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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Do we need stringent anti-terror laws to fight terrorism ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 7:44 PM

Serial bomb blasts in Delhi have left the nation shocked, betrayed and angry coming on the heels of similar attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. The reaction from all quarters is as predictable as it could be. Everyone except the perpetrators have condemned the attack, the government has appealed for calm and has vowed to bring the guilty to book, citizens are outraged at how unsafe they are under the government's watch, BJP the main opposition party says its charges against the current government of being soft on terrorism stands vindicated and it reiterates its demand for stringent anti-terror laws. The media is having a field day reporting facts, speculations, opinions, counter-opinions and more importantly the visuals. Everything is going according to the plan. The plan, that the perpetrators might have had when they conceived this inhuman ploy. All major cities have now been put on high-alert, the common people feel unsafe, normal life has been disrupted and the spokespersons of the government and the main opposition hurl charges at each other on the national TV. If the objective of terrorism is to destabilize society by creating panic and distrust among the members then the terrorists have most likely achieved their objective in this instance. In a few days from now when the nation limps back to life, some terrorists will strike again sending us into yet another phase of fear, panic, anger, charges and counter-charges. This cycle of mindless violence has been going on now for a while and there seems to be no reason to believe that it is going to be stopped anytime soon.


What fuels my pessimism is the belief that no one is really interested in stopping these attacks. Whether they want it or not, political parties and the media stand to gain from these attacks, it is citizen who loses but even then there is little display of fighting spirit in the citizenry. Demand for stringent anti-terror laws reflects the citizenry's desire for retribution rather than finding a long lasting solution.In one of my earlier post on "Open Source Terrorism" i have discussed on the changing pattern of terror attacks in India which indicate that local terror modules may be emulating global terrorist networks based on a violent and distorted form of Islamic ideology. These groups are different from traditional militant groups we have come across in Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East that have a fixed and coherent agenda. The 4GW groups on the other hand are loosely affiliated global terrorist network that wants to overthrow the world order. This enemy is far more dangerous because the only agenda it has is destruction of the civil society by introducing chaos and distrust.It uses the society's greatest strength against society itself, which in our case is freedom and civil rights. How do we fight an enemy who emerges from amongst us and blends back into the society after executing his evil design? Do we abandon our cherished values, suspend rights and turn ourselves into a police state? What then will the difference be between the terrorist groups and civil society?


This moral dilemma is also the central theme of recently released and hugely popular movie, “the Dark Knight". The central character in plot is not the Batman himself but the anarchist, psychopath villain called the Joker. The Joker personifies absolute evil, he exists without a name, without a past and more importantly he operates without any logical motive. Unlike other villains, the Joker is not motivated by the lust of money or power, he is an agent of chaos and he seems to be on a mission to prove that all people turn to evil when pushed hard. The battle between him and the Batman is a battle of wills, the Joker constantly creates situations that leave Batman in ethical dilemma, he challenges Batman to defeat evil without becoming a part of it. And it is not the Batman alone who is tested, towards the end the Joker recreates a grotesque enactment of the "prisoner's dilemma" which results in a situation where a ferry full of citizens and another carrying convicts have to destroy each other to prevent the Joker from destroying them. If either of them succumb to his threat and blow up their fellow humans they become evil themselves justifying the Joker's philosophy of anarchy and hate. The people in the two ferries do not succumb to the Joker's plan but the district attorney, Harvey Dent does. Dent is the face of Gotham's civil society fighting crime without sacrificing civility. The greatest victory of the Joker is the conversion of Dent, the white knight of Gotham into a dark vigilante who kills criminals for revenge. From the ethical point of view there is hardly any difference between the Joker and Dent (who becomes Two-Face).


We face a similar situation while dealing with anarchist terrorists who like the Joker, provoke us to shed our civility, violate social contract and come down to their level. Inherent weakness in our law, especially the criminal law is almost an article of faith for most ordinary Indians. It is this belief that always leads to cries for measures that are harsher even if they are not just. An important element of criminal jurisprudence of all progressive civil societies is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty which implies that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. In anti-terror laws like POTA the principle applied is the presumption of guilt which implies that the person charged has to produce evidence of his/her innocence. Frankly, i think it defies logic.The very concept of Law exists for the administration of justice but in some instances criminal laws are used to extract revenge and gain political mileage. The BJP has been vociferously criticizing the government for its soft approach but as all of us know it is just trying to fish in troubled water. Let us not forget the fact that it was during the NDA reign that two of the biggest terror attacks took place (Parliament attack and IC-814 hijack) and the then BJP government had proved itself as toothless as it is accusing the Congress now. In the IC-814 hijack episode the BJP Foreign Minister escorted some of the most dreaded terrorists to Kandhar. However, the predicament that the NDA government faced then is understandable, civil society and state have certain responsibilities towards citizens which puts it in disadvantage during negotiations in hostage crisis like this one. But if the BJP itself has in the past given in to terrorists' demands in order to protect citizens and their rights why would it now insist imposing restriction on rights of citizens in the name of fighting terrorism?


