|Indian terror no longer just a man's
By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - Increasing evidence is being dug up
in India regarding the involvement of women in terrorist
related activities. In what appears to be a gender spin
in the terrorism profile, police and intelligence
reports suggest that, perhaps for the first time in
India, women are playing a crucial role in the
implementation and coordination of terror attacks.
The facts speak for themselves. Police are
hunting for two women who are the prime suspects in the
August Mumbai blasts that killed 50 people and wounded
154 others, one of the worst terrorist attacks to ever
hit the financial hub of India. A special task group has
been formed to track women terrorists, consequent to the
One woman particularly well known to
police is 45-year-old Fatima Khan, who was arrested last
week. Khan is suspected to have been the fulcrum of
operations for the past decade to underworld dons Dawood
Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel, prime suspects in the 1993
Mumbai serial bomb blasts. Dawood and Shakeel form an
extortion cartel that is allegedly used by Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence to run terrorist operations
in India. Police statements also say that Khan's
sister-in-law, Laxmi Hanumanprasad Nai, was "ably
assisting" Khan with her operations.
not just a case of women joining forces with the men.
Several Indian intelligence reports suggest that the
Dukhtaran-e-militat (DeM), an all-women "soft terrorist"
outfit with cells in Jammu and Kashmir, has become
increasingly active in the recent past. The two women
suspected of being behind the Mumbai blasts are believed
to be members of the DeM.
Perhaps the strongest
evidence of the involvement of women in terrorism has
been the recent compilation of a list of India's seven
most-wanted women criminals. This is the first time that
such an exercise has been undertaken. An Interpol alert
notice has been issued against these women, in 44
countries, with a price tag attached to information
leading to their arrest. Extradition or deportation
proceedings can begin against the accused if they are
arrested in any of these countries.
has the direct involvement of women in terrorism come to
the fore in India with such proportions.
past, women have been involved with the underworld, but
more in the form of glamour dolls with the dons, a
subject of tabloid frenzy. Dawood Ibrahim has been
linked to top Indian actress Mandakini, most famous for
her role in the doyen of Indian films, the late Raj
Kapoor's Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Abu Salem, a rival
to Dawood, has been arrested in Portugal along with his
mole, Monica Bedi, a small-time actress for whom he
wrangled roles opposite big Bollywood stars such as
Sunjay Dutt and Govinda.
But times have changed.
The most horrific terror attack to date orchestrated by
a woman on Indian territory was the assassination of
former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the
southern state of Tamil Nadu by a Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE)suicide bomber named Dhanu. Gandhi and
17 others were killed at a 1991 political rally near
Poonamallee when the woman offered the premier flowers,
then set off plastic explosives packed with thousands of
Internationally, the "Black
Widows" of Chechnya, as well as female suicide attackers
in Palestine and Turkey, are known to be well organized,
several at the instance of their male counterparts.
Twenty-four Chechen women took part in the seizure of
about 800 hostages in a Moscow theater last October that
ended with the killing of 129 people, and the death of
all the women.
The problems in Chechnya and
Palestine have been ascribed to local ethnic struggles
that have seen several women, as well as their men folk,
as victims, forcing the situation out of hand. There are
reports that al-Qaeda may be making inroads into these
pockets, but this is more of an opportunity arising out
of simmering discontent. Similar has been the case with
the LTTE, though the Tamil Tiger indoctrination
machinery is supposed to be the most efficient.
Security officials in India say that the case of
Indian women terrorists is linked more to the recent
large-scale success in the arrests of several terror
operatives. There has been a massive crackdown on
Dawood's operations in India, with several of his top
lieutenants either arrested or killed. Dawood's
brothers, as well as key men, have been deported to
India from the United Arab Emirates, due to increased
cooperation post September 11. The Indian army, too, has
been leading a crackdown on terrorists in Jammu and
Kashmir, with outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and
Hizbul Mujahideen feeling the heat. Abu Salem is under
arrest and Chhota Rajan, another underworld don, has
been on the run, having barely survived an attempt to
kill him by arch rival Dawood.
Deependra Pathak, deputy commissioner of Delhi's police,
"Terror groups have realized that security forces in
India traditionally focus on male criminals, while woman
criminals some times get away due to their gender. They
are taking advantage of this loophole."
Interestingly, another security expert, Nikhil
Kumar, says that most women terrorists the police have
identified are related by marriage or blood kinship to
known terror operators. "This means that the main
protagonists want to be on the sidelines for the time
being. It could be a new strategy, or they are on the
run, having been identified in police files," said
Kumar, who was special secretary in the home ministry
Commentators, however, also
point to a more dangerous portend. There is an
increasing feeling of discontent among Indian Muslims,
which might be engendering a flight of such people into
the gleeful hands of terror groups, ever ready to
exploit such situations. The Mumbai blasts have been
dubbed by the police as revenge against the Gujarat
riots last year, in which more than 2,000 Muslims were
believed to have been killed. The Gujarat government,
run by the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)Narendra Modi,
has subsequently been strongly censured by the courts
for having destroyed evidence of atrocities committed
against Muslims. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee leads a BJP-led coalition, with right-wing
Hindutva leanings, a philosophy embedded in majority
Indeed, there have been several reports
that suggest Indian Muslims, who number over 150 million
in India and have never been linked to terror circles,
are increasingly feeling disillusioned. This, if not
curtailed, could mark the beginning of another
internecine phase of terrorism in India.
Siddharth Srivastava is a
journalist based in New Delhi, India.
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