A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Lessons from India

START director Gary LaFree reflects on his three-week long trip to the country

Recently released data from START’s Global Terrorism Database shows that India ranks third among countries with the highest number of terror attacks between 1970 and 2014. Its unique geographic positioning makes it a hotbed for human/material trafficking, and its booming population has created a number of challenges, according to START Director Dr. Gary LaFree. At the same time, its religious and cultural diversity can serve as an important tool in countering violent extremism.

LaFree was recently invited by the U.S. Department of State to spend three weeks in India lecturing about ongoing START research and education programs with members of think tanks, military personnel, law-enforcement officials, journalists, forensic specialists and students.  His travels included more than 25 lectures in every part of the country.

“It was like nothing I have experienced recently,” LaFree said. “India takes a while to process.  It is a kaleidoscope of religions, languages and striking contrasts between rich and poor.  It is also a fascinating laboratory for the study of terrorism—unlike many countries, India has attacks across the ideological spectrum—right wing-left wing, and religious.”

LaFree visited eight cities during his trip; Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Delhi, Kochi, Kottayam, Kolkata, Guwahati and Mumbai. He had a busy three weeks, meeting with the Telangana State Police Academy, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), the Odisha Police Crime Investigation Department (CID), Ravenshaw University, KIIT Law School, the India Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, the U.S. Embassy, the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), the American Corner, the American Center in Kolkata, the Lalbazar Police Headquarters, the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, the Institute for Forensic Science, Bombay First Mission Group, the Center for Criminology and Justice, and Crimeophobia, an anti-crime Management Consultancy, among others.

At many of his site visits, LaFree spoke to large audiences about terrorist tactics, targets and weapons, government responses to terrorism, worldwide terror trends, and countering myths about terrorism.

LaFree also discussed ideological differences in the country. While most of the Indian population identifies as Hindu, there are also large Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist communities. Sixty percent of the terrorist attacks in India in 2014 where a perpetrator group was identified were attributed to the Communist Party of India-Maoist.  However, LaFree found considerable sympathy for this group among his audiences —especially in Northeastern India:  “It was not uncommon to have someone in the audience ask why I was not distinguishing between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists.’”

Despite the political tensions, LaFree said India has some unique advantages not often seen in other developed nations.

“It is not unusual to see a Hindu temple on the same street as a Mosque or a Christian church. The country’s diversity is what makes it special. So many religious groups living in harmony actually acts as a buffer against groups like ISIS, who wish to drive a wedge between Islam and other religions.”

LaFree plans to write a research article on terrorism in India and may return to India to take part in a workshop on violent extremism.

For a recap of media coverage from the trip, click here.