India's Terror Laws: Fighting Terror The Terrorist Way
By Badri Raina
Who doesn't know how the Capitalist social order has worked from day one?—
By first causing monumental social upheavals in the pursuit of profit maximization, then recommending quick-fixes guaranteed to spawn still worse upheavals so that more profitable quick-fixes are in turn rendered "necessary." And all these rooted in technologies of the newest kind that tell us what we always needed to solve our problems.
In those processes of declension, is it any wonder that the final quick-fix that we are offered should be the gun? After all, let us please remember that the biggest enterprise worldwide is the arms industry, and the biggest insurance for the continuance of this order of things not the end of warfare but its assured continuance in myriad forms and theatres. The better things get for the Capitalist class, the more they must remain the same for all the rest. And nothing ensures that result as well as warfare in perpetuity.
The coterminous "spiritual" trick that Capitalism of course employs is to ascribe all social upheavals to the "sinful" nature of man—those opposing Capitalism more sinful than others—rather than to its own ascertainable doings. An ancillary part of Capitalist ideology, so to speak, that then finds a central role for church, mosque, and temple, and takes the wretched of the earth away from either addressing rationally the sources of their condition or putting up a fight.
Thus it is that a resurgently Capitalist class in India is today howling for a new, "tough terror law" that would forever make propertied India safe for super-powerdom. Switch to any corporate TV channel, especially the ones in English, or read most corporate print media, or visit any upwardly-mobile urban elite home, and you will find but one strident recipe for fighting terror; namely, be like the terrorist and give them their own medicine. Only the Muslim terrorist of course, needless to say. Are there any others?
This would be fine if only it worked
The minute, however, you pose that question another ready answer follows: look at America—not a single terrorist strike there after "9/11". Ergo, why can't we be like America in every conceivable way, down to the colour of the toilet paper?
Not that we are not getting there, with the "strategic partnership" (read military collaboration) now in place, buttressed by junk consumerism, instinctual anti-Islamism/pro-Zionism, contempt for socialist ideas (retaining nonetheless the appellation "socialist" in the preamble of the Constitution, rather like the residual tailbone at the end of the human spine), a mighty embrace of an increasingly lethal majoritarian religiosity, professional therapy for stresses and tensions, the neighbourhood gym or godman as the answer to moral fatigue and vacuity, belief in infinite possibility for the "endowed" and karmic fate for the misery-ridden, waving the flag in the face of the sanest criticism and so forth.
Most of all, avoiding at all cost the reading of needlessly complex or critical materials that do not straightforwardly endorse the American life-style, or that drag us into considerations that have no understandable bearing on our corporate pay packages, or cloistered dens of comfort. Or, that dampen gratification with any insidious invitation to gravitas, or take our plastic smiles and sniggers away even for a bit. To wit, hey, why can't we be like animals—kill, eat, defecate, copulate, and leave all the rest to god and nature. Gargantua, Gargantua, thou art the best.
It is another matter that, as we write, god and nature (Lehman and Hurricane Ike?) seem yet again confronted with the "spectre of Marx." Although, be sure, we can well meet all that with a strike on some other part of the disloyal world, which, after all, remains happily full of "enemies" but with assets we can use. Why else are we "strategic partners" I ask you? Lehman may sink, but Pentagon is forever.
But, while we are about it, let us examine somewhat the "let- us- fight- terror- as do- the- Americans" howl.
For a start, unlike India, America has never suffered a demographic division based on religious strife. Were you to mention the natives, that contention has been too conclusively resolved (the world's first ethnic genocide) to be considered an issue.
The American analogy, if one must be drawn, to the Indian Hindu-Muslim partition of 1947 resides in the American civil war fought on the question of race (concealing of course more nitty gritty interests, such as that of the north American need for cheap labour).
And if some sixty years after partition India is still saddled with a Hindu-Muslim question (thanks to those whose political cookies bake best in keeping that question alive), so is the race question in America some century and a quarter after the slave owners were defeated.
Indeed, where India's Muslims obtained rights of citizenship alongwith all the rest as the Constitution was framed, American Blacks had to wait for their's till a century after the end of the civil war.
And just as the Indian State remains, de facto, a Hindu-majoritarian one (everyday that passes reinforces that operative reality, especially since the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, the Constitution notwithstanding), the American State likewise remains, de facto, a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant State.
As to Muslims, whereas they constitute but some 0.5-1.00 percent of Americans, India has the world's second largest population of Muslims—a fact we need to remember as we speak of "Islamic" terrorism and how the two countries must address that problem, if such it is.
In passing, another fact of great significance: while America battles "Islamism" in the wide world, its own miniscule Muslim citizenry is treated with as little or as great favour by the State as any of its other immigrant minorities. Result: America has next to no "Muslim problem" at home. One has met American Muslims who infact know as well as any other that what neocon America has been fighting is not "Islamism" but the pre-emptive right to all the world's resources. Simple. All credit to them.
