Mumbai terror, the revolt of the elites and Life itself
You have said everything there is to say, and felt everything there is to feel. You have shouted angrily or reflected seriously or stated in the calm tone of conviction that terrorists are as authoritarian as the states they target, that terrorists have no religion, that terrorists are cowards who target soft civilian populations. You have despaired at the carnage wreaked on a city sick and tired of having to be “resilient”; of having faced one disaster after the other – from floods to targeted attacks on specific communities to bomb blasts – and “emerged with its spirit intact”. Your heart has clenched painfully at the inconsolable tears of baby Moshe; at the blood-spattered, newly motherless one-year old Viraj in an exhausted Head Constable Salunkhe’s arms, entrusted to him by his father, a utensil seller wounded by bullets at CST. You have gazed numbly at the image of Maharashtra ATS Chief Hemant Karkare’s young son with drawn countenance bearing the ritual paraphernalia of his father’s cremation ceremonies. Despite yourself you felt a sudden glimmer of hope steal into you at the stony dignity in Kavita Karkare’s dry-eyed grief at her husband’s funeral, at her steadfast bindi and her coloured sari. You have hated yourself for being relieved that those you know in that poor torn city are safe, when hundreds you did not know were not.
In fear and foreboding the feeling has overcome you – “What lies ahead of us now?”
But after all of that, after all of the sorrow and the grieving, in the midst of absolute despair, when you start to think again – STOP.
No permission to think. Not permitted – to reflect, to remember histories, to rewind and draw back for a long shot, to move away, move backwards – from these freeze shots of the present.
For the overwhelming consensus that has emerged out Mumbai’s (most recent) tragedy is this – Stay Focused On (“Islamic”) Terror.
But interestingly, this consensus has appeared in the public domain in the form of a conflict – between the political elite and the socio-economic elite. The elite anger that was immortalized by Rang de Basanti, the anger that fueled justice for Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal, that anger is now everywhere evident. From out of Bollywood sets and corporate boardrooms, from air-conditioned homes and yes, five-star coffee shops, they have spilled out – to the grimy roads of Mumbai, to television screens, to the long-suffering India Gate – lighting candles, shouting slogans, wearing Tshirts, waving the tricolour. Their most terrifying slogan? No Security, No Taxes.
(Irrelevant Item # 1 : Quite contrary to popular middle class perception that the the taxes they pay subsidize the poor, the bulk of tax revenue in India comes from indirect taxes, not from income tax. Indirect taxes amount to 82 per cent of total taxes and direct taxes account for only 18 per cent. This means that the government gets most of its tax revenues not from income tax paid by people with regular incomes but from sales taxes levied on all sorts of consumable items from salt, atta and rice to luxury items. It is a well established fact that indirect taxes lead to a disproportionate part of the burden of taxation falling on poorer households, rather than the kind of people wearing those defiant T shirts. To put it crudely, every time a domestic servant buys atta and salt for her family’s evening meal, she contributes to the government coffers that subsidize the IITs your children go to. And do notice how when budgets reduce excise duties, it is from luxury items rather than from items of mass consumption – airconditioners become cheaper, soaps and detergents more expensive.)
Of course, many many idealistic young people were at these events too, with their own motivations, trying to find a place to express their bewilderment and shock. I don’t mean that every person at these protests was elitist in their orientation, but that the organization of many of these protests definitely was.
In any case, this phenomenon is definitely worrying for the political elite. If the socio-economic elites secede from the system, the intra-elite social contract breaks down.
The BJP Vice President, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, reacting to the demonstrations against politicians in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks, said,
“Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of saying Pakistan murdabad, they are saying politician murdabad.”
He said “in difficult times like these” some groups have decided to “wage a war against democracy” rather than waging war against the menace of terror.
The party as a whole distanced itself from the unsavory remarks, most unsuitable for a pre-General Election situation. However, while the mode of speech was deplored, the sentiment was endorsed.
Said Arun Jaitley, senior general secretary of the party
“the people have the right to be angry and their anger cannot be doused by confrontation but by taking tough measures against terrorism”.
In line with the thrust of these comments was Jaya Jaitley’s response. The former Samata Party president and NDA ally, while agreeing that Naqvi’s comments were sexist, pointed to the truth of what he said:
“I can put on lipstick and still agree with Naqvi’s statement. What he meant was the demonising of the political class that leads to the loss of democracy.”
