India's Muslim community

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MARCO WERMAN: It was one year ago this week that India suffered a horrific terrorist attack. Ten militants arrive from Pakistan by boat to Mumbai on November 26th. They fanned out across the city. They attacked hotels, a train station, a Jewish center, and other targets. It took three days for the Indian authorities to end the violence. By then more than 160 people were dead. Mumbai's Muslim community immediately hunkered down terrified of a backlash. Fortunately for India's Muslims and for their country that backlash never came. Miranda Kennedy has the first her series of reports about the lives of India's Muslims.

NEWS CLIPPINGS: And the news tonight is dominated by a series of terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai.

There have been multiple attacks at high profile locations in the main tourist and business area of India's financial capital, Mumbai.

Nikhat Sheikh is a little ashamed of what first went through her mind last year when she heard that the attackers had laid siege to her city.

NIKHAT SHEIKH: We were very worried you know that now the kind of hatred people will have for us and then it would not be very good to say like that, there was a little relief when I came to know that no Indian was involved in this. Thank God you know.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: Thank God that Indian officials blamed Pakistani-trained militants rather than homegrown terrorists. Nine of the attackers were killed during the siege and the 10th was captured. He's on trial in Mumbai and could be given the death sentence for the attacks widely referred to in India as 26/11. India's Muslim's are a significant minority of 160 million but they've had an uneasy relationship with the state going back to India's partition in 1947 when many Muslims moved to Pakistan. Those who stayed felt obliged to prove their allegiance to India over Islam and for many that feeling of insecurity remains. Nikhat sits down on the floor of her parent's bedroom to play with her toddler son. Nikhat says she senses an increasing need amongst Muslims to prove that they're not all terrorists. She's writing a doctoral thesis about the impact of terrorism on her community. It's something that especially concerns her because she has a second child on the way. Nikhat's pregnancy shows even under her long black robe. She decided to wear it and to cover her hair with a head scarf when she went to college much to the surprise of her secular middle class family. Nikhat's economically comfortable upbringing is unusual for her community. India's Muslims are significantly poor and less educated than the general population.

SHEIKH: I really want to give that same kind of good feeling to my children that I had in my childhood. I was always proud to be an Indian. I never felt you know that being Muslim and being an Indian are two different things. I can be a very good Muslim and I can be a very good Indian. But now not anymore you know.

KENNEDY: Just in her lifetime Nikhat says she's seen Muslims become more alienated from India. That's partly due to the widespread international perception of Muslims as terrorists. After last year's strikes in Mumbai the fear was that India was becoming a target for, or even a home for, international jihad. But that doesn't seem to have happened.

ASHOK SINGH: There is a degree of alienation amongst the large Muslim community. There is radicalization but by and large Indian Muslims have stayed away from bombings.

KENNEDY: Ashok Singh, who studies Islam and terrorism, points out that Indian Muslims have been blamed for several domestic attacks over the years including major bombings on Mumbai in 1993 and 2006 and there's been militant attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir for years. But there's no evidence of any Indian ever joining al-Qaeda or any other international terrorist group. Singh credits India's democracy saying it gives Muslims a peaceful outlet for their dissatisfaction. Irfan Engineer who runs a research center on Islam and secularism says there's another explanation tool.

IRFAN ENGINEER: The Indian roots of Muslims are strong. We have not yet got Arabized or what they call Islamized. You know the standard Sunni Wahhabi ideology has not got roots amongst Indian Muslims. Muslims here were converted more Sufi saints who didn't preach hatred against anyone not even against Hindus even during Muslim rule.

KENNEDY: Nikhat aggress that Indian Muslims have largely not been radicalized but she's a little more cynical about why. Muslim's economic status and education levels remain extremely low and they feel chronically persecuted.

SHEIKH: At least I have not seen Muslims you know in that position to take revenge. They're too weak. They are too powerless to even think to do anything you know.

KENNEDY: She worries that her children will suffer discrimination or that her family or neighbors in her Muslim dominated Mumbai neighborhood could be blamed if there are more bombings or riots.

SHEIKH: We want out children to be safe. We want our men to be safe. We want our lives to be safe. It's that way.

KENNEDY: For The World this is Miranda Kennedy, Mumbai.

WERMAN: Miranda Kennedy's stories from India were funded by a grant from the International Reporting Project. Tomorrow she tells us about discrimination toward India's Muslims.