Terrorism in India

Terrorism in India

This article deals with ‘ Terrorism in India.’ This is part of our series on ‘Internal Security’, an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


  • Terrorism has no globally accepted definition because one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Palestinian militants call Israel terrorists, Kurdish militants call Turkey terrorists, and the nation-states call the militants who oppose their regimes “terrorists.”
  • In general terms, terrorism is any violent activity done by a non-state actor against common people or their property for political purposes.
  • The motivation behind terrorist acts can be political, ideological or religious. 
  • What do Terrorists try to achieve through such activities?
    1. Revenge: Eg – Bombay blasts in revenge for Ayodhya Mosque demolition
    2. To invoke a reaction.
    3. To become famous.

Characteristics of Terrorism

  • Terrorism is always associated with violent activities. 
  • It operates on the principle of instilling fear in the minds of people.
  • It is always driven by a certain ideology.
  • Their motivation includes revenge, anger, jihad, self-righteousness and exclusiveness. 
  • They use public statements for propaganda, justification and branding.

Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism  (CCIT)

  • One of the significant challenges in combating terrorism is there is no internationally accepted definition of Terrorism. 
  • To fill this lacuna, CCIT was drafted by India in 1996.
  • It includes the following major objectives:
    1.  To have a universal definition of terrorism that all 193 members of the UNGA will adopt into their criminal law.
    2. To ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps.
    3. To prosecute all terrorists under special laws.
    4. To make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide. 


It is yet to be adopted by the UN General Assembly because of various challenges. These challenges include 

  • Difference in threat perception: E.g., Hezbollah is considered a threat by Israel and Saudis but not by Iran, who considers them Freedom fighters. Similar is the case with many other organizations like East Turkestan Movement, Lashkar etc.
  • Some states (like Pakistan) use terrorism as state policy and will not allow this.
  • Other problems 
    • US: Concerned that its armed interventions without a UN mandate can declare its soldiers terrorist.
    • OIC: Concerned that it will undermine groups fighting for self-determination of Palestine and Kashmir and declare them terrorists.

Different Types of Terrorism

Terrorism in India

Leftist Terrorism

  • Leftist ideology believes that the existing social relations and socio-politico state structures in the capitalist society are exploitative in character, and a revolutionary change through violent means is essential.
  • Examples of Leftist Terrorism include 
    1. Naxalism in India 
    2. Red Brigades of Italy
    3. 17th November Movement of Greece
    4. People’s Revolutionary Army and Motoneros of Argentina

Rightist Terrorism

  • Right-wingers are conservative. These people either want the status quo or to return to a specific time in the past that they feel should be conserved. When Right Wingers resort to terrorist activities to achieve their objectives, this is known as Rightist Terrorism.
  • Examples include 
    1. ISIS: Want to establish Muslim Caliphate
    2. Ku Klux Klan in the USA to establish White Supremacy

State Sponsored Terrorism

  • When nation-states incorporate terrorism as a deliberate tool of foreign policy to achieve certain defined foreign policy goals, it is known as State Sponsored Terrorism.
  • Examples include 
    1. Pakistan is using Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahidin etc., against India by permitting them to establish safe houses, train on their soil and provide significant financial contributions to them. 
    2. Iran is supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel.
    3. During the cold war, US and USSR used this strategy on a massive scale. E.g., the US sponsored the Taliban militarily and financially to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.

State Terrorism

  • When the government systematically uses terror mechanisms to control its population, it is known as State Terrorism.
  • Examples include 
    1. Reign of Terror by Jacobins during the French Revolution
    2. Violence by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds.
    3. The recent killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allegedly by Saudi government agents

Cyber Terrorism

  • Cyber Terrorism is an unlawful attack against computers, networks and the information stored therein to intimidate a state and its people. In simple words, it is the convergence of terrorism and cyberspace.

Ethno-Nationalist Terrorism

  • They either emphasize the establishment of a separate state or the advancement of one ethnic group over others.
  • For example 
    1. LTTE in Sri Lanka.
    2. Insurgent groups in North-East India.
    3. Irish Republican Army in the UK 
    4. Kurdish groups active in Turkey and Iraq


  • The attempt by drug traffickers to coerce government policies through systematic intimidation or the use of violence.
  • For example, Narco-Terrorism is carried out by various Cartels in Mexico and Latin America.