Naqvi found further support forthcoming from the RSS. Ram Madhav, a member of the RSS Central Executive, defended Naqvi’s statement, saying the sentiments expressed by him against the protestors were justified, although his language was unwise.
Madhav told PTI that while people in a democracy have a right to protest, this was not the right time to do so.
“The anger of the public (in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack) is justified. However, right now the priority of the entire nation should be to rise up against the terrorists and their sponsors across the border.”
Sonia Gandhi meanwhile, was no less forthright. Speaking at Uri in J&K, she warned that India’s desire of friendly ties with Pakistan should not be seen as a sign of its weakness.
“Till date, we have taken many steps to build good relations with our neighbours. But it seems they are under the illusion that they can intimidate us by unleashing terror. We will give a fitting reply to terrorism.”
Now, what are the elites angry with the political classes about? Precisely that this agenda of “Rising up and giving a fitting reply to terrorism/Pakistan/Muslims” has not already been carried out. Kabir Bedi for instance, on NDTV urged Mossad-like targeted assassinations in Pakistan, but even that is not enough for some of our brave and bloodthirsty nationalists. Bedi made a distinction between the “Pakistani government” and “terrorists” and that makes ‘the b*stard’ a ‘closet jehadi’.
WE HAVE NO TIME TO THINK ANY MORE – this is the message, pretty much expressed continuously in upper case noise. For instance, a reader wrote in response to Gnani Sankaran’s biting critique of the media production of the five star Taj Hotel as the icon of India,
“I think people like Gnani Sankaran are as dangerous and divisive as some other leaders who divide the country based on religion and caste. Its time we focussed all our energies on trying to avoid such incidents.”
Gnani Sankaran is no less than dangerous and divisive. For pointing out that the Taj is an exclusive space of luxury accessible only to a handful – but oops – he’s wrong, what about their many servitors? They’re not wealthy, as another reader annoyed at Gnani Sankaran’s divisiveness pointed out:
“Those hotels belong spatially as much to their owners/customers as they do to their employees such as waiters, chefs, drivers, concierge, receptionists, cashiers, cleaners, security guards, retail employees of the hotel shops…”
Bit puzzling, this. The Taj (you do mean the luxury hotel, not the monument?) belongs spatially to the waiters, drivers and cleaners? Yes, they inhabited the same space, and they died there like the people they waited upon, and whose toilets and cars they cleaned, but the space certainly did not belong to them. Think – do they even use the same lifts as the customers?
It’s precisely because they do not “own” India that the long-standing, general widespread anger against the political class on the part of the “cleaners and security guards” type of people, of the working class and farmers, in short, of large masses of the people of India, could just be ignored. Not so the anger of these citizens.
But there we go again in futile discussion. We need to focus ALL our energies in one direction. And all that energized focus will lead us infallibly to The ONLY Proposition, (henceforward to be referred to as TOP), the answer many already had, long before Mumbai and totally independent of what happened there last Wednesday:
Destroy the Islamic Terror Machine – Carpet Bomb Pakistan.
Two related thoughts we are permitted to have are :
a) All Muslims are guilty because Islam sanctions terror. There are Good Muslims, but they need to make themselves heard shouting very loudly – we hate terrorism, and please hang Afzal.
b) We need Bright, Shiny New Laws against terror.
Any and all other thoughts, criticisms, historical detours, theoretical reflections, all talk of anything other than Islamic terror – caste say, or class, or gender – all, all suspect. At best. But really, if you can actually articulate anything other than TOP and its two related sub-thoughts, you are anti-national and a Friend of Terrorists. (This was spelt out rather literally to Nandita Das, who recently made a feature film, Firaq, on the social isolation of Muslims in Gujarat after 2002. On the morning of the 27th, she got an SMS from an unknown number that said – “See what your friends have done!“)
Clearly, you possess the standard issue special protective shields the Islamic Terror Machine hands out to the likes of you and your loved ones. All geared up in it, you can afford to spout your f****ng nonsense about dem****cy secul****m and other words too obscene to be uttered in public now that India has had its very own “9/11″.
