All in the name of fighting terrorism

Ravi Kumar

Profiling, Repression and Consensus Creation

Post-September 2008, the political landscape of the country has further revealed what lies in the belly of the so-called ‘secular’ politics. The bomb blasts in Delhi and the subsequent ‘encounter’ in the Batla House area, which has been shrouded in controversy, gave us certain new tendencies that have been there in our polity but could never come out so overtly. The mass media, along with other instruments of state reminded how Muslims are potential terrorists. This message was conveyed wide across the country reflected in an image construction of Jamia Millia Islamia as a university where potential terrorists find a safe haven. So, media told us how the new face of terrorists is educated, urban, Muslim, somebody who lives with us without revealing his actual anti-national identity, may be as our friend or neighbour. The profiling of a religious community has reached a new stage. While political formations are out there proving their nationalist credentials, particular religious communities are also compelled to prove their nationalism. An era of homogenised perception of nation is being carved. Irrespective of political colours, these trends are fostering an overall right-wing fascist character of polity to become dominant and the only possibility.

If one travels through the recent incidents, beginning from Delhi’s, one finds a general trend towards enforcing the spirit of nationalism (which is more so, perhaps, in times of economic recession of which India has not been aloof). One particular community gets targeted and this time, the Congress Party which is in power and which has claimed to take up their cause vis-à-vis Hindu fundamentalism, has been instrumental in this whole process. It not only rejected the demand for a judicial enquiry into the police ‘encounters’ that took place in Delhi at the cost of creating significant dissent within the party (leaders such as Salman Khurshid came out openly against the Party’s stand) but being the party in power at the Centre as well as in the state of Delhi it was instrumental in killing of the youth in police ‘encounters’. Obviously, it has to compete with the ultra-nationalism of the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Hence, the issue was to prove who could be a more committed nationalist (which could be proven only by rejecting any appeal for an enquiry into the incidence).

Alongside this politics has been the role of mass media. It is impossible not to condemn the barbaric acts of terror such as the one that took place in Mumbai, though, due to its own obvious compulsions, the electronic media played down the death of ‘others’ (those who died at the railway station, on road or elsewhere) in comparison to those who died in the two hotels or the Cafe. While the condemnations of such acts have been overwhelming but they are not bereft of their own ideological and political ramifications. Take for instance the case of how the electronic media became ‘concerned’ with such an incident and in what language did it express its concern. The analysis and acts of brazen political allegiance hidden under the garb of value neutrality and ‘truth’ – that is partisan, partial and blatantly elitist – told us to do many things and think in a particular fashion during the course of those three days.

Equipped with the art of, what Goffman would have called, ‘role-play’, some of them told us, panting, with voices choking out of concern, stories of how people died and how terrorists broke glasses, fired shots and burnt down halls. Sensationalism sells, there is no point arguing about it, and therefore everyone was trying to give us information which was different from others. While telling us that one could capture ‘live’ the encounter between police and terrorists and a hostage drama, something that we could have watched only in films, the news channels were also putting their ideas onto us.

In between Suhel Seth, Alyque Padmse, Shobha De and others came out virulently against ‘politics’ (not telling us overtly that they were, therefore, arguing for another kind of politics), for a citizen’s initiative to be led by the TV news channels. A typical attitude that appeals to the post-liberalisation middle class and moneyed segment, which argues for stringent security measures (in fact one of the ‘serious’, pro-people, pro-encounter, ‘nationalist’, news channel boss did suggest something along the lines of the Patriot Act or Homeland Security Act for India), stronger bureaucracy and army and less space for dissent. Criticism by the electronic media of those who have been demanding enquiry into the Delhi killings by the police has been consistent ever since. They have been termed ‘conspiracy theorists’, anti-nationals and pro-terrorists. In other words, any voice of dissent, any question raised at the acts of the police has come under severe criticism. Somehow a majoritarian understanding characterises our life now – from what we are fed through the media to the everyday beliefs that we tend to form about the world and its inhabitants. And we have seen that even within the political framework of those who call themselves champions of minority rights. The State, in such a situation, reflects an overwhelmingly majoritarian politics. And one of the biggest disadvantages of such politics is that it does not allow dissent or does not entertain self-critical positions.

