What is Terrorism?

The term “terrorism” originated from Reign of Terror of 1793-94. Following World War II, focus of terrorist activities shifted from Europe to Middle East, Africa and Asia with emergence of various nationalistic and anti-colonial groups in these regions.

Left wing extremism, based on their belief that violence is the only strategy of revolutionary movement for weak in Third World (In Malaysia, Vietnam etc.), surfaced in Europe and elsewhere, especially since late 1950s.

International terrorism today is marked by large number of transnational terrorist groups, mostly motivated by the Islamist fundamentalist ideology – Al-Qaeda, ISIS etc.

Debate on definition of terrorism

  • Terrorism is defined as systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.
  • Terrorism is unlawful use or threatened use of violence against civilians, often to achieve political, religious or similar objectives.
  • It is surprising that despite terrorism being recognised as a global phenomenon, attempts to arrive at an internationally accepted definition of terrorism have proved futile. This ambivalence is primarily due to two reasons:
  • A ‘terrorist’ in one country may be viewed as a ‘freedom fighter’ in another. They feel that there are legitimate forms of non-state political violence that is not terrorism. Ex. a distinction is done between revolutionary violence and terrorism.
  • Some States resort to or encourage various kinds of criminal acts, clandestinely, through their own agencies or hired agents to subvert or to otherwise destabilize another lawfully established government or in extreme cases get important political or governmental personalities of another State assassinated.

Following should be included in definition of terrorism according to 2nd ARC

  • Use of firearms, explosives or other lethal substance to cause or likely to cause damage to life and property & essential infrastructure including installations having military significance.
  • Assassination of (including attempt thereof) public functionaries: Intent should be to threaten integrity, security and sovereignty of India or overawe public functionaries or to terrorise people.
  • Detention of any person or threat to kill or injure any person to force government to act or abstain from acting in a particular manner.
  • Providing/facilitating material support, including finances, for the aforesaid activities.
  • Commission of certain acts or possession of certain arms etc. by members or supporters of terrorist organizations which cause or are likely to cause loss of life, injury to a person or damage to any property.


  • Historical factors include injustice of past and distortion of history at times. Ex. Terrorism in J&K and Northeast is a result of historical factors. Kashmir issue is a result of differing interpretations of instrument of accession by India, Pakistan & Kashmiri separatists. North-East insurgency is a result of historical policy of British colonialists to keep the region from mainstream Nationalist movement.
  • Religion: There have been several terrorist incidents which were motivated by religious fundamentalism. Certain agencies exploit religion to promote terrorism. Ex. ISI launched an initiative in 1991, even before Babri Masjid demolition to forge an alliance between Khalistan terrorism that prevailed in Punjab and terrorist groups in J&K.
  • Ethnicity:An ethnic group refers to a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language etc. Northeast region has a long history of conflict and violence among tribal groups. Here ethno-nationalism is often expressed through violence. Examples of ethnicity-based terrorism include Naga insurgency, Mizo insurgency etc.
  • Political:Political causes of terrorism emanate from lack of effective redressal of grievances and lack of political representation. Ex. Most of Northeast India was under Assam. However political aspirations of different ethnic could not be satisfied. This led to insurgencies like Mizo insurgency. However, when addressed politically Mizo insurgency was effectively controlled after the Mizo accord.
  • Human Rightsviolation by Majority or security forces have added fuel to the fire. This has been case in almost all insurgency affected areas. Ex. Abuse of (Armed forces special powers act) AFSPA in J&K and Northeast. Similarly in Myanmar, human rights abuse by majority and armed forces have led to Rohingya crisis.
  • Economic causes include unequal distribution of resources, lack of development, poor socio-economic conditions. Often, lack of development and lack of prospects for improving one’s lot provides a fertile ground for extremist ideologies to flourish. Large proportion of recruits to extremist groups come from deprived, marginalized backgrounds or from regions which somehow seem disaffected by vibrant growth in many other parts of the country.
  • Unevenness of our development process and various development divides– inter-regional divide, rural-urban divide and inter-sectoral divide. These divides and disparities lead to disaffection, large-scale migration, and to discord. Ex. Rise of Maoism in central Indian tribal areas which have generally lagged in terms of development.
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