The carnage in Bombay (officially known as Mumbai), in which gunmen have killed over a hundred people, injured many more and taken hostages, has shocked the world. It has thrown a spotlight on religious extremism of various kinds.
While a group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility, the most high-profile victim was anti-terrorist unit head Hemant Karkare, who just two days before had received a death threat for his investigation of violent Hindu supremacists. His death, along with two other senior police officers, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar, is a blow to efforts to make Bombay safe for residents and visitors from all creeds and communities.
The rise of the extreme right in Bombay, the surrounding state of Maharashtra and India as a whole has dismayed more moderate Hindus, and resulted in widespread violence against Muslims and, in some areas, Christians. Many in the police and armed forces are connected with, or afraid to confront, powerful hardliners.
But Karkare was willing to probe more deeply, and his investigation into a bomb blast in Malegaon led to the arrest last month of a number of Hindu extremists. This was an embarrassment to a movement which has sought to portray itself as respectable while pursuing electoral success. The death of Karkare and his colleagues will be a setback to those seeking to bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorism of all kinds.
However, his killing at this time may be coincidental, a result maybe of his willingness to share the risks of those he led. Media photographs show him shortly before his death, with helmet on, directing operations from the frontline, and reports of his death give some indication of his courage, as well as his reputation for professionalism.
In the end, different forms of extremism feed off each other, using others’ atrocities to justify still more abuses. However, in multicultural Bombay and beyond, there are many people – high-profile figures like Karkare and ordinary residents of whom few have heard – who work hard to counter destructive ideas and prevent violent acts, whose efforts deserve to be recognised.
Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities in the UK, and she is also a respected writer on international issues and on Christianity and social justice. An Ekklesia associate, Savi has contributed several chapters to the recent book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow (Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia, 2008).