In such a situation where does the politics that bases itself in the anti-capitalist ethos stand. The opposition to the way the state has been involved in an active profiling of the Muslims or the way it has institutionalised repression under the garb of security and nationalism fails to look through the apparent forms of state actions. Hence, a critical standpoint that analyses majoritarianism, the right-wing fundamentalism or authoritarianism of the state as the obvious outcomes of its inherent character is lacking. The issue of false police ‘encounters’, or profiling of the Muslim community can be countered only through a counter-politics (it will be interesting to see which class of the Muslim community comes with such a politics). In other words, one will have to demolish the majoritarian stance of the Congress and BJP alike. In an environment, where politics among the learned (intelligentsia itself) is ‘repressed’ (it gradually becomes a consensual repression) under the pretext of law and order, or under the garb of a narrowed interpretation of communalism it becomes difficult to tackle the issues discussed above. Hence, unless the resistance becomes overtly political at all levels, right from the bottom of the societal pyramid, the issues will remain effervescent as they are now.

Terrorism, Mass Hysteria and Hegemony in India

Pratyush Chandra

All incidents in India that have occurred recently, which go by a blanket name terrorist attacks, have been viewed as self-explanatory. A terrorist and his acts don’t need any explanation. A terrorist is like any other professional who is supposed to do what he is trained for. Why does he do that – is not a question to be asked. It is his own “free will” which clashes with others’ free will. Haven’t we been time and again accused of talking about the human rights of the “terrorists” while “ignoring” those of the soldiers and policemen who are “victims” of the terrorist attacks? Their opposite location with respect to the hegemonic centre does not mean anything.

I feel the post-modern capitalist celebration of relativism indicates towards an important aspect of the reconstruction of power, civil society and expression in the age of finance capital. The footlooseness of faceless finance capital characteristic of this age has intensified the process of solid melting into the air to an ever-increasing degree – every click on the keyboard makes, changes and destroys billions of lives every moment. This has led to a multiple crisscrossed entrenchment of every segment in the society trying to hold on to something solid – an identity or something… In the process, every ‘melting’ identity poses its own language which could not be understood beyond the space-time of its posing. This is what we can call a continuous process of subalternization, of manufacturing subalternities that cannot act, but simply react in the hegemonic paradigm. When useful things become commodities, their self-expression (through their own use-value) is incomprehensible in the market, they must express their worth through the hegemonic reactive monetary expression of exchange-value – a general form of value.

Thus, the resolution of “civilizational” conflicts (between various levels of subalternities) is possible in the within-the-system framework only through a generalized cutthroat competition or simply mutual annihilation – the well-armed and defiant robots clashing with each other – “the terrorists”, the security personnel etc. The only language that is mutually understandable is that of the guns and bombs… So the citizenry can’t empathize with the terrorists, they are always aliens. And so are the (counter)terrorists and their ‘innocent’ protégées for “them”. They are reduced to reactive agencies within the hegemonic game-plans. They can only react to each other’s moves.

Today’s terrorism is a desperate cry to make others’ listen to what subjects/terrorists are unable to express and what “others” either refuse to hear or are unable to understand. It is the failure and crisis of self-representation let out in the hegemonic language of coercion and terror. This seems absurd but this is as absurd as the absurdity of the conjuncture.

The whole arrogant security discourse that the media and security mafia in India pose is far more absurd than the defiant terrorist attacks. What can be more absurd than the astheticised victimhood of the “great” India that they sell while being slyly proud whenever a terrorist attack takes place in the country, as that makes them feel to be in the league of the greatest victims of global terrorism – the US, UK and Israel. So now we have our own 9/11. This is the level of discourse in the Indian media in the context of the Mumbai incidents.

The recent unabashed display of an elitist, confessedly, “anti-political” stress on security infrastructure and technology to resolve every conflict and the aim to put away politics on security matters are nothing but an insistent inability and a lack of will to understand conflicts. Nobody is asking for an everyday democratic control over every aspect of social life, rather what is being provoked by the panicky bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in India is a hysteria in favour of a trans-political security and intelligence machinery – which can easily become a permanent coercive, of course, an efficient, bureaucracy which regulates the social life.

