Page 1 of 3 The monster in India's mirror
By Arundhati Roy
We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged
on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were
watching "India's 9/11". And like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old
Hollywood film, we're expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though
we know it's all been said and done before.
As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan
that if it didn't act fast to arrest the "bad guys", he had personal
information that India would launch air strikes on "terrorist camps" in
Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India's 9/11.
But November isn't September, 2008 isn't 2001, Pakistan isn't
Afghanistan, and India isn't America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy
and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so
that we can arrive at our own conclusions.
It's odd how, in the last week of November, thousands of people in Kashmir
supervised by thousands of Indian troops lined up to cast their vote, while the
richest quarters of India's richest city ended up looking like war-torn Kupwara
- one of Kashmir's most ravaged districts.
The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on
Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati,
Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of
ordinary people have been killed and wounded. If the police are right about the
people they have arrested as suspects in these previous attacks, both Hindu and
Muslim, all Indian nationals, it obviously indicates that something's going
very badly wrong in this country.
If you were watching television you might not have heard that ordinary people,
too, died in Mumbai. They were mowed down in a busy railway station and a
public hospital. The terrorists did not distinguish between poor and rich. They
killed both with equal cold-bloodedness.
The Indian media, however, were transfixed by the rising tide of horror that
breached the glittering barricades of "India shining" and spread its stench in
the marbled lobbies and crystal ballrooms of two incredibly luxurious hotels
and a small Jewish center.
We're told that one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That's
absolutely true. It's an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary
Indians endure every day. On a day when the newspapers were full of moving
obituaries by beautiful people about the hotel rooms they had stayed in, the
gourmet restaurants they loved (ironically one was called Kandahar), and the
staff who served them, a small box on the top left-hand corner in the inner
pages of a national newspaper (sponsored by a pizza company, I think) said,
"Hungry, kya?" ("Hungry eh?"). It, then, with the best of intentions I'm sure,
informed its readers that, on the international hunger index, India ranked
below Sudan and Somalia.
But of course this isn't that war. That one's still being fought in the Dalit bastis
(settlements) of our villages; on the banks of the Narmada and the Koel Karo
rivers; in the rubber estate in Chengara; in the villages of Nandigram, Singur,
Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Lalgarh in West Bengal; and the slums and
shantytowns of our gigantic cities.
That war isn't on TV. Yet.
So maybe, like everyone else, we should deal with the one that is.
Terrorism and the need for context
There is a fierce, unforgiving fault line that runs through the contemporary
discourse on terrorism. On one side (let's call it Side A) are those who see
terrorism, especially "Islamist" terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that
spins on its own axis, in its own orbit, and has nothing to do with the world
around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side
A says, to try to place it in a political context, or even to try to understand
it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself.
Side B believes that, though nothing can ever excuse or justify it, terrorism
exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see
that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm's
way. Which is a crime in itself.
The sayings of Hafiz Saeed who founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure)
in 1990 and who belongs to the hardline Salafi tradition of Islam, certainly
bolsters the case of Side A. Hafiz Saeed approves of suicide bombing, hates
Jews, Shi'ites and democracy, and believes that jihad should be waged until
Islam, his Islam, rules the world.
Among the things he said are:
"There cannot be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them so
much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy."
And: "India has shown us this path. We would like to give India a tit-for-tat
response and reciprocate in the same way by killing the Hindus, just like it is
killing the Muslims in Kashmir."
But where would Side A accommodate the sayings of Babu Bajrangi of Ahmedabad,
India, who sees himself as a democrat, not a terrorist? He was one of the major
lynchpins of the 2002 Gujarat genocide and has said (on camera):
We didn't spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire…we
hacked, burned, set on fire … we believe in setting them on fire because these
bastards don't want to be cremated, they're afraid of it … I have just one last
wish … let me be sentenced to death … I don't care if I'm hanged ... just give
me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura
where seven or eight lakhs [seven or eight hundred thousand] of these
people stay ... I will finish them off … let a few more of them die ... at
least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.
And where in Side A's scheme
of things would we place the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) bible, We,
or, Our Nationhood Defined by M S Golwalkar, who became head of the RSS
in 1944. (The RSS is the ideological heart, the holding company of the Hindu
fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, and its militias. The RSS was
founded in 1925. By the 1930s, its founder, Dr K B Hedgewar, a fan of Benito
Mussolini, had begun to model it overtly along the lines of Italian fascism.)
