Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai: A Price too High?

Swati Parashar*

For the readers of this website, I shall not waste your time by giving you details about the Mumbai horror that still continues as I write this. Like you, I await familiar media headlines: appeals to communal harmony and to stay calm by our so called 'leaders'; Mumbai's resilience and how quickly life returns to 'normalcy' in the city; how our state and society endures such attacks bravely and 'defeats' the aims of terrorists; how we need to stand together as a 'nation' etc. Like you, I too am disgusted and there is seething anger, rage rather, at this blatant attack on my people and my nation. I feel shaken, violated and have to stifle my screams (being far away from the country at this time!). There have been attacks before, but this one has sent a strong message that we are perhaps not a failed state as yet, but a failed nation, maybe yes.

This time, let us recount the successes of this terrorist operation/war. Tourists and foreigners have been attacked in an unprecedented manner sending a message of how vulnerable our country is. We cannot protect our citizens, we cannot protect our visitors. Our premier hotels and heritage sites have been attacked, again sending a message that we are vulnerable in the most high profile and 'secure' of places. The indiscriminate firing coordinated along with blasts and grenade attacks and hostage taking shows we have nothing like an intelligence system, no law and order and that anarchy and chaos can be easily unleashed by a band of amateur but committed youth. A lot of planning has gone into it, and clearly arms, ammunitions and committed cadres have made this a successful terrorist operation/war. I dread to think of how the perpetrators, planners and patrons might be laughing at this very hour at our expense. This is not even a terrorist attack but an open war which has resulted in unprecedented mobilisation of our security forces; has brutally exposed the weaknesses of our security system, our intelligence services and our crisis management. We are all clueless as to what is exactly going on as fires continue to ablaze in the two hotels (Taj and Oberoi) and we still do not know how many people have died, are held hostage and how many terrorists have carried this out or are still roaming freely in the city.

If the neighbouring state is involved (as the PM has suggested), they have proved to us that they can have our entire security machinery – police, army, navy, air force, NSG, RAF, all engaged in a war within our own territory, and bring the country to its knees. They have caused so much damage that it will take a while to just recover to even think of the future course of action. They have proved that a military attack is not necessary and a group of armed and committed men can take on our security forces and damage our morale and spirit while making a mockery of our national security apparatus. If these are indeed the jihadi terrorists, motivated by a fanatical and narrow understanding of their religion, and if their aim is to carry out jihad in India, as price the country has to pay for having the second largest Muslim community in the world, albeit as minorities, they too seem to have succeeded in getting their message across. They are prepared to die for their religion, they are prepared to kill and be killed in this 'war of civilisations'. Reports have started trickling in that some of the arrested terrorists are from Pakistan, but if these are also people from our own country avenging Gujarat, Babri Masjid demolition or avenging the ill treatment of their people or their community especially in Kashmir, I am afraid they too are having the last laugh. They have proved that 'revenge' can be well planned and that they will not stop at anything.

Terror experts have always told us terrorism is a strategy or even tactics towards some given ends. Groups or individuals indulge in terrorism because there are political motivations, and that there are always 'root causes' behind such acts of terror. We have had hostage crises, political assassinations, sniper and grenade attacks and bomb blasts in the past where groups have made political demands. But with the kind of terror we have seen in the last few years in India, the epoch of which is visible in Mumbai, we are forced to claim that terrorism, seems to be an end in itself. The terrorists do not warn us or tell us what they want, what they are here for, and where we might have failed them for them to resort to such mayhem and mindless violence. If terrorism has no reason and logic and no 'root causes', if the terrorists carry out these operations to cause destruction, if we are all enemies without any discrimination, if the innocent citizens are to pay the price for perceived atrocities of the state, it is time to do away with the traditional definitions of terrorism and recognise that this terror is there simply for destruction, to destroy and destabilise the country and to inflict psychological damage on us, the 'enemies'. We did not wish to be 'enemies', but since we have been constructed that way, should not we take our roles as 'enemies' a bit more seriously? I cannot speak the language of peace and love anymore. If the war is forced upon us, we will have to accept it. And since our state is too inept to handle it on our behalf, let us debate ways in which we can all participate in this 'war', through words, wisdom or actions.

I am afraid it will not soothe my senses anymore by being told again and again that religions stand for peace and 'some people' are misusing religion and misquoting scriptures. The problem is that the supply of 'some people' seems to be never ending. These 'some people' are not just a few people but like amoeba, they keep multiplying. I am afraid I will not feel calmed tomorrow when I hear that we should try to understand the 'root causes', the injustices and anger that force people on the path of terror. I ask today, as I rage at these terrorists who may not even be citizens of my country, how dare you speak for people of this country? And if it is Babri Masjid and Gujarat that you avenge, how many times should we apologise as a nation and justify your barbarity with heads hung in shame and guilt written on our faces? If we are paying the price for being a tolerant and democratic (although not perfect) nation (there are many dissenting voices tolerated in this country including the voices that speak of hatred against communities of all kinds, voices that talk of revenge and exclusion and voices that are overtly seditious against the state), I reject the guilt, shame and tolerance today for it makes me your 'enemy'. You punish our innocent people for crimes of a few; and scream hoarse when the 'innocent' in your community are held up because of your barbarity. You reject our diversity (of our opinion and politics as well that has defended you and stood for you always), you do not like it when we have spoken with different voices. I, therefore, accept the 'national identity' you have bestowed on me as your 'enemy', an identity that I had always questioned in order to understand you and your problems. Thank you for reminding us, Indians (those who consider themselves one), once again that we are all equal 'enemies' in your war and that we need to think of an equal and befitting response.

I find some inspiration and comfort in the words of the famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

Rakht-e-dil baaNdh lo dil figaaro chalo

Phir hameeN qatl ho aa.eN yaaro chalo

Pick up the burden of the heart, let us go heartbroken ones;

We are the ones to be murdered my friends!!

*Swati Parashar is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, United Kingdom. She can be contacted at

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