Mumbai terror, the revolt of the elites and Life itself

You have said everything there is to say, and felt everything there is to feel. You have shouted angrily or reflected seriously or stated in the calm tone of conviction that terrorists are as authoritarian as the states they target, that terrorists have no religion, that terrorists are cowards who target soft civilian populations. You have despaired at the carnage wreaked on a city sick and tired of having to be “resilient”; of having faced one disaster after the other – from floods to targeted attacks on specific communities to bomb blasts – and “emerged with its spirit intact”. Your heart has clenched painfully at the inconsolable tears of baby Moshe; at the blood-spattered, newly motherless one-year old Viraj in an exhausted Head Constable Salunkhe’s arms, entrusted to him by his father, a utensil seller wounded by bullets at CST. You have gazed numbly at the image of Maharashtra ATS Chief Hemant Karkare’s young son with drawn countenance bearing the ritual paraphernalia of his father’s cremation ceremonies. Despite yourself you felt a sudden glimmer of hope steal into you at the stony dignity in Kavita Karkare’s dry-eyed grief at her husband’s funeral, at her steadfast bindi and her coloured sari. You have hated yourself for being relieved that those you know in that poor torn city are safe, when hundreds you did not know were not.

In fear and foreboding the feeling has overcome you – “What lies ahead of us now?”

But after all of that, after all of the sorrow and the grieving, in the midst of absolute despair, when you start to think again – STOP.

No permission to think. Not permitted – to reflect, to remember histories, to rewind and draw back for a long shot, to move away, move backwards – from these freeze shots of the present.

For the overwhelming consensus that has emerged out Mumbai’s (most recent) tragedy is this – Stay Focused On (“Islamic”) Terror.

But interestingly, this consensus has appeared in the public domain in the form of a conflict – between the political elite and the socio-economic elite.  The elite anger that was immortalized by Rang de Basanti, the anger that fueled justice for Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal, that anger is now everywhere evident. From out of Bollywood sets and corporate boardrooms, from air-conditioned homes and yes, five-star coffee shops, they have spilled out  – to the grimy roads of Mumbai, to television screens, to the long-suffering India Gate – lighting candles, shouting slogans, wearing Tshirts, waving the tricolour. Their most terrifying slogan? No Security, No Taxes.

(Irrelevant Item # 1 : Quite contrary to popular middle class perception that the the taxes they pay subsidize the poor, the bulk of tax revenue in India comes from indirect taxes, not from income tax. Indirect taxes amount to 82 per cent of total taxes and direct taxes account for only 18 per cent. This means that the government gets most of its tax revenues not from income tax paid by people with regular incomes but from sales taxes levied on all sorts of consumable items from salt, atta and rice to luxury items. It is a well established fact that indirect taxes lead to a disproportionate part of the burden of taxation falling on poorer households, rather than the kind of people wearing those defiant T shirts. To put it crudely, every time a domestic servant buys atta and salt for her family’s evening meal, she contributes to the government coffers that subsidize the IITs your children go to. And do notice how when budgets reduce excise duties, it is from luxury items rather than from items of mass consumption – airconditioners become cheaper, soaps and detergents more expensive.)

Of course, many many idealistic young people were at these events too, with their own motivations, trying to find a place to express their bewilderment and shock. I don’t mean that every person at these protests was elitist in their orientation, but that the organization of many of these protests definitely was.

In any case, this phenomenon is definitely worrying for the political elite. If the socio-economic elites secede from the system, the intra-elite social contract breaks down.

The BJP Vice President, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, reacting to the demonstrations against politicians in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks, said,

“Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of saying Pakistan murdabad, they are saying politician murdabad.”

He said “in difficult times like these” some groups have decided to “wage a war against democracy” rather than waging war against the menace of terror.

The party as a whole distanced itself from the unsavory remarks, most unsuitable for a pre-General Election situation. However, while the mode of speech was deplored, the sentiment was endorsed.

Said Arun Jaitley, senior general secretary of the party

“the people have the right to be angry and their anger cannot be doused by confrontation but by taking tough measures against terrorism”.

In line with the thrust of these comments was Jaya Jaitley’s response. The former Samata Party president and NDA ally, while agreeing that Naqvi’s comments were sexist, pointed to the truth of what he said:

“I can put on lipstick and still agree with Naqvi’s statement. What he meant was the demonising of the political class that leads to the loss of democracy.”

Naqvi found further support forthcoming from the RSS. Ram Madhav, a member of the RSS Central Executive, defended Naqvi’s statement, saying the sentiments expressed by him against the protestors were justified, although his language was unwise.

Madhav told PTI that while people in a democracy have a right to protest, this was not the right time to do so.

“The anger of the public (in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack) is justified. However, right now the priority of the entire nation should be to rise up against the terrorists and their sponsors across the border.”

Sonia Gandhi meanwhile, was no less forthright. Speaking at Uri in J&K, she warned that India’s desire of friendly ties with Pakistan should not be seen as a sign of its weakness.

“Till date, we have taken many steps to build good relations with our neighbours. But it seems they are under the illusion that they can intimidate us by unleashing terror. We will give a fitting reply to terrorism.”

Now, what are the elites angry with the political classes about? Precisely that this agenda of “Rising up and giving a fitting reply to terrorism/Pakistan/Muslims” has not already been carried out. Kabir Bedi for instance, on NDTV urged Mossad-like targeted assassinations in Pakistan, but even that is not enough for some of our brave and bloodthirsty nationalists. Bedi made a distinction between the “Pakistani government” and “terrorists” and that makes ‘the b*stard’ a ‘closet jehadi’.

WE HAVE NO TIME TO THINK ANY MORE – this is the message, pretty much expressed continuously in upper case noise. For instance, a reader wrote in response to Gnani Sankaran’s biting critique of the media production of the five star Taj Hotel as the icon of India,

“I think people like Gnani Sankaran are as dangerous and divisive as some other leaders who divide the country based on religion and caste. Its time we focussed all our energies on trying to avoid such incidents.”