The answer is pretty simple; the latest episode gives the opposition a stick to beat the Congress government with. Besides that the brand of politics that the BJP practices, not only exploits fear and anger of the people but also reinforces them. The Sangh Parivar has nearly perfected the art of transforming the discontentment of people to hatred towards other communities and in the process consolidating its own voter base. The BJP has in the past managed to counter the anger of the people (mostly belonging to majority community) by not pursuing the perpetrators but punishing their community members. The message sent out to its supporters is that the government is fighting terrorism but in reality it is punishing a section of its own citizenry to placate the anger of the majority. Incarceration of innocent people under POTA by the Modi government in Gujarat in 2002 is a well-known example of how anti-terror laws are exploited by governments pursuing their antagonistic and communal agenda. Presently, the very fact that the demand for stringent anti-terror is being led by Modi, indicates that the objective is to take revenge by punishing the community members of the alleged terrorists and not go after the culprits themselves. Any doubt regarding fairness in implementation of these laws is removed when we look into recent past. As far as i know none of the key suspects of previous attacks have been arrested yet but hundreds of innocent citizens were incarcerated with the help of these draconian laws. Further, activists of groups like Bajrang Dal have always indulged in activities which clearly come under the purview of anti-terror laws but far from being held under anti-terror laws they actually enjoy state patronage.


Apart from the moral and the political question, introduction of harsher laws would also raise questions regarding the efficiency of such measures. For instance, this demand would imply that there have been instances when perpetrators major terrorist attacks have been let free because of technical loop holes. But as far as my memory serves me most of the attackers and conspirators are either absconding or had died during the attacks. In instances when they have been caught appropriate punishments have been awarded to them. If terrorists have not been apprehended or appropriately punished then it is mostly because the police were not up to the task and not because of lenient laws.

Stricter laws also imply investing more power in law enforcement agencies which raises the probability of it being abused by corrupt policemen and their political masters. This will not be a new trend in India, for decades law enforcement agencies are notorious for abusing laws for selfish reasons. I do not fully comprehend why law-makers want to grant the police provision to use more brute force when one of the problems of our civil society is the excessive use of brute force by the police. If at all the law-makers want to make law enforcement more effective, they should allocate more resources and funds to the force to increase its efficiency.


To eliminate the malaise of terrorism the first step would be to launch a political initiative that addresses grievances at the grass-root level. Citizen need to come forward and shun all forms of parochial and divisive doctrines, be it communalism, regionalism or casteism. The primary loyalty of all sections of the population should lie with the national identity. Stringent anti-terror laws are not mantras the incantations of which will drive away terrorism magically; it is the law enforcement machinery that needs to be well-oiled and upgraded. Arrests of some of the perpetrators of Delhi serial blasts reinforces the belief that existing laws are sufficient to counter terrorism as long as the administration doesn't lack the will to fight. It also reveals that the attackers are mostly anarchists whose objective is to damage the social fabric and provoke us into abandoning our value system. Instead of reacting with anger, we should find out ways to detect and eliminate anarchists from our midst without shedding our civility.


We can't let the Joker have the last laugh!

Posted By danish Ahmed 7:44 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Religious Fundamentalism, Fanaticism And Communalism. Are They Syonymous ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:47 AM

This Sunday's newspaper carries views and opinions of some noted journalists and intellectuals on the orgies of violence and bloodshed carried out in the name of religion in the state of Orissa. I feel that in the process, terms like religion, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism have been used too loosely, and in some instances, almost interchangeably. For the section of citizenry that keeps distance from politics and social processes and takes a free ride in the Juggernaut of democracy and free society these terms and concepts might sound similar. But for the informed individual the difference between these terms are as great as the two ends of a spectrum. It would therefore be prudent to define these terms in their original connotation and in consonance with the political philosophy around which our society is built.

