In a shocking incident one Muslim businessman alleged to be an illegal immigrant was beaten to death (lynched) by a mob at Nagaland central jail. He was arrested few weeks ago under an accusation of raping a girl belonging to the local city. On March 5, a mob claiming to be the members of NSF demanded the handover of Syed Sarif Uddin Khan who was under custody in Nagaland central jail. The violent mob clashed with the jail authorities who succumbed to the pressure of the mob and allowed to enter into the jail.
The youth was stripped, paraded, finally dragged by a motor bike with his waist tied with a rope from central jail to Clock Tower Junction covering a distance around 8 km. Later he was hanged up. After the incident there was a sort of celebration among many as it seemed to be a right justice for a “rapist”. Secondly the person being labeled as a Bangladeshi immigrant was enough as an additional justification for punishment.
On the next date many facts started to surface regarding the reality of the issue. Firstly the person killed by the mob was NOT a Bangladeshi illegal immigrant but a known businessman belonging to a respected family from Karimganj district of Assam. His late father worked as an engineer in the Military Engineering Service of the Indian Army. His two brothers are currently working in the Indian Army posted in Assam and Meghalaya. He was married to Holly Begam who belonged to the Naga community. As per various reports which were published in Assamese media there were speculation and doubt whether the rape had actually happened or Mr. Syed Sarif Uddin Khan was framed. Few news papers even claimed that medical reports suggested that there was no rape. Again it is not the duty of the people to judge on whether the case is real or fake. Our country has a judicial system in place and the citizens have to respect the judicial process. Now the question arises that why the mob didn’t attack people in the same jail who were tried and found guilty in other rape cases, but selectively killed Mr. Sarif? It must be noted that when he was paraded in the streets of Dimapur the shops belonging to Muslims in Dimapur new market were also attacked. This incident doesn’t seem like people merely meting their anger on a “rapist”. It is evident that few vested interests used the created public sentiments to attack Muslims businessmen in Dimapur. If we try to look at the business scenario in Dimapur and other parts of Nagaland we can understand the case much better.
Muslims form a very small population in Nagaland and most of them have come from other states like Assam, west Bengal and Manipur. Muslims belonging to Barak valley region of Assam have a strong presence and control over the Dimapur New Market. The growth of Muslim in local business has always been a issue of rift between few Naga groups who claimed to be protectors of the community. The economic development of Muslims has been misused by vested interest groups in creating many violent incidents against the Muslims in past years. According to Muslim businessmen there were consistent efforts by few violent Naga groups to evacuate Muslims from various parts of the city by labeling them as Bangladeshi and anti-Naga. In 2007 June in Mokakachung district of Nagaland a similar incident took place in which 6000 Muslims of Assam were driven out from their homes using the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants cards. Many had to leave their wealth, property and business establishment to save their lives.
Since last many decades it is a tried and tested trick to label Muslims of North East as Bangladeshi immigrants. The same has happened several times in few areas of Assam were violent groups of the Bodo attacked Muslims. The state machinery and the media also fall prey to this propaganda or deliberately keep mum towards this false propaganda. The government has never taken any credible steps to protect the Muslims of North East. Whether it was Nellie in 1983 or the Kokrajar riots in 2012 the victims had to suffer because the state believed that their crime was to speak Bengali. It is indeed a very appalling question before the government and the media that in North East India: Is it a crime for Muslims to speak Bengali?
The Chief Minister of Assam issued a statement condemning the incident of the mob killing Mr. Syed Sarif Uddin Khan but his statement also said “The crime committed by the youth is equally condemned”. Such statements are at heights of irresponsibility and ignorance. When the court has not sentenced the person as guilty of rape, how can the CM issue a judgment that the Muslim youth committed the crime? It is such type of attitude of the government which has caused major damage to the rights of Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam and North East.
Rape is indeed a heinous crime and must be punished as per the law. But using a rape case as a tool to incite public emotions to target a specific community is a bigger crime. It is time for the people of the country to unite against such violence against communities based on their race, religion or language. It is also noteworthy that people belonging to North East are subjected various discriminations and attacks in different parts of the country including the national capital. Ironically some groups that claim to be the defenders of ethnic rights of North East people, instigate the same kind of violence against Bengali speaking people especially Muslims in their own surroundings.
The 21st century India should not be a country where we judge and treat people based on their ethnic identity. India is for all Indians and this spirit should be not only just in words but also in practice. An attack on any racial, religious or linguistic minority is indeed an attack on the entire concept of diversity cherished in our constitution.