Gnani Sankaran is no less than dangerous and divisive. For pointing out that the Taj is an exclusive space of luxury accessible only to a handful – but oops – he’s wrong, what about their many servitors? They’re not wealthy, as another reader annoyed at Gnani Sankaran’s divisiveness pointed out:

“Those hotels belong spatially as much to their owners/customers as they do to their employees such as waiters, chefs, drivers, concierge, receptionists, cashiers, cleaners, security guards, retail employees of the hotel shops…”

Bit puzzling, this. The Taj (you do mean the luxury hotel, not the monument?) belongs spatially to the waiters, drivers and cleaners? Yes, they inhabited the same space, and they died there like the people they waited upon, and whose toilets and cars they cleaned, but the space certainly did not belong to them. Think – do they even use the same lifts as the customers?

It’s precisely because they do not “own” India that the long-standing, general widespread anger against the political class on the part of the “cleaners and security guards” type of people, of the working class and farmers, in short, of large masses of the people of India, could just be ignored. Not so the anger of  these citizens.

But there we go again in futile discussion. We need to focus ALL our energies in one direction. And all that energized focus will lead us infallibly to The ONLY Proposition, (henceforward to be referred to as TOP), the answer many already had, long before Mumbai and totally independent of what happened there last Wednesday:

Destroy the Islamic Terror Machine – Carpet Bomb Pakistan.

Two related thoughts we are permitted to have are :

a) All Muslims are guilty because Islam sanctions terror. There are Good Muslims, but they need to make themselves heard shouting very loudly – we hate terrorism, and please hang Afzal.

b) We need Bright, Shiny New Laws against terror.

Any and all other thoughts, criticisms, historical detours, theoretical reflections, all talk of anything other than Islamic terror – caste say, or class, or gender – all, all suspect. At best. But really, if you can actually articulate anything other than TOP and its two related sub-thoughts, you are anti-national and a Friend of Terrorists. (This was spelt out rather literally to Nandita Das, who recently made a feature film, Firaq, on the social isolation of Muslims in Gujarat after 2002. On the morning of the 27th, she got an SMS from an unknown number that said – “See what your friends have done!“)

Clearly, you possess the standard issue special protective shields the Islamic Terror Machine hands out to the likes of you and your loved ones. All geared up in it, you can afford to spout your f****ng nonsense about dem****cy secul****m and other words too obscene to be uttered in public now that India has had its very own “9/11”.

So while the socio-economic elites and the political class appear to be at odds, they are actually saying the same thing. The political class says, do not distract us with your street protests and anger, we need to get on with ending terrorism once and for all. The elites are basically saying why haven’t you done it already. You’re safe with all your security guards and Black Cat Commandos, but our wealth is just not enough to keep us safe any more.

“Responsible sections” of the media have already rallied to do some damage control. For instance, Shekhar Gupta, muchly beloved of all of us at kafila, and otherwise a part of the elites on the roads right now,  has sternly rebuked the “Chatteranti” for its threat to secede.

Yes, he admits handsomely,

“Our governance sucks. But the solution for the upper crust now is not to secede from it as well. Law and order is not public health…or power supply. The whites in South Africa tried doing that and it didn’t work…Their homes just became high security prisons in which they locked themselves up…”

Learn, he directs his fellow-Taj habitues, from the poorer and middle classes. They return to the system and challenge it from within. They do it by using the power of the vote, not by disowning it. He concluded, in words that made me choke with disbelief on my morning coffee:

“Or look at it another way: we, in our little charmed circle, can vent our rage on chat shows and in cyberspace. But the children of our farmers and working classes will always be there, to vote out bad governments…and to get into uniforms – khaki, olive green or black – and risk their lives fighting terrorists for our sake.”

Okay, this is confusing. These would be the very same farmers and working classes whom your paper attacks relentlessly when they protest at sealings, slum demolitons, big dams and land acqusitions for corporations? Or do they become “your” farmers and working classes only when they contribute their children to the worthy cause of battling terrorists for your sake? Or hold on – a glimmer of understanding breaks through the mist of my befuddlement – your fear is that if the social contract between these sections of the elite breaks down, there will indeed be anarchy. Unable to fight on too many fronts, the political elite will face disaster.

Astute of you, Great Editor.

All are in agreement, then.  Don’t dare to think beyond TOP and its two corollaries.

Dont ask – how many expressions of outrage from Muslims are enough?

How about “Terrorists on Murderous Rampage in Mumbai: As Muslims we condemn it” on a site called Because Muslims Matter.

How about Labour Party Pakistan’s protest demonstration against the terrorist attack on Mumbai, on 28 November in Lahore?

How about the refusal of the Indian Muslim Council to permit the gunmen killed by Indian security forces to be buried on Indian soil?

How about the Deoband declaration against terrorism in May this year?

Not enough. Never enough. It is too late, or not convincing, or not loud enough or not enough Muslims have said it or they still celebrate when Pakistan wins or …

Never enough.

Dont ask – how will “tougher laws on terror” help? This particular attack has been attributed by the Navy Chief no less, to “systemic failure” of intelligence gathering and dissemination among various agencies. It is widely acknowledged that this time, there was far too much internal competition and lack of co-operation between agencies, despite the fact that all the signs of an impending attack by sea, and information about it, were available.

Once the attack began, confusion and netagiri reigned supreme:

Sources said though the plane carrying NSG Commandos was ready by midnight, it could not take off due to the delayed arrival of a VIP, who wanted to accompany them to Mumbai, at the Delhi airport. Worse, the Commandos had to wait for a vehicle at the Mumbai airport until morning.

(via Smoke Signals)

No, it was not the lack of tough laws that led to this episode nor to the  endlessness of it.

The Times of India claimed in a piece on November 30th that by not hanging Afzal, India had shown itself to be soft on terror, and thus given encouragement to forces such as those attacked Mumbai on the 26th.

“A terrorist has been on the death row for three years now. Had he been hanged after fair trial and all due review, it might have sent out the message that India was going to be tough on terror.”