Religion And Secularism in India

The Constitution of India declares the nation as a secular entity but unlike the concept of secularism followed in countries like France and Turkey, Indian secularism believes in the tolerance of all religions. The term secularism implies the absence of any divine element or aspect. But for a nation that has Mahatma Gandhi as its ideologue, religion cannot be divorced from politics and the society. It is not just that Gandhi prayed a lot, his principles of non-violence and truth had seeds in religious philosophy. However, for Gandhi there were two forms of religion. The first form consisted of a set of principles and a code of ethics that all major religions propagated. For instance, theft, murder etc are wrong and punishable by all religions. The other form of religion is the approach and rituals which varies from group to group. Many secular countries, especially those of Europe treat the universal code of ethic as secular progressive thought but Gandhi and his contemporary leaders of India redefined secularism not as a godless concept but as a concept that gives space to all religions. Religion in India was to play a unifying role as well as help individuals evolve spiritually unlike the role it was to play in Pakistan.

Religious Fundamentalism And Fanaticism

Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are again terms that need to be astutely defined. If fundamentalism means adhering to the fundamentals of a religious doctrine then even Gandhi was a fundamentalist as he was a strict vegetarian and performed ritualistic worship every day. In that sense fundamentalism is rather desirable since the fundamentals of all major religions require adherents to conform to the principles of peaceful co-existence and perform acts for spiritual evolution.

Fanaticism on the other hand is dedication to fundamentals with such devotion and so devoid of reason that the followers end up overdoing or even doing the opposite of what the fundamentals required. Muslims in India imitating Arabic culture (even those unrelated to Islam) is an example of harmless fanaticism. More serious fanaticism is manifested in instances where scientific facts are discarded in preference to superstitions and myths or where religious decrees (usually in matters of personal laws ) are passed which are found to be contradictory to the law of the land as well as to religious laws (it is found in both Muslim and Hindu communities)

Communalism

Communalism is a concept which has least to do with religion although it almost always uses religion to manifest itself. Broadly defining, communalism is identifying one's own aspirations and fear (especially socio-political-economic) with the aspirations and fears of one's own community rather than society as a whole. However, in the context of the Indian subcontinent the term communalism denotes an organization/mobilization of like-minded but aggressive, intolerant and nearly violent group of individuals against other sections of society. Communalism plays a major role in the subcontinent as it is home to numerous religious, linguistic and ethnic groups, jostling for place in political mainstream, often with antagonism for those belonging to the "other community" which is held responsible for past violations as well as nefarious designs for the future. A very disturbing aspect of communalism is the fact that primary loyalty is shown towards the group that has the highest degree of commonality not on the basis of conscious and deliberate actions, belief and other elements of social contract but accidental factors like membership of religious, linguistic or ethnic community. Religious fanaticism is often result of convoluted logic but there is no logic in communalism because reasoning and rationalism are concepts alien to it.

It took mankind thousands of years to evolve into civil society based on rationalism, reason and even faith but it takes one moment of hatred to takes us back to the prehistoric times when our ancestors battled for survival. In fact, underneath our sophisticated and civilized demeanor many of us remain the same primitive hunters, fighters, warring for survival in a hostile world. Apart from other wild animals and furious nature herself we also have to fight against fellow humans from the "other clan/tribe" who are constantly conspiring to attack us and steal our food, women and our children. To protect our own possessions and interests we would have to attack first and incapaciate the enemy or, at the least, be prepared for retaliation in case of an attack on us. It is this primitive "herd mentality" of distrust and hatred that drives the force of communalism in the civil society.

As opposed to prehistory, this trend in modern society has always been driven by a few individuals who exploit it to acquire leadership of their respective communities. From blatantly provocative orations and sloganeering to indoctrination at the grass root level, all efforts to create an atmosphere of fear, distrust, mass hysteria and self-righteous rage are often found to be politically motivated and hollow. India has had the misfortune of being turned into a laboratory of such violent and divisive political experiments more than once. The first one led to the partition of the nation and a bloodbath that left an indelible scar in the national psyche of all three nations. The Muslim League's experiment was later emulated by Hindu communalists even if faith based antagonism was incompatible with the Hindu ethos. Hindu communalism actually predates its Muslim counterpart but it could never command the same level of popularity as the latter did. Hindu communalism reached its climax in the late 80's and early 90's riding on the wave of Hindutva ideology centered around Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The Sangh Parivar led by the lesser radical BJP waged an all out war on the existing political arrangement , evoking sub-nationalist emotion of a people already dismayed by years of congress misrule.

Communalists always view civilization as a perpetual war between communities and rewrite history portraying their own community of being historically wronged. It painted the Muslim rule of India as one of intolerance, subjugation and systematic persecution of the majority community although historical evidences reveal a completely different picture (will talk on that in some other post). In post-independence politics, it portrayed the Muslims as the "pariah" group with whose support the corrupt and inefficient Congress remained in power and the group that was in one way or the other responsible for all ills of the Indian society. It accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims for vote-bank politics and it accused Muslims of keeping a corrupt and inefficient Congress in power for selfish ends. It never explained how a community constituting less than 15% of the population could be held responsible for hijacking the government's agenda. Equally intriguing was the charge of appeasement when Sachar Commission reported that post-independence, while other under-privileged sections had seen some upliftment the Muslims had in fact become poorer and more backward. Shouldn't the pampered minority constitute the creamy layer of the society like the Jews of Al-Andulas or to cite a contemporary analogy, the Jews of the US ?

