The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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All alone against the tide

Bangalore, July 16: Every time the Australian Federal Police have something to say about the UK car-bomb plot, a woman here comes out to defend her husband, Mohammed Haneef.

Dressed in a colourful salwar-kameez and headscarf, Firdous Arshiya, 25, is the defiant face you see on the tube — a lone Indian woman taking on the combined might of the Australian and British governments, not to mention Indian newshounds, day after day.

Today, hours after Haneef had been granted bail, Canberra virtually overrode the court by cancelling his visa for “failing the character test” and ordering him detained under immigration laws.

How sickening was the blow' In minutes, the diminutive housewife from a conservative Muslim family had walked out of her two-storey house once more to face the popping flashbulbs and crowd of journalists with aplomb. “I think they are harassing my husband,” Firdous said. “If they had to cancel his visa, why didn’t they do it the day they charged him'”

The convent-educated, articulate engineering graduate — forced by tragedy to turn media savvy — ended with an appeal: “The government has to help an Indian citizen being harassed by the Australian government.”

It’s an appeal she has been making every day since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of spending a sleepless night thinking of the distress of the Indian suspects’ families

Delhi finally stirred a little, summoning the Australian high commissioner tomorrow to formally convey its concerns. John McCarthy has been told over the phone that Haneef should be treated “fairly and justly’’.

The half-hearted move comes after days of slumber that contrasted sharply with the way Australia’s rights groups, lawyers and politicians have condemned the government’s treatment of Haneef, and its citizens have hit the streets and the Internet in protest.

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties and Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett today accused the government of subverting the courts, while the Greens Party worried about Haneef’s “chances of a fair trial”.

The Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association, which represents medics like Haneef, said the government had denied the presumption of innocence to the Indian. It’s, of course, possible that the police might come up with stronger proof against Haneef.

“We are very thankful to the Australian people for taking up for a foreigner in such an assertive manner,” Firdous had said on Friday.

Delhi, in contrast, had on Saturday got a diplomat to merely complain to McCarthy about the “huge gap in perception’’ between what Canberra was doing and what the Indian media were reporting.

The same day, Firdous denounced the Australian police as “stupid”. They had just brought a “baseless” charge against her husband, she said.

The political parties, which had raised a furore over Saddam Hussein’s execution, have been as cautious as the government. A member of the Congress media cell said it was “difficult” to issue a statement because the situation changed every day.

CPM chief Prakash Karat said: “Haneef should get a fair trial. We can’t jump to any conclusion but must look at the investigation closely.”

Firdous’s family said had she not delivered a baby three weeks ago, she would have taken the next flight to Australia to fight for her husband. Instead, she is sending a cousin.

But her home is a war zone. She is up and in front of the TV by 6am — court time in Australia — so she would miss nothing. She surfs the channels and the newspapers, looking for information and checking how she has been quoted.

(Inputs from Jyoti Malhotra, Radhika Ramaseshan and Ashwani Talwar in New Delhi)

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