Tough on terror? How much tougher can any law be than people on a suicide mission? People who court death? But of course, tough laws catch us no terrorists. Most of those caught, incarcerated, tortured, vilified, are not in fact, “terrorists”. The Times of India’s rhetoric conceals some facts on Afzal that bear repeating:

Afzal was NOT found to be guilty of participating in the attack on Parliament. Nor was it proved that he was part of the conspiracy. In the trial the Supreme Court noted that the evidence on this latter point was mainly circumstantial (that is, as ND Pancholi, lawyer and human rights activist, pointed out, the court held that if certain circumstances are taken together, it could be safely presumed that he was involved in the conspiracy.) All three courts including Supreme Court acquitted him of the charges under POTA of belonging to either a terrorist organization or a terrorist gang. The Court also noted that the evidence was fabricated. Most importantly he was not given any worthwhile legal assistance to defend him during interrogation. When Ram Jethmalani offered to be his lawyer the Hindutva goons attacked his office.

Despite all of this, why did the Supreme Court hand down the extreme punishment of hanging? Because, the Justices held – “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

So let us have no confusion on this point. Afzal Guru – proved to be NOT guilty of taking part in the attack, NOT guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization, but PERHAPS guilty of having been part of circles that conspired in the attack – must hang because the the men who actually carried out the attack were killed by security forces, and the actual launchers of the conspiracy are beyond the reach of the Indian state.

Even the USA, our model on how to deal with terror and how to live life generally, gave life imprisonment and not death to one accused in the 9/11 case, Zakaria Mosvi, because he was not directly involved.

What do we mean by “tough” laws anyway? Laws that bypass basic democratic procedures – presumption of innocence until guilt is proved, necessity of firm evidence, strictly laid down procedures of arrest and detention, no torture, no confession before the police to be acceptable as evidence. Laws that ignore all of these factors – these are “tough” laws. They are also dangerous, far more so than Gnani Sankaran, unfortunately, can ever hope to be. People are routinely picked up on suspicion of being Islamic terrorists, Maoists or just petty criminals, and they are tortured, killed, incarcerated for long periods of time – and many, many of them are innocent.

We have on kafila, written often (Sunalini here, myself here, Aditya here) on such blatant miscarriages of justice with mere petty crime; that is, when nothing as grand as National Security is at stake. And this, with just our regular laws.

Most recently, Aarti has written here about the detention and torture of 6 Muslim men after the Hyderabad blasts, who were later admitted to be innocent by the police. This is just the tiniest tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Finally, now that “Hindu terrorism” has come into view, and sadhvis and the like are being picked up, narcoanalysed and so on, suddenly the Hindu right has started to sound like the human rights activists they hate.

(Tough laws on Islamic terror, you idiots, not on us.)

Irrelevant item # 2.  Absolutely do NOT wonder at the strange coincidence of Hemant Karkare, head of investigations into the Hindutva terror network, recipient of death threats from the Hindu Right and of abuses from the top brass of the BJP from Advani to Modi, being one of the first casualties during the attacks.

No, I’m not implying that the entire thing was set up to kill Karkare, (there are others who do, but I think that’s far-fetched). However, it does seem likely that once the mayhem started, this marked man, already on an internal hit list, was easier to take out. Read this eye-witness account by the lone survivor of the ambush, and note the following points:

a) Karkare along with other officers set out towards the Special Branch Office because they had information that the terrorists were hiding there.

b) They were ambushed by two gunmen hiding in the bushes who opened fire at the vehicle at close proximity.

c) The police team that finally intercepted them “was so enraged on learning of their draded (sic) act” that they “beat them mercilessly” leaving one terrorist Ibrahim, the chief of the group, dead on the spot. The other terrorist feigned as dead, but the police learnt at the morgue that his heartbeats were still on.

That is, Karkare and the other officials are given information that makes them go in a certain direction, they are ambushed at close quarters by gunmen lying in wait, and when caught, the police try to kill both gunmen, succeeding in one case.

Irrelevant Item…what the hell, I think we have established that everything in this post is irrelevant to TOP.  So – don’t think about the fact that India inhabits a space called South Asia, that “terror” comes in many forms, and that one of those forms, from the point of view of our neighbours, is Indian. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta said here: “..culpability in terror in South Asia is not a one way street with all signs pointing only in the direction of Pakistan…”

Who on earth “justifies” acts of terror after all – other than those who actually carry out those acts, that is? Nobody. However, nobody just ever simply condemns acts of terror – there is always an explanation attached to the condemnation. Why does it happen, what are its roots. The nature of the explanation decides the nature of the proposed solutions.

Take an analogous issue, that of rape. Everybody condemns rape. The patriarch condemns it, the feminist too. But while the first offers the explanation that rape is bad because the honour of the family lies in the woman’s chastity, the second says rape is bad because it attacks a woman’s sense of self and bodily integrity. The solution offered by the first then, is more protection for women, more withdrawal into the private space of the home, more dependence, more modesty, and a totalizing reading of (the ever present potential of) rape as the defining factor of women’s lives. The solution offered by the second is more safety in public spaces, more women out after dark, more independence, and most importantly, the demystification of rape, the rejection of the idea of rape as a fate worse than death.

Similarly, the explanation offered for terrorism will determine the solutions offered. If terrorism is defined narrowly as specific kinds of acts committed by specific groups of people alone, then the focus is narrowly on the shortcomings and failures of a community, its religion, its culture. Every answer to every question is derived from this reading. Look deep into its religious texts, essentialize its every practice as inherently violent (haven’t you heard meat-eating Hindus say that halal is a particularly slow and sadistic way of killing, while jhatka is quick and clean? Have they ever actually seen a jhatka slaughter? It is as cruel and painful as all slaughter; most of the time, the head does not come off at one stroke…)

The belief that Islam is violent produces its own evidence.

If on the other hand, terrorism is defined broadly as acts of terror on unarmed civilians by any group or institution, that opens up the possibility of trying to understand each terrorist act in its specificity. For instance, it is beginning to look like the recent attacks on Mumbai are related to the politics of West Asia and the continued excesses of the Israeli state and its western allies, while the blasts of 1993 are related to the demolition of Babri Masjid and the consequent pogrom against Muslims in Bombay. Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and Maoist violence each have their own history and rationale, and nothing to do with Islam, while state terrorism is another entity altogether.

