East of the Charminar, Hyderabad’s most famous landmark, in an area that is known as the Islamic intellectual heartland of this city, pulled between the forces of conservatism and modern technology. Here, educated, affluent, young Muslim men can barely contain their anger.
The scanner — sharply focused after twin blasts killed over 40 people in August 2007 — is trying to probe what police believe is a web of terror spread across three states. These young men say they are under that scanner. And they don’t like it.
The anger, festering for months now in Saidabad, boiled over on Wednesday evening after the arrest of Mohtasin Billah (21). His mother, Rubaida Khatoon (55), and nearly 100 veiled Muslim women from the neighbourhood, stormed their local police station. Twenty-seven of them are still in jail.
Three days ago, the Hyderabad police got custody of Naser Naseeruddin (21). They believe Naser — born and brought up in Saidabad and son of a local preacher — helped carry out the Lumbini Park blast. He was arrested in January by the Karnataka police, who passed him on.
A senior police investigator told Hindustan Times: “Naser has confessed to being in Pakistan, including Karachi from 2005-07, and receiving training in explosives.” His family says Naser left home in September 2006 for Mecca, the last time they saw him till his arrest. Since the blasts, the police have questioned 90 people but not framed any charges.
“Naser’s arrest is significant, but before pressing charges or linking him to any terrorist group, we are accumulating strong evidence,” an investigator said.
Mohtasin, a civil engineering student, picked up on Wednesday, is described in police documents as an “inter-state Islamic fundamentalist activist… in Hyderabad to target vital installations, to cause damage and loss of human life, which provokes unrest …”
Naser’s father, Naseerudin, a deeply revered preacher, has been in Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Jail since 2004, being tried for a conspiracy to foment retributive violence for the Gujarat riots. Mohtasin’s elder brother Mujahid was shot dead by the police when the neighbourhood’s residents rallied outside the state police headquarters following their father’s arrest.
The Hyderabad police believe Mujahid’s killing crystallised the colony’s links with extremism, and may have even provoked August’s blasts.
“Saidabad is where the city’s Islamic intellectuals live,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police Prabhakar Rao. “But they are also heavily indoctrinated. Otherwise, one would not expect Muslim women in burkhas to charge into a police station.” Mohtasin’s mother, Rubaida, who led the charge, runs the 18-year-old madrassa Jamiaatul Banaath, where girls study in Arabic and English.
Sitting in a room lined with religious books with gold caligraphed spines and an Urdu translation of Bill Clinton’s autobiography, madrassa teacher Rafaat said: “Her elder son was killed by the police. We don’t want the same to happen to Mohtasin. Every mother here fears it, which is why so many women marched to the police station.”
Naser’s mother was among those who laid siege to the police station. His younger brother and engineering student Jaber reflects Saidabad’s sense of being under attack. “This has become a common occurrence now. The police pick up a Muslim boy every two-three months. No family here feels at peace.”
Disaffection is never much beneath the surface of this orthodox but prosperous Sunni Muslim neighbourhood peopled by lawyers, accountants, engineers and small businessmen. It lurks in the locality’s one-storeyed houses and butcher’s and shops selling ittar.
Raizuddin, a 26-year-old jewellery salesman, whose mother Salima was among the women who attacked the police station, was released a fortnight ago after having spent five months in jail. Police records charge him with “attracting Muslim youth into terrorist fold” and allege he possessed VCDs showing the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition and Gujarat’s communal riots. His elder brother Jamiluddin denies the charge.
“The police’s inhuman treatment of Muslim youth has left us traumatised but also enraged enough to move local human rights bodies and the minority commission against them.”