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A peek into the mind of young Muslims.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Fourteen days after the Delhi blasts, ten days after the 'encounter' in Jamia Nagar, and a day after the explosion in Mehrauli, life is no longer the same for the students of Delhi's Jamia Millia University.
It's night and I'm in the boys' hostel of this prestigious university that, though secular in character, attracts thousands of Muslim students from all over the country.
Amidst rumours of 'plain-clothed policemen' interrogating students, Mr Faraz Husain, final year student in B. Arch, says, "Friends outside the University jokes that Jamia will be banned on the lines of SIMI".
A few days after the Delhi blasts, Mr Husain went for a job interview at Larsen & Tuboro in Okhla where a couple of other applicants gave him a "cautious look" when he revealed the name of his college.
Mr Husain adds, "Earlier when Muslim terrorists staged attacks, we would watch the news on TV and that was that, but now after Jamia's name has been linked to the blasts, we all feel affected."
New jokes have sprung up at the campus. Those who share names with those of suspects are prime targets. Tera naam Tauqeer hai, tu jaroor pakda jayega (Your name is Taueer, you will certainly be caught by the cops). Mohammad Tauqeer is a suspected mastermind behind Delhi blasts.
"It's not about trivializing the issue," explains Mr Ali Rizvi, a first-year student in Mass Communications. "It's about lightening the mood."
There is an uneasiness due to the changing profile of terrorists. Mr Aamir Khan, studying a Masters in Social Work, remembers that while walking in Batla House locality on the night of the encounter, he was afraid of greeting fellow students. "Who knows who is a member of the Indian Mujahidin?" he says.
"Earlier terrorists were seen as religious radicals," observes Mr Rizvi. "But now they are portrayed as educated, smart, working professionals." Mr Husain recently started wearing a goatee, but was advised by his cousin to grow a beard since "the police are picking up smart, clean-shaven people."
Mr Riaz Mohammad, a final-year student in B.Tech, a stream he jokingly describes as a risky choice since "many terrorist suspects are from a technical background", fears for the Muslim community. "Young educated people like me are being discriminated against by these events," he says.
The police are no longer seen as a protecting force. Worried parents call to say, "don't do loose talk," "idhar-udhar mat jana," and "don't roam after dusk."
Nightlife has come to a halt. No longer any bike rides to the ridge, detours to Noida, Sector 19, or midnight dinners at Comesum, Nizamuddin.
"We have even stopped going to the Community Centre where we used to hang out and oggle at New Friends Colony girls", Mr Husain complains.
The students have been advised to be careful of what they Google, and also not to share jokes through sms and e-mail.
Mr Rizvi, an aspiring journalist, is scared of carrying books on controversial themes like terrorism. "The police might think I'm keeping desh-drohi literature."
Another student found himself struggling with choices he never imagined before – should he hide his copy of Osama Bin Laden's biography in his hostel room or bury it in the garden?
Mr Safdar Ali, a final year MA student, simply pressed the delete button on all the films on Gujarat riots stored in his desktop. He also deleted Khuda ke Liye, the Pakistani blockbuster starring Naseeruddin Shah.
Curiously, Mr Shah Hafiz, a student from Imphal doesn't show nervousness. "I don't mind these things as it's the usual scene in my state Manipur," he says.
However, many are nervous about job prospects. "The recent events may affect our placement," says Mr Riaz. "We get companies like TCS, Satyam, L&T, and DLF but if they feel that hiring people from here creates a security risk, they might stop recruiting."
If anything good has emerged, post-encounter, it is that students from different regions, courses, religions, and income groups have come together in a joint sense of pride. "Earlier I didn't give a damn about my university," says Mr Husain. "But now when I see our Vice Chancellor, teachers and students joining forces to protect our honour, I feel proud of this place." "It's not religion that has united us," notes Mr Rizvi. "It's the insecurity."
You think we are terrorists?
This too shall pass