India does not spring to mind as a global terrorism hotspot, but lawyer and commentator Irfan Yusuf finds there’s much we don’t know about the world’s second-most populous nation.
India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told Commonwealth lawmakers in Canberra that Australia was firmly at the centre of his nation’s gaze. Meanwhile, our national broadcaster has announced it is closing its New Delhi bureau. And most Australians wouldn’t have much of a clue about the world’s second-most populous nation or its neighbours.
India doesn’t just want our uranium and coal; Modi has pledged to work with Australia to fight what he describes as the “menace of terrorism”.
But what does terrorism mean in India? Do publications like The Times of India or The Hindu or Caravan see terrorism as purely a Middle Eastern or Islamic problem?
The 2013 Global Terrorism Index placed India at sixth in the world when it came to number of terrorist attacks. Above India were Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. These countries accounted for some 80% of all terrorism deaths. India experienced the largest increase in terrorist attacks, with deaths almost doubling (238 to 404) from 2012-13.
Yes, there certainly are jihadists operating in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. But the GTI Report states what most Indians already take for granted:
In 2013 around 70% of attacks were non-lethal. Communist terrorist groups are by far the most frequent perpetrators and the main cause of deaths in India. Three Maoist communist groups claimed responsibility for 192 deaths in 2013, which was nearly half of all deaths from terrorism in India. Police are overwhelmingly the biggest targets of Maoists, accounting for half of all deaths and injuries.
The Maoist insurgency has much to do with farmers in impoverished tribal areas being forced off their land. The uprising has been going since 1967, with the Naxal movement operating in 20 of India’s 29 states. Terrorism doesn’t happen in an economic or political vacuum.
Perhaps the most dangerous form of extremism can be found in the Indian ruling coalition. Before being elected Prime Minister in a landslide, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat province in the north-west of the country. Gujarat was also the home state of an eccentric barrister named Gandhi, who was once labeled a terrorist by Her Majesty’s government.
Far from engaging in violence, Gandhi preached a novel form of non-violent resistance with a view to securing independence for India. He was assassinated by a small cabal of extremists from his own Hindu faith, people who did not share his cosmopolitan vision for a multi-confessional India.
This coalition of theocrats has been quite happy to use violence and terror to put religious minorities — especially Catholics and Muslims — in their place. They include people within the current PM’s inner circle as well as convicted religious terrorists. They were behind some of India’s worst violence in its post-independence history.
And when it comes to violent Hindutva theocracy, guess which side the current Indian PM belongs to.
Indians (and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans and Nepalese) take this stuff for granted. But rarely will you read or hear or see much use of words like Hindutva or Naxalite in our own media.
First published in Crikey on 21 November 2014.