Friday, December 05, 2008

How big a problem is terrorism in India?

Based on the list of terror attacks for 2008 in Wikipedia (,_2008), the question (title) has been addressed.

Here are the results:

Iraq: 728 deaths, at 29.12 deaths per million people
Sri Lanka: 214 deaths at 10.7 deaths per million people
Pakistan: 646 deaths at 3.91 deaths per million people
Israel: 13 deaths at 1.9 deaths per million people
India: 364 deaths at 0.4 deaths per million people

These statistics cannot be fully accurate, because terrorism is a tough term to define. For instance, all the Sri Lankan deaths are essentially because of Hindu terrorists (LTTE). Those deaths are included in this survey, wheras shootings like the Virginia-tech massacre would not be. That's why the US has 0 deaths. Statistics pertaining to India also include Naxalite encounters - but not muders.

Compare that with crime rate. India has 32,000 murders every year - which is 29 deaths per million. Basically that means one is 100 times more likely to be killed by a murderer than an islamic terrorist. And now, let's get to India's 130,000 annual road accident deaths - or 150 deaths per million. This makes India's roads five times more dangerous than terrorism in Iraq, by far the world's most terrorist encumbered state. If India re-allocated 90% of her defence budget to road-infrastructure, even in these apparently "troubled" times, more Indians would live.

These statistics make one question very basic assumptions regarding security. Islamic terror is certainly not a problem worth losing sleep over, if statistics are to be believed.

People contend that statistics hide more than they reveal - a thoroughly debatable contention. What does one have to go by, if one doubts the credibility of statistics?

Is outrage proportional to how wealthy the victims are? 180 dead in Rich Mumbai, the whole planet comes to a standstill. 200 dead in Mumbai (2006) - and hardly anybody notices. Clearly, socio economics is a factor.

What do you think?

As an aside, clearly, terrorism is a problem in Iraq. That's something that statistics show immediately. And this is considered one of the better years for Iraq. Iraq witnessed the destruction of its entire middle class and death of a million people - and the ruin of 20 million more - all because of "bad intelligence".


thelonelyfurrow said...

India: 364 deaths at 0.4 deaths per million people

The statistics quoted do definitely show a negligible percentage. But statistics serve just one purpose. Spreading the lie. An art perfected by politicians all over the world. They do it every week with the Inflation figures, and now with the R-word and the D-word. (Ouch! That belt hurts.. don't worry, its only 8.12%. Last week it was 8.23%)

The blogger has chosen to compare terrorism, murder and road accidents, three common causes of third-party inflicted deaths. Probably we should look into the motives behind these three causes to understand the socio-economic impact.

In reporting deaths, one doesn't go by statistics. One has to go by absolutes. Deaths per kilometer is definitely not the same as kilometers per litre.

Road accidents are caused by misguided vehicles
Murder is caused by misguided people and
Terrorism is caused by misguided politics/ politics in the garb or religion

Road accidents are caused by the proverbial 'nut' that holds the wheel and is a total game of chance, like a lightning strike or any other Act of God. You can't plan for it. Murders are caused for personal gain and in some cases by people who have their sanity mixed up.

Of the three, Terrorism is the only one that questions the existence of the State. Succumbing to the terrorist demand and weakening the State directly impacts the people who live in it and abide by its rules to make a living. Road accidents threaten no one. We take adequate care and to a fatalist society like India, there is nothing to fear. Crime definitely needs a bit of planning to avoid. The State needs to keep the likes of Dawood Ibrahim at bay.
Terrorism is meant to hold the country to ransom. It challenges the very existence of the nation. It poses the question to every citizen. Last time it was Shrivardan. This time it was at Sassoon. Where next? The other two causes don't leave cold fingers in your heart about abandoned cars or even bicycles.

Disbanding the army is not an option to generate an additional Rs.100,000 crores needed to secure the nation. There will be other ways

In 2006, nobody took notice, as is the wont of the western world. This time, the targets were primarily the westerners and the rich and famous, so that the media coverage could be maxed. India speaking about the NPT, asking for fuel etc fell on deaf ears. It took a blast of about 65KT for the western world to sit up and realise that India was not mumbling.

"Bad Intelligence" shall prevail as long as bad politics prevails.

Rap said...

thelonelyfurrow, I do think your points are quite pertinent. I think you do manage to explain why these statistics don't have the last word in determining our reactions.

I was not advocating that the Indian army be disbanded! It was some hyperbole - an attempt to make the point that modern democracies are hard wired to be more sensitive to apparently external terror than to things they can easily help prevent (like road-deaths, by spending a little on more infrastructure).

Terrorism is usually an opportunity for the government to usurp more civil liberties - as has been the case in the US after 9/11. If BJP comes to power, I think India is in for a rough ride.