September 24, 2006

Malegaon: Reaping The Harvest - Images of Terror

People's Democracy
September 24, 2006


by Nalini Taneja

The recent bomb blasts in Malegaon should force us to reflect on the constructed images of terror prevalent in our media and among the intelligentsia and the political leadership of this country. The RSS and its affiliated organizations have achieved such unprecedented success on this score—with a little help from the right wing western political leadership of course—as they would never have imagined. The gradual rise to dominance of right-wing, ‘embedded’ journalists, and kar-sevaks in the name of journalists, in India has ensured this for them.

Most people look on and react to bomb blasts in the way that the RSS would like them to. Bomb blasts are no longer perceived as just violent, abhorrent, and unacceptable forms of action/intervention, which they are; they are in the main identified in the minds of most people with Muslim fanatics. And the pictures of Muslim fanatics they evoke could as well be of any poor, bearded, lungi-clad or pajama-wearing Muslim, such as one sees anywhere on the sub-continent; and increasingly now, also, of burqa-clad women, who, simply by virtue of hiding their faces are seen as having much more to hide.

The images of AK-47 rifles have been replaced by the mention of RDX, and bombs now equal Muslims, be it in any part of the world. It would seem that bombs are special weapons made by and for Muslims, unheard of by others and certainly never used by anyone else, if we are to go by what our media tells us. This of course then provides justifications for humiliating searches, and much more. They dull us to sights of Muslims being specially searched—whether at airports, railway stations or simply anywhere—of having their mobile phones cross checked, and of having the little pleasures of life denied and many human rights trampled on, simply because they are Muslims.

From descriptions of bomb blasts there it is an automatic slide into their identification with the highly potent and destructive cocktail of anti-nationalism and separatism, which finds its expression through a very ‘legitimate’ anger against Pakistan. Pakistan then represents everything we abhor and have a right to act against in the spirit of ‘all-is-fair-in-love-and-war’, and anything that reminds us of Pakistan justifiably deserves our anger and resentment. And who reminds us of Pakistan, if not Muslims, identified in popular mind with the creation of Pakistan in the first place? And so it goes on, from one stage to another, until we are ready to accept any atrocity on Muslims, by seeing it as brought on them by their own actions.

The Malegaon blasts had barely happened when headlines screamed “Terror hits Malegaon”, supremely confident of providing the cue for what was to follow. Few readers of newspapers in this country would have imagined these terrorists to be other than Muslim terrorists. Even perfectly secular people refer only to Muslim militants as terrorists, and have a different vocabulary to account for the terror and violence perpetrated by Hindutva forces, even if they are equally critical of them.

Therefore, apart from a few secular activists who have been talking of the use of bombs by the Hindutva forces in the recent past, and an initial report in The Hindu, which recalled the Bajrang Dal’s role in the recent bomb blasts at Nanded and then several mosques in Maharashtra, there would be little doubt in the minds of readers and listeners of news on TV channels, that other Muslims could be involved in the Malegaon killings via bombs. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau statement (September 13, 2006), asking for an enquiry in the context of the earlier Nanded bomb blasts has simply been ignored.

This is not to argue that those who planted those bombs in the mosques and in the kabristan in Malegaon, killing and wounding several people, could not have been Muslims simply because the place chosen was mosques and the targets were Muslims (just as the RSS could well get it own people killed for political gain). They could be Muslim groups, but what one needs to ask is: why was the Indian, and most western, media so anxious to pin it on Muslims, without proof, and without using elementary reasoning? It seemed from media discussions and news reports that there simply could be no one involved except Islamic terrorists. ‘Indian Express’ actually went so far (in its front page coverage a few days later) as to argue that the presence of RDX pointed to Muslim terrorists, and that the material used in the house of the Bajrang Dal activist was different and of a cruder variety.

So now, when evidence of bombs used by Hindutva forces is beginning to emerge, we will have ‘Muslim’ bomb material and ‘Hindu’ bomb material being dissected—with no prizes for guessing whose bombs are more deadly, and whose bombs are ‘benign’(?)! And no questions asked of course, that if one set of bombers wanted the blame put on the other side, could they not choose their targets and bomb material accordingly. Does it not achieve the same purpose, and are they all so dumb, and so foolish as not to think of this? What is being implied, and gently suggested to us instead, subtly, and through poignant pictures of victims is that Muslims are heinous enough to kill their own. The same may not apply to the Hindutva forces. Muslims are the killer agents when bombs explode in mosques, and of course they are the killer agents when bombs explode in/near temples. It could not be otherwise in the former case, and more certainly not in the latter case!

It is amazing how, despite the activism of Hindutva forces in Maharashtra, and the long legacy of violence by the Shiv Sena in the state, the possibility even, of other leads is not being considered, by the police or in the media. That this should be so tells us something about the state of politics of this country today, the rightward shift that the entire polity has taken, and the complicity and acquiescence of most mainstream bourgeois politics in communalism, and a concern with the Hindu vote bank, particularly, the middle class Hindu vote bank, and is explainable if not understandable or justifiable in the context of the twin assaults from imperialism and fundamentalism (of all kinds). What needs to be noted and is a matter of grave concern is the naturalness with which people in this country accept the equation of terror and Muslims, and the success of the carefully constructed and nurtured images authored by the right wing western media and our own home grown fascist forces. They have successfully utilized religion and fractured historical memory to demonise an entire community. We need to be alert that we do not imbibe some of these images within ourselves.