Terrorism in the present shape is not a threat for the system but like its counterpart is an opportunity for the hegemony to create consensus to (counter)terrorise (and subalternise) the alienated voices and stop them from becoming a meaningful and organised threat to the system by transcending their own subalternity. Anyway, as a prominent postmodernist, postcolonialist scholar categorically said, “Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference… You don’t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity.” (“Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature (July 1992), 23(3):29-47)

Counter-terror Operation at Jamia Nagar

Shabnam Hashmi, Satya Sivaraman, Manisha Sethi, Tanweer Fazal, Arshad Alam & Pallavi Deka

A team comprising activists, academicians and journalists visited the site of the police operation against alleged terrorists staying in an apartment in Jamia Nagar in the afternoon of 20.09.2008 (Saturday). Two alleged terrorists Atif and Sajid, along with Mohan Chand Sharma, an inspector of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell died in the operation while a third alleged terrorist was arrested.

On the basis of our interactions with the local residents, eye witnesses and the reports which have appeared in the media, we would like to pose the following questions:

1) It has been widely reported (and not refuted by the Police) that in early August this year Atif, who is described by the Delhi Police as the mastermind behind the recent terrorist bombings in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi, underwent a police verification exercise along with his four roommates in order to rent the apartment they were staying in Jamia Nagar. All the five youth living in the apartment submitted to the Delhi police their personal details, including permanent address, driving license details, address of the house they previously stayed in, all of which were found to be accurate.

Is it conceivable that the alleged kingpin behind the terrorist Indian Mujahideen outfit would have wanted to undergo a police verification- for whatever purpose- just a week after the Ahmedabad blasts and a month before the bombings in Delhi?

2) The four-storeyed house L-18 in Jamia Nagar, where the alleged terrorists were staying, has only one access point, through the stair case, which is covered by an iron grill. It is impossible to leave the house except from the staircase. By all reports, the staircase was taken over by the Special Cell and/ or other agencies during the counter-terror operation. The house, indeed the entire block, was cordoned off at the time of the operation.

How then was it then possible, as claimed by the police, for two alleged terrorists to escape the premises during the police operation?

3) The media has quoted ‘police sources’ as having informed them that the Special Cell was fully aware about the presence of dreaded terrorists, involved in the bombings in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi, staying in the apartment that was raided.

Why was the late Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, a veteran of dozens of encounter operations, the only officer in the operation not wearing a bullet proof vest? Was this due to over-confidence or is there something else to his mysterious death during the operation? Will the forensic report of the bullets that killed Inspector Sharma be made public?

4) There are reports that towards the end of the counter-terror operation, some policemen climbed on the roof of L-18 and fired several rounds in the air. Other policemen were seen breaking windows and even throwing flower pots to the ground from flats adjacent or opposite to L-18

Why was the police firing in the air and why did it indulge in destruction of property around L-18 after the encounter?

5) The police officials claim that an AK-47 and pistols were recovered from L-18.

What was the weapon that killed Inspector Sharma? Was the AK-47 used at all and by whom? Going by some reports that have appeared (see ‘Times of India’, 20.09.08), the AK-47s have been used by the police only. Is it not strange that alleged terrorists did not use a more deadly and sophisticated weapon like the AK-47, which they purportedly possessed, preferring to use pistols?

We feel that there are far too many loose ends in the current story of the police encounter at L-18 in Jamia Nagar. We demand that a fair, impartial and independent probe into the incident be initiated at the earliest to answer the above questions as also any other ones that arise from the contradictions of the case.

Media Circus of the Encounter

Yousuf Saeed

I have titled this message the ‘media circus’, although I am actually referring to this morning’s (September 20) so-called encounter killing of two young people referred to as ‘terrorists’ in L-8 Batla House, Jamia Nagar, by the Delhi police. I call it media circus because that’s what I think it really is, like many more such incidents.