In short, we are forced to recognize “terrorism” in today’s world as one way of conducting politics. It is not in itself politics, it is one of the modes of doing politics. This is why only the most uncompromising pacifist among us can with any credibility condemn “terrorism” as such. For a blanket condemnation of terrorism must include condemning the continuing violence on unarmed civilian populations on the basis of caste; the violence of the state upon the poor (slum demolitions, land acquisitions); war for any reason whatever; collateral damage on civilian populations through acts of insurrection on the state.

(We need to distinguish too, between militants in a political movement who may or may not be terrorist in the sense I have outlined (violence against unarmed civilians) – and merecenaries who would kill anybody for money. In this specific instance of the carnage in Mumbai, it seems mercenaries may have been involved.)

This is why too, there can be no military solution to “terrorism”.  Military intervention never ever succeeds. The world’s most powerful state has not managed to do it, and believe me, no muscle flexing  little South Asian state is going to do it, either. The only way to end terrorism is dialogue and engagement and above all, justice.

Justice is the key to ending terrorism.

Until then, in an entirely unjust world, a woman selling utensils on a railway station in Mumbai can be shot because of the politics of a part of the globe she never even knew about.

Because I see “terrorism” in this way, I respond rather ambivalently to the celebration of the “everyday” over large ideas that drown simple pleasures and little griefs and small worries. Aman, Lawrence and Shuddha have posted moving tributes to this everydayness – Let’s do the things we normally do, Dont hold my hand… and How was the movie, I love you, I love you.

But surely even the everyday is replete with daily sacrifices big and small, and suffused by an overwhelming sense of  something larger than yourself and your own rational, short-term interest – the parent who gives up on a full meal so that the child can eat; the child who grows up to take decisions about her life that prioritize old parents; the stranger who jumps into a river to save a life; the driver who swerves to avoid a pedestrian knowing he will smash into a divider; the person who plants a tree knowing it will not give fruit in her lifetime; the poetry written, the landscape painted…

We live always beyond ourselves. There is always something beyond “How was the movie, I love you I love you”.

The everyday is not the opposite of large ideologies demanding that you be larger than yourself, and which sometimes lead to terrorist acts – there is a continuity between the two poles, a shared sense in both spaces, of what it means to be – not just human – but a small part of Life itself.

This fluid continuity between the Large Idea and the small everyday is conveyed exquisitely in Nazim Hikmet‘s poem “On Living” with which I close.

Living is no laughing matter:
You must live with great seriousness
Like a squirrel, for example –
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter…
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy for example, you’ll plant olive trees –
and not just for your children either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier….

Let’s say we’re at the front –
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
We might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
But we’ll still worry ourselves to death
About the outcome of the war, which could last years.

Let’s say we’re in prison
And close to fifty,
And we have eighteen more years, say,
Before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
With its people and animals, struggle and wind – I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
We must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars,  and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet –
I mean this, our great earth.
This great earth will grow cold one day…
Like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space…
You must grieve for this right now
– you have to feel this sorrow now –
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say, “I lived”…

Translated by Randy Basing and Mutlu Konuk

26 thoughts on “Mumbai terror, the revolt of the elites and Life itself”

  1. The Rang de basanti kind of anti-politics are being propagated by NDTV and TOI’s elitist business jamboree jingoists. This can only accumulate the frustrations of the “pappu can’t dance” type page 3 politics seen during anti-mandal/anti-OBC/anti-Dalit demonstrations by “upper” caste India. These frustrations diverted against politicians and democracy come from the casteist notions which define their elitism. It is unfortunate that Preety Zindas, Raveena Tantons and Simi Gowral represent “young India” (as propagated by elitist national media). Revolutions need not be televised always. What we televise/broadcast is the mediated imaginations of the power-mongering dominant cultural groups. Indian democracy should stand tall against such elitisms in order to prevent the country from being slipped into the hands of “page3 minds” that rule the roost in the name of “the great Indian middle class revolt”.

  2. Hi Nivedita,
    I agree with most of what you say. But I can’t agree with your observations on the protesters. What makes you think they were all ‘elite’? Don’t the elite and non-elite have some common concerns, and doesn’t protest constitute a legitimate way to show disapproval and anger? Is there a definitive fautline between the rich, the middle-class, and the poor? The Mumbai tragedy affected all classes — and the rich are usually accused of being indifferent to such events. What was so wrong about people asking for better security? Isn’t better security a common concern across all classes?
    The ‘No Security, No Taxes’ slogan was idiotic, as were the ones calling for military action against Pakistan. But those weren’t the only slogans being carried by the protesters. You must remember that this is the first time such large numbers are congregating in peaceful protest. The situation could easily have gone out of hand, maybe even leading to communal riots. Thank god they didn’t go that way. So why are you nitpicking? And what makes you think the staff at Taj (waiters, chef, room service boys) did not feel pride in the Taj and did not feel a sense of belonging there? My sister was an executive housekeeper at the Taj in Bangalore, and she always felt great pride in it. Just because she was employed there does not mean she was exploited by the management.
    Just because the hotel is owned by a rich businessman, and is occupied by other rich people, does not mean it has no space for human emotions. Gnani Sankaran was making it look like the Taj — because of its elitism — did not matter at all to the ‘Aam Aadmi’. I have never been able to afford anything at a 5-star hotel, but that does not mean I do not admire its architecture, or appreciate it.

  3. Nivedita – I agree with a lot of what you say, but it plays like a cymbal crash in a cremation.

    1. You seem to reject completely the notion that employees can actually be emotionally invested in their place of work. That the relationship could possibly be deeper than the sort of simplistic, worker-in-chains image you paint. In making that kind of implicit generalization you betray an elitism of the sort you’ve criticized…one where it is only a privileged few who are allowed to entertain notions of fulfilling work.

    So yes, the Taj does belong to more people than you think. That doesnt mean its a central theme in the ‘other india’s’ life, but certainly it holds meaning for many, many people in different ways – as a place of work, as a landmark, as a coffee shop or a place to sleep.

