After a bomb blast in Hyderabad left 16 dead last month, Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh is on the counter-terrorism radar again. But locals feel that their town is being unjustly targeted because of its Muslim population.
Indian investigating agencies have once again swooped down on Azamgarh, after blasts in the southern city of Hyderabad left 16 people dead last month. But locals and civil society groups in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh - India's most populous state - feel that their town is being unjustly dubbed as a hub for terrorists.
"A few [of the young people] may have adopted the wrong path like in any other place, but branding the whole town or district as atankgarh [terror hub] is not fair," actress Shabana Azmi, who comes from Azamgarh, told DW.
"This is one town where both Hindus and Muslims have always been living peacefully," she added.
Local entrepreneurship keeps town thriving
Azamgarh made headlines after some residents were reportedly linked to terrorist incidents in the country. In 2008, two young suspects from the town were shot by police in New Delhi in what was thought to be a terrorist attack. After that incident, many local youths were arrested in connection with various terrorist attacks across the country. These events maligned the town.
"We want justice. This town is unfairly targeted. And because of the terror tag, it is lagging, especially after the 2008 terror case," local Tariq Shafeeq said. "It is falling off the map when it has the potential to do more. And I blame the media for this."
One aspect that has been "troubling investigating agencies" is that many families in Azamgar have at least one relative working in the Gulf, Umair Nadwi, an educationist associated with the prestigious Shibli Academy, points out. There are fears that money from that region could end up financing terrorism. "The question is, how is this town getting the money? They think it is slush funds and therefore they target this place. That is unfair," Nadwi said.
Are innocent Muslims being framed?
The Indian government now finds itself in a difficult position after courts threw out hundreds of cases against Muslim youth and criticized the police for framing them.
"Many youths from the Muslim community languish in jails for 10 to 15 years. Some of them have been released after they were found to be innocent," Communist Party of India MP Basudeb Acharia told DW. "Has the government taken any action against investigating agencies which have falsely implicated innocent youths from the minority community?"
The Jamia Teachers Solidarity Action, a civil rights group, has highlighted the injustice to young Muslims in a report called "Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a Very Special Cell." The report, which was published in September 2012, chronicles 16 cases in which individuals arrested on charges of being operatives or agents for terrorist organizations were later acquitted in court.
"Over the past two to three years, we have realized that if there are Muslim terrorists, there are non-Muslim terrorists. One clear message coming out is that we need to have faith in the people of our country," Jamia Milia's vice chancellor, Najeeb Jung, told DW.
Many in Azamgarh want the discrimination to end, so that they can carry on with their lives like everyone else in India.