After the Mumbai terrorist attacks, India must not commit the same mistakes as the United States in its war on terror. A pursuit of justice must treat people of all faiths with respect and, at the end of the day, encourage diversity.
India's response to the brazen attacks on Mumbai which began on Nov. 26, 2008, provides a great opportunity for addressing all forms of terrorism the country has experienced in the last few decades.
In the last year alone, bomb blasts were carried out by extremist Islamists, fundamentalist Hindus, and Maoist groups against the general population. In fact, over the last few years India is only second to Iraq in the death toll due to terrorist attacks as recorded by the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C. This doesn't account for premeditated mob violence which has increasingly targeted minorities as seen in the ethnic cleansing of Dalit and Tribal Christians in the Orissa state in December 2007 and August 2008.
All these extremist groups threaten what is called "the idea of India," which refers to a united nation made up of diverse religious and ethnic groups.
Simply put, we cannot afford to let any form of terrorism go unpunished. India cannot let the extremist Hindu groups who have displaced tens of thousands of Dalit Christians in Orissa escape justice.
The public anger after the Mumbai attacks is largely against those who have not governed India well in addition to the terrorists. India clearly needs to revamp its internal security structures. Indian politicians and the Indian government are searching for appropriate ways to respond to terrorists beyond India's borders. And India is well within its rights to go after the non-state players who carried out the Mumbai attacks. India can hope for a united response with the U.S., Britain, Israel, and others whose citizens were killed in the attacks.
But India needs to work hard to undo the marginalization of Muslims in recent years by political parties who subscribe to fundamentalist Hindu ideology. India must firmly deal with 'Hindutva' terrorism (see recent articles in India Today and Tehelka magazine). India must build goodwill with the 150 million strong Muslim population whose leaders have condemned the Mumbai attacks. India must not target innocent Muslims inside or outside its borders for ill-devised political ends.
America's mistake was to launch an indiscriminate war against Muslims who were not connected to 9/11. America's decision makers didn't take enough time to look at the contexts in which vulnerable Muslims are recruited to become terrorists. The American war on terror resulted in human rights abuses. It became associated with racial profiling. And thus, a just cause lost the goodwill of the world given in the aftermath of 9/11.
If the Indian government and political rulers repeat American mistakes, we will end up furthering more terrorism of every kind given the great religious and ethnic diversity of India. This is the time -- when Indians feel as one and are united against terrorism -- for the Indian government to act fairly and not take foolish actions. We hope citizens passionate about true justice from around the globe will encourage our leaders toward these goals in the days ahead.
Joseph D'souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. He lives in Hyderabad, India and works out of Hyderabad, London, and Denver.