This article analyzes the interaction between theories of radicalization and state responses to militancy in India. Focusing on the interpretation of the increased frequency of terrorist attacks in Indian metropolises in the last decade, the article examines the narratives surrounding those classified as terrorists in the context of rising Muslim militancy in the country. Different state agencies operate with different theories about the links between processes of radicalization and terrorist violence. The scenarios of radicalization underlying legislative efforts to prevent terrorism, the construction of motives by the police, and the interpretation of violence by the judiciary all rely on assumptions about radicalization and violence. Such narratives are used to explain terrorism both to security agencies and to the public; they inform the categories and scenarios of prevention. Prevention relies on detection of future deeds, planning, intentions, and even potential intentions. “Detection” of potential intentions relies on assumptions about specific dispositions. Identification of such dispositions in turn relies on the context-specific theories of the causes of militancy. These determine what “characteristics” of individuals or groups indicate potential threats and form the basis for their categorization as “potentially dangerous.” The article explores the cultural contexts of theories of radicalization, focusing on how they are framed by societal understandings of the causes of deviance and the relation between the individual and society emerging in contemporary India. It examines the shift in the perception of threat and the categories of “dangerous others” from a focus on role to a focus on ascriptive identity.


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pp. 321-345
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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