    2. I wonder if you normally expect clear, rational detached discourse from people affected by fear and tragedy? Unlike most acts of terror in India in the recent past, unlike much of the other violence perpetrated against or by the state, these incidents *did* more immediately affect the ‘elite’ – who do possess voice and influence. Do you really expect them to be uniformly rational and evenhanded? Should you?

    3. Isnt an appropriate response to a frightened and possibly witless simi garewal, ignoring or sympathizing with her – rather than choosing this moment to issue a patronizing lecture on the class divide within India? Again, I don’t necessarily disagree with what you say, but its kicking people when they are more down.

    We’re asked today, not to stop thinking, but to act. And by that I don’t mean carpet bomb Pakistan tomorrow, or indulge in a witch-hunt against minorities (none of which is going to happen, your low opinion of the Indian state notwithstanding). Rather I refer to the need to offer comfort and help in rebuilding. No?

  4. Nivedita,

    The War on Terror will be used as a cover by governments to advance their agendas (what better example than the Bush administration), by politicians to burnish their image (take your pick), by the media to increase their profits, by individuals to settle scores (nuke the bastards).

    This is disappointing, perhaps, but not surprising. These are terrorists of a different stripe as we have articulated in Terrorism – 3: Turning In where we propose a test to tell non-terrorists apart from terrorists in disguise.

    We also need to ask how we have arrived at this state. Partly because we have taken our eyes off the content of early childhood education.

    Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer asked why the educated middle class was more bigoted than the illiterate masses. His answer: “Because it is educated.”

    We have tried to explore this in Why is Pakistan Half Illiterate? which also examines the situation in India. (

    This has been followed up by the formation of an International Coalition for Education Reform in Pakistan to see how we can engage with the problem (

  5. Nivedita,

    Justice is a grand word, it carries weight, it inspires cynics like me. I am perplexed about the contours of the justice you hint at. Is it merely the cliched ‘the state should not marginalise/discriminate against the Muslim populace kind of justice?’ Is it something broader, grander? In this period of perplexion where the predictable right and wrong (or right and left) answers are failing us, perhaps it is time for us to look into mirrors and ask ourseves what about our mirror-images informs how we construct our brand of justice? Some guy’s justice lies in killing thousands to establish state for those he believes are his kith and kin and some guy’s justice lies in employing police terror to wipe out the ‘bad’ terror. All our perspectives are just when we look into the mirror. Trouble begins when the mirrors are positioned adjacent to each other at critical angles.

    I don’t know what my thoughts on war are. But very tentatively, on violence, is the romantic image of the heroic jumper-into-the-water not a little tarnished if i were to introduce the other story about him- that he then drinks some country liquor, goes home and beats up his wife? Do we not choose our favourite pacifist images strategically? Are our goodnesses, heroisms, peaces and moralities not political?

  6. “The nature of the explanation decides the nature of the proposed solutions.”

    Could you kindly shed some light on the root cause of the Jehadi terrorists killing innocents around the world?

    And, what solution do you have in mind for the Hindu Terrorism. What could be their motivation?

  7. nothing 2 say,people r voting acros da cuntry 2 elect da seim vilains… the impotent anger sal subsyd til nxt catasrophy,vested power brokers globaly shal hav their last laff. i c no silver lining @ tunels end… myndless teror iz jst nother biznes of the axis of evil.. its us da janta wil b crushd & military juntas wil flourish….. Inshallah,its da sadest id of my lyf,stil Id Mubaraq 2 allllll

  8. it seems people is neither ready nor intersted in:–
    a) Revolution

    b) Unconditional love

    c) over-dose of unwanted “gyan”

    so may it b,amen!

  9. dr sengupto, you seem to have suddenly miraculously got back your speech…english i mean, not some gibberish ssm-ish german. good for you. but still some sense might be better. what say…you could maybe let others decide whether they want ‘gyan’ or not. this is not a classroom and nobody is marking your or anybody’s attendance. you are free to not ever go where ‘gyan’ – wanted or unwanted is not being given.

  10. amen to sengupto..

    people in the streets are wiser than their page3 counterparts. their politics is beyond that propagated by NDTV or TOI kinda jumboree.

    may the soul/sole of page3s rest in peace/pieces

  11. I agree with the sentiment of your article. Yes, justice is the solution.

    However if you think you can engage in dialogue with psychopaths always remember how Theo Van Gogh died..

    He kept screaming ‘please.. cant we talk about it’ while he was stabbed to death on the pavement.

    If you blur the line between normal people and crazy people in exuberance for equality then that is injustice too.

    Don’t confuse Iraq with Afghanistan.

  12. Thank you Anant and Sunny Joseph for your comments on the employees of the Taj. I am the “annoyed” reader that Niveditaji refers to and encourages to “think”. I believe the two of you have communicated more fully the intent with which I protested Gnani Sankaran’s piece. I made a plea for a more nuanced view on how the media covered the attacks and who exactly became victims of the Taj siege. It was also a request to move beyond the dialectics of class given the complexities of what is happening in this country.

    Implicit in Gnani’s piece was the message that the hostages in the Taj did not deserve our sympathies because the people who drive over pavement dwellers in their BMWs were the same as those being held hostage there. That sort of thinking does strike me as “dangerous and divisive” as Siddharth another poster pointed out.

    While Gnani would have us believe that the “elite” media’s interest in the Taj was simply because of the “elite” Page 3 victims, in fact the coverage of the incident included many stories of brave employees and the fierce sense of duty and loyalty shown by the staff in protecting guests in the hotel. Gnani’s class hypothesis therefore rings hollow. I as a consumer of TV journalism watched the live coverage with concern for all those in the hotel, the poor and rich, the servers and the served, the owner and the inhabiter. Watching the live action at Taj also did not take away from the horror and anger I felt for the victims at VT station, another venerable institution in the city.

