By B. Raman
Extremism has two dimensions — as a threat to law and order and internal security and as a phenomenon with political, religious, social, economic, psychological and other aspects. Both dimensions need to be tackled simultaneously.
Anger is a common cause of all types of extremism — whether religious, sectarian, ethnic, political or economic. Anger identification and mitigation has to form an important part of all strategies to deal with extremism.
A study of the published literature of all extremist movements in India would indicate that the anger which triggered the resort to violence by some members of the community was often caused by three perceptions of exploitation, injustice and unfairness of the system to the affected community. Unless these three perceptions and the resulting anger are tackled, any strategy to deal with extremism would remain incomplete and only partially effective.
The conventional wisdom that economic development and attention to factors such as eradication of unemployment would defeat extremism is not tenable. Young people are in the driving seat of most extremist movements. They organised the extremist movement and keep it alive. They rarely speak of social and economic grievances such as unemployment, reservations for minorities etc. They invariably speak of exploitation, injustice and unfairness in the system directed against the community to which they belong. Members of the civil society are collateral victims of their anger, but their anger is directed not against the civil society, but against the State and the Government.
One finds a growing divide between the youth and the elder sections of the people in each community and between the youth and the policy-makers constituting the administration in the nation as a whole. Neither elder members of the community from which extremism has arisen nor the Government have been able to address the phenomenon of the alienation of sections of the youth, which drives them to take to violence.
While votaries of extremism have been able to mobilise sections of the youth in support of resort to extremist methods, the State and the political parties have not been able to mobilise law-abiding sections of the youth in support of the strategy to deal with extremism. This creates an unfortunate and untrue image of a clash between the State and the youth as a whole of the affected community.
The police is the most visible part of the State and the administration. It has to play an important role in dealing with extremism not only as a threat, but also as a phenomenon. The better the interactions and the relations between the police and the community, the more effective will be any strategy to deal with extremism. Unfortunate perceptions/image of the police as uncaring, unjust and oppressive aggravate extremism.
Any community-focussed strategy to deal with extremism should, therefore, have the following core components:
(a) Continuous and well-sustained interactions between the State/administration and the affected community in order to identify the incipient signs of the emergence of anger in a community and take timely action to deal with them before they turn into extremist violence and in dealing with the threat and the phenomenon if the anger results in an extremist movement despite the best efforts of the State to prevent it. Such interactions have to be a two-way street. The community should be encouraged to go to the State and the administration with its grievances and the State and the administration should go to the community in order to ascertain its grievances and feel its pulse of anger. Very often, the community and its members do not go to the State due to a feeling that it is indifferent and unresponsive to their grievances. The greater the responsiveness of the State the more will be the readiness of the community to go to the State with its grievances.
(b) Improve interactions between the police and the affected community and take steps to improve the image of the police in the community. This again has to be a two-way street.
(c) Take action to address the wrong perceptions of the youth and wean it away from resort to violence. For this, the State has to seek the co-operation of the elder members of the community.
(Based on salient points of my intervention during a panel discussion on the subject organised by the US Consulate-General in Hyderabad and the TV 5 news channel on October 5, 2011. The other members of the panel were :Professor Javeed Alam, former chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi, Dr. Syed Mazher Hussain, founder of COVA (Confederation of Voluntary Associations) – a network of about 800 organizations working on communal harmony and community empowerment issues in the states of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir and peace in the sub-continent covering India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and Ms. Jameela Nishat, founder and manager of the NGO Shaheen, which works with disadvantaged Muslim and dalit populations.)