Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Stories of Catastrophe, Traces of Trauma: Indian State Formation and the Borders of Becoming

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Stories of Catastrophe, Traces of Trauma: Indian State Formation and the Borders of Becoming

Article excerpt

Abstract

The "act of terror" in Mumbai in November 2008 has been widely regarded as "India's 9-11." This article proposes that the proper setting of the "Mumbai attacks" is neither provided by what occurred in New York in 2001 nor by accentuating how the event engaged an audience of "distant others." It is, similarly, not made sufficiently comprehensible through representations of Mumbai as the most cosmopolitan space in India and of India as "shining." It, rather, consists in the violent founding of the Indian Republic and the traumatizing and traumatic vision that was inscribed through and into it. Such an alternative rendering of the "Mumbai attacks" offers a critical purchase on the notion of "governing traumatic events." It also situates the analysis in the tension between assumptions about an immanence of trauma and depictions of trauma as eruption and (dis)rupture. While the independence of India equals the traumatic in its function as a founding act or moment, the "Mumbai attacks" ought to be regarded as confirmation of reified and presently hegemonic forms of political life.

Keywords

India, trauma, terrorism, Mumbai, community

  "Meaning is neither before nor after the act." (1)

  "The only way to contain (it would be naive to say end)
  terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror." (2)

Since 2001, India has experienced a wave of terrorist attacks attributed to Islamist extremists. The state has continuously demonstrated its inability to preempt and respond to these. The latter was particularly manifest during and after the 2008 "Mumbai attacks" in which 166 people were killed and 304 injured when Lashkar-e-Toiba militants entered and wreaked havoc in India's financial capital for close to four days. This article draws on two broad dilemmas for understanding the implications of these acts of violence: (1) the significance of "traumatic" and "catastrophic" events to prevailing conceptions and representations of Indian citizenship and statehood and (2) the question of what it means for the state to redress and come to terms with the consequences of the traumatic and catastrophic. These questions are of concern considering the embedding--and partly co-constitutive--contexts of the entrenched Indo-Pakistan conflict and the grave socioeconomic and political margin-alization of India's 138 million Muslims (as estimated by the 2001 Census of India).

The cataclysmic and ghastly "act of terror" in Mumbai in November 2008 has been widely, and misguidedly, referred to as "India's 9-11." It is a resemblance, above all, assumed to reside in the event's place within a regional and global pattern of Islamist terror as well as in its perceived embodiment of the traumatic and the resultant need of a curative response. In contrast to predominant attempts to expound the significance of the Mumbai attacks, the present analysis suggests that the proper setting of the event is neither its relation to what occurred in New York seven years earlier nor the manner in which it engaged and kept an international or global audience transfixed. I argue that the act of violence--the unfolding of and response to it--is not satisfactorily grasped through the employment of the tropes of Mumbai as the most cosmopolitan space in India and of India as economically and geopolitically "shining." These accounts demote the need to situate the event within an appraisal of its confirmation or undermining of the underpinning logics of the Indian nation state and of the Indian democratic project. Such an undertaking is, however, crucial in order for its significance as a reproducing and restoring moment to be duly recognized.

As an alternative, this article argues that in order to establish whether the Mumbai attacks fit into a wider series of occurrences or represent a rupture the emphasis of any analysis ought to be laid elsewhere, specifically in the establishment of the Indian Republic, in the "constitutive moment" and in the parable of a (British) "transfer of power. …

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