Therefore, our quality of engagement in that fight—if "fight" it must be—is ab initio precluded from replicating procedures that America employs. After all, it is only the Indian lunatic fringe that recommends that, emulating neocon America vis a vis Iraq and Afghanistan, or the Zionists vis a vis the Palestinians, India as well should invade a Pakistan or a Bangladesh and rid itself of terrorism forever. Apart from the lunacy of the recommendation, don't we know how the invasion of Iraq and the conclusive murder of Saddam has ended "Islamic" terrorism forever? Not only do we and the world know, but so do the Americans themselves! History's lessons are not lost entirely, even on the most thick-headed. It infact becomes clearer by the day that the whole purpose was not to defeat terrorism but to cause it—as in Afghanistan of the Soviet days.
Not only, then, is the Muslim situation in America nothing like it is in India, our vastly differing geo-political locations render all talk of let-us-go-the-yankee-way a pathetic expression of imbecility.
America on the north is contiguous with a friendly (friendly in terms of race, religion, and history, by and large) Canada, and in the south by a compliant and tamed Mexico. All the rest around is either the Pacific or the Atlantic.
As to India
I leave you to think.
Then there are other fatally significant distinctions to be drawn.
Most independent assessments, including by associations of American Muslims themselves, suggest to us that America's Muslim citizens are not even by a long shot its most disgruntled or discriminated segments of population. That privilege continues to remain with Black Americans—a fact, as we know, of considerable interest and consequence in the American Presidential race now under way.
Alas, however, several official Indian reports (Gopal Das and Justice Sachar reports, to name two of the most authentic ones) tell us that India's 160 million Muslims are both the most discriminated and disgruntled among Indians, indeed in terms of the bulk of basic livelihood and human development indices worse than Indian's Dalits (in older parlance, the Untouchables). And only the most thick-skinned would say that this situation owes entirely to India's Muslims themselves, even as Muslim-Indian leaderships do bear substantial guilt in the matter.
The brute fact is that the State, its law-enforcement agencies, its economic mechanisms and bureaucratic universe, its educational policy, its cultural vision, and its civil society—all have failed the Muslims in India.
To a point where only the other day one of India's most renowned citizens, actors, social activists, member of the upper house of parliament, and diehard secular daughter of a legendary diehard progressive and secular poet (the late Kaifi Azmi), Shabana Azmi was reduced to voicing the personal fact on a TV channel that she has been unable to obtain a house in Mumbai because she is a Muslim!
Not to speak of the repeated majoritarian pogroms, culminating in the massacres of Gujarat in 2002. And the blatant partisanship of investigative agencies and governments at state and central levels to deliver chastisement as by law decreed to fearless vigilante fascios of right-wing Hindu organizations, or in rehabilitating with care, impartiality, and sustained comprehensiveness victims of the pogroms in question.
Never once have the State and its agencies sought in the last sixty years to generate mechanisms of democratic negotiation with Indian Muslims, barring of course pandering to their sectarian leaderships from time to time, especially when elections are due.
Never has any Indian government sought to enforce reforms and retraining among its policing apparatus with a view to giving to the Republic a law-enforcement structure that is decolonized, secularized, pluralized, and rendered sensitive to the social and human needs and realities of India's Muslims. Or for that matter of the bulk of India's downtrodden masses across communities.
Never in sixty years has India witnessed civil society movements driven by the long-term goal of social and cultural integration as between Hindus and Muslims inorder to facilitate their de-ghettoisation. Except of course of making the stereo-typical show of communal oneness at times of ritual and religious festivity. Were you to ask ten middle-class urbanite Hindus whether they have a Muslim friend, or have visited a Muslim home, you might at best get one to say " yes." And I may be exaggerating.
To return to the howl for the ultimate terror law, then.
In the late eighties and early ninetees there was in India such a terror law, called Terrororism And Disruptive Activities Act (TADA).
It stipulated preventive arrest, the presumption of guilt rather than of innocence, the admissibility of confessions made to the police during investigations (read third degree), the denial of bail and so on.
Result: conviction rate of less than 1% but unconscionable brutalization of human rights, as twelve year olds were booked for petty theft under the law, and left to rot without redress.
The Indian political party then to ask for its repeal was the right-wing Hindu, Bhartiya Janata Party (the party of Advani and Modi), then in the opposition.
Then came the NDA regime in 1998, led by the very same party; and promptly a new terror law was passed called POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act).
While that law was on the books, India saw some of the most iconic terror attacks—on the Parliament, on the State Assembly in Kashmir, on the historic Red Fort in Delhi from whose ramparts the Indian prime minister gives his or her ritual speech come every Independence Day (August 15), on the Akshardam temple in Gujarat and the Ragunath temple in Jammu.
But it was in Modi's Gujarat that POTA was put to full use. Following the Godhra train burning and the Gujarat riots, some 298 citizens were booked under the law; of them 297 were Muslims. The other we believe was a Sikh.
As at the time of the TADA, all that raised great stink; and the UPA, after it came to power in Delhi in 2004 repealed POTA as well.
So why now this renewed howl from the Hindu right-wing and its entrenched media sponsors for a new terror law?
Two objectives suggest themselves: one ofcourse to polarize the polity along communal lines and designate the Congress as an appeaser of the Muslim minority; all that because elections are due in four Indian states and soon to the Indian parliament as well.