So while the socio-economic elites and the political class appear to be at odds, they are actually saying the same thing. The political class says, do not distract us with your street protests and anger, we need to get on with ending terrorism once and for all. The elites are basically saying why haven’t you done it already. You’re safe with all your security guards and Black Cat Commandos, but our wealth is just not enough to keep us safe any more.
“Responsible sections” of the media have already rallied to do some damage control. For instance, Shekhar Gupta, muchly beloved of all of us at kafila, and otherwise a part of the elites on the roads right now, has sternly rebuked the “Chatteranti” for its threat to secede.
“Our governance sucks. But the solution for the upper crust now is not to secede from it as well. Law and order is not public health…or power supply. The whites in South Africa tried doing that and it didn’t work…Their homes just became high security prisons in which they locked themselves up…”
Learn, he directs his fellow-Taj habitues, from the poorer and middle classes. They return to the system and challenge it from within. They do it by using the power of the vote, not by disowning it. He concluded, in words that made me choke with disbelief on my morning coffee:
“Or look at it another way: we, in our little charmed circle, can vent our rage on chat shows and in cyberspace. But the children of our farmers and working classes will always be there, to vote out bad governments…and to get into uniforms – khaki, olive green or black – and risk their lives fighting terrorists for our sake.”
Okay, this is confusing. These would be the very same farmers and working classes whom your paper attacks relentlessly when they protest at sealings, slum demolitons, big dams and land acqusitions for corporations? Or do they become “your” farmers and working classes only when they contribute their children to the worthy cause of battling terrorists for your sake? Or hold on – a glimmer of understanding breaks through the mist of my befuddlement – your fear is that if the social contract between these sections of the elite breaks down, there will indeed be anarchy. Unable to fight on too many fronts, the political elite will face disaster.
Astute of you, Great Editor.
All are in agreement, then. Don’t dare to think beyond TOP and its two corollaries.
Dont ask – how many expressions of outrage from Muslims are enough?
How about “Terrorists on Murderous Rampage in Mumbai: As Muslims we condemn it” on a site called Muslimmatters.org. Because Muslims Matter.
How about Labour Party Pakistan’s protest demonstration against the terrorist attack on Mumbai, on 28 November in Lahore?
How about the refusal of the Indian Muslim Council to permit the gunmen killed by Indian security forces to be buried on Indian soil?
How about the Deoband declaration against terrorism in May this year?
Not enough. Never enough. It is too late, or not convincing, or not loud enough or not enough Muslims have said it or they still celebrate when Pakistan wins or …
Dont ask – how will “tougher laws on terror” help? This particular attack has been attributed by the Navy Chief no less, to “systemic failure” of intelligence gathering and dissemination among various agencies. It is widely acknowledged that this time, there was far too much internal competition and lack of co-operation between agencies, despite the fact that all the signs of an impending attack by sea, and information about it, were available.
Once the attack began, confusion and netagiri reigned supreme:
Sources said though the plane carrying NSG Commandos was ready by midnight, it could not take off due to the delayed arrival of a VIP, who wanted to accompany them to Mumbai, at the Delhi airport. Worse, the Commandos had to wait for a vehicle at the Mumbai airport until morning.
(via Smoke Signals)
No, it was not the lack of tough laws that led to this episode nor to the endlessness of it.
The Times of India claimed in a piece on November 30th that by not hanging Afzal, India had shown itself to be soft on terror, and thus given encouragement to forces such as those attacked Mumbai on the 26th.
“A terrorist has been on the death row for three years now. Had he been hanged after fair trial and all due review, it might have sent out the message that India was going to be tough on terror.”
Tough on terror? How much tougher can any law be than people on a suicide mission? People who court death? But of course, tough laws catch us no terrorists. Most of those caught, incarcerated, tortured, vilified, are not in fact, “terrorists”. The Times of India’s rhetoric conceals some facts on Afzal that bear repeating:
Afzal was NOT found to be guilty of participating in the attack on Parliament. Nor was it proved that he was part of the conspiracy. In the trial the Supreme Court noted that the evidence on this latter point was mainly circumstantial (that is, as ND Pancholi, lawyer and human rights activist, pointed out, the court held that if certain circumstances are taken together, it could be safely presumed that he was involved in the conspiracy.) All three courts including Supreme Court acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organization or a terrorist gang. The Court also noted that the evidence was fabricated. Most importantly he was not given any worthwhile legal assistance to defend him during interrogation. When Ram Jethmalani offered to be his lawyer the Hindutva goons attacked his office.
