It is now over a month since the Hyderabad bomb blasts took place and the Indian police have still not discovered who is responsible for the attacks. Despite concrete evidence, there has been a lot of finger pointing and immediate accusations that the perpetrators of the bombings are members of Muslim terrorist groups based in Pakistan. This reaction from the police and the central government is reminiscent of their response to the 2007 bombings when Muslim men were rounded up for questioning and detention based on blind accusations and religious profiling. It is not uncommon that when an attack like this takes place in India the default reaction is ‘blame Pakistan’–and by an extension of this, Muslims in general. Hyderabad is no stranger to religious tensions between their Muslim and Hindu populations. They are the one city in India where Muslims are not the minority and instead both religious groups are equally represented in the city. It is a city of both heritages, a mix of important Hindu temples and Islamic mosques, and the legacy of the powerful, Muslim Nizam family that transformed Hyderabad into an important centre of Southern India is everywhere. Hyderabad has experienced many ethnic riots throughout its history and tensions definitely still exist today. While riots might be less common than they were twenty years ago, the Muslims and Hindus are still a long ways away from accepting each other with open arms and hearts.
On February 21st two bombs exploded in the district of Dilsukhnagar. They were attached to two bicycles—one in front of a cinema and another in front of a bus station, injuring almost 120 people and killing 15. The Hyderabadi police immediately suspected the Indian terrorist group, Mujahideen, which is linked with groups in Pakistan, of carrying out the attack. This local insurgency group is notorious for their affiliation with the Pakistani group Laskkar-e-Toiba, who have borne the blame for numerous other attacks in Southern and Northern India. Two individuals in particular—Asadullah Akhtar and Waqas, were blamed for the February attack, as they were formally arrested late last year for their accused involvement in another attack in the Southern Indian city of Pune. The two men are the only individuals who the police might be justified in accusing and arresting so shortly after the attack. The police have responded to the bombings, with their limited information on the origins of the attack, by arbitrarily rounding up groups of young Muslim men for questioning and detention.
The young Muslim population is angry with this response because it reflects the same, discriminatory tactic that followed the 2007 attack on the Mecca Masjid mosque, also in Hyderabad. This has created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust of the government. In 2007, the rounding up of hundreds of Muslims was carried out on a brutally violent scale, including beatings and allegations of torture. Following the 2013 Dilsukhnagar bombings, the police have said that they are being cautious not to repeat the same mistakes as 2007, and are apparently being more circumspect about identifying suspects. Despite this, there has been a large outcry from local and national Muslim activist groups that the police have been deliberately selective in their process of discovering the real culprits of the February bombings. These groups fear further alienation and demonization of the Muslim community, which could ignite tensions in other parts of the country, where Muslim populations are predominantly minority groups.
There is further concern that the discriminatory treatment of Muslim people in response to the February bombings, which reinforces the fear that was instilled after the 2007 attacks, will provoke a serious backlash as the 2014 national elections draw nearer, as police have still not discovered who is responsible for the recent attacks. Politicians have used religious violence and the promises of reduced ethnic divisions as a platform to win electoral votes. In 1992, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained national power following the ruin of the Babri Mosque as a result of Hindu-Muslim violence. While the 2007 bombing has engrained mistrust of the police and of the government in general for their arbitrary arrests based on religious profiling, the most recent large scale bombing took place just two years in Delhi, has incited even more criticism of the police because of their failure to arrest the individuals behind that attack. This leaves the Indian police, and specifically the Hyderabadi force, in poor light for the future of a socially cohesive Indian community.
Violence between Hindus and Muslims has been a part of India’s history and has, since Partition, generally been manifested into an India vs. Pakistan blame game. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims exist all over the country, but Hyderabad has been as special case because neither group is a minority. Instead of rounding up Muslim men—most seriously if they are linked with groups affiliated with Pakistan, the Hyderabadi police and the central government itself should take more serious aims to understand and properly address the sources of conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities. Otherwise, religious profiling and the failure to prosecute offenders will result in increased violence and heightened tensions. In a country where diversity reigns, it would be a truly missed opportunity not to resolve the conflict surrounding the February blasts in a way that warrants a peaceful future.