And secondly, true to the Capitalist pattern enunciated at the outset, to argue that Muslim terrorism bears no relation to relegation, ostracism, pogrom, injustice on behalf of state and polity but is plain and simple. wickedly and ahistorically ideological, seeking, would you believe it, to transform India into an Islamic theorcracy. Best thing therefore to pick them, whoever you can find, and lock them in, emulating Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, without recourse to the liberal procedures of normal jurisprudence. Did not Indiana Jones once say, only good Indian is a dead Indian?"
Thus the quick-fix of the gun, disguised as the new "tough terror law." Not that the absence of such a law was to deter Modi in Gujarat from assenting to those infamous "encounter" killings some of which planned murders are now before the highest court in the land, since Modi's police at the highest levels and the courts as well were found to be hopelessly complicit in delivering justice in all cases pertaining to the 2002 pogrom.
Logically, as the BJP seeks to foreground Modi—as at the just-concluded party National Executive in Bangalore—as the shadow Home Minister, he it is who is the loudest to demand that a "terror law" passed by his Gujarat Assembly be granted assent by the central government in Delhi. To wit, the majority-Hindu vote bank is to see how things could change once Modi was at the helm of law-enforcement in the country. Frightening thought.
Simultaneously, the right-wing Hindu fascios who have been now caught in terrorist bomb-making of their own (in Nanded, Tenkasi, Kanpur, to name just three proven instances) are to be designated as "nationalists" admirably meeting the "terrorists" (read Muslims) on their own ground, and hence outside the purview of punishment under any sort of law. Just as currently they have been administering instant incendiary justice to Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, both states ruled by the BJP.
Like the invasion of Iraq, the purpose of the howl for a new terror law is not to address the problem, but to generate it more stridently. Once that happens, the Hindu right -wing can demonstrate how Muslims can never be trusted to be loyal citizens of the Republic of India.
Till so long as India's problem with "terrorism" was one whose sources lay outside Indian territorial boundaries, one instigated by the ISI in Pakistan, for example, there may have been an argument for the gun.
As Muslim resistance, born of a near-total distrust of the State's willingness or ability to deliver justice to them, builds within the country-- not that there is to date any proven case of an Indian Muslim involved in a terror attack, myriad speculations to the contrary—the Indian State, political party system, think-tanks and the polity generally better think hard.
Does India need a new "tough terror law", or is it time to look our horrendous culpabilities (enumerated by official reports, and known to everyone who cares) squarely in the eye, and to begin to recast the Republic and its institutional operations on a footing of uncompromising fairplay? Do we intend to be one with India's Muslims, or do we mean to make of them an "other" for perpetuity, practicing a de facto Hindu Rashtra (Theocratic Hindu State)?
Especially, parties like the Congress must decide whether a quiescent pusillanimity and a regard for religions are sufficient anymore to qualify as "secularism," or whether some demonstrably hard departure needs to be made. To its credit, thus far it continues to argue against the howl for the terror law; but such is its malleability that there is no telling when it may say "okay, if that is what you want." And is its current resistance owing merely to its new alliance with the Samajvadi Party which banks on Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, or is there some further conviction that informs the Congress's resistance to the howl? Or, given the "strategic partnership" it has forged with Bush's America, whether that may not oblige it to complement militarism abroad with a tough anti-Muslim terror law at home? Time will tell.
As to investigating terror, can a police apparatus and intelligence-gathering agencies that have next to no representation of Muslims at any mentionable levels of decision-making (even as none other than the right-wing Hindu BJP never tires of mouthing the poltic cliché that 99.9% of Indian Muslims are loyal to India) be trusted to obtain the kind of human intelligence that alone can yield results adequate to prevention of episodes? Have we forgotten that Sikh-separatist militancy—was it called "terrorism" then, or was that term made current and obligatory only by the event of "9/11"?—was defeated in the end not by the gun as much as by the cooperation and trust of the Sikh masses in the Punjab?
A wider debate, then, needs to be conducted around the terror-law howl, a debate that goes beyond just the question related to Indian Muslims.
What sort of State is India, or does it wish to become? Why are those million mutinies brewing and in operation in state after state, mutinies quite unrelated to Muslims? Are some 80 million or more Indians simply ungrateful wretches, or has Indian Democracy failed them? Does the unabashedly wholesale tilt to the right and the unashamedly brazen subordination to neo-liberal imperialism bear the promise of redressing that failure or will it infact bring matters to a head from where few escape routes may remain? And does this nation-state have the will to take on those questions in rational, non-partisan, and non-sectarian terms, above and beyond party-electoral considerations?
And those questions are not being asked just by India's Muslims; they are also being asked by India's Christians, Dalits, women, forest-dwelling tribals, disenfranchised oustees, landless farm labour, ethnic minorities. They are in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of children who suffer malnutrition, abuse, denial of education, and whose lives expire prematurely from labour and disease. They are being asked, in short, by some 77% Indians who spend less than fifty cents a day.
Twenty percent India that howls for a "tough terror law" will need to answer those questions, one way or another, sooner rather than later. For the shadows are lengthening, and Delhi is obviously not too far anymore.