‘The state doesn’t want to get to the bottom of this’

Arundhati Roy on the nature of terror attacks in India and why there is no hope for justice

September 27, 2008 in Politics
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Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

What explains the rise in terror attacks not related to specific political struggles like those in Kashmir, the Northeast or Punjab? What has shifted in India?
It is clear there is a manifesto of hatred we all have to deal with now. The manifesto announced in the BJP conclave last week was a litany of hatred. The Congress began a kind of divisive politics way back; the BJP is willing to take it further in a much more malignant way. Harvesting communal and caste votes is a part of our modernity, not our past, and it will be our future unless we do something. But we can’t only blame politicians. There is a much more systemic problem. Every time there is a carnage or genocide people are sure there is no justice to be had. The courts, media, police — everyone is colluding in the process, everyone has become communalised. There is a complete breakdown of institutions that make a democracy; everyone is on their own. So people start taking the law into their own hands — ranging from lynching to ‘terror’ attacks.

Much of the debate on tackling terror is centered on India being a soft or hard state. Is that a solution?
POTA, TADA, the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act — none of them are meant for nailing terrorists, and do not have a good record for doing so. They are only useful for polarising society further, criminalising democratic space and silencing those who ask questions of the state.

With elections nearing, there is a charged political climate in which the attacks are taking place. How do you read this?
I was struck by an interview [Congress leader] Digvijay Singh recently gave TEHELKA. It is the first time a leading political leader has said we don’t know who these terrorists are, and given the timing of the attacks, who stands to gain? The wrong people are being picked up and even when proof is furnished, no one wants to know who the real perpetrators are. Or if they do know, they are covering it up.

Take the Indian Mujahideen. Is it a front for an existing terrorist group or a figment of counter insurgency operations? The point is, a situation has been created where, if it did exist, it wouldn’t surprise. You are consistently putting out the message that be it Sikhs or the Christians now in Orissa — people cannot expect justice. The most dangerous thing in all this is that the BJP is trying to forge a Hindu majority vote, and radicalising the minorities — it is only in India that one can deem 200 million people a minority. This can certainly destroy the country. This is not just a danger to India, it is a danger to the whole world. You are radicalising an entire generation who feel and know there is no recourse. Some will put their head down and suffer; all will not. The thing about terrorism is it just wants to destroy; it wants to take something down. It is not revolutionary politics. Ask the security forces in Kashmir — it takes 700,000 people to hold such a small valley down, how are you going to do that to an entire country?

But much of what’s going on in the immediate context has to do with elections. I assume the Congress will flounder and weakly arrive at the same conclusions as the BJP. Even by its own standards, the BJP is moving from a benign force to an era of malignancy. And we will have to face the consequences of this not just in India but internationally. There is a fire in the ducts. We have to come at it in a more systemic way.

How should one respond to SIMI? TEHELKA has done a very tricky investigation that proves the government’sexisting case against SIMI does not hold water and many innocent Muslims have been victimised in its name. Yet they are obviously a highly conservative and fundamentalist Islamist organisation. 
The rhetoric of SIMI should be seen and treated in the same continuum as the Bajrang Dal’s. But no matter how much you dislike their ideology, you cannot substitute building evidence with lazy bludgeoning. I don’t think mere outlawing works either. Once again, the cornerstone is justice. If the Bajrang Dal, VHP or SIMI knew that they were up against a justice and police system that was professional and unbiased, they would hesitate before doing something that invokes violence. That’s how societies are sustained. But we are creating a situation where one set of people know that even if they rape and burn people alive, and even if there is enough evidence that they have done so, they will walk free. And another set of people know they have no hope for justice. The result of this may not be revolution, but there will definitely be a destruction of everything you took for granted. Because a radicalised minority may not be able to elect a government or effect a revolution, but it can certainly destroy a country and be a threat to the whole world.

There is a legitimate frustration with state agencies for not being able to preempt attacks or find the culprits. What do you think are the problems they face?
The heart of the matter is, there seems to be no real desire to get to the bottom of things. Time and again, it has been proved that a lot of lies are being told to us. After the Parliament attack case, half a million soldiers were moved to the border, 800 soldiers died in that mobilisation, we were at the brink of a nuclear war — all of that based on a clot of lies. Now, there’s TEHELKA’s SIMI investigation. Yet, every time those who expose the lies are deemed anti-national and blocked, but no attempt is made to nail the right guys, or disprove the lie. This lack of curiosity on the state’s part to unearth who the real perpetrators are sets off a whole lot of thoughts. Why is it so impossible to conclusively prove who the Indian Mujahideen is? All we have are unexamined theories. Perhaps the state doesn’t really want to get to the bottom of these things.

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