Friday, November 28, 2008

India's 27/11 - Time to reflect on the real issues

The month of November has come to be a month of mourning for people across the world.

Whether it's carefully timed to create a deep hole of grief before the Christmas season or some other symbolic meaning to the perpetuators, it has once again shaken many of us watching from around the world.

The Straits Times today (or should I say yesterday) devoted more than half of its prime pages to it. And yes, it's all blood and gore that captures the readers.

But only one article really addressed the significance of this event. Has the face of conflict in India changed?

Conflict in the country has been a part of the everyday workings of the nation. If it's not the BJP against the congress party, it's the far left Marxist party or one of many smaller sectarian parties.

Then there's the Hindus versus the Muslims, and occasionally the Christians, not to mention the countless clashes between different ethnic communal groups within its volatile states like Assam and Orissa.

Last but not least, it has the caste system to ensure a large majority of oppressed will deliver a constant supply of poor, uneducated and devoutly religious zealots to fill the ranks of rioters or voters come election time.

India is a chaotic country with a highly fragmented social fabric filled with fault-lines that could be easily exploited by terrorists and activists alike to start conflict.

But after this week's attacks, one may argue that the face of conflict in India has changed. For the first time, India has come face to face with the same kind of transnational terrorism the US encountered in the 9/11 attacks.

This is no longer caste-based or ethnicity-based conflict India has seen the last couple of decades. This is an enemy of a truly transnational character. And at the core of it is the problem of poverty and unequal development and a lingering resentment against the prevailing world powers - the US and Europe.

With no wood, there can be no fire. The globalisation that has brought wealth and prosperity to so many of us in the developed world has provided international terrorism the wood they needed to start their fire. Lingering poverty - in fact widening wealth disparity - is feeding these terror cells with plenty of willing and eager young men and women with nothing to lose from blowing themselves up or taking the lives of those they see as responsible for their life of oppression and poverty.

It's time to mourn for Mumbai, yes. But it's also time we wake up to the real pressing need for more equitable development. The Indian government may be putting out small fires here and there by eliminating these terrorists in this instance. But if they take away the wood altogether, the terrorist will have nothing to burn with.

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