Wednesday, December 3, 2008


A progressive Indian friend from Kolkata shared a particular sorrow about the tragedy of Mumbai last week. It was the death of Hemant Karkare, chief of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, who was shot to death by the terrorists near the Cama Hospital in Mumbai as he and several other policemen attempted to confront them (CNN story). (Here is an Indian blog posting on Karkare's career and death.)

My friend has been an unflagging activist for greater social justice in India throughout his life, and has worked against Hindu extremist violence against Muslims throughout. He regarded Karkare as a rigorously fair police official, and one who took the task of fighting extremist violence in India very seriously -- so seriously, in fact, that his life was at risk at the hands of Hindu extremist organizations whom he had pursued while investigating the Malegaon, Thane, Vashi, and Panvel bombings in the past several years (all attributed to Hindu extremist groups). (Here is a news item on the Malegaon bombing.) So it is deeply and tragically ironic, that he was murdered by Islamic extremists.

There is now serious concern that there may be a resurgence of ethnic violence in India. Largescale incidents of violence against innocent Muslim men and women have occurred all too frequently in the past thirty years, usually instigated by extremist Hindu nationalist groups and leaders. (Here is an interesting lecture by Princeton scholar Atul Kohli on the causes of Hindu-Muslim violence in India.) Recent mass killings occurred in Gujarat in 2002, when Hindu mobs attacked and killed between 1000 and 2000 Muslims. These attacks were in revenge for a horrific act of violence by an extremist Muslim group that attacked and burned a train in Godhra station, resulting in burning to death 50 Hindu travelers. Retaliatory violence against defenseless Muslim residents of Gujarat led to a large number of deaths and a much larger number of displaced persons. And government authorities did virtually nothing to prevent the violence.

The Indian government, and the governments of Indian states with significant Muslim populations, need to be highly vigilant and proactive in ensuring that there is not a shameful recurrence of these pogroms during the coming weeks and months. News reports suggest that Indian public opinion is turning from anger against the government for its faulty response to the attack, to a high level of nationalist rhetoric. Emotions are high throughout India, and now is the time for skillful inter-group peacemaking and effective state maintenance of order.

It is a central obligation of any state to use its power to protect all groups against violence, through pro-active efforts to prevent mob violence and through intelligent police work to suppress extremist groups who plan violence. By all accounts, Hemant Karkare was an effective officer in both efforts, and India needs men and women like him in its continuing efforts to protect its democracy and its people.

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