiting the Hanuman temples in Tripolia Bazar and Chandpol area had been targeted.
The first convict Mohammad Saif alias Carryon was involved in blast in Manak Chowk police station. The second convict Mohammad Sarwar Aazmi planted the bomb in Chandpole hanuman temple.
The third convict Mohammad Salman carried out blasts in Sanganeri Hanuman temple. Saifur alias Saifurehman Ansari is the first convict for planting bombs at five different places.
The Indian Mujahideen
In 2008, India was rocked by multiple bombings across different cities.
The 13 May 2008 Jaipur bombings killed 80 civilians and injured more than 200, the Ahmedabad terrorist bombings on 26 July 2008, killed nearly 45 civilians and wounded 160, while the Bangalore bombs the previous day killed one person and wounded six.
The Delhi bombings of 13 September 2008 killed 30 civilians and injured nearly 90 while the Guwahati blasts of 30 October the same year killed 83 civilians and injured nearly 300.
There were also the six consecutive blasts that rocked courthouses in the north Indian cities of Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad in the span of half an hour in 2007.
Apart from the 26 November 2008 Mumbai blasts that were claimed by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). All others were claimed by Indian Mujahideen (IM).
After almost 24 hours of the blast, an email along with a video clip of the pre-blast footage was sent to Aaj Tak and Headlines Today. The email was sent from email@example.com. An identical email ID was used to announce the blasts in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.
The email contained a five-page "manifesto for jihad" from the Indian Mujahideen giving insight into the motives and objectives of jihadists who had caused almost 4,000 deaths across India within four years.
The authors of the email said their goal is to "demolish the faith" of the "infidels of India". The email targeted Hinduism, calling it “dirty mud”.
The document says that in addition to seeking to "demolish your faith in the dirty mud (Hinduism)", the bombings were carried out to "blow apart your tourism structure" and that the western tourists in India will be welcomed by suicide bombers.
An email was also sent by the Indian Mujahideen five minutes before the Ahmadabad attacks. The warning on Page 7 that bombs would explode in the next five minutes was not meant to warn, but to provide conclusive evidence that the author of the email was indeed the one who is responsible for the serial blasts.
The letter was titled “The Rise of Jihad, Revenge of Gujarat".
Kashif-ul-Huda writes in Livemint: The letter begins in the traditional Muslim style of first praising Allah and sending blessings on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), quoting Quranic verses and Hadith.
The letter clearly stated that the stated goal of the terror attacks carried out by Indian Mujahideen is—making Islam superior over all religions.
The letter asked the people of India to “accept Islam and save yourselves" or else get ready to be “slaughtered by our hands". The group added that it is capable of ensuring that “your blood” is “spilled on your own cities".
The letter exhorted the Muslims to to come out and join Jihad using names from Islamic history such as Khalid bin Waleed, Ali bin Abi Talib, Salahuddin Ayyubi, and interestingly - Muhammad bin Qasim - the Arab invader who carried out massive forced conversions, temple destruction, slaughters and genocides of people of the subcontinent.
The letter also mocked the current prime minister of India Narendra Modi and asked Gujarati Muslims to join Jihad, open their own franchise, do their own planning and, most importantly, to select their own targets.
The letter asked them to target politicians and leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, the “wicked police force" and their informers and spies.
The letter also said that the attacks were “planned and executed by Indians only".
Indian Mujahideen’s Goals
The response to these bombings never went beyond condemnation and failed to address the ideological motivations of the radicals to establish Islamic supremacy.
Most, if not all, mainstream media channels completely removed the contents on radical Islam in the letter from their reports, and just said that the terrorist groups were responding to the attacks of “Hindu nationalists on Muslims”.
The attackers themselves make their agenda clear, however, the “distinguished intellectuals” blamed the “Muslim alienation in India since the phenomenal rise of the Hindu right in the country in the mid-1980s”.
The attempt to obscure the real contents of the letter is a part of the larger attempt to wipe out significant portions of the Indian history that don’t fit into the ideological narrative.
There were no Hindu nationalist organisations from 8th to 18th century and Hindus were still being told to “convert or die”.
To excuse the behaviour of terrorists as a mere response to “Hindu nationalists” not only minimises their real motivations and misrepresents reality, but also encourages radicalism by justifying violence as a legitimate political tool - ‘terror attacks are to be expected if there are riots’.
In the 2017 northern India riots after the arrest of Dera Sacha Sauda chief, 32 people including women were shot dead by the police, and hundreds were taken into custody.
Would we justify the same by Sikhs after the 1984 riots? How about Kashmiri Pundits, would they be justified in giving a call for “convert or die”?
Violence, although unjustified, may be the instinctive response of people in certain circumstances, but the call for Hindus to “convert to Islam or be slaughtered”, the goal of establishing “supremacy of Islam” is not an instinctive or natural, but a cultivated response.
Along with all these, the insult to Hinduism, the reverence of Muhammad bin Qasim, shows the historical continuity of Hindu-hatred in the Indian subcontinent.
There is a long history of political Islam in the subcontinent, from Islamic invaders of the 9th century to revivalist movements of the 19th century, from the Partition in 1947 to the 2008 Jihadist attacks, all proclaiming the goal of establishing ‘Dar-ul-Islam’ and threatening Hindus with ‘convert or die’.
The reluctance to acknowledge this reality is behind the attempts to clear-out certain episodes of history and misreport the current happenings.
Apart from the goal of establishing the superiority of Islam, the connections of the above mentioned terror groups in Pakistan, as well as funding sources from Middle East also emphasise the same doubts that B R Ambedkar expressed in Pakistan, or, The Partition of India - that “Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”
Today, any attempt to pose the uncomfortable questions as posed by B R Ambedkar are termed bigotry and Islamophobia.