    But apparently I and the employees of the Taj are laboring under a false consciousness for caring for the institution in this manner. I am supposed to “think” instead about how these employees first and foremost were class victims of that institution and the terror attack only next. Apparently commenting on the institutional, emotional or historical character of a building is too messy for Niveditaji who is persistent in her defense of class as the sole explanation for all that is happening. I am not denying that class is an important variable but I do not buy that it is the decisive explanatory factor in every situation.

    (Irrelevant point 1: I do know the difference between the Taj in Agra and the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Interesting you should mention the Taj monument which itself was built on the backs of slave labour and gross abuse. Interesting also how time has made essentially inequitable monuments of another era such as the Taj or the Red Fort into public spaces that hold significance to many sections of our society. If it were the actual monuments under attack, I wonder if you would be supporting a post which denounced them as symbols of ruling class oppression in the country and hence, unworthy of our sympathy. I think not. Or would you sidestep that by saying only dead monuments of the wealthy deserve our sympathy and not living ones)

    Which makes me wonder if every poster on Kafila who disagrees with the class hypothesis is going to be singled out for sarcasm and ridicule. I am surprised that Niveditaji instead of attacking my comments directly on the Gnani Sankaran post as others who argued over it did, has instead chosen the comment as an example for a different post on elite anger. A sleight of hand this and really puzzling as I had no idea 1) I was revealing my elitist anger by reflecting on the plight of the Taj employees 2) I was suggesting we have NO TIME TO THINK 3) that my post somehow revealed that Simi Garewal, Kabir Bedi and I are unanimous in our support of carpet bombing Pakistan as the ONLY solution? How on earth did that happen?

    Separately, the post makes an excellent point about the dissonance between the socio-economic classes and the political class in this country over the attacks. The nature of engagement between these two groups has been changing these past two decades. As a political economist studying the country I could not agree more. The past two decades have seen a migration of the socio-economic elite from government and political positions to the private sector altering the nature of their economic and power contracts with the political class. While the political class was a key partner and ally to the socio-economic class and often the two were the same in the regulated, license-raj period that picture has altered. We now see a more complex love-hate relationship between these groups. Which is why I will have to respectfully disagree with the conclusion that the two groups are actually saying the same thing today. Amidst the shrill voices asking for unilateral action we also hear voices asking for better internal governance, more personal responsibility, caution in our approach to terrorism and greater engagement with Pakistan as these “elites” realize that a stable South Asia will also be better for India. All those you label as elites, therefore, are not speaking in the same voice or expressing the same righteous anger.

    (Irrelevant point 2:For every Simi Garewal, Preity Zinta and Kabir Bedi, we also see a Sharmila Tagore and Rahul Bose who speak with different temperaments and intents. I mention these personalities as I see their qualifications for commenting on terrorism and war to be roughly the same. It seems film personalities are the most appropriate and informative talking heads of our times).

    Thank you for your ideas on terrorism. Could not agree with you more. Thank you also for synthesising a lot of what we have been discussing on this site these past few days. It made for a very compelling and interesting read.

  13. Anant,
    Cymbal crashes may have a place in some cremations. Cremations are a many-splendoured thing; I have seen wild joyous dancing around a corpse made to sit in a chair in cremations in Tamil Nadu. Point being, as I see it you seem to argue that commenting from the ‘outside’ of people’s subjectivities (whether it is hotel staff who take pride in their work, or the well-organised upper classes overcome with grief and anger) is somehow elitist itself. As I see it, it is the job of a theorist to put precisely the construction of such subjectivities (including our own) under our gaze. Nowhere in her article does Nivedita argue that people cannot be emotionally invested in their workplace. However, all we heard about during the Mumbai hotel siege was the heroism of the staff (who according to Vir Sanghvi’s urban legend, provided the right glasses for a beleaguered guest to drink champagne in when fires and bullets were raging all around). The heroism of the staff and the anger of the hotel guests and their family and friends. Smacks of a class divide don’t you think? Did we hear about the unsure, shit-scared staff? The staff with a million very human emotions, including anger and pure, despairing grief? The media has its own cymbals and saxophones – it has played this tragedy out like a symphony with the heroism of the staff and the anger of the elites who frequent these hotels being the sub-note and the main theme respectively. To point out the undercurrent of fantasy in this symphony (the intensely gratifying fantasy of the nameless, faceless working class backbone in our lavish lives, in our ‘normalcy’) is not elitist, it is explicitly anti-elitist.

    As for the subjectivity of the affected and your wondering if those affected can be calm or rational…if you look at the families of those killed at CST or the police officers’ families, they have been extraordinarily rational in their grief. Here it is important to remind ourselves that it is not always the actual affected who react like this; it is those who have always believed politics is superfluous, corrupt and dangerous, who only trust managerial and military solutions, who have hijacked the public debate on mumbai.

    And Atreyee and w.t.f.ittabari, I believe despite all the confusion and greys, justice remains a cornerstone. And pursuing it sometimes requires that we blur the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘crazy’ people. To put ourselves in every shoe possible, and remind ourselves of our violent collective unconsciousness. I believe Nivedita would argue that the terrorist is not heroic, nor are the hotel staff, nor are we. We live our safe lives within the violent apparatus of the modern nation-state, which continuously excludes and marginalises those that are expendable.

  14. It is amazing – and revealing – how much mention of class rattles people. Taj as a place of emotional attachment, pride and ownership (belongs to many people, says Anant)! Wait till the pink slip comes along, buddies. It will only select these loved ones – sisters, brothers and other deluded relatives who think they ‘own’ the Taj. You haven’t seen the recesssion yet. The great ‘nineties generation’, eh?

  15. “We live our safe lives within the violent apparatus of the modern nation-state, which continuously excludes and marginalises those that are expendable.”

    I wanted throw in the idea ”’we, the safe people” who live the ”safe life” (ensconced in class, ethnicity, gender, innocence, intellect, whatever) are probably not just innocent subjects of the bad state. We participate in violent processes (very often within and in consonance with state spaces) in our everyday lives, and see justice coloured in terms of the just lives that we live. So for us to pass the buck on to the bad state for acts of marginalisation is a bit disingenuous, we participate in many of these exclusions than we give ourselves credit for. For those of us, who are bad subjects of the bad state, justice would be coloured quite differently, I believe.

