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Deja vu at the Celebration of Massacres

Terrorists of both the Hindu and Islamic varieties continue to celebrate their acts of massacre, thanks to the patronage they receive from their respective states.


Déjà vu at the Celebration of Massacres in the past – with the only difference that the revenge this time was carried out by mealy-mouthed US politicians through sophisticated technological devices, justify
ing their actions by the rhetoric of restor
ing western democracy.
Sumanta Banerjee The vengeance reached its nadir in

Terrorists of both the Hindu and Islamic varieties continue to celebrate their acts of massacre, thanks to the patronage they receive from their respective states.

Sumanta Banerjee ( is best known for his book In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India (1980).

Economic & Political Weekly

august 29, 2009

istory has a perverse habit of tickling memories that are blissful for some and painful for others. The

6th of June this year was celebrated with

much fanfare in the midst of a Franco-

American bonhomie (where the British felt

slighted at being ignored). The date was

claimed to be a decisive point in the second

world war with the landing of Anglo-US

forces in Normandy in France on that day

in 1944, leading to the liberation of France

and the final defeat of Germany. The

R ussians dispute the claim, and – quite

j ustifiably perhaps – remind us that it was

the German surrender in February 1943 at

the end of the famous battle of S talingrad,

that broke the backbone of the Nazis.

But while the erstwhile allies of the

s econd world war continue to debate over

their respective claims, the world has for

gotten the victims in Germany – masses of

citizens who were uninvolved in the war,

and yet were bombed out of extinction by

the newly-invented P51 Mustang aircraft,

manned by US pilots. The raids on Dres

den from 13 to 16 February 1945 were the

most brutal that resulted in civilian casu

alties of between 80,000 and 1,10,000. It

is estimated that over 6,00,000 civilians

were killed all over Germany in the strate

gic bombing offensive, including perhaps

80,000 in Berlin alone. In comparison, the

blitz – German bombing of London and

other British towns – during 1940-44 –

caused 60,000 deaths. We are not imply

ing that the loss of lives in Britain was less

tragic than that in Germany because of

the difference in numerical terms. Surely,

no human tragedy can be weighed by

comparing the number of fatalities. The

personal loss of a single family is no less

traumatic than the collective loss in such

wars. But the massive scale of destruction

inflicted on the victims by the victors at

the tail end of the second world war

i ndicates a perverse mood of unrestrained

vindictiveness that is in the long tradition

of rapacious revenge by victorious armies

vol xliv no 35

H iroshima in August 1945 – when Japan was almost ready to surrender – and yet its population was chosen by the US as guinea pigs for its atomic test, with the dual purpose of both examining the efficacy of its latest bomb, and warning its newly emerging rival, the Soviet Union about its superiority in nuclear destructive power. Hiroshima is stamped in the memory of generations as an unpardonable crime committed by the US – both in terms of immediate human casualties (running into hundreds and thousands), and even more dangerously, the long-term genetic and environmental disasters. Some 20 years later, it was the turn of Vietnamese peasants to be victims of another technochemical military device – the deadly defoliant Agent Orange, which was sprayed by American soldiers to destroy acres of vegetation. After two decades or so, the Iraqis were selected by the US for trying out yet another of their latest devices – the precision-guided “smart bomb”. Since then, the appalling abuses committed by the American military establishment have reached unnerving levels in Iraq and Afghanistan – the victims numbering thousands of innocent citizens, the m ajority of them being the aged, women and children.

‘National Security’ Overrides

The loss of lives of non-involved citizens in these wars is being glossed over by the US which has invented a new euphemism in political discourse – “collateral damage” – a term that is being eagerly and fondly adopted by our security experts to justify the persecution and killing of innocent I ndians in the course of the Indian State’s counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist

o perations. The argument is that “national security” is more important than personal security, and individuals will have to give up their rights – even if it leads to their killing by security forces due to “mistaken identity” (as happens in Kashmir and the north-east).


But there is another side to it. Let me raise some uncomfortable questions. What had been the role of these non-involved citizens in the past in their own countries? Playing the passive role of the silent majority, the civilian population had historically aided and abetted the rise of dictatorial, aggressive regimes (in Germany in the past) or terrorist leadership (e g, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam among the Sri Lanka Tamils in the present) that invited foreign invasion or state intervention respectively – and it was these common citizens who at the end had to pay the price for their unpardonable mistakes. There is the old argument that the German people brought it upon themselves by electing. Hitler as their leader, going the whole hog with him in his national chauvinistic adventures, watching silently the extermination of their Jewish neighbours, and refusing to stand by the minority of German communists and other dissenters who resisted Hitler and were killed by the SS (the Schutzstaffel, which was recruited from the German middle and working classes).