Another technique is to “secualise” the terror-attacks carried out for Jihad.
The argument is made that the terror attacks are carried out by poor, uneducated Muslims who are in want of money.
It is true for any enterprise that the lowest rung of workers - who perform the manual tasks at the end of the chain - come from relatively poorer and uneducated sections, but that layer of poor, uneducated workers cannot be used to hide the huge infrastructure operating behind the scenes.
A serial bomb blast isn’t an activity that few criminal-minded poor and uneducated people can hatch among themselves and commit.
According to Paul Davies and Brian Jenkins, two distinguished terror experts, terror groups comprise of “leaders, lieutenants, financiers, logisticians, and other facilitators, foot soldiers, supporting population segments, and religious and otherwise ideological figures”.
The leadership of the IM is mainly traced to a man from Mumbai named Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi, code name “Kasim” or “al-arbi” (one of the signatories of the letter mentioned above).
Al-Arbi’s background refutes the theory that most IM cadres come from a deprived background. He studied at the Antonio DeSouza High School ran by a Christian missionary in Byculla, Mumbai and came from an economically privileged background.
He was a white-collar software-worker in reputed computer firms before he left his job stating in his resignation letter that “I have decided to devote one complete year to pursue religious and spiritual matters”.
Another IM member was an MBBS doctor from Hyderabad who reportedly taught the terrorists how to administer sedatives to those they were planning to kidnap. Yet another was a software professional. Reportedly, most arrested IM cadres are computer professionals and bomb makers.
More recently, the data on the people who left to fight for Islamic State shows that they come from the educated middle class from the more developed states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In both of these states, the presence of “Hindu nationalist” Bharatiya Janata Party is negligible, and the ruling parties, for decades, have been Leftist.
Interestingly, the idea of the of the formation of the IM was also traced to Kerala. In December 2007, around 50 SIMI cadres participated in a jihadi training camp in Aluva, Kerala.
The link between terrorism and Islamic religious institutions - Masjids, Madrassas etc is also well-established.
In the 2008 Livemint report, Kashif-ul-Huda says that “a vast majority of Indian Muslims are not convinced the terrorists could be one of them. It is not a denial by Indian Muslims, but a failure on the part of the investigating agencies to produce convincing proof of who is behind these terror acts”.
Today, the evidence is quite clear about the aspirations, goals and inspirations of the Jihadis - several have been arrested across India, and many have been convicted.
Huda noted in her piece that "fatwas and community efforts are not working”. They will not, unless they directly address the bitter reality.
The Darul-Uloom Deoband, an influential, 150-year-old Islamic school in U P, denounced terrorism as an activity against Islam but such symbolic gesture is more an abdication of responsibility and denial of the problem within the Muslim community, rather than a strong counter of the arguments given by the radical Islamists.
The mere statement that terrorists are not Muslims is neither here nor there.
The fact is, for all the brutalities committed by Islamic State and the cry that IS fighters are not Muslims, the Al-Azhar university in Egypt- one of the most respected centres of Islamic education - refused to expel the Islamic State fighters from Islam.
Islamic State and other similar terror groups, on the other hand, publish and circulate detailed justifications of their actions - including the sex-slavery of captured Yazidi women as they were kaffirs - quoting Quran and other Islamic scriptures.
The response to these cannot be a mere statement that they are not Muslims - a statement directed towards the non-Muslim audience. These terror groups wouldn’t be attracting large numbers of Muslims from all around the world, if they were simply “not Muslims”. The response needs to directly attack the propositions made by radicals.
What is required is a detailed rebuttal of the Quranic interpretations and other sources provided by the terror groups.
Instead of taking a reactive approach of condemning a attack once it happens, the Islamic leaders will have to make sustained efforts - condemning not merely the attack that killed hundreds, but also the motivations behind it - along with all the acts of horror committed with the same motivations since centuries.
But this will most likely require a serious internal reforms - which is hard, given their centralised structure and dependence, both ideological and financial, on West Asia. (Organisations like Darul Uloom, Jamaat-e-Islami are themselves accused of spreading radicalism).
Radical Islam and Indian Subcontinent
It will also require some serious thought on how religious persecutions affect a society, and why the ideological roots of Islamic fundamentalism started in Indian subcontinent.
V S Naipaul in his books Among the Believers and Beyond Belief said that Islam had both enslaved and attempted to wipe out other cultures.
"It has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say 'my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn't matter'."
Naipaul said that "this abolition of the self demanded by Muslims was worse than the similar colonial abolition of identity. It is much, much worse in fact... You cannot just say you came out of nothing."
Naipaul dealt with the neurosis of the converted peoples. “Part of the neurosis of the convert is that he always has to prove himself. He has to be more royalist than the king, as the French say,” Naipaul had said in an NYT interview.
According to Naipaul, the converted people had to be more fundamentalist and fanatic - the reason why Pakistan hails itself as the “sword-arm of the Muslim world” and destined to win “Ghazwa-e-Hind” for Islam - and why roots of Islamic fundamentalism started in Indian subcontinent.
This fundamentalism is not reactive to what the unbeliever does, but who he is - a kaffir who is a constant reminder of their non-Muslim past and heritage.
“It is not the unbeliever as the other person so much as the remnant of the unbeliever in one's customs and in one's ways of thinking. It's this wish to destroy the past, the ancient soul, the unregenerate soul. This is the great neurosis of the converted,” Naipaul said.
The road to peace in the subcontinent cannot go by avoiding the history.
Unless we are willing to take political Islam head-on, and address the historical injustices committed against non-Muslims, the widespread network of religious institutions that are connected to and support Global Jihad, it is only rational that non-Muslims in India feel distrustful and threatened.
It is not Islamophobia, but a very rational and genuine fear of Islam, when you have a long history of being persecuted in its name.