  • It is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other biological agents used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants
  • E.g., During World War I, Germany used Bacillus Anthracis and Burkholderia Mallei against their enemies’ livestock and military personnel.


  • Insurgency is the struggle between a non-ruling group and the ruling group, where the non-ruling group uses political resources and violence. Insurgency aims to gain enough strength to have a regular army strong enough to conquer the ruling group. 
  • Although Insurgency and Terrorism are used interchangeably, there are differences 
    • Insurgents usually target only combatants and not non-combatants. Terrorists deliberately target combatants as well as non-combatants. 
    • Insurgents seek territorial control by establishing “liberated areas”. Terrorists do not seek territorial control. 
    • Insurgents try to create the paraphernalia of a seeming State in the areas controlled while Terrorists don’t. 
    • Insurgent work quite visibly on a regular basis. Terrorist does not let their presence be felt in their area of operation.
  • Examples of Insurgency 
    • Purely insurgent groups. E.g., North-East Insurgent Groups, Irish Republican Army (in the UK) and Euskadi ta Askatasuna (fighting for freedom of Basque in Spain).
    • Purely terrorist groups. E.g., Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)
    • Mix of the two. E.g., Maoists and LTTE (which fought a war against Sri Lankan armed forces from the 80s till the 2009 war for the formation of Tamil State in Sri Lanka)

Causes of Terrorism

Terrorism is the outcome of various reasons including


  • They are a group of people who desire to break away from the union government and form a terrorist group to achieve this objective.
  • For example Kashmiri Terrorist Groups, Khalistani groups, Naga Insurgents etc. 

Feeling of alienation and discrimination

  • Discrimination of a particular group (ethnic or religious) can lead that group to take up arms and indulge in terrorist activities.
  • For example 
    1. Rohingya National Army in Myanmar due to discrimination of Rohingyas by Buddhists.
    2. LTTE in Sri Lanka where Tamils revolted against the majority Sinhalese.
    3. Muslims in European countries like France and UK, where such social misfits frequently resort to Lone Wolf Attacks


  • Religion is the major cause of terrorism. However, any religion doesn’t preach terrorism per se. But some spiritual leaders do preach this.
  • For example 
    1. Global Salafi and Wahabi ideologies preached by Saudi-backed spiritual leaders  
    2. Myanmar’s Buddhist Monk named Ashin Wirathu started Islamophobic 969 movement, which led to riots against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state
    3. Khalistani movement and organizations like Babar Khalsa aim to create Sikh majority nation-state
    4. Hindu fundamentalist/terrorists carried out incidents like the burning alive of an Australian Christian missionary and his children in 1999, the Samjhauta Express bombings of 2007, the Ajmer Dargah attack of 2007, the Malegaon blasts of 2008 and the Mecca Masjid bombing of 2007.

Unequal distribution of resources

  • Unequal distribution of resources is the main cause behind Left Wing Terrorism. 
  • For this reason, followers of Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao, popularly known as Naxalites in India, frequently take up arms against the state.

Regional disparities

  • Neglect of a particular region and use of its resources for the development of metropole can lead locals to take up arms to attack the state, and its machinery in the region, often creating their own structure of bureaucracy. 
  • E.g., Various terrorist organizations in the North East such as NSCN (Nagaland), Mizo National Front (Mizoram) etc.


  • In the absence of jobs, unemployed youth frequently take up arms. 

Envious and jealous neighbours

  • India has envious neighbours in the form of Pakistan and China, which are ever ready to foment disturbances in India.
  • China funds and supports the Maoists and various insurgent groups active in the North-East. Along with that, it frequently stops India’s attempts to designate individuals involved in planning and orchestrating acts of terror in India, such as Masood Azhar, as a global terrorist under the UNSC Resolution.
  • How Pakistan use terrorism as state policy is dealt with in detail below. 

Pakistan = Sponsor of Terrorism in India

Deep State in Pakistan has nurtured Islamic Radical Groups (Mujahideen) as strategic assets to be used against its adversaries (especially India). This strategy has been increasingly adopted after the success of US-funded Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the USSR in the late 1980s.



After failing in two conventional wars, Pakistan adopted the path of sub-conventional/proxy war with the motto of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts‘. Hence, they started to fund various local insurgent groups to strengthen the secessionist demand of different groups in India.

