The threats to a newly securitized state

India takes extraordinary measures for reasons of security. Is there really a need for it?

HAS India become a securitized state? I was discussing this with a very bright Indian diplomat and we were agreed that it has. There are three aspects to this and we’ll look at these presently. Wikipedia describes securitization (in international relations) as “the process of state actors transforming subjects into matters of ‘security’: an extreme version of politicization that enables extraordinary means to be used in the name of security.”

The issues obsessed about “do not necessarily represent issues that are essential to the objective survival of a state, but rather represent issues where someone was successful in constructing an issue into an existential problem”.

And so: Unimportant stuff is shown as being vital so that the state can take extreme measures. The first aspect of securitization is this deliberate heightening of the threat perception.

The thing is deciding how grave a threat terrorism is to India’s security. K.P.S. Gill’s South Asia Terrorism Portal tells us that “Islamist extremism outside J&K, NE and Punjab” claimed 21 lives this year, four in 2014, 25 in 2013 and one life in 2012. To my mind it is not a threat. Fewer Indians per capita in these areas die of terrorism than do Europeans or Americans.

In our conflict theatres, fatalities (including terrorists, citizens and security forces) this year so far were 97 in Jammu and Kashmir, 187 in the North-East and 156 due to left wing extremism. One point these numbers throw up is how disproportionate our obsession with “Islamist” terrorism is. But that’s where the media is focused.

Tavleen Singh, writing in The Indian Express (“A War That India Must Win”, 2 August), complained that jihad wasn’t given enough media attention. She felt that “let some political commentator stand up and try to say that the worldwide jihad is the biggest problem of our times and enraged Marxist voices rise up everywhere”. This was because “the public square in our ancient land has long been occupied by Marxists, crypto-Marxists and birds of similar hue.”

She wondered why India didn’t kill “evil men” and wondered if we could carry out operations like the Abbottabad one against Osama Bin Laden by the US. She prescribed special military courts outside the judicial system for terrorists.

Writing in (“Ajit Doval Must Read Out The Riot Act To Pakistan”, 18 August), former deputy national security adviser Satish Chandra was disappointed that this government has not followed a “more muscular approach” towards Pakistan. His prescriptions included these:

“Pakistan’s fault-lines must henceforth be exploited particularly in Baluchistan and Sindh.” And “covert action, and if need be focused strikes, should be undertaken to take out terrorist elements and their supporters. Contingency plans for such action should be developed expeditiously so that following any Pakistan sponsored terrorist action against us as in Mumbai or even more recently in Gurdaspur and Udhampur these can be activated within a matter of hours.”

This sort of macho, unrealistic and dangerous thinking is not uncommon and it is actually the dominant narrative in the discourse on terrorism. A poll on Rediff the same day—“Is India Going Soft On Cross Border Terror?” had 66% people voting “Yes”.

The view Singh and Chandra take of laws, norms and processes as being flexible in the higher interests of security and vengeance has an internal dimension.

The second aspect of securitization is an intrusion into the rights and freedoms of citizens. What can be said here about a country whose government insists (to little outrage) that privacy is not our right?

Civil liberties is one aspect of “liberalization” and “development” that does not interest the state at all. In fact, I would argue that it does not occupy much space in our political debate, though it is the cornerstone of Western civilization, which we are keen to emulate economically.

On 7 April, five Muslim men accused of terrorism were killed by their police escort in Telangana. All were being taken to court, handcuffed.

No case has been filed against the police, and in fact the dead men have been charged with attempt to murder. Think about that for a minute. It has become so unquestioningly acceptable in India for the police to slaughter handcuffed men who have not been convicted that even an FIR has not been filed against them. One does not need to argue further that the state acts in extreme ways to secure itself against its citizens.

The third aspect of securitization is that these extreme measures are taken with the consent of the population, which is convinced that they are justified given the threat. In our case, it is a section of the population: the urban middle class that feels under siege from terrorism (again, look at those fatality numbers mentioned earlier and ask yourself if they justify the media coverage). It is also of course this segment whom the mass media is aimed at: a minority, the urban middle class. Us. We are sitting around, nodding at media overreaction and hyperbole.

This section thinks it is not directly affected by the extreme measures and so is fine with them being applied to others. The anti-Muslim sentiment of a large part of the middle class—see the reader comments under any article where the perfidy of Muslims may be introduced—make it easy for the state to act illegally.

This war we must win against the biggest problem of our time is a fraud, and is stripping us of our rights. To me that is a bigger problem, much bigger and graver, than terrorism.

Aakar Patel is the executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal.

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