    What I’m hinting at is the subjectivity with which we establish ”our safe justice” as the cornerstone of the lifeworlds that we are part of, that happen to warmly welcome anyone else that wants to join our party.

    It is easy to colour the terrorist as irrational and violent. The plot thickens if one begins to look at her as someone who plays the violent state with greater confidence than us.

  16. Atreyee, I totally agree. And I wanted to add on the subject of class and subjectivity – my grandmother who was a truly lovely person in every way genuinely believed that her greatest fulfillment lay in cooking for her husband. She also genuinely believed that her lower caste domestic help should not eat from the same vessels as her, and despite long bonds of affection and loyalty on both sides, insisted on calling her ‘that shudra woman’. ‘That shudra woman’ Tennarasi on her part believed that she should vigorously clean with detergent whatever her polluting hands touched, and that working for my grandmother was her great fortune. She was more emotionally invested in her workplace than I seem to be in mine. Emotional investment in workplace is a fact of life for most humans on this planet; we have to make space in our reporting to accommodate the ambivalences in that investment, both subjectively and otherwise. The spatial relationship to the Taj must be different for the guest and the hotel staff. Long periods of training in pleasing the guest and putting her or him first contributed in no small measure to the heroism displayed by the Taj service staff on those fateful days. To recognise this in no way undermines that heroism; it only adds layers of meaning, history and explanation to it. The articles on Kafila have been about the ways in which the Mumbai event have been received and circulated in our intensely mediatised age. The point in many of these is not some immanent ‘true’ picture of somebody’s subjectivity but largely about the construction of that subjectivity on front pages. Is it not true that descriptions of working class heroism cannot dominate front pages in this manner when the beneficiaries are not upper class?

    Indeed, every working class person who lives their lives within the mesh of violence, deprivation and desperation we have woven around us, without succumbing to the random urge to hit or kill somebody is heroic. Normalcy is these times for a bulk of humanity is heroic no? But we will never hear about that will we?

  17. @Sunalini,

    We could hardly say enough about the inherent problems with a theorist subjecting the self to analysis, or the complexities that arise when trying to interpret such an analysis. Nivedita tries to place herself in the position of a third party, rational observer, and the better she is able to scramble to that outpost of dry land, the better she is likely able to see. In this case at least, I don’t think she does (or can) get very far – which is part of the reason her prescription of this undefined absolute justice is so unsatisfying. Are we to pit Lashkar-e-Insaaf against Lashkar-e-Taiba?

    In any case, thats not why I said the author sounded elitist. That remark referred only to her characterization of those who work at the Taj. As an aside, I really don’t think its a mortal sin even if that description did come off as being faintly classist – many of the authors on kafila belong to this privileged group and it would only be human if they occasionally slipped into the elitism they criticize. As to whether Nivedita meant to imply that the Taj staff are exploited and share no ownership of their place of work, – I’ll leave you with her words.

    “Bit puzzling, this. The Taj (you do mean the luxury hotel, not the monument?) belongs spatially to the waiters, drivers and cleaners? Yes, they inhabited the same space, and they died there like the people they waited upon, and whose toilets and cars they cleaned, but the space certainly did not belong to them. Think – do they even use the same lifts as the customers?”

    Those are either very poorly chosen words (which would be out of character for the author) or betray a perfectly human slip into a class identity – of the kind that shekhar gupta for instance is being ripped to shreds for.

    As far as the way the media covered Mumbai – thats a separate issue. There may be much to criticize there but equally – we heard many voices and saw many images and obviously the ones you remember have a lot to do with the perspective you bring to the table. That apart – the burning Taj did affect people like Vir Sanghvi or Simi Garewal or any of the hundreds of other voices we heard. My criticism was in expecting them to tell you a story that was not influenced by this personal connection. Which is why I asked Nivedita how much of this cool rationality she normally expects from someone shaken up? The media has not purely played this incident out as an exercise in classist narrative. It has given you a story that is personal – because the news this time was personal. Vir sanghvi is not creating an urban legend because he is classist. Instead that is the only truthful story to tell – if you’ve lived your life drinking scotch at the Taj and getting to know the waiters, then this is the kind of story you tell – of a scared clientele and of a heroic staff. You can play that theme differently but only with a conscious detached effort – and thats an effort we should not expect from someone who may be personally affected. Some in the media have been more ‘objective’ but Nivedita chooses to ignore them entirely.

    Finally, as for the families of those killed, they’ve sounded more helpless and exhausted then ‘rational’. If stunned shock happens to sound like the rationality you are looking to find in them, then sure we can call them rational. Incidentally its not only those who get killed (or their families) who are affected by something like this. They are only the worst hit, but please don’t assume that everyone you say is ‘hijacking’ the debate is not ‘actually affected’. If 200 odd deaths were the only costs of something like this, terrorism would be a pretty small problem.

    Ultimately I’m not saying the media is perfect, or that there are not perspectives that have been ignored (unfairly) in the narratives we’ve heard. All I’m saying is – you don’t need to appeal to classism to explain much of this. Theres a simpler explanation, which also has the virtue of greater empathy and a little more kindness.

  18. I was actually referring to Nivedita’s condemnation of terrorist strategies of resistance, when I spoke of the relativity of justice. I apologise for my lack of wordsmanship, but I’d still want to artlessly throw in the idea that hate is a legitimate sentiment. When a guy blows up my world, I will hate him, and may want to shoot him. But for now, ensconced in university smugness, I will emphasise the need to recognise the subjectivity of the person who chooses violent strategies to make her point. I argue (still) that the terrorist is a modern subject, and we have to find other defence mechanisms than Gandhian pacifism and left-of-centrism to make sense of her personhood and intention to blow up our world.

