Isha khan’s Weblog

Muslims of Meghalaya
October 11, 2008, 8:00 am
Filed under: India, Muslims
A Case For Fools?
A ‘foolproof ’ case against a man sending threat by email in Shillong rests only on his confessions in police custody, writes TERESA REHMAN
With blaring music playing in the backdrop it’s business as usual at Ark Cyber Café on the first floor at Howell Road in Laban. Two teenagers are sitting at a terminal and looking at some WWF boxer’s photographs. The other terminals separated by wooden cubicles are empty this afternoon.

Last week, this cyber cafe was under scrutiny as, supposedly, it is the place from where the email purportedly issued by Indian Mujahideen (IM) threatening to assassinate BJP leader LK Advani during his 29 September visit to Shillong was sent.

As this correspondent sat in one of the terminals, the young man at the counter brought a new register and was asked to write details like name, address and phone number. Incidentally, the entries on the register begin on 25 September.

He said, “ We were made to enter their personal details after the incident when the police swooped on our cyber café as

‘Would you call the Naxalites ‘Hindu terrorists’?’
Sayeedullah Nongrum, MLA and general secretary, Shillong Muslim Union tells TERESA REHMAN that the person accused of sending the threat by email could have done so at the behest of the BJP
Tell us about the Muslims of Shillong.
Photo: Rykinti Marwein
Most of the Muslims of Shillong originally hail from near Poonj area in Kashmir. Our forefathers come from Punjab, UP, Bihar, Bengal and some from erstwhile Shylet and Dhaka. From 1818, Muslims were here, mostly working with the Survey of India, as businessmen or as government servants. The Laban mosque was built in 1818. Prior to 1905, it was under the Muslim Mission which was later converted to Shillong Muslim Union ( SMU) to cater to the entire Eastern Bengal comprising of Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Dibrugarh, Jorhat right up to Coax Bazar, Comilla, Dhaka and Shylet. The first general secretary was Khan Bahadur Amjad Ali who also happens to be the first Khasi poet. I have been its general secretary since 1982.
How is this incident of the email threat being sent to LK Advani—allegedly by a Muslim man—going to affect the Muslim community here?
In India, Muslim population is blamed for any untoward incident. For instance, this young man is not a native of Shillong. He’s here because his father happens to be a government servant posted here. We will never know how this came to be. He could have been instigated by the BJP to defame local Muslim community. He could have been framed. We have nothing to say at the moment. The law should be allowed to take its course. Whatever happened, it is for the investigating agencies to find out. We, the local Muslims, do not mingle with the outsiders. The Muslim population here is a very mixed one– we are Khasis, Assamese, Biharis, and from UP. I am a Khasi Muslim. It’s for the first time in the history of Meghalaya that such a thing took place. We have always been living in harmony with the general population here.
What about allegations of cross-border infiltration from Bangladesh?
This is totally false. If such infiltration is there then we are casting aspersions on our own border sentinels.
What is the opening of the mosque for women going to mean?
As a liberal organisation, SMU has been existence since 1905. It has been building schools and colleges. In fact, the Umshyrpi College set up in 1994 is the first minority institution in the entire Northeast. Only 15 percent of the students is Muslim. I pushed for the opening of the mosque for women as I do not want to be cowed down by fundamentalist forces. Nowhere in the world are women forbidden to pray with men. Islam is very flexible and liberal. Even during Haj, women pray with men, only that a partition divides the two sexes.
Do you feel that Muslims are being targeted by being branded jehadis?
People misinterpret the meaning of jehad: it means a struggle for a good cause. We want our schools and colleges to groom a knowledgeable generation, not fundamentalists. I don’t understand why we use the term ‘Muslim terrorist’. Every Muslim is not a terrorist. Would you then call the Naxalites ‘Hindu terrorists’?
So, this email threat incident is not much of a concern for your community.
Definitely not. It’s just a stray incident. The veracity of the case is for the investigating agencies to prove. We have always been liberal, living peacefully. Recently, we joined our Christian brothers in a rally to protest atrocities against Christians in Orissa.
allegedly the email threat was sent from here.” He had no clue, however, how the police could manage to decipher that it was from this café that the email was sent.. But he said, “Earlier I used to simply give the users a slip with the timings. But now I am not going to take chances.”

He said that the person who had allegedly sent the email threat used to frequent their café. “He was a regular here. He is not one of our lifetime members but he used to come here almost every day. The lifetime members have to pay only half of the usual surfing costs. However, the state police claims it has seized a register from the cyber café which lists the names of people using it.

Shillong witnessed unprecedented security cover with the National Security Guards taking over after the email threat reached a few newspaper offices. A young law student Mominul Haque of Laban area in the city was arrested and has reportedly “confessed to the police” to having written the e-mail which was sent to two local dailies on Wednesday night. Haque has been booked under Laban PS Case no: 90 (9) 08 under section 120 B/ 120 (1)/ 153 (B)/ 506. He has been booked under the IPC although there is the Meghalaya Preventive and Detention Act (MPDA) to deal with the militants.

The state police reportedly traced the email to the cyber café through its IP address. “We traced the email to a BSNL line. The BSNL has a cell in Bangalore to track such details. They traced the number to that particular cyber café in Shillong,” S.B. Singh, IGP (special branch), Meghalaya police told TEHELKA. He informed that the accused has confessed before the police. Though he was produced before the magistrate, it is the prerogative of the accused to confess or choose not to.

Singh adds, “We have a foolproof case against him. The cyber café owner and the three other detainees present in the café identified the accused as the one sitting in that terminal in that particular time of the day. But the accused is quite a novice unlike the professional terrorists who hack into wifi systems like it was done in Mumbai recently. But we are yet to establish his links with any jehadi element. We are aware that this demands a sensitive approach”

However, the lawyer of the accused Noor Mohammad Mansuri said, “His bail plea was rejected though I had pleaded that there weren’t enough grounds to hold him. My client has been remanded for 14 days. Any kind of confession in police custody might as well have been due to coercion. Now that Advani’s rally has passed off peacefully, I will file a bail petition again. And if it’s rejected, I will approach the sessions court. I know my client is innocent.”

Mansuri adds that the email was sent in someone else’s name. “The e-mail was issued in the name of IM’s self-styled ‘North East Field Commander’ Ali Hussain Badr. It will be difficult to prove that it was sent by my client.” He informed that his client’s passport was seized along with religious CDs, religious books and newspaper cuttings on atrocities on minorities. “But that does not prove that he has links with the Jehadi groups. My client has just been framed,” adds Mansuri.

He agreed that his client had used his passport and has been to Dubai, Bahrain and Bangladesh. Haque has his sister in Dubai and relatives in Bangladesh. That these have been trips have been made on personal reasons, Mansuri claims he can verify.

Interestingly, Mansuri points out that Haque’s landlady, a local Khasi has been very supportive. She has barred the entry of media persons to her house, warning that trespassers will be prosecuted.

The local media, too, has been remarkably restrained in its reporting on the issue. Tilak Rai, executive member of the Shillong Press Club told TEHELKA, “We would not want to pass a judgement at this stage. The investigative agencies are doing their job. I think the media in Shillong has pursued the issue with the maturity and sensitivity it deserves.”

Whether the email was genuine or just a hoax, it did manage to shake up the entire police department in the state.. Is the young man being framed or is it just a case of an adventurous radical mind gone wrong. Does the young man really have links with jehadi outfits? These are questions the police will need time to find answers to.

Whatever may be the truth, the dream of this young man to become an army officer has certainly received a setback.
Isha Khan

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