But more than indoctrination or misinformation campaigns it is the remnants of the tribal mentality in us that fans communalism. For a long time I used to call this gorilla mentality but lately i have been wondering if it would be judicious to attribute a human vice to beasts! That very Sunday i came across another news item of a baby elephant having fallen into a pit 2 kms from a village in the Simlipal region of Orissa. The adult elephants did not allow forest guards to get close enough to attempt rescue operation. Instead the elephants summoned their comrades from the jungle and formed a large chain to pull out the baby. Had the elephant belonged to communalist organizations like VHP,SIMI or Bajrang Dal they would have left the baby there and would have gone and attacked the village instead !

As i said before, communalism in modern civil society is irrational and always based on misinformation because of which the movement loses its mojo after reaching a certain level. The two communal experiments carried out in India have both failed but not before causing irreparable damage to India's social fabric. The Muslim League's experiment resulted in Pakistan, a failed state wholly dependent on its American masters for existence. The BJP was successful initially but it could never garner enough support to form government on its own. Coalition dharma forced it to shed its communal agenda but that doesn't stop it from conducting experiments in certain parts of the country. One such experiment is underway in Orissa where the concepts of religion, religious fanaticism and communalism are being used to deceive the people.

Posted By danish Ahmed 12:47 AM

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Orissa turning into a lab of hate and divisive politics

Posted by: danish Ahmed 11:53 PM

The ongoing violence in Kandhmal is a direct consequence of the government’s reluctance to deal with the deepening fissures between the communities in this remote region. This regions as well as other tribal regions in the state have seen a steady increase in number of tribal converting to Christianity. This is absolutely unacceptable to Hindu right wing parties who accuse Christian missionaries of fraudulently stealing the souls of "our adivasis". The right to worship and propagate one's religion is one of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India but strangely enough in this corner of the earth religious conversions are looked down upon not just by religious fanatics but by the common people too. For a state that converted the haughty Asoka into a Buddhist and was home to one of the largest Jaina states ever, a new wave of religious conservatism seems to be taking over.In fact, Orissa was the first Indian state to pass anti-conversion laws.

Actually for the Hindu fundamentalists, religious conversions being carried on by Christian missionaries are seen as part of a greater design to change the demography of the state in the same manner as was done in some north-eastern states. Paranoia is a chronic ailment that most Sangh Parivar activists suffer from but in this episode their delusion is not absolute. Christian missionaries in many instances have been found to have adopted some unconventional methods to gain converts. While missionaries of every proselytizing religion appeal to reason and try to prove the divine nature, truth quotient or rationalism of their doctrine, Christian missionaries in Orissa are accused of proselytizing illiterate tribal by promising material benefit. I am not sure why I should be infuriated with some of the most backward tribal getting free education and healthcare in lieu of their belief. If we are not able uplift our own people in any way, why should we object to others doing it even if its a Judas' bargain. But Christian missionaries have also been accused of frauds and use cheap tricks to gain converts. I myself have at least once been victim of an over-enthusiastic group of missionaries who tried to impress me with sleight of hand. I was really outraged that these guys really believed that I would be unable differentiate between street magic and divine miracle! They in turn were outraged that I was more interested in Christian ideology that they did not know much about. Having experienced that myself I am disinclined to rubbish all allegations leveled by the saffron brigade.

However, this does not mean that I have the right to prevent anyone from propagating her/his religion. If I really want to stop conversions I need to go and work among the tribal and convince them of the superiority of my ideology. This is what Swami Lakhananda Saraswati had been doing and the reason for which he was gunned down. What followed was nothing short of mayhem among the mob as well as the media and the administration. The initial media reports quoting the police said that Maoist groups were responsible and a Naxalite group had in fact claimed responsibility for the attack. This was quickly dismissed by VHP leaders who wanted the government to blame Christian groups for the attack. The BJD-BJP government has all along displayed its reluctance to take on the rightists head on and risk the government's survival. When the VHP called for a state-wide bandh, the state government instead of ensuring security ordered closure of all educational institutions sending out the message that it was unwilling to protect citizens who were dared to disobey the dictates of the far-right VHP. Private parties like Infosys too followed suit and a bandh call by a rogue party turned out to be the most successful strike the state had ever witnessed.

