Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Arundhati Roy on the Mumbai tragedy

The Mumbai terror attacks shocked the entire world. Many people did many things in response to the tragedy, from shouting against the government's lack of security preparations to Pakistan bashing to lighting candles in the memory of the innocent dead.

A host of major Indian/Pakistani writers (save for Professor Amitava Kumar, who published excellent excerpts of other writers' reactions on his blog) reacted through their specially penned pieces on the tragedy: Amitava Ghosh, Arvind Adiga, Suketu Mehta, Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif, Shashi Tharoor, and Amit Chaudhari, among others. I was kind of waiting for Arundhati Roy to write on this horror. She was perhaps the last to record her reactions but finally she did it. Here: 9 is not 11. In her piece, she makes several good points, as she always does.

In today's world, trying to pin down the provenance of a terrorist strike and isolate it within the borders of a single nation-state is very much like trying to pin down the provenance of corporate money. It's almost impossible.

In circumstances like these, air strikes to 'take out' terrorist camps may take out the camps, but certainly will not 'take out' the terrorists. And neither will war. (Also, in our bid for the moral high ground, let's try not to forget that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE of neighbouring Sri Lanka, one of the world's most deadly terrorist groups, were trained by the Indian army.)

Elephants in the room

She further notes, reacting on the typical Indian (media and experts) reaction:

Through the endless hours of analysis and the endless op-ed essays, in India at least there has been very little mention of the elephants in the room: Kashmir, Gujarat and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Instead, we had retired diplomats and strategic experts debate the pros and cons of a war against Pakistan.

And her indictment grows stronger:

Tragically, this regression into intellectual infancy comes at a time when people in India were beginning to see that the business of terrorism is a hall of mirrors in which victims and perpetrators sometimes exchange roles. It's an understanding that the people of Kashmir, given their dreadful experiences of the last 20 years, have honed to an exquisite art. On the mainland we're still learning. (If Kashmir won't willingly integrate into India, it's beginning to look as though India will integrate/disintegrate into Kashmir.)

It was after the 2001 Parliament attack that the first serious questions began to be raised. A campaign by a group of lawyers and activists exposed how innocent people had been framed by the police and the press, how evidence was fabricated, how witnesses lied, how due process had been criminally violated at every stage of the investigation. Eventually the courts acquitted two out of the four accused, including S.A.R. Geelani, the man whom the police claimed was the mastermind of the operation. A third, Shaukat Guru, was acquitted of all the charges brought against him but was then convicted for a fresh, comparatively minor offence. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of another of the accused, Mohammad Afzal. In its judgement, the court acknowledged that there was no proof that Mohammad Afzal belonged to any terrorist group, but went on to say, quite shockingly, "The collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender. " Even today we don't really know who the terrorists that attacked Indian Parliament were and who they worked for.

But her conclusion is most chilling; it's a warning and an exhortation:

The only way to contain (it would be naive to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We're standing at a fork in the road. One sign says 'Justice', the other 'Civil War'. There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose.

No one should miss the point.


Zafar Anjum said...

Message from Shobha Bhalla, Editor of India Se:

Frankly, having followed the Bombay tragedy from the word go and every aspect related to it, Arundhati Roy is being specious and too clever in her argument as she is often wont to be. I liked her God of Small Things but it doesn’t mean I admire all her writing. Interviewing her was a very curious experience – almost like talking to a person who was only half conscious of her own existence.

I think by now even many educated and fair-minded Pakistanis are aware the Bombay terrorists came from their soil. I think there is no excuse whatsoever for terrorism. Citing other terrorist groups is hardly the way to explain away the dastardly acts of the terrorists in question. We all know Pakistan is the breeding ground of terrorists – much like Somalia is the breeding ground of pirates. History and socio-economy are always too conveniently invoked by apologists for such criminals (after all, they are nothing but criminals in plain speak). I have been following several Pakistani papers including Dawn which I have been reading regularly for the last 10 years or more as well and they have been very brave in publishing the story.

Sorry, Zafar, I am a liberal and secular but I have no pity or time to quibble about terrorists. They are simply the scum of the earth.

vishwapriya said...

Shobha is is being extremely kind by saying Arundhati is "half conscious of her existence". Arundhati neither has the patience to understand what she is talking about, nor the erudition required to do that. Worse still, she is the mistress of generalization and a panderer to a certain mindset of the "elite". She has no business to put Kashmir and Mumbai terror together- this in the face of several Indian Muslim organizations jointly condemning the attacks and wearing black bands on Bakrid to protest- is a joke. What is she trying to say? That she knows better than the Muslims in India about what is causing their "alienation"? And this is all she can say in the light of what happened in Mumbai? That yes there is Mumbai but there is Kashmir, encounters, corruption, fanatism and what not in India? Is this about the attacks or is it as ever about her ill-concealed efforts to bash India, given half a chance?
P.S: who doesn’t know about the perpetrators of the parliament attack –the Supreme Court of India? Can one get away with writing any trash if one has western media attention?