Causes of Terrorism in India


  • Support and Fund Punjab Insurgency: In the 1980s, they started to fund the Khalistan movement to create a sovereign buffer state between India and Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Encourage terrorism in Kashmir: In the late 1980s, Pakistan started to fund and train Kashmiris to indulge in terrorism by tapping into the anti-India sentiment of the Kashmiri population. Terrorists were trained in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir and financed by the ISI and Pakistani military. 


After the Ayodhya incident in 1992, there was a subsequent rise in reactionary activities all over the country, providing a ripe opportunity for the ISI to further its objective of spreading terrorism and communalism in India.

2000 onwards

  • The rise in reactionary right-wing extremist activities in the form of bomb blasts in Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif Dargah, Samjhauta express etc., allowed ISI to exploit the communal fault lines in our society and ensure that the Muslim community remains vulnerable to mobilisation, recruitment and radicalization.

Effects of Terrorism

  1. Terrorist activities damage the life and property at the location of the attack.
  2. Due to terrorist activities, consumers’ confidence dips, and the country’s economy is pushed toward recession.
  3. It negatively impacts the business as commercial activities in such regions go down. 
  4. Governments are forced to increase their spending in the defence sector, and as a result, social welfare spending suffers.
  5. Rise of xenophobia against the community whose members indulge in terrorist activities. E.g., European Muslims face xenophobia due to Islamic terrorist groups. 
  6. Survivors of terrorist attacks are forced to pass through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  7. It gives legitimacy to the government to pass Counter-terrorism legislation (like TADA and UAPA) that infringes on individual freedom and personal privacy.
  8. Due to terrorism, the tourism industry suffers drastically, as seen in Kashmir valley.

Apparatus to Counter Terrorism in India

Intelligence gathering

  • State Police and Central Intelligence Agencies (RAW and IB) are involved in intelligence gathering.
  • NATGRID has been set up after 26/11.

Neutralising Terrorists

  • State Police is the first respondent in case of terrorist operations.
  • In Jammu and Kashmir, and North-East, Army is also involved in counter-terrorism operations. 
  • National Security Guards (NSG) are also used to neutralize highly specialized terrorist attacks like airplane hijacks and hostage rescue operations.


  • National Investigation Agency (NIA) was formed under the NIA Act of 2008 to investigate terrorist activities (after the Mumbai terrorist attacks)


  • In the past, prosecuting terrorists was a prolonged process. However, with the 2019 amendment to the NIA Act, Sessions Courts can now be designated as Special Courts for the purpose of trying Scheduled Offenses under the NIA Act.
Apparatus to Counter Terrorism in India

Steps taken in the recent past to combat Terrorism

1. Strengthened Legislations

NIA (Amendment) Act, 2019

  • Under the amendment, the NIA is empowered to investigate offences related to 
    1. Human Trafficking
    2. Offences related to counterfeit currency  
    3. Manufacture or sale of prohibited arms
    4. Cyber-terrorism
    5. Offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908
  • The NIA will have the authority to look into specified offences committed outside of India, subject to international agreements and other nations’ internal laws.
  • Enables the central government to designate session courts as special courts for NIA trials.


Parliament has passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019 with provisions like

  • Individuals can now be designated as terrorists on certain grounds (Earlier, only Organizations could be declared Terrorist Organisations).
  • Empowers the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Director General to authorize the seizure or attachment of property while the case is under investigation.

2. Institutional framework strengthened

  • NATGRID has become the one-stop destination for security and intelligence agencies to access databases related to immigration entry and exit, banking and telephone details of a suspect on a “secured platform”.

3. International Steps

  • Christchurch Call To Action: It outlines collective, voluntary commitments from governments and online service providers intended to address the issue of violent extremist content online.

Way forward to end terrorism in India

To tackle the menace of terrorism, a multi-pronged approach is needed, which includes

  • Socio-economic development is a priority so that vulnerable sections of society don’t fall prey to the propaganda of terrorists.
  • The administration needs to be responsive to the legitimate grievances of people so that these are redressed promptly and cannot be exploited by terrorist groups.
  • Good governance to provide clean, corruption-free and accountable administration at all levels
  • Government agencies should respect the rule of law and human rights. If the existing laws cannot deal with an extraordinary situation, new laws may be enacted so that law enforcement agencies do not resort to extra-legal or illegal methods.
  • International Cooperation becomes crucial as terrorism is a global threat and cannot be handled by nations acting in silos. As a first measure, the international community should develop a globally accepted definition of terrorism.

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