Dear Rajnath, 'Hindu terror' is exactly the word for Abhinav Bharat extremists

Home Minister Rajnath Singh should have pondered deeply over the various types of violence his own ministry tackles before lecturing the Lok Sabha on the inappropriateness of coining the term “Hindu terror”.

This might have helped Singh to comprehend the logic underlying the process through which different forms of violence are tagged, not the least because of the belief that each of these warrants a special response to tackle and root it out.

Rajnath Singh in a file photo. AFP

Rajnath Singh in a file photo. AFP

It is because of this reason Singh can’t understand why a certain brand of terror should indeed be called Hindu terror.

To the Lok Sabha on 31 July, Singh said, "In this House in 2013, the then home minister (P Chidambaram) had coined the new terminology ‘Hindu terrorism’ in order to change the course of probe (into acts of terrorism). It weakened our fight.”

Singh’s statement makes a tacit assumption — not all forms of violence can be classified as terrorism. He is right in making this assumption. For instance, once upon a time the dreaded dacoit gangs of the Chambal Valley terrorised its villagers through random killings and depredations, but nobody ever dubbed them terrorists.

Nor does Singh’s Home Ministry, now or earlier, tag communal riots as terrorism, or their perpetrators as terrorists, even though this form of violence decidedly terrorises the society. Fear looms over places where communal rioting occurs, as it does every time a terror group brings a city or town into their crosshairs.

This brings us to the question: What is terrorism?

There is no unanimity on the definition of terrorism. A 2003 American Army study totted 108 such definitions, altogether identifying 23 separate elements which lead to the terming of a violent act as terrorism.

Nevertheless, quite broadly, most agree that an act of violence is classified terrorism in case it has these three attributes — it intimidates people and the state; it seeks to change state behaviour through coercion; its aim or mission is political in nature.

In India, though, we prefix an adjective to the word terror for further sub-classification. Thus, we have Red or Maoist terrorism, Islamist or Muslim terrorism, Kashmiri terrorism, Sikh Terrorism, secessionist terrorism, Northeast terrorism, etc. It was to this terrorism lexicon the term Hindu terror added, much to the anger and dismay of Singh and the Sangh Parivar to which he belongs.

Is Singh right in taking exception to the term Hindu terror? To answer this, ask another question: Why isn’t Red or Maoist terror also called Hindu terror? After all, judging from the names of the Maoists killed or those who periodically surrender or whom the state declares Most Wanted, it is obvious that they overwhelmingly belong to the Hindu community.

Yet, it isn’t called Hindu terror because those who spearhead or plan Maoist violence have political objectives not even remotely connected to their religion. Their goal is to capture the Indian state through an armed revolution to establish the people’s government. To put it simply, a just social order can be created by anchoring Indians in communist ideals and ethos, not in Hinduism. Their Hindu cultural identity has little salience in their imagining of the future.

Indeed, the choice of the adjective as a prefix to terror is influenced not by the religious identity of those who perpetrate it. It is largely determined by the goals they set out to achieve through their terror attacks. This tendency isn’t peculiar to India.

Thus, for instance, Kurdish rebels in Iraq or Turkey are not called Islamist terrorists because, even though they are predominantly Muslim, their goal is to establish an independent nation-state based on ethnicity, not religion. By contrast, Islamic State is dubbed an Islamist terror group because it seeks to establish an Islamic state, under which people would be compelled to subscribe to Islamic laws.

Or take the myriad Palestinian outfits. For decades, different groups affiliated to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) carried out terrorist attacks in an attempt to liberate Palestine from Israel. PLO members were predominantly Muslim, but nobody dubbed their violence as Islamic. Nor was its leader, Yasser Arafat, ever perceived to be pursuing an Islamic goal, largely because his mission had been to establish a secular state.

But the violent actions of Hamas have always been dubbed Islamic. That’s because its inspiration and ideology both have roots in Islam; the future it conceives has a distinctly Islamic hue.

Closer home, a clutch of movements in India has been clubbed under the category of secessionist, whether in the Northeast, Punjab or Kashmir. They are also perceived as terror movements because they engage in violent acts to achieve their political objective of independence.

However, the Punjab terrorism became Sikh terrorism as its leaders began to speak in the idiom of their religion; its paramount leader, Sant Bhindranwale, did not imagine a secular but a Sikh state. Likewise, Kashmiri terrorism became predominantly Islamic in nature in later years, as its secular outlook was gradually overshadowed, not the least because of Pakistan’s influence.

Many of its important ideologues and leaders began to define their future Kashmiri state as an Islamic one. This group was always present in the Kashmiri secessionist movement, but grew in strength over the years. In pursuance of their future goals, dress codes were informally introduced and enforced, cinema halls were shuttered, as were liquor vends, and Kashmiri Pandits targeted, which they now belatedly regret.

From this perspective, how are we to view the Malegaon and Ajmer Dargah blasts, the bombing of Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and the Samjhauta Express, in which members of the militant Hindu group Abhinav Bharat, and individuals owing allegiance to the RSS, have been implicated? Were these violent acts merely retribution against Muslim terror? Or did its perpetrators have a larger political objective?
The purpose of their mission is spelt out in the reams of court papers pertaining to the Malegaon blasts case, in which Rohini Salian was appointed as Special Public Prosecutor. Obviously, Salian has been through these papers with a fine toothcomb.

Salian recently went public saying she was under pressure from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to go soft on the case. In her disclosure to The Indian Express, Salian had said, “From those conversations we got to know the actual story, they wanted a central Hindu rashtra, they don’t recognise the Constitution of India, had their own constitution written, their own flag — even their Bharat Mata was an armed one.”

Salian’s statement clearly establishes that this group of accused had a well-defined political objective of establishing the Hindu state. Their inspiration was Hindu culture; they rejected the secular foundation of the Indian Constitution and the notion of equality of all before the law.

This is precisely why to label their terror as Hindu is right, a point Singh has failed to grasp in his rush to score brownie points and paint Congress as anti-Hindu.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.


Updated Date: Aug 02, 2015 21:36 PM

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