To take a recent example – in Afghanistan, after the defeat and departure of the Soviet troops, and following the chaos, the Taliban took over. Despite their tyrannical governance (e g, suppression of e ducational activities, imposition of restrictions on women, killing of dissidents), the Afghan population did not rise in revolt (barring a women’s organisation, which courageously carried on an underground movement against the T aliban’s oppressive policies). So much for the abundantly ballyhooed Pashtun tribal machismo! It was the US invasion which freed them from the Taliban rule then. But now that their own leaders have taken over, the same corrupt practices and rivalries among warlords have resurfaced in the provinces, with no central leadership in Kabul to control them, or no local organisations to resist them, and the Taliban is rearing its ominous head again. Neither US intervention nor electoral changes in Kabul can change the situation at the ground level, unless the Afghan people themselves learn to get out from their enclaves of warlords, oust the T aliban, and construct a wider Afghan nationalist concept based on secular and democratic values.

Coming closer home, let us take Kashmir. Indian human rights groups had been consistently condemning the atrocities by the Indian security forces in Kashmir. But the Kashmiri people themselves are seldom found to condemn the killing of innocent people by their home-grown Islamic terrorist groups. At the drop of a hat, they come out in the streets in protest against any act of cruelty by Indian forces

– whether real or fictitious. We empathise with their anger – caused by the regular and indiscriminate killings by the Indian armed forces that they, quite understandably, regard as an occupation army. But curiously enough, they remain silent against the murder, rape and forced marriages of their own girls by Islamic militants, leave alone organising any public demonstration against such abominations which should be regarded by them as equally abhorrent. Even when their own


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    august 29, 2009 vol xliv no 35


    leaders are assassinated by the militants

    – like the former Mirwaiz, or moderate politicians like Lone – they turn a blind eye. The organisation of mothers of “disappeared” sons (who have been taken away by the Indian security forces) is justifiably protesting against the Indian State, but has never been known to have appealed to their other sons who have joined the jihadis, to stop killing innocent people. This shameful myopia will cost them dearly, unless they actively resist the fanatic religious terrorists and their leadership that have incubated within their own society.

    If Kashmiri civil society suffers from a myopia that makes the people pick up certain incidents for agitations while ignoring other cases which are equally atrocious, the rest of Indian civil society can be rebuked for behaving in the same myopic way when it comes to violation of human rights by the Indian security forces in Kashmir and the north-east. Neither the mainstream media, nor the vast array of various people’s movements (against globalisation, big dams or environmental degradation), single-issue groups (fighting against SEZs, or encroachment on land in their own areas) and progressive nongovernmental organisations, have cared to extend their campaign to take up the cause of the victims of state terror in these areas. For a long time now, a young M anipuri woman, Irom Sharmila has been on fast demanding the abrogation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) of 1958, under the protection of which the Indian armed personnel had/ have been arresting and killing innocent men and women, and enjoying legal i mmunity against any punishment – all in the name of “national security”.

    Yet, I have not heard any of the various above-mentioned people’s movements and civil society groups upholding the cause for which Irom Sharmila is fighting. Has Medha Patkar ever demanded the abrogation of draconian laws like AFSPA, or protested against the violation of human rights by the Indian army in Kashmir? Only small groups of human rights activists have been regularly coming out with meticulously documented reports about cases of such violation – the latest being the cold-blooded killing of an innocent young man and a woman in Imphal by commandos on 23 July, passing it off as an “encounter”. While these groups lack the mass base for launching a national campaign to put an end to such abominable practices, surely Medha Patkar with her powerful organisational might and international fame can rally other groups in an all-India movement to oppose the Indian State’s policy of suppressing human rights of Kashmiri, Naga, Manipuri and other people. The stunning silence with which Indian civil society and social movements watch the scenes of persecution of these people reminds one of the passive roles of the German populace in the face of the e xtermination of the Jewish population in the 1930s.

