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India: The meaning of Shahid Azmi

What the murder of one lawyer in Mumbai says about "New India."

"It will be investigated very thoroughly," says Bharti.

Despite the arrests, much of the Muslim community believes the real culprits behind the murder will never be brought to justice. Various rumors and allegations have surfaced. A body of Islamic scholars that funneled Shahid cases and financed them believes the murder was part of a state conspiracy to eliminate people fighting against a system that wrongly accuses innocent Muslims, says Gulzar Azmi, general secretary of Jamiat Ulama-E-Maharashtra.

Some have gone as far as blaming the police themselves for the murder.

"It goes without saying that the intelligence agencies got him bumped off,” says Sarfaraz Arzu, the editor of the Hindustan Daily, an Urdu newspaper.

Civil rights leaders in Mumbai say the Muslim community is justified in its anger and distrust of the police because of a history of the investigative agencies acting with prejudice against Muslims. The community feels under attack because the state does not properly punish those who attack Muslims like after the 1993 riots, and police routinely round up and arrest large numbers of Muslims after terrorist attacks even when they have no grounds for suspicion, says Ram Puniyani of All India Secular Forum.

While there are some in the government who have good intentions, he says, “overall, the state has been … very cruel to the Muslim community at large.”

This history of alleged bias has led to a “completely lack of trust” in the police among the Muslim community, says Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy. Therefore when an incident such as Shahid’s murder happens, some members of the community jump to the conclusion that the police are either to blame or are not doing a good enough investigation.

Lack of training in how to conduct proper investigations has led to a distrust of the police among almost all Indians, says Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for South Asia with Human Rights Watch and author of a 2009 report on the Indian police system. The report, called “Broken System,” which documents cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings, states that the police forces are “widely regarded within India as lawless, abusive and ineffective.”

While almost everyone distrusts the police, Ganguly says, Muslims feel this to an even greater extent because of the suspicion and aggression shown toward the entire community when there is a terrorist attack or gang activity.

Bharti, a police commissioner, says these feelings of bias are unfounded and insists that the police force is actively trying to be more transparent and inclusive of minorities.

Civil rights leaders, though, say the police have a far way to go. Police should develop stronger lines of communication with the Muslim community and do more to recruit Muslim officers, says Anand. Muslims make up 13 percent of India’s population yet only 4 percent of the police force, according to a 2006 government-appointed report on the status of Muslim Indians known as the Sachar Report.

For now, the community has few options for how to handle Shahid’s killing, says Hindustan Daily editor Arzu.

"The only thing it can do,” he says, “is find substitutes for him.”