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India Reels Under Terrorism

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
October 14, 2008


The Indian state is no stranger to terrorism. According to the latest report on global terrorism by the U.S. government's National Counterterrorism Center, more than one thousand people died in India because of terrorist attacks in 2007, ranking the country fourth behind only Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Most of these deaths relate to the territorial dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. But internal causes contribute significantly to this violence, including conflict with India's Maoists-the Naxalites-and other separatist and insurgent movements in the country's northeastern states.

Yet a spate of bomb attacks (BBC) across the country in the last six months has stumped the Indian government and its intelligence agencies. A group calling itself the Indian Mujahadeen claimed responsibility for many of these attacks, raising fears that India may have a homegrown Islamic militant problem. "The role of Pakistan-based terrorist groups cannot be minimised but the involvement of local elements in recent blasts adds a new dimension to the terrorist threat," admitted the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The mostly Hindu nation of over a billion people has a large number of ethnic and religious minorities, including the world's second-largest Muslim population, numbering some 150 million. Each of these minority groups face economic disadvantages and some demand political and territorial concessions, say experts.

For decades, India has blamed Pakistan for supporting terrorist activities inside India and funding and training Islamic militant groups in India's part of Kashmir. In recent times, New Delhi has pointed to Bangladesh, too, where it claims militants responsible for some terrorist attacks find shelter. India-Pakistan friction over Kashmir also trickles down to India's Muslims. As Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar has said, "When we have friction with Pakistan, Muslims in India feel the heat and suffer" (Rediff).

So far, no foreign militant group has claimed responsibility for the recent series of bomb attacks. New Delhi's response to these terrorist attacks has prompted questions about the competence of India's counterterrorism efforts (Jamestown) as well as the status of the country's minorities. Indian security officials have focused their investigations (NYT) on the country's Muslim minority. The Times of India, giving voice to a common concern among Hindus, points at the Muslim community's deprivation and sense of being discriminated against, and speaks forebodingly of a Muslim mind-set. A November 2006 Indian government report (PDF) concedes that Muslims are marginalized and disadvantaged in the country. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average. Muslim poverty rates are only slightly higher than those of low-caste Hindus. In a September 2008 poll conducted across the country's five major cities, 79 percent of respondents said the economic divide spurred disharmony.

The sense of injustice among minorities is heightened by the state's continued tolerance of violence perpetrated by Hindu extremist organizations, say experts. There have been several incidents of anti-Christian violence (BBC) by Hindu militant groups in the last couple of months. Saba Naqvi, a notable Indian journalist, asks why the Indian state is quick to target Muslims but blind (Outlook) to the transgressions of Hindu right-wing organizations.

The "original conception of the Indian state contained many redemptive notions of cultural plurality, and social and economic justice," writes author Pankaj Mishra. However, he says, "it now appears to have been deeply compromised" (Outlook).

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