How Deep Shall We Dig?
How Deep Shall We Dig?
Recently, a young Kashmiri friend was talking to me about life in
The more I think about that remark, the more apposite a description it seems for all of
Each time there is a so-called â€˜terrorist strikeâ€™, the government rushes in, eager to assign culpability with little or no investigation. The burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, the December 13th attack on the Parliament building, or the massacre of Sikhs by so called â€˜terroristsâ€™ in Chittisinghpura are only a few, high profile examples. (The so-called terrorists who were later killed by security forces turned out to be innocent villagers. The State Government subsequently admitted that fake blood samples were submitted for DNA testing) In each of these cases, the evidence that eventually surfaced raised very disturbing questions and so was immediately put into cold storage. Take the case of Godhra: as soon as it happened the Home Minister announced it was an ISI plot. The VHP says it was the work of a muslim mob throwing petrol bombs. Serious questions remain unanswered. There is endless conjecture. Everybody believes what they want to believe, but the incident is used to cynically and systematically whip up communal frenzy.
The Indian government uses the same strategy not with other countries, but against its own people.
Over the last decade, the number of people who have been killed by the police and security forces runs into the tens of thousands. Recently several
Last month I was a member of a peoplesâ€™ tribunal on POTA. Over a period of two days we listened to harrowing testimonies of what goes on in our wonderful democracy. Let me assure you that in our police stations itâ€™s everything: from people being forced to drink urine, to being stripped, humiliated, given electric shocks, burned with cigarette butts, having iron rods put up their anuses to being beaten and kicked to death.
Across the country hundreds of people, including some very young children charged under POTA have been imprisoned and are being held without bail, awaiting trial in special POTA courts that are not open to public scrutiny. A majority of those booked under POTA are guilty of one of two crimes. Either theyâ€™re poor â€“ for the most part Dalit and Adivasi. Or theyâ€™re Muslim. POTA inverts the accepted dictum of criminal law â€“ that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Under POTA you cannot get bail unless you can prove you are innocent â€“ of a crime that you have not been formally charged with. Essentially, you have to prove youâ€™re innocent even if youâ€™re unaware of the crime you are supposed to have committed. And that applies to all of us. Technically, we are a nation waiting to be accused. It would be naÃ¯ve to imagine that POTA is being â€˜misusedâ€™. On the contrary. It is being used for precisely the reasons it was enacted. Of course if the recommendations of the Malimath Committee are implemented, POTA will soon become redundant. The Malimath Committee recommends that in certain respects normal criminal law be brought in line with the provisions of POTA. Thereâ€™ll be no more criminals then. Only terrorists. Itâ€™s kind of neat.
Today in Jammu and Kashmir and many North Eastern states the Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows not just officers but even Junior Comissioned officers and Non-commissioned officers of the army to use force on (and even kill) any person on suspicion of disturbing public order or carrying a weapon. On suspicion of! Nobody who lives in
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a harsher version of the Ordinance that Lord Linlithgow passed in 1942 to handle the Quit India Movement. In 1958 it was clamped on parts of Manipur which were declared â€˜disturbed areasâ€™. In 1965 the whole of Mizoram, then still part of
Juxtaposed against this unseemly eagerness to repress and eliminate people, is the Indian Stateâ€™s barely hidden reluctance to investigate and bring to trial, cases in which there is plenty of evidence: the massacre of 3000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984; the massacre of Muslims in Bombay in 1993 and in Gujarat in 2002 (not one conviction to date!); the murder a few years ago of Chandrashekhar, former president of the JNU students union; the murder twelve years ago of Shankar Guha Nyogi of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha are just a few examples. Eye witnesses accounts and masses of incriminating evidence are not enough when all of the State machinery is stacked against you.
Meanwhile, economists cheering from the pages of corporate newspapers inform us that the GDP Growth Rate is phenomenal, unprecedented. Shops are overflowing with consumer goods. Government storehouses are overflowing with foodgrain. Outside this circle of light, farmers steeped in debt are committing suicide in their hundreds. Reports of starvation and malnutrition come in from across the country. Yet the Government allowed 63 million tonnes of grain to rot in its granaries. 12 million tones were exported and sold at a subsidized price the Indian government was not willing to offer the Indian poor. Utsa Patnaik, the well known agricultural economist, has calculated foodgrain availability and foodgrain absorption in
So dangerous levels of malnutrition and permanent hunger are the preferred model these days. 47% of
But in urban
There is a new kind of secessionist movement taking place in
Itâ€™s the kind of secession in which public infrastructure, productive public assets â€“ water, electricity, transport, telecommunications, health services, education, natural resources â€“ assets that the Indian State is supposed to hold in trust for the people it represents, assets that have been built and maintained with public money over decades â€“ are sold by the State to private corporations. In
India Pvt Ltd is on its way to being owned by a few corporations and major multi-nationals. The CEOâ€™s of these companies will control this country, its infrastructure and its resources, its media and its journalists, but will owe nothing to its people. They are completely unaccountable â€“ legally, socially, morally, politically. Those who say that in
Quite apart from the economic implications of all this, even if it were all that it is cracked up to be (which it isnâ€™t) â€“ miraculous, efficient, amazing etc - is the politics of it acceptable to us? If the
The Free Market (which is actually far from free) needs the State and needs it badly. As the disparity between the rich and poor grows, in poor countries States have their work cut out for them. Corporations on the prowl for â€˜sweetheart dealsâ€™ that yield enormous profits cannot push through those deals and administer those projects in developing countries without the active connivance of State machinery. Today Corporate Globalization, needs an international confederation of loyal, corrupt, preferably authoritarian governments in poorer countries, to push through unpopular reforms and quell the mutinies. Itâ€™s called â€˜Creating a Good Investment Climate.â€™
When we vote in these elections we will be voting to choose which political party we would like to invest the coercive, repressive powers of the State in.
Right now in
When a government more or less openly supports a pogrom against members of a minority community in which upto two thousand people are brutally killed, is it fascism? When women of that community are publicly raped and burned alive, is it fascism? When authorities collude to see to it that nobody is punished for these crimes, is it fascism? When 150,000 people are driven from their homes, ghettoized and economically and socially boycotted, is it fascism? When the cultural guild that runs hate camps across the country commands the respect and admiration of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Law Minister, the Disinvestment Minister, is it fascism? When painters, writers, scholars and filmmakers who protest are abused, threatened and have their work burned, banned and destroyed, is it fascism? When a government issues an edict requiring the arbitrary alteration of school history textbooks, is it fascism? When mobs attack and burn archives of ancient historical documents, when every minor politician masquerades as a professional medieval historian and archeologist, when painstaking scholarship is rubbished using baseless populist assertion, is it fascism? When murder, rape, arson and