  19. Certainly the terrorist is a modern subject, and much discussion on this and other posts has revolved around understanding precisely where his/her ‘modernity’ inheres. So Shuddha has discussed how a form of enacting violence unto civilians populations that so-called ‘non state actors’ vest onto states and people is forged in the crucible of the nation-state and modern warfare, others have discussed how this particular form of political Islam emerges out of cold war politics and particular moments within secular Islamic society, etc. We don’t have to stop here actually, because I think there are both older genealogies-such as that of the assassin-and newer-that of the psychopath-that we can fruitfully employ in attempting to understand both the impulse of statistical rationality (it doesn’t matter who you kill), and deep personalization that inform this kind of violence. We can look to the political legacies of anti-colonial radical-left movements in the sixties, and we can look to the far-right statist violence of the Nazis. All of these are moments that contribute to the production of political subjectivities in this long century. And certainly the terrorist is a political subject, no one has a quarrel with that.The difference between the terrorist and the sixties left-revolutionary is possibly that between Bacchan’s ‘angry young man’ and Shahrukh Khan’s crazed character in Dar or Anjam (Ranjani Mazumdar actually develops a fascinating argument on the form of alienation expressed in both in her book, anyway…)

    We could even argue, as Bataille has done or Zizek has done on some occasions, that there is something to be said for orgiastic violence qua violence. That is expresses, a la Baudrillard, the ‘repressed’ in vast monstrous form that which western hegemony has produced.

    And none of these are merely academic wanking in my opinion. They give us a richer way to understand the genealogies of violence. But I don’t see why ‘recognizing the subjectivity of the person who chooses violent strategies’ and what you term ‘condemnation’ of those strategies are mutually exclusive. Again certainly ‘justice’ is a relative term. However lets not forget the genealogy of that term too and its location within a modern juridical discourse that interpellates us all and our understandings of the ‘legitimacy’ of violence. So I would be wary of deploying this term…

    We don’t have to rely on Gandhian pacifism or left-of-centrism to fashion a critique. I’m increasingly coming round to the feeling that as of now there is actually nothing to do but wait it out, for there is actually no immediate ‘solution’ in that sense. There are of course long term political processes that have to be put in place. But I don’t have any trouble condemning attacks on unarmed civilians, nor calling this ‘terrorist’ activity. I don’t see why a rich understanding of both the ways in which we are implicated in the violence of the state, and the subjectivities that produce terrorist action, precludes my taking a position on the latter. Since I am privileged and protected by my class, I can with equal impunity condemn police action in Jamia Nagar and terrorist violence in Mumbai….

  20. With limited academic ammunition and even less wisdom of words, let me try to poke a little further into what I was trying to get at. That recognition of political subjectivities should not preclude a person from speaking from within her embeddedness is well-taken.

    I see two streams of reactions- that of anger (coloured by class, gender, ethnicity, political alignment) emanating from loss and vengeance. This perhaps informing the masculine calls for muscle-flexing across the border. The other being that of lament at loss and a rational call for justice without the hullabaloo of the nation-state with an injured masculinity.

    I suppose my discomfort lies in the ‘violence is unfair when it is ghastly and gory and unreasonable” stance. When we participate in acts of condemnation of largescale violence, we are moral beings. In our moral shoes, perhaps we continuously manufacture the contours and hues and textures of things that are worthy of condemnation. In doing so, we create repertories of power into which we offer tickets of membership only selectively. Such that most other reactions (which do not ”sound” as rational, well-researched, reasonable, compassionate) become demonised or variously, trivialised or ignore-worthy. When we stand in these shoes where very few can be accorded the privilege of being as reasonable and just and sensitive as us, are we creating and disseminating violent moral orders? Of a kind that says the world is right in only it looks at things through our reasonable, rational, compassionate lenses? I wonder…

  21. Atreyee, thanks for opening the discussion in this way. I’m also thinking on my feet, so would like other people to jump in as well, and also ask that my comments be seen here as provisional and in-process as opposed to a ‘position’ :)

    When we participate in acts of condemnation of largescale violence, we are moral beings. In our moral shoes, perhaps we continuously manufacture the contours and hues and textures of things that are worthy of condemnation. In doing so, we create repertories of power into which we offer tickets of membership only selectively.

    But of course we do! You are absolutely right. All morality is enmeshed within repertories of power, within claims to the truth. And there is always a foundational discursive violence that accompanies the production of regimes of truth. But you still have to act in the world, fashion politics in the world. On what terms will you do it, knowing that to make any claim is to participate in a prior moment of ‘truth’ production?

    Such that most other reactions (which do not ‘’sound” as rational, well-researched, reasonable, compassionate) become demonised or variously, trivialised or ignore-worthy.

    Yes, but to whom do they become ignore-worthy? To me right? But I am not the only one in the world, and as it happens, my speech doesn’t actually carry very much weight. Okay, let me put it this way. The way I see it is, if I start by accepting that there are no transcendental claims to be made, no higher moral order on which the ‘truth’ of my claims can be based, and I am always in that sense pitching to my group of language-users and hoping to convert those who are not, then within my discursive space I will fashion my arguments in the form of universalist claims and hope that they sound more ‘rational’ more ‘just’ more ‘compassionate’ than the rest. Because what other form can my claim take?

    What I must do, however, is continually pay attention to the genealogies of power which produce both my ‘truth’ and what I consider to be ‘just’ ‘reasonable’ ‘compassionate’, as well as the ‘irrational’ ‘unjust’ ‘grotesque’ ‘violent’ and so on.

    When we stand in these shoes where very few can be accorded the privilege of being as reasonable and just and sensitive as us, are we creating and disseminating violent moral orders?

    There is a danger I think in using the word ‘violence’ so loosely and for so many diverse and disparate process and actions, that it finally loses any clarity as a conceptual or descriptive category. This is not in anyway to state that moral orders are not violent. Certainly, some moral orders are extremely violent (caste, for instance). But the violence of a moral order is not defined or decided a priori, I would think. It emerges in working out, in living through it, in it. What begin as emancipatory orders, often turn violent – actually existing socialisms, for instance. But how do you decide this when the moral order doesn’t exist?

    I’m only too willing admit of the inherent violence of my patriarchy-less, class-less, caste-less, labour-less, freedom-of-desire, equality-for-all moral order but I doubt its on the horizon any time soon ;)

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