November 12, 2005

Source or sourceless?

This is following up to a recent promise to say something more here about the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Especially after the recent bomb blasts in Delhi, the South Asia Terrorism Portal is a often-quoted reference on terrorism, not least because KPS Gill is part of this effort. SATP calls itself the "largest website on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia", and true to that description, it carries all manner of figures and tables regarding terrorism.

Soon after the Delhi blasts, I read about SATP in a Times of India article. It quoted figures from SATP and concluded that India is among the "worst victims of terror" in the world. Naturally, this got me rushing to the nearest computer so I could visit the SATP site and look at these figures myself.

When I did so, three things came to mind.

1) The figures in that Times of India article come from a SATP page called India Fatalities. Between 1994 and 2005, this page says, 50,937 people died in terrorist violence. (The Times quoted that 50,937 figure). Of those, 19,662 were civilians and 7320 were security force personnel. The rest, 23,955 (nearly half the total) were ... terrorists.

Something nags gently at me here. Should dead terrorists be included in this total?

2) The page lists no sources for the numbers it quotes. In fact, no sources are listed for any of the figures on the India-related pages, all of which are linked from one page titled India Datasheets.

What you will find, instead of sources, are these statements: "Compiled from news reports and are provisional" (on the Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism page) and "Compiled from English language media sources" (on the ISI-related modules Neutralised outside J&K and the Northeast, 2004-5 page, the Bomb Blasts in Delhi, 1997-2005 page, and the Bomb Blasts in Mumbai, 1993-2005 page).

(If someone finds sources listed anywhere on the site, please let me know).

SATP uses press reports to compile its figures. In turn, the press quotes SATP's figures in its reports.

3) Nowhere in the India Datasheets -- nowhere -- will you find entries for such acts of terrorism as the killings in Delhi, 1984; the Bombay riots, 1992-93; the Godhra train fire, 2002; the subsequent killings in Gujarat, 2002 (among others). Why?

My first explanation was, SATP does not consider events like these -- call them sectarian violence -- to be terrorism. I cannot agree, but perhaps SATP feels that way and they are entitled to their opinion. It's their site, anyway.

But then I visited SATP's Pakistan DataSheet page, on which there is a link to a page called Sectarian Violence in Pakistan (1989-2005). There, various tables list a total of 1668 people killed and 3997 injured in such violence in Pakistan (source: "Constructed from media reports", of course).

Why would SATP list sectarian violence in Pakistan on its pages, but completely overlook sectarian violence in India?

Put it another way. Clearly, SATP considers sectarian violence in Pakistan to be terrorism -- that's why they list it on their site. Why would they not consider sectarian violence in India to be terrorism?

What would you make of a "largest website on terrorism" that lists no sources for its figures, and utterly ignores one whole kind of terrorism?


wise donkey said...

i dont think terrorists are generally included in the figures atleast when the victims are mentioned.

naxalalites casualities too are important.

why is it so tough to compile the data? cant anyone do it based on the newspaper reports. after all the hunger deaths and maternal mortality deaths could be not reported, but this "brand" of terrorism.

the media makes a big deal of Russian children dying from bullets but nothing of same number of children dying in a year from hunger in maharashtra..

btw since people seem to care about an issue only when terrorism is used. can issues like hunger deaths be categorised under state apathy-terrorism?

Anonymous said...

(a) Can we kindly leave links instead of C &P ing entire articles ? Thankee kindly, gents, lasses and asses.

(b) Wise Donkey, I don't think you get the point.
(i) It is tough to compile data. Since there are SO many sources, and not all of them match. Eg: "Police suspect that the attack was by a suicide bomber". Now does one death of the many count as a terrorist or a civilian ?

(ii) Assuming you HAVE done that, it is relatively easy to have a section that details your sources, so that there is no ambiguity as to how you have arrived at your conclusions. E.g. if the portal published " Annual statistics" and quoted the newspaper in the post, one could easily see the circular reasoning.

(iii) A compendium like this, at best, provides lazy newspapers with readymade inches. At worst, it provides armchair theorists supposedly scientific data to drape their naked bigotry.

Anonymous said...

Just in Muslim crowd burns two Pakistan churches

Let's hope there are no more appeals for our Indian Muslim to "renounce" any "association".

Anonymous said...

There, various tables list a total of 1668 people killed and 3997 injured in such violence in Pakistan (source: "Constructed from media reports", of course).

Why would SATP list sectarian violence in Pakistan on its pages, but completely overlook sectarian violence in India?

There is a difference between the sectarian violence in India and Pakistan.
India has muslims, christians and Hindus. When sectarian violence takes place, there are people to cry themselves hoarse about violence against 'particular communities' while totally ignoring violence against 'other communties'. Some people even go one step further threatening to take the cases to the UN and asking for sanctions against their own countries. All this while they totally ignore the fact that some of the most successful Indians have been muslims and other minorities.
Let us now look at Pakistan. In this country Hindus have been reduced in numbers to less than 1% of the population. Then what is this sectarian violence? IS this between fellow muslims? But this was the land of the pure - the paradise for muslims. -Sure- paradise where mosques have to be given police protection. which incidentally they do not need in India. Why then are there no cases to be taken to the UN in Pakistan. Has anybody asked for sanctions to be passed against Pakistan. didnt the biggest genocide after the holocaust occur in then East Pakistan in 1971.
But in Death ends fun there will always be such stupid comparisons. This columnist even wrote how Europe is becoming borderless and how we in the Indian subcontinent should emulate it. Hopefully the recent events should bring them closer to reality.

Dilip D'Souza said...

?!: That's just the point (your #3). SATP is a credible-sounding source that everybody quotes, without paying attention to the problems with its data. And you're right too, the bigotry gets shored up with this dicey data.

Anonymous said...

Look who is talking about credibility:

Here are a couple of articles by the columnist on the Chitisinghpura massacre. Look how he has defended Pankaj Mishra. Must have been a trade-off to get published by Penguin.
The identity of the killers has been established, but Dilip has ducked out of the entire issue.

Here is another on the IDRF saga. No doubt this was a plug for his FOIL buddies. Note how the only way he associated the IDRF with spreading hate was that he did not find any contribution from IDRF to the Gujarat riots.

These are the people talking about 'dicey data'
People in glass houses should not throw stones.
Please clarify who are you plugging for this time with this piece against SATP. Before this I did not know it existed. Thanks for pointing the same

Anonymous said...

This link should have been added.