Fight against terrorism should take the causes into account
As investigations into the Hyderabad blasts get underway, names of the usual suspects are being bandied about. Articles have been appearing in the media about how and why Hyderabad has become a soft target for the extremist Muslims. It is being said that the twin nature of the city — the global, pulsating hub on the Information Highway on the one hand and the impoverished, illiterate old city where Arab philanderers fish for underage brides on the other hand — has made it receptive to the extremist elements, not only to survive but to increase their tribe from among the poor who have missed the IT bus.
Economic disparity is not unique to Hyderabad. Most old cities in India, including Delhi and Mumbai suffer from this to some extent. While glaring disparity can lead to increased criminalisation, terrorism needs a different breeding ground. The last few terrorist attacks worldwide have shown that the masterminds are seldom illiterate, let alone impoverished. The poor do not have the time and sometimes the intellect to comprehend any kind of ism, be it extremism. Their lives are governed not by the long term aspirations for themselves and the society in general but the immediate need for survival or what are called the bread and butter issues. In propagation of terrorism, their role is minimal, because one requires intellectual ability and a certain degree of material comfort to think and propagate ideas.
Though India has a history of bloody communal violence, non-political terrorism started in the Indian mainland only in the Nineties, with the Bombay blasts of 1993 being the first such attack. Those with zero tolerance approach towards terrorism do not like the idea of cause and effect, but the perpetrators of that heinous attack believed and have admitted to have carried out the blasts out of revenge for the communal riots in Bombay, which followed the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. It is a fact that in all communal clashes in India, the minorities have always suffered more casualties and often at the hands of the police who, at least at the lowest level, is known to behave in a partisan way. But before the Bombay blasts, resorting to terrorism had never been an option or even an idea. In the Nineties, though, things changed. Pakistan was actively involved in Kashmir and following the shock and grief felt by the Muslims at the demolition of the Babri mosque, it smelled the opportunity of channelling Muslim resentment towards something more sinister. As a result, Dawood Ibrahim, who was a mere gangster till then, albeit a glamorous one, turned into a terrorist.
As an aside, Babri was the major turning point in the inter-religious relations in India. In the past, communal riots always remained localised, whether it was Meerut, Ahmedabad, Bhagalpur or Aligarh. And they were always uniformly criticised by all political parties. Publicly talking in terms of Hindus and Muslims was neither fashionable nor acceptable. But Babri changed all that. Watching the BBC on December 6, as the crowd swelled around the mosque, I was convinced that the situation would not deteriorate to the extent that the mosque would actually be pulled down. This conviction was reinforced by the presence of senior BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharti and so on, whom the camera would show every now and then talking among themselves. In fact, I switched off the television after a point because I was sure no news would be made that day, when a frantic call made me turn it on only to see a cloud of dust in one frame and a joyous Bharti with her arms around Joshi’s neck in another. I had no emotional attachment to the mosque; its existence was immaterial to me. But it sent a chill down my spine; that in India a mosque can be pulled down by a mob in the presence of national leaders and the leaders are not bothered. They are not worried that they will lose the next election. Of course, they won, which is why I consider Babri to be a landmark event. It redefined communalism (one only has to browse through numerous Internet chat rooms to get an idea of smouldering communal hatred on both sides) and it turned a small section of Muslims, who earlier only raged inwardly in the aftermath of a riot, to terrorism, because in 1993 that Rubicon was crossed.
It may be a good idea to fight terrorism with a zero-tolerance approach insisting that no reason can justify acts of terror. But at the same time, it would be foolish to think that without addressing the reasons, terrorism can be fought successfully. Just as victims of terrorism need to see justice done (as has happened in the case of the Bombay blasts), the victims of communal riots also need to feel that their minority status does not deny them justice. Despite the fact that riots preceded the blasts, no action has been taken on Justice Sri Krishna’s report, with each political party blaming its predecessor. But why only the Bombay riots, what about the riots before and after the Bombay one?