Bangalore: Bangaloreans have been jolted by revelations that three highly-educated young men from a city that prides itself as India’s knowledge capital may be linked to an international terror plot.
Newspapers and television channels are calling it the “Bangalore connection” to the chagrin of a genteel middle-class used to waking up daily to headlines about software, rather than disturbing stories about terrorism.
No charges have been laid so far against the three Bangaloreans held in connection with the foiled car-bombing plot in Britain, with police still probing their background and possible role.
But their alleged involvement is leading to jitters about a backlash against the millions of Indians who live and work overseas as engineers and doctors, finance professionals, taxi drivers and construction workers. Also fretting are millions more youngsters aspiring for visas to study or work overseas, as a debate begins about the role education plays in shaping character.
“This is a matter of grave concern,” said N. Reguraj, head of the local unit of the Confederation of Indian Industry and a resident of Bangalore since 1975, when the city used to be known as a “pensioner’s paradise.”
“Not just Bangalore, the image of India is being hurt,” Reguraj said. “We are perhaps seeing the ugly faces of a few,” he added. “We don’t know to what extent the rot has spread, but it is clear all strata of society are vulnerable to indoctrination irrespective of their educational levels.”
Mohammed Haneef, 27, held in Australia on suspicion he may be linked to the failed bombings in London and Glasgow, is a doctor as is his cousin Sabeel Ahmed, 25, detained in England. Both studied at B.R. Ambedkar Medical College in Bangalore, a city of nearly seven million people.
Haneef is a merit scholar who helped his sister obtain a biotechnology degree and paid for his brother’s engineering studies after their father died in a road accident.
Sabeel’s older brother Kafeel, 26, an aeronautical engineer, is suspected to be one of the men who drove a flaming Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow airport on 30 June, a day after two car-bombs were found and defused in central London. The Ahmed brothers’ parents Maqbool Ahmed and Zakia, who have been questioned by the police, are both retired professors of medicine from a Bangalore college and their sister is also studying to be a doctor.
Education is highly prized among the middle class in a nation of 1.1 billion people and home to the world’s second largest Muslim population after Indonesia.
“It’s frightening that guys so highly educated may see violence as a last resort for change,” said Pedro Ledsma, a 29-year-old US national who arrived in Bangalore three months ago to do research on governance issues. “It negates the impression that removal of illiteracy and poverty will remove terror,” said Ledsma, who studied at Harvard.
Bangalore is an educational centre that turns out 40,000 engineering graduates every year, feeding a software industry that has been at the vanguard of India’s turnaround into the world’s second fastest growing economy.
But the alleged role of Bangalore-educated Indians in the Britain bomb plot is attracting an entirely unwanted kind of international attention.
“Every Indian living abroad is going to face suspicion because of this,” said a company director who didn’t want to be named. “It also proves that it’s a fallacy to think education is a protective shield against indoctrination.”