Wednesday, May 21, 2008

** In the name of FREEDOM

INDIA: In the name of ‘Freedom’?
South Asian Analysis
by Swati Parashar

I would not have written this article if Omar Abdullah did not have an uncle who is not Indian enough! A media news report made it a point to inform us that Omar Abdullah has referred to his uncle in his blog - an uncle who disagrees with the events of 1947, who does not carry a passport and who refuses to travel by ‘Indian’ airlines.

For those of you who are curious, Omar Abdullah is very fond of his uncle who he respects and admires. He believes that his uncle’s views are acceptable in a ‘free world where people have the freedom to make choices’.

I at once thought of the people in Jaipur who lost their lives in the bomb attacks last week. Like Abdullah’s uncle they also lived in a free world, making their choice to go about their normal lives like visiting temples and market places. The bomb attacks deprived them of their basic freedom and right to live.

I do not feel the need to remind the readers of this website how in the last few years terror attacks have claimed innocent lives, beyond the immediate conflict zone of Kashmir. Cities in the north, south, east and west of India have been targeted in recent times, and bomb blasts have claimed several civilian lives.

Except for the bogus claims of responsibility by obscure email addresses and terror groups, these attacks have not been conclusively investigated and their perpetrators have made a mockery of our state institutions and investigating and law enforcement agencies.

The first lesson we learn about terrorism is that it is a form of political violence, a strategy in support of a particular brand of nationalism. Clearly, terrorists in India have in the last few years established that their terrorism is different from the Palestinians, the LTTE, the Chechens, Afghanis or even the Iraqis. Their terrorism stands out not as a means to an end but an end in itself. There is something nihilistic about bombing men, women and children in mosques, temples and market places, without any clear sense of who is fighting whom or how the warring sides are constructed.

Terrorism of the kinds we have witnessed in recent times cannot be attributed solely to groups operating from outside the country. The immediate response of governments that neighbouring states sponsor terrorism in India is a rhetoric we are not ready to believe anymore.

Let’s face it - they live amongst us, plan against us, and then surprise, maim and kill us with the lethality that gets worse with each attack. And exactly what incentives do the Muslims have to speak out against those that are maligning their faith? None whatsoever!

Communal divides have been deepening over the years, sometimes social forces responsible, but at most times the vote bank politics and devious political ideologies at play.

The British initiated ‘divide and rule’ and todays politicians cutting across party lines brilliantly execute that policy.

The influential American writer, H. L. Mencken had once said that “the average man (also woman) does not want to be free. He (and she) simply wants to be safe.” That might be the overriding concern of most Indians at this point.

The deeply entrenched communal divide will not be bridged in a day least of all by hollow appeals to peace and communal harmony by politicians.

I believe that there is little option but to enact stringent anti-terror laws and enforce them in a just and efficient manner.

Terrorists attack both Hindus in temples and Muslims in mosques. Terrorism, therefore, has no religion but electoral politics in India does, votes do.

This government has always been worried about minority votes, over the lives of both minorities and the majority. Those negatively affected by the abuse of terrorism laws such as the POTA surely do not outnumber those that have to die in the absence of such laws? And what speak of a ‘politically correct’ government that repealed POTA (we know why), instead of working on its strengths and making it more efficient and responsive!

It is like doing away with a car because one does not know how to drive it. After all there are no limits to what can and has been abused and misused - freedom, ‘victimhood’, religion, and most of all human life.

Going back to Omar Abdullah’s uncle’s sense of freedom, suffice to say that while “we are free to choose our actions; we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.”

Abdullah says about his uncle “it is not that he is carrying a gun or placing bombs in marketplaces. It is his way of expressing his sentiment and that is the way he has done it. At least it is peaceful and not bothering your life or mine.” I again see the unfortunate parallel when those carrying guns or placing bombs in market places also justify their actions as a way of marking their ‘freedom’ and expressing their sentiments.

On another note, it is well known that not just this obscure uncle but even Omar Abdullah’s renowned Grandfather was absorbed in self doubt several times about his ‘Indian-ness’ because it was ‘Kashmiriyat’ that Shaikh Saheb cherished over and above everything else.

May be Omar’s uncle is also in search of that elusive ‘Kashmiriyat’ which I hope also includes Kashmiri Pandits. Does Omar Abdullah also acknowledge the ‘freedom’ these Kashmiri Pandits exercised in turning up as refugees in their homeland? Did Omar Abdullah or his uncle ever have the freedom of choice and time to visit the shanty towns where these Kashmiri Pandits live?

I shall have to leave these and other questions for his blog.

To conclude, freedom entails responsibilities just as rights entail duties. Terrorists exercise freedom without responsibility and the state gives us neither freedom nor acts responsibly.

In such a situation we could perhaps change the definition of freedom a little bit as I end here with a quote from the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. “Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.”

(Swati Parashar is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Sydney, Australia, and a PhD Candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, United Kingdom. She can be contacted at