Ever since that evil day, when Muslims first landed in
Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu nation has been gallantly
fighting on to take on these despoilers. The race spirit has been awakening.
To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the
world by her purging the country of the Semitic races - the Jews. Race pride at
its highest has been manifested here ... a good lesson for us in Hindustan to
learn and profit by.
Of course Muslims are not the only people
in the gun sights of the Hindu right. Dalits have been consistently targeted.
Recently, in Kandhamal in Orissa, Christians were the target of two-and-a-half
months of violence that left more than 40 dead. Forty thousand people have been
driven from their homes, half of whom now live in refugee camps.
All these years, Hafiz Saeed has lived the life of a respectable man in Lahore
as the head of the Jamaatut Dawa, which many believe is a front organization
for the Lashkar-e-Taiba. He continues to recruit young boys for his own bigoted
jihad with his twisted, fiery sermons. On December 11, the United Nations
imposed sanctions on the Jamaatut Dawa. The Pakistani government succumbed to
international pressure and put Hafiz Saeed under house arrest.
Babu Bajrangi, however, is out on bail and lives the life of a respectable man
in Gujarat. A couple of years after the genocide, he left the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad (VHP, a militia of the RSS) to join the Shiv Sena (another rightwing
nationalist party). Narendra Modi, Bajrangi's former mentor, is still the chief
minister of Gujarat.
So the man who presided over the Gujarat genocide was re-elected twice, and is
deeply respected by India's biggest corporate houses, Reliance and Tata. Suhel
Seth, a TV impresario and corporate spokesperson, recently said, "Modi is God."
The policemen who supervised and sometimes even assisted the rampaging Hindu
mobs in Gujarat have been rewarded and promoted.
The RSS has 45,000 branches and 7 million volunteers preaching its doctrine of
hate across India. They include Narendra Modi, but also former prime minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, current leader of the opposition L K Advani, and a host
of other senior politicians, bureaucrats, police and intelligence officers.
And if that's not enough to complicate our picture of secular democracy, we
should place on record that there are plenty of Muslim organizations within
India preaching their own narrow bigotry.
So, on balance, if I had to choose between Side A and Side B, I'd pick Side B.
We need context. Always.
A close embrace of hatred, terrifying familiarity and love
On this nuclear sub-continent, that context is Partition. The Radcliffe Line,
which separated India and Pakistan and tore through states, districts,
villages, fields, communities, water systems, homes and families, was drawn
virtually overnight. It was Britain's final, parting kick to us in 1947.
Partition triggered the massacre of more than a million people and the largest
migration of a human population in contemporary history. Eight million people,
Hindus fleeing the new Pakistan, Muslims fleeing the new kind of India, left
their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Each of those people carries, and passes down, a story of unimaginable pain,
hate and horror, but yearning too. That wound, those torn but still unsevered
muscles, that blood and those splintered bones still lock us together in a
close embrace of hatred, terrifying familiarity, but also love. It has left
Kashmir trapped in a nightmare from which it can't seem to emerge, a nightmare
that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, became an Islamic Republic, and then very
quickly a corrupt, violent military state, openly intolerant of other faiths.
India on the other hand declared herself an inclusive, secular democracy. It
was a magnificent undertaking, but Babu Bajrangi's predecessors had been hard
at work since the 1920s, dripping poison into India's bloodstream, undermining
that idea of India even before it was born.
By 1990, they were ready to make a bid for power. In 1992 Hindu mobs exhorted
by L K Advani stormed the Babri Masjid and demolished it.
By 1998, the BJP was in power at the center in Delhi. The US "war on terror"
put the wind in their sails. It allowed them to do exactly as they pleased,
even to commit genocide and then present their fascism as a legitimate form of
This happened at a time when India had opened its huge market to international
finance and it was in the interests of international corporations and the media
houses they owned to project it as a country that could do no wrong. That gave
Hindu nationalists all the impetus and the impunity they needed.
This, then, is the larger historical context of terrorism on the sub-continent
- and of the Mumbai attacks. It shouldn't surprise us that Hafiz Saeed of the
Lashkar-e-Taiba is from Shimla (India) and L K Advani of the RSS is from Sindh