Despite all of this, why did the Supreme Court hand down the extreme punishment of hanging? Because, the Justices held – “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”
So let us have no confusion on this point. Afzal Guru – proved to be NOT guilty of taking part in the attack, NOT guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization, but PERHAPS guilty of having been part of circles that conspired in the attack – must hang because the the men who actually carried out the attack were killed by security forces, and the actual launchers of the conspiracy are beyond the reach of the Indian state.
Even the USA, our model on how to deal with terror and how to live life generally, gave life imprisonment and not death to one accused in the 9/11 case, Zakaria Mosvi, because he was not directly involved.
What do we mean by “tough” laws anyway? Laws that bypass basic democratic procedures – presumption of innocence until guilt is proved, necessity of firm evidence, strictly laid down procedures of arrest and detention, no torture, no confession before the police to be acceptable as evidence. Laws that ignore all of these factors – these are “tough” laws. They are also dangerous, far more so than Gnani Sankaran, unfortunately, can ever hope to be. People are routinely picked up on suspicion of being Islamic terrorists, Maoists or just petty criminals, and they are tortured, killed, incarcerated for long periods of time – and many, many of them are innocent.
We have on kafila, written often (Sunalini here, myself here, Aditya here) on such blatant miscarriages of justice with mere petty crime; that is, when nothing as grand as National Security is at stake. And this, with just our regular laws.
Most recently, Aarti has written here about the detention and torture of 6 Muslim men after the Hyderabad blasts, who were later admitted to be innocent by the police. This is just the tiniest tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Finally, now that “Hindu terrorism” has come into view, and sadhvis and the like are being picked up, narcoanalysed and so on, suddenly the Hindu right has started to sound like the human rights activists they hate.
(Tough laws on Islamic terror, you idiots, not on us.)
Irrelevant item # 2. Absolutely do NOT wonder at the strange coincidence of Hemant Karkare, head of investigations into the Hindutva terror network, recipient of death threats from the Hindu Right and of abuses from the top brass of the BJP from Advani to Modi, being one of the first casualties during the attacks.
No, I’m not implying that the entire thing was set up to kill Karkare, (there are others who do, but I think that’s far-fetched). However, it does seem likely that once the mayhem started, this marked man, already on an internal hit list, was easier to take out. Read this eye-witness account by the lone survivor of the ambush, and note the following points:
a) Karkare along with other officers set out towards the Special Branch Office because they had information that the terrorists were hiding there.
b) They were ambushed by two gunmen hiding in the bushes who opened fire at the vehicle at close proximity.
c) The police team that finally intercepted them “was so enraged on learning of their draded (sic) act” that they “beat them mercilessly” leaving one terrorist Ibrahim, the chief of the group, dead on the spot. The other terrorist feigned as dead, but the police learnt at the morgue that his heartbeats were still on.
That is, Karkare and the other officials are given information that makes them go in a certain direction, they are ambushed at close quarters by gunmen lying in wait, and when caught, the police try to kill both gunmen, succeeding in one case.
Irrelevant Item…what the hell, I think we have established that everything in this post is irrelevant to TOP. So – don’t think about the fact that India inhabits a space called South Asia, that “terror” comes in many forms, and that one of those forms, from the point of view of our neighbours, is Indian. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta said here: “..culpability in terror in South Asia is not a one way street with all signs pointing only in the direction of Pakistan…”
Who on earth “justifies” acts of terror after all – other than those who actually carry out those acts, that is? Nobody. However, nobody just ever simply condemns acts of terror – there is always an explanation attached to the condemnation. Why does it happen, what are its roots. The nature of the explanation decides the nature of the proposed solutions.
Take an analogous issue, that of rape. Everybody condemns rape. The patriarch condemns it, the feminist too. But while the first offers the explanation that rape is bad because the honour of the family lies in the woman’s chastity, the second says rape is bad because it attacks a woman’s sense of self and bodily integrity. The solution offered by the first then, is more protection for women, more withdrawal into the private space of the home, more dependence, more modesty, and a totalizing reading of (the ever present potential of) rape as the defining factor of women’s lives. The solution offered by the second is more safety in public spaces, more women out after dark, more independence, and most importantly, the demystification of rape, the rejection of the idea of rape as a fate worse than death.
