Where are the missing students of Beed?
Dozens of young students have gone missing from Beed in the last eight years. While intelligence agencies fear that the youth have been brainwashed into the doctrine of terror in the wake of the communal carnage in Gujarat, anxious family members spend sleepless nights worrying over the safety of their missing sons.
In the last and concluding part of a three-part series, Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore tries to find out what made Beed, a sleepy town in Maharashtra, come under the scanner of intelligence agencies for its links with terror.
It was routine for Sheikh Ahmed Abbas*, a resident of Beed's Hathi Khana neighbourhood, to scold his 16-year old son Aslam Asad*, a student of class XII, for not paying attention to his studies. Like all teenagers, Asad would pay no heed to his father's daily admonitions.
However, things changed permanently for the family on January 19, 2004. Asad, angered over his father's reprimands, left home for college that day, and never came back. When the family could not trace him that night, Abbas was left with no option but to lodge a complaint with the local police station.
Six years later, Asad still finds his name -- one among a score of such students, both Hindu and Muslim -- in the list of young students 'missing' from Beed, a sleepy town in Maharashtra, some 398 kilometres north-east of Mumbai.
Beed hit the headlines first in May 2006, when one of its locals, Syed Zabiuddin Syed Zakiuddin, was named as one of the most wanted terrorists in the Aurangabad arms haul case by the Anti-Terrorism Squad. A series of train blasts two months later in Mumbai on July 11, once again pointed the needle of suspicion towards Syed Zabiuddin. Intelligence agencies believed that he was an important link in the Students Islamic Movement of India, Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadis terror troika.
Earlier this month, intelligence agencies reportedly concluded that Abu Jindal, the 'handler' who communicated with the two terrorists holed up at Chabad House during the 26/11 siege of Mumbai, is the Lashkar alias of Syed Zabiuddin, the Beed man wanted in the Aurangabad arms haul case and 7/11 serial train bombings in Mumbai.
It is this connection that has made the parents of missing Muslim students from Beed nervous.
(All names have been changed to protect identities)
Image: Beed's Hatthi Khana gate
'SIMI and AeH hardliners began to brainwash young Muslim minds'
While the ATS and officials from various intelligence agencies knock on their doors whenever a terrorist outfit strikes anywhere in India, these anxious parents are yet to get any information about their children's whereabouts.
Rediff.com managed to speak to parents of five such Muslim students, who have been missing since the post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. While two of them spoke on the condition of anonymity, the rest refused to comment, citing the fear of facing their community's ignominy as well as harassment from the police.
Intelligence agencies reportedly have evidence which indicates that such 'missing' youths across India have joined the ranks of home-bred terror organisation the Indian Mujahideen. And that has become a serious concern for the anxious families of these young students.
Samad Qureishi*, a first year student of Bal Bhim college in Beed, has been missing since 2006, after the Aurangabad arms hauls case was unearthed. His father, Abdus Mohd*, a resident of Shahenshah Nagar in Beed, is inconsolable. "I have no clue where my son has been ever since he went missing in 2006. I heard from one of my relatives that he was in Beed some time in 2007. I have no reason to believe him for my son would have surely got in touch with his mother, which he hasn't yet."
Abdus also fears that his son Samad might have been killed by cops in one of the fake encounters that have been reported from various parts of the country. He, however, doesn't believe that Samad has joined the jihadi ranks of the IM or the LeT.
"He was not too interested in religion. He often skipped namaaz for his daily morning cricket sessions at the local ground," Abdus recalled.
While parents of these 'missing' students cite their own reasons on why their wards left their homes, Abbas Hussain* of the Bharatiya Janata Party's minority cell in Beed's Gevrai village, where Syed Zabiuddin spent the formative years of his life, points out that most of these students went missing only after the Gujarat riots of 2002.
"It was only after the communal flare-up in Gujarat that the SIMI and AeH hardliners began to brainwash young Muslim minds in Beed district," says Hussain. "In fact, intelligence agencies have sufficient evidence that proves the SIMI, AeH influenced many of these young, impressionable Muslim youth, including Syed Zabiuddin."
"SIMI walon ne bahut logo ko kharab kiya desh main, Maharashtra main; bhavnao ke naam per bachcho ko bhadkaya Gujarat dango ke baad (The SIMI misguided a lot of young (Muslim) students in the country and in Maharashtra; they incited them and played with their emotions after the Gujarat riots)," said Syed Zabiuddin's neighbour Afroz* in Hathi Khana.
Image: Syed Zakiuddin's home in Beed's Hathi Khana locality
'Islam doesn't preach hatred or ill-will'
Maharashtra became a hotbed of jihadi politics after hard-line organisations like AeH and SIMI and terrorist organisations like the LeT began to provoke Muslim minds about their bleak future in India. Beed, with nearly 50,000 Muslims (its total population is approximately 1,50,000; Muslims comprise 35 per cent of the total population) became a fertile ground for their nefarious designs," said Aslam Khan*, a member of the police team that first raided Zabiuddin's house, after his name cropped up in the May 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case.
The imam of a local mosque inside the gated town of old Beed concurs, "Islam doesn't preach hatred or ill-will against non-believers. But SIMI and AeH activists have been brainwashing young minds to join their ranks. Senior leaders in the community have been coordinating with the police to expose their identities."
But the anger and frustration seething among the local Muslim community, over the police's inability in finding students reported as 'missing' in their records, is palpable. Family members of such students allege that whenever they go to the local police station, they are mistreated.
The police inspector at one of the four police stations declined to comment on the issue or acknowledge the existence of these missing students. The inspector in charge said such files could be found at the main police station in Beed.
Inspector Ahire of Beed's main police station told rediff.com over the phone that there is no record about 20-25 students gone missing from Beed in the last eight years.
Qazi Makdoom, editor of local Urdu daily Tameer, says that while there were reports of missing students, the figure may not be so high. He, however, maintained that the police have been able to find a few of the students reported missing since 2003.
Image: Milliya Arts, Science and Management Science College in Beed from where Syed Zabiuddin graduated