Anger, agreement at Muslim leaders gathering
Security was tight at the entrance to Gate No. 7 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings, and the venue on Tuesday for a gathering of Muslim leaders from across the country to debate the persecution of Muslims.
Police shooed away fruit vendors and cycle rickshaws spilling over from the crowded market nearby, while others stood around the metal detectors at the entrance while their colleagues cased out the giant white shamiana inside with sniffer dogs under the slowly revolving ceiling fans.
A full half hour after the scheduled time, when only the first few rows of seats were occupied, Maulana Naksh Bandi of the Jama Masjid began the proceedings, inviting various leaders to the dais, and declaring in Urdu: “there is no law, there is no justice for us. It is the rule of the jungle.”
Pausing to take a call on his mobile, and to recognise leaders who slowly filed in, some helped by their assistants, the Maulana said that staying silent would only lead to a more terrible future for Muslims in the country.
Bombings by suspected Islamist militants have killed hundreds of people in recent months, and Muslim leaders accuse the police of indiscriminate arrests of young Muslim men who have been labelled as terrorists and paraded before the media.
Next came Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, influential leader of the Jama Masjid mosque, the largest in north India, who said Muslims needed to draw up a blueprint to deal with the circumstances, with even such practical solutions as legal help
for those being held by the police.
His speech, also in Urdu, was by turn fiery and angry, and at all times impassioned, its rhythym broken only by latecomers whom he acknowledged, and frequent shouts of “Allah-O-Akbar” (God is Great) among the audience who now filled all the seats.
I was struck by the anger felt among the listeners, the quieter ones of whom nodded in assent and said “beshak” (certainly); it was another sign of how communal politics was growing in India and of how Muslims are fighting to be heard.
As the sun travelled higher, glasses of cold water were passed around, but there was no cooling the Maulana, who accused the major political parties of trying to curry favour with the Muslims ahead of the 2009 election.
But Muslim leaders including the Maulana were equally political, said Seema Desai, an analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group in London: “Muslim leaders will be heard more than might have been the case in the run up to the national elections,” she said.
“But as long as Indian political parties think along communal lines its hard to see how long lasting solutions will be found.”