Similarly, the explanation offered for terrorism will determine the solutions offered. If terrorism is defined narrowly as specific kinds of acts committed by specific groups of people alone, then the focus is narrowly on the shortcomings and failures of a community, its religion, its culture. Every answer to every question is derived from this reading. Look deep into its religious texts, essentialize its every practice as inherently violent (haven’t you heard meat-eating Hindus say that halal is a particularly slow and sadistic way of killing, while jhatka is quick and clean? Have they ever actually seen a jhatka slaughter? It is as cruel and painful as all slaughter; most of the time, the head does not come off at one stroke…)
The belief that Islam is violent produces its own evidence.
If on the other hand, terrorism is defined broadly as acts of terror on unarmed civilians by any group or institution, that opens up the possibility of trying to understand each terrorist act in its specificity. For instance, it is beginning to look like the recent attacks on Mumbai are related to the politics of West Asia and the continued excesses of the Israeli state and its western allies, while the blasts of 1993 are related to the demolition of Babri Masjid and the consequent pogrom against Muslims in Bombay. Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and Maoist violence each have their own history and rationale, and nothing to do with Islam, while state terrorism is another entity altogether.
In short, we are forced to recognize “terrorism” in today’s world as one way of conducting politics. It is not in itself politics, it is one of the modes of doing politics. This is why only the most uncompromising pacifist among us can with any credibility condemn “terrorism” as such. For a blanket condemnation of terrorism must include condemning the continuing violence on unarmed civilian populations on the basis of caste; the violence of the state upon the poor (slum demolitions, land acquisitions); war for any reason whatever; collateral damage on civilian populations through acts of insurrection on the state.
(We need to distinguish too, between militants in a political movement who may or may not be terrorist in the sense I have outlined (violence against unarmed civilians) – and merecenaries who would kill anybody for money. In this specific instance of the carnage in Mumbai, it seems mercenaries may have been involved.)
This is why too, there can be no military solution to “terrorism”. Military intervention never ever succeeds. The world’s most powerful state has not managed to do it, and believe me, no muscle flexing little South Asian state is going to do it, either. The only way to end terrorism is dialogue and engagement and above all, justice.
Justice is the key to ending terrorism.
Until then, in an entirely unjust world, a woman selling utensils on a railway station in Mumbai can be shot because of the politics of a part of the globe she never even knew about.
Because I see “terrorism” in this way, I respond rather ambivalently to the celebration of the “everyday” over large ideas that drown simple pleasures and little griefs and small worries. Aman, Lawrence and Shuddha have posted moving tributes to this everydayness – Let’s do the things we normally do, Dont hold my hand… and How was the movie, I love you, I love you.
But surely even the everyday is replete with daily sacrifices big and small, and suffused by an overwhelming sense of something larger than yourself and your own rational, short-term interest – the parent who gives up on a full meal so that the child can eat; the child who grows up to take decisions about her life that prioritize old parents; the stranger who jumps into a river to save a life; the driver who swerves to avoid a pedestrian knowing he will smash into a divider; the person who plants a tree knowing it will not give fruit in her lifetime; the poetry written, the landscape painted…
We live always beyond ourselves. There is always something beyond “How was the movie, I love you I love you”.
The everyday is not the opposite of large ideologies demanding that you be larger than yourself, and which sometimes lead to terrorist acts – there is a continuity between the two poles, a shared sense in both spaces, of what it means to be – not just human – but a small part of Life itself.
This fluid continuity between the Large Idea and the small everyday is conveyed exquisitely in Nazim Hikmet‘s poem “On Living” with which I close.
Living is no laughing matter:
You must live with great seriousness
Like a squirrel, for example -
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter…
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy for example, you’ll plant olive trees -
and not just for your children either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier….
Let’s say we’re at the front -
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
We might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
But we’ll still worry ourselves to death
About the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
And close to fifty,
And we have eighteen more years, say,
Before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
With its people and animals, struggle and wind – I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
We must live as if we will never die.
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars, and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet -
I mean this, our great earth.
This great earth will grow cold one day…
Like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space…
You must grieve for this right now
- you have to feel this sorrow now -
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say, “I lived”…
Translated by Randy Basing and Mutlu Konuk