The last few days former Judge of the Indian Supreme Court, Justice Katju has appeared to be on a crusade to protect Indian Muslims from the implications of discriminatory knee-jerk reactions to terror plots.  The most recent example is of him taking up the defence of a scientist, Aijaz Ahmed, arrested seven months ago and only released last week after no formal charges could be filed against him.

He was sacked from his job after he was implicated in the bomb blast case. Justice Katju recommended “adequate compensation” for “torture and indignities” suffered in jail, and an apology by the State in a letter to the Defence Minister and Chief Minister of the province in which Mr Aijaz Ahmad was employed.

Just a few days ago, responding extensively to a letter in his capacity as Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Katju urged the Indian media to demonstrate restraint and caution. He lamented that “It is indeed unfortunate that in recent years an impression has been sought to be created by certain communal elements that all Muslims are terrorists, and Muslims are often discriminated in our country in getting jobs, bank loans, houses on rent etc as mentioned in the Sachar Committee Report.”

Justice Katju was responding to a letter by Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities in India, who had pointed out that it had “noted with concern that even before completion of investigation and on the basis of what appears unfounded conjecture the media appears to have targeted a particular community, which seems unfortunately, also to be reciprocated in the statements of some who are in positions of authority.  Sh. B. Raman of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai has stated in an article in the Magazine Outlook recently that it seems to have become the trend that if there is terror, it has to be a Muslim.  If he is a Muslim, he has to be from the IM (Indian Mujahideen). 

If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  That seems to be the thinking reflex of the police and the agencies. You will agree that such a trend needs to be discouraged.  Fortunately, we have had some voices, even though scattered, raised in the media against such practice.  The Commission is therefore, approaching you to consider advising those in the media responsible for supervising release of news that they exercise restraint in reporting matters of this nature, which in the present case have brought much grief to a large section of Indian citizens…”

Justice Katju’s issued press note cautioned that those responsible for “heinous crimes should correctly be identified, prosecuted and when found guilty, given harsh punishment”… “However, in my opinion often innocent Muslims are arrested and incarcerated in prison for several years in this connection…Since an impression has been created in some quarters that most Muslims are terrorists, the police often arrest some Muslims merely on suspicions.  Once such a Muslim is arrested it is difficult for him to get bail because when he applies for bail, the Public Prosecutor tells the court that the accused is a terrorist, and consequently bail is almost always refused.  The person often remains in jail for several years, and even if he ultimately found innocent nobody can restore so many years of his life spent in jail.  The recent case of Amir who was arrested when he was 17 years old and kept for 14 years in jail until he was found innocent by the Court, illustrates the gross injustice, which is often done to Muslims in India.  There are a large number of such cases of false implication of Muslims in bomb blast cases. “

Justice Katju referred to an interview in which he debated whether immediately after an incident, it was responsible for TV channels to “start showing on their screens that an e-mail or sms has been received from the Indian Mujahidin, Jaish-e- Mohammed, Harkatuljibad-e-Islam or some other organisations having a Muslim name, claiming responsibility.

I said in that interview that this was irresponsible on the part of the Media because any mischievous person can send such an e-mail or sms, and it is not even necessary that the sender is a Muslim. By showing this on the TV screens a message is conveyed to the viewers, even if by insinuation, that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers.  This promotes communalism in our society and hatred against Muslims. The truth is that 99% people of all communities, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain or Parsee are good.”