The incident happened in my neighbourhood, about 150 meters from my house. So I have the opportunity to see how things are turning up. I had gone out of the area for some work while the incident was taking place around 11 am, but found it impossible to reach back home 2 hours later, because the road for about 1 and a half kilometre (on both sides) was completely blocked, not by the police vehicles, but by the parked OB vans of the countless TV channels, some of which I never heard of before. Each of these vehicles had its generators on, and thick video cables jetting out of them for several meters to the other end where the cameraperson and the excited anchor were shouting how two terrorists have been killed in the fierce encounter. Most local people are surprised at the speed with which the TV crews arrived here and in such large number. Apparently, the Delhi Police had already told a section of the press they are going for a raid in Batla House, based on the suspect Abu Bashir’s tip-off (I heard this from a anchor on Times NOW channel, although Police chief Dadwal is now denying there is any link with Abu Bashir), but they didn’t obviously say it was going to be an encounter. Its strange that the local residents got to know about the incident only after the two people had been killed – many in fact learnt it from the Aaj-tak channel. They claim they heard only the police firing and no gunshots from inside the flat, which the police claim have injured two of their constables.

Most of you watching news TV in your homes may have already heard the cacophony of the TV anchors, each trying to be shriller than the other to prove that the local members of the Indian Mujahideen have been killed. They now seem to have memorized their lines on this issue well, since they have to repeat the same thing again and again. The graphics, animated logos, crawling tickers, and dramatic music/soundtrack to go with such coverage are always ready in the cans to be used at short notice. A cameraman running towards Batla House is nibbling at a burger while he holds on to a camera in his other hand. I saw two members of a TV crew outside the Holy Family Hospital (where the injured policemen have been taken) fiercely fight about which camera angle would look best for a sound byte. Everything looks as if planned and part of the usual business. The cops are happily allowing the media to climb any wall to get the best shot while they beat the local rickshaw pullers to leave the roads clean. The message has got across loud and clear: we told you – Batla House is a haven of terrorists.

But many things sound fishy. I’ve been hearing a lot of angry conversations in the neighbourhood: people are asking that if the police had only planned a simple raid (which they did 2 days ago in Zakir Nagar and Abul Fazl Enclave too), why did they have to bring battalions of police and encounter specialists with AK-56 and other deadly looking guns (that I myself saw) in advance. And why is the media called in even before the residents are told. Of course the fact the this happens in the month of Ramzan, on a Friday, and near a large mosque where people were going to gather in large numbers later for prayers, sounds just too predictable and clichéd for anyone’s imagination. The local people claim that it was a stage-managed encounter. However, their claim is less likely to be taken seriously after the death of Inspector Sharma.

I didn’t find a single local resident who is not fed up with this oft-repeated image of Jamia Nagar as harbouring terrorists. But none of the channels I saw aired the public angst against their portrayal.

To be honest, one shouldn’t deny that the Batla House area has some criminal and anti-social elements, just as Darya Ganj or Shahadra or Govindpuri would have. But most local residents believe that for Jamia to become a haven of such criminal elements, the local police and land-mafia are equally responsible. Jamia area is one of the rare localities of Delhi where the rule of law doesn’t apply in most spheres. The land mafia openly indulges in illegal construction; no rules of traffic apply here, the condition of civic amenities is abysmal. Illegal shops, factories (many with child labour) and businesses operate here actively with police connivance. The local politicians (MLA, councillors) are actually part of the problem rather than the solution. There is a full-scale illegal ISBT (bus stand) running in Batla House’s backyard to bring hundreds of migrants everyday from small towns of UP (you can see the police openly accepting bribe from its operators any day).

There is no question of sealing whatever the heck business you may run here, and most places stink with heaps of garbage everywhere. There are no RWAs or citizen’s initiatives to discuss the problems. It is truly a manufactured ghetto of Delhi – why don’t all these problems happen in Lajpat Nagar or Kalkaji? I am positive that the authorities are aware that criminals (or what they call terrorists) exist here. But they deliberately allow them to thrive here – never to be touched in the normal/peaceful times – keep them for the right time. It is as if Batla House is a laboratory or breeding ground where things are allowed to grow by providing all the required ingredients and safety. The fruits are plucked only when they are ripe (or required). So today, they simply came to gather the fruit they had sown, and made a big exhibition of it by calling the media. The local people, frightened that the next encounter may happen in their house, simply squirm and hide in their personal ghettos.

In all this, a big responsibility lies with the media, and I am yet to come across bold and honest reporters who are ready to go beyond the obvious and investigate the truth – not simply repeat what is told to them by the authorities or their channel bosses.