Kafka in India: Terrorism, Media, Muslims

Ahmad, Irfan. 2014. “Kafka in India: Terrorism, Media, Muslims”. In Robin Jeffrey and Ronjoy Sen (eds). Being Muslims in South Asia: Diversity and Daily Life. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pp. 289–329.

Abstract: In post-9/11 India, scores of individuals (including minors) were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and killed in “encounters” as “terrorists”. Though some have been released, most continue languishing in jail. A running thread behind all these cases of arrest, torture, killing –seems to be the intertwining theme of “treason” and “terrorism” which media, security agencies, institutions of law, and police collaboratively manufacture, rather than report, such that terrorism and Islam or Muslims become synonymous. It is because of this logic that media blame “Muslim terrorists” even for explosions in a mosque or graveyard. I argue that Indian media discourse on terrorism is so intimately linked to West’s discourse on War on Terror that one might substitute the other; both produce and distinguish “good” from “bad” Muslims and thereby vilify Islam. Based on the thick description of the dynamic amongst, terrorism, nation and media, I demonstrate how the post-9/11 political-legal landscape of India is perfectly Kafkaesque. I present data from media reports on terrorism and testimonials about and by terrorists, to illustrate my contention about the Kafkaesque landscape of media discourses on terrorism in India. As a case study, I analyze an important NDTV talk show (of 2001) on Muslims and terrorism. Next, I focus on Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Indian Mujahideen (IM) – two most-discussed terrorist outfits – to show inconsistency, inaccuracy, even contradiction, in media reports on them. I also discuss what remains invisible in media – the repression of evidence, secret torture chambers and illegal means deployed against “terrorists”. Critical to my analysis is also how media reporting on Muslim terrorists bears important markers of their cultural identity as well as how the mediatized discourses on terrorism may impact the judicial processes.