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Mainstream, VOL LII No 50, December 6, 2014

State Terrorism

Sunday 7 December 2014


by Shahnawaz Mantoo

Terrorism is not new and it has been used since the beginning of recorded history. Terrorism is the most hated and feared term with its different manifestations. It is very difficult to define it precisely but there are some definitions which have been put forward by different recognised voices as well as by related and accepted organisations. Terrorism has been described variously as a tactic and strategy, a crime and a justified reaction to oppression. Obviously a lot depends on whose point of view is being represented. The most accepted definition is the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce for different purposes, or the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorisation.

Terrorism can be legally, politically and socially recognised or unrecognised by different quarters and it includes both state as well as non-state actors. The most commonly acclaimed terrorism in the world is from the non-state actors with different names and aims. However, what is shocking is the terrorism unleashed by the state itself on its own citizens. After the emergence of strong non-state actors throughout the world and with them the appearance of the concept of plural sovereignty which challenged the domination of state sovereignty, the state has became more repressive towards its own nationals. Due to the fear of losing its grip over its own territory and people, the state is using military means to quell the different secessionist, environmental, social, political movements even if their cause is genuine and well-recognised by the majority of the population. This kind of repression is generally known as state terrorism as it is backed by the state machinery and is not different as far as its fearfulness and terror are concerned. This terrorism is legal, constitu-tional and institutional because it is backed by the highest sovereign authority.

There are hundreds and thousands of examples of this kind of terrorism where the state is killing its own people on this pretext that they are against the highest institution, that is, state. The Indian state is killing the people of different secessionist and separatist groups on a daily basis only because they are demanding their rights which have been denied to them by the Indian state right from 1947. India got freedom in 1947 but there are only few families which got independence. Otherwise the majority of the population is yet to enjoy the fruits of freedom. They have been oppressed by state terrorism and lakhs of innocent people have been killed.

The most astonishing fact of the Indian state is that it is responsible for the suicide of thousands of innocent farmers as their land is being handed over to the big industrialists to build their plants. The most unfortunate truth of the present-day so-called independent Indian state is that the state structure has been built in such a way that there is injustice within the structure where the poor is becoming poorer and rich people richer.

The renowned novelist and writer, Francis Fanon, in his well-read book, Wretched of the Earth, says that independence of the colonies has brought no freedom to the common people but in fact there is only a change of guards from the colonial elite section to the local elite section. He advised the masses that they should fight a violent battle against the metropolitan sections of the polity who are controlling the resources of society. The true decolonisation therefore will eradicate the devilish dichotomy and create a society where the last should be the first. He says that colonialism is established through violent means; so it is not possible to throw it out through peaceful means, it needs greater violence to end the new form of colonialism in the so-called independent states. Another noted writer, Joseph Stiglitz, writes in his most recent book on globalisation that India is indeed shining “on the lives of some 250 million people but for the other 800 million people of India the economy has not shone bright at all”

This state terrorism is not confined only to India but there are many more states like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan where such kind of terrorism is quite open and understandable. The Central Asian people are also facing the same kind of state terrorism because of which the people of these states are hardly free to express their opinions. The West Asian states too have unleashed terror against their own people because of which the establishments in different states were overthrown by the people’s movements. In the Arab world there is a different kind of terrorism and that is inherent in the non-representative character of these states where people don’t enjoy democratic rights and if the state is denying democratic rights to its own nationals, then there should be no hesi-tation to call it state terrorism and secondly, these monarchical governments have never shifted power beyond their dynasties.

Another kind of state terrorism has been initiated by the sole superpower, that is, the US, against the different state governments (this is actually US terrorism against states) where she is installing her own establishments by killing the innocent people and then grabbing the resources of these states. The irony is that this kind of terrorism is openly as well as tacitly sanctioned by the highest world organisation, that is, the UN, as well as by other states which don’t have the courage to challenge such kind of repression.

The fact of the matter is that this kind of state terrorism needs to be challenged and should be exposed. The onus to expose and challenge such kind of terrorism lies first with the world’s civil society organisations as well as the human rights organisations and intellectual class. This kind of terrorism has destabilised many states in the recent past and it may destroy many more states in future as well unless it is stopped in its tracks.

The author, a scholar from Kashmir University, is a Ph.D Student, Department of Political Science. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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