    The silence stems from a public mindset which can be described as “statist” – in other words, loyalty to the concept of the Indian state as a centralised, controlling force. Any aggrieved regional community, or underprivileged ethnic group, which challenges that control, is held in

    July 26, 2008
    D D Kosambi: The Scholar and the Man Early Indian History and the Legacy of D D Kosambi Towards a Political Philology: D D Kosambi and Sanskrit The Lily and the Mud: D D Kosambi on Religion Kosambi’s Archaeology Kosambi and Questions of Caste Kosambi, Marxism and Indian-History The Kosambi Effect: A Hermeneutic Turn That Shook Indian Historiography D D Kosambi and the Study of Early Indian Coins Science Is the Cognition of Necessity –Meera Kosambi –Romila Thapar –Sheldon Pollock –Kunal Chakrabarti –Shereen Ratnagar –Kumkum Roy –Irfan Habib –Rajan Gurukkal –B D Chattopadhyaya –Vivek Monteiro
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    suspicion by the mainstream Indian civil society which remains wedded to the post-Independence construct of a monolithic Indian State under the hegemony of a coalition of dominant interest groups. The leaders of the various people’s movements, despite their dissidence, still continue to reflect this statist approach of the Indian civil society. They take up issues which are only acceptable within that construct of the Indian State – rights of forest dwellers, plight of victims of big dams, encroachment on agricultural land, environmental problems – which they hope can be solved through reforms within the given constitutional framework. We should admit that as pressure groups, they have indeed succeeded to some extent in compelling the government to enact measures like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and legislation ensuring rights of forest dwellers. Further success depends on yet another round of popular movements from the grassroots level to force the local officials to implement these measures.

    But the tendency among these people’s movements to distance themselves from the grievances of other people inhabiting areas which are affected by armed insurgencies – whether in Kashmir, or the north-east, or the so-called Maoist “Red Corridor” – reflects the Indian civil society’s strategy of playing safe. It tends to discard their grievances as “threats to national security” – the bogey that has been invented by the Indian State to arm itself with extraordinary powers (incorporated in laws like the AFSPA, N ational Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), and also to neutralise the people’s movements so that they do not intervene in these conflicts. These special laws empower the state to exercise unrestrained surveillance and indulge in ferocious persecution of citizens, and dilute accountability by providing impunity to its armed m inions, who are exempt from any legal prosecution.

    Terrorists as State Protégés

    But significantly enough, these draconian laws, supposedly meant to curb activities like “contravention of law and order”, “u sing firearms or other lethal weapons”,

    Economic & Political Weekly

    august 29, 2009

    and to “ban unlawful organisations”, have been applied selectively only to s uppress popular demonstrations of p rotest in Kashmir, the north-east and the Maoist-affected areas, or against members of the Muslim minority elsewhere on suspicion of terrorist affiliations. The I ndian State has consistently refrained from using them against leaders of H indu communal organisations and their terrorist outfits who had violated the p rovisions of these same laws by killing thousands of M uslims all over India in 1992-93, and in Gujarat in 2002. In a sustained exercise of procrastination, both the Indian executive and the judiciary have been postponing the conviction (even under the ordinary criminal laws) of the high profile leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who had masterminded c arnages during the last two decades. By protecting these Hindu terrorists through the elaborate pantomime of setting up inquiry commissions, extending their terms from year to year, and holding mock t rials, the Indian State has become a m irror image of the Pakistan state. In a similar charade of legal trials, the P akistani executive and judiciary collaborate in dragging their feet in punishing the perpetrators of the M umbai bomb blasts and other terrorist dons (who have been accused of plotting several


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    vol xliv no 35

    a ttacks on Indian soil) – on the ruse of l egal niceties.

    The parallels are too close to escape attention. Indian courts with breathtaking alacrity release L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and others of their ilk, and allow them to contest elections (even after foolproof evidence of their leading agitations that led to the massacre of Muslims). They enter Parliament to legitimise their position as a political party, free to propagate their communal ideology and intimidate the minorities through their terrorist outfits (like the Bajrang Dal and other gangs). Similarly, the Pakistan courts r elease the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammad, and other Islamic terrorist leaders, who immediately find shelter in the Inter-Services Intelligence-backed seminaries from which they are allowed to renew their religious hate campaign and recruit cadres for terrorist assaults. Given our record of administrative and judicial protection of those guilty of the massacres of 1992-93 and 2002, do we have the face to blame Pakistan for similar protection that it is providing its protégés? Not to put too fine a point on it, the terrorists of both the Hindu and I slamic varieties continue to celebrate their acts of massacre, thanks to the p atronage they receive from their r espective states.

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