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Terror Revisits

   Terror Revisits Terror as a form of politics has taken root in India. This is the chilling message of the many events of mass murder over the past year. Punjab in the 1980s, Assam from the 1980s onwards and Jammu and Kashmir from the 1990s onwards, all of them could have been seen as region-specific and even isolated sites of terrorism. But the acts of terror over the past year across the country

July 8-15, 2006 E L L WEEKLY
Terror Revisits Terror as a form of politics has taken root in India. This is the chilling message of the many events of mass murder over the past year. Punjab in the 1980s, Assam from the 1980s onwards and Jammu and Kashmir from the 1990s onwards, all of them could have been seen as region-specific and even isolated sites of terrorism. But the acts of terror over the past year across the country – the serial explosions in Delhi, the attack in the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the temple blasts in Varanasi, the upsurge in attacks in J and K and now the horrendous serial train bombings in Mumbai – indicate that terrorists are able to strike anywhere in the country. So far they have not been able to achieve one of their main objectives – provoking a communal conflagration – but they have succeeded in planting uncertainty in the minds of people. Where for decades the marginalised and powerless have had to cope with the arbitrariness of the Indian state, at times expressed as state terror, terror is a new phenomenon that the Indian citizen now has to cope with in her daily life. And groups with twisted minds and possessed of no belief other than to cause immense harm now have the power to murder others with seeming impunity. Mumbai has shown though that citizens will refuse to buckle under even in the face of such great tragedy. The fabled resilience of the Mumbaikars has already been commented upon, but it is the spirit with which they undertook rescue operations in the aftermath of the serial bombings that conveys more to the terrorists that in the end Mumbaikars will never lose their humanity. After the train bombs wreaked havoc on July 11, for much longer than is acceptable the state was completely absent. If it were not for the spontaneity and urgency with which people living in the areas (in many cases the very same “slumdwellers” who are the targets of the bureaucracy, the courts and the well-heeled) helped move the injured to the hospitals, the suffering would have been prolonged and the death toll much higher. It is the citizen who carried out the basic functions the administration is expected to during a crisis and failed miserably yet again to perform, especially on July 11. It is the same spirit which can prevent future acts of terror. The state cannot match the possessed minds of every individual terrorist, but an alert citizenry can. Therein lies hope that ultimately the terrorists will never become ascendant. At the time of writing, those responsible for the murders of July 11 have not yet been identified. However, no domestic group acting on its own has the capacity to orchestrate bombings with such terrible precision. A measure of outside organisation was surely involved and all indications suggest the involvement of one Islamic fundamentalist group or another. It is inevitable that the Mumbai bombings will cast a shadow on India-Pakistan relations. There is no proof as yet of the involvement of the Pakistani state or of any group, but there is ample evidence that Pakistan remains home to a number of extremist groups whose only aim is to demonstrate the power of fundamentalism. It will take wise leadership in both countries to stay the course in improving bilateral relations and at the same time end state and non-state interference across each others’ borders. Finally, while minds intent on destruction do not need “just” causes for their actions and retribution on civil society can never be condoned, we should not, even at this time of immense tragedy, forget that there is always a concrete setting in which the desire to cause terror can be planted in twisted minds. There is no one to one correlation between the inability of the government to respond to the concerns of the Kashmiris and the terrorism in that state nor is there a direct link between the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat and what followed thereafter. But we should not also forget that if the riots of December 1992 and pogrom of January 1993 had not happened in Mumbai, the organisers of the serial blasts of March 1993 would not have found their accomplices. If state and society are not able to respond to people’s concerns and if they do not prevent the perpetration of injustice, there will always be an opportunity for the politics of terror to strike. m

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