Social activists visiting the state after the last December violence had warned that the Gujarat experiment was being emulated in the state and genocide was in the making. Initially I was a bit skeptical but as things unfold, those ominous forebodings are beginning to resemble the reality. The Kandhmal region has a history of ethnic strife between the “adivasis” and the “Panos”( a scheduled caste member). While the tribal, who were originally animistic, have now been included in the Hindu mainstream, the “Panos” of the region have adopted Christianity in large numbers. Thus, a communal angle was added to an already chronic ethnic schism. All political parties like to fish in troubled waters but the Sangh Parivar simply loves to come across this sort of situation. In this case since the BJP was a ruling coalition partner, there was little or no opposition to the Sangh Parivar’s programme to turn Orissa into a laboratory of hate and divisive politics, the experiment in Gujarat was now being repeated in Orissa’s tribal regions.

As the government looked the other way the Sangh Parivar activists began to build their base by exploiting the decades old Kandh tribal versus the dalit Panos schism. The fact that majority of the Panos had converted to Christianity helped the mischief-makers give the conflict a communal tinge. The simmering tension was out in the open last Christmas, when the Saffronites went on rampage destroying more than 100 churches and institutions and scores of innocent people were killed or rendered homeless. In the aftermath too, the government did little to ensure the safety of the minority community or to reconcile the warring communities. Instead the VHP and Bajrang Dal were allowed to carry on their campaign of hate and violence in the garb of religion. Now and then, there had been minor flare ups indicating what’s in store for the future but the government was absolutely disinclined to act against the Hindu hardliners.

Swami Lakhananda Saraswati’s murder and the bandh that followed materialized the fears of the Christian leaders. The Sangh activists went on a rampage burning churches, institutions and homes of the local Christians. The early report that blamed Maoists for the dastardly crime had simply disappeared as the intellectuals too began to question why Naxalites would target Swamiji. This apparently rational question discredited the Maoist angle completely; even as the top cops went on record with it. Indeed, what enmity would a Far Left militant group have with the leader of a Far Right group? Ideologically, both the groups stand on the opposite sides of the pole. The Maoists strive for a classless society whereas the Hindutva brigade espouses an ideology that includes caste-based stratifications. Besides these there are many more arguments to prove that Maoists and Sangh activists are ideologically opposed to each other more than any other organizations in the country.

Further, the Maoists have heavy presence in the region and are said to be close to the Christian groups which is quite understandable from the fact that Christians of the region constitute a majority of the district committee of the Maoists. The possibility of Maoist involvement in the killing should be examined in the light of evidences and not buried in the name of reason. If the initial media report about Naxalite involvement was incorrect, the police and the administration should refute it officially instead of shoving it out of theirs as well as the public's memory. Because of the ineffiency of the government in first protecting the life of the Swami and then being ambiguous about the identity of the perpetrators, it has aggravated the situation in the state.

This spate of violence has been unprecedented in the state, starting from Kandhmal it spilled over to other parts, churches, institutions, homes, vehicles, and even orphanages were not spared by the marauding mobs. The destruction to both property and lives of people belonging to both the communities is massive; peace is yet to return as more dead bodies as being recovered in the jungles. The violence has left a major emotional scar in the psyche of the surviving victims. People who had fled to the jungle to escape the mob are still too fearful to return home. The worst part is that the social fabric has been damaged irreparably which suggests that this pogrom could be premeditated. The sustained campaign of the VHP and Bajrang Dal in the region further corroborates this charge. If the attacks by the Sangh activists appear to have been planned ahead of time, the retaliation by Christian groups too cannot be termed as spontaneous. The use of firearms and bombs by both the groups reveals that both the sides, especially the Christian groups might have been prepared to defend themselves since the state government had not been able to protect them during the Christmas violence. If things have indeed gone to such an extreme, it is high time, the government wake up and take the responsibility of restoring normalcy and more importantly restore the victim’s faith in the secular civil society that it represents.

Orissa CM Navin Patnaik has in the past taken brave decisions based on the party ideology and without giving much thought to political repercussions, so his reluctance to rein in the marauding Sangh activists is a little intriguing. Agreed, any stern action against the rioters belonging to the rightist party could compel the BJP to walk out of the coalition effectively bringing down the government in the process but Navin Patnaik should understand that by playing into the hands of the Saffron parties he might end up eroding his own support base. At the moment, his party is the senior coalition partner and does not need the BJP as much as it needs him. But as the radicalization of the voter base continues, the Sangh Parivar’s support base would increase at the cost of BJD’s own voters’ base.

Posted By danish Ahmed 11:53 PM