By Shahina KK
Questioner: Do you like Osama bin Laden?
Answer: Hmm… neither like nor dislike.
Questioner: Oh, it means that you don’t dislike him. If he comes to Kerala, will you provide a hideout for him?
JASMINE, A Kerala housewife whose likes and dislikes seldom go beyond her family, got flustered when quizzed like this. It was the first time she faced such an interrogation, which she found a little difficult to comprehend. She was one of those surveyed by a market research agency. Four women came to her house and introduced themselves as employees of Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), a multinational marketing consultancy with branches all over India. When counter-questioned, they were not able to explain the motive behind a survey that seemed intended to measure the loyalty of the Muslim community.
“The questions are highly inflammatory. They may cause communal disharmony,” says P Verghese, Assistant Commissioner of Police, who is in charge of the probe. The police took the foursome into custody and filed a case against them for disseminating documents that may disrupt communal harmony. But they are clueless about the real motive behind the survey.
“The women who carried out the survey were locally hired daily wagers. It is learned that TNS has taken up this task for a US-based agency Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI),” adds Verghese.
The policemen came into the picture when residents of Karimadom colony, a Muslim-dominant locality in Thiruvananthapuram, alerted them about a survey targeting the Muslim community — its beliefs, attitudes and political positions. The team had targeted 100 households in the locality and everything went smoothly until Jasmine’s husband Nasar felt the questions were in bad taste. He called his 23-year-old nephew Afsan, who is studying for a master’s in criminology.
“When I asked for the questionnaire to have a look, they first refused,” says Afsan. “They enquired about my educational status. Only when I said that I am a school dropout did they hand over the questionnaire.”
TEHELKA obtained a copy of the questionnaire, which has 91 questions divided into two sections — one focusses on the general public and the other the Muslim community. Both dissect the subject’s notion of the country, faith in the Indian State and judicial system. They examine what shapes the life of people, the motivating factors and the influence of leaders in their life.
THE SPECIFIC questions aimed at the Muslim community are framed on an absolute hypothesis that Muslims in the country have the potential to turn to unlawful activities and that they are more loyal to some forces outside than to the Indian State. “They asked which country we would prefer to go to if we move out. Whether we would opt for Pakistan,” says Nasar, adding, “Why Pakistan? I may prefer to go to a country whose currency offers better exchange value, like the US or Kuwait.”
The survey seeks information on faith, whether the respondents practice religion or not. It also asks what they would like to be identified as, whether an Indian or a Muslim! Another question is about the best model of governance for Muslims where the choices are: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, etc. Muslim participants are asked whether they support jihadi activities or not.
“We are taking it very seriously and have already sought the help of the Centre to unfold the mysterious motives of this survey,” Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the Home Minister of Kerala, told TEHELKA. “A foreign agency cannot administer such surveys in the country without permission.”
Karimadom colony was the first target in Kerala. Police say that the survey has been done in 55 centres in 20 states
Mullappally Ramachandran, minister of state for home affairs, said the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has submitted a preliminary report. “This survey seems to be dubious,” says the IB report, which wonders whether it is an attempt at espionage.
The suspicion is reinforced by questions like: Please mark whether you support or oppose the following statements: (Answer codes: strongly support, support, oppose, strongly oppose)
A. Attacking people who visit Muslim countries from countries that threaten Islam
B. Attacking soldiers who have come to Muslim countries from countries that threaten Islam
C. Attacking ordinary citizens in countries that threaten Islam
Karimadom colony was the first target in Kerala. The police has learnt that the survey has been carried out in 55 centres across 20 states without causing a furore. The TNS staff said the questions had been prepared by PSRAI.
Meanwhile, in a belated response, this is what TNS had to say about the case: TNS have filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court and a hearing is pending. As the matter is subject to legal process, TNS has no further comment at this time. TNS has been cooperating with the authorities concerned and will continue to do so. The PSRAI website claims it works for clients who need an independent assessment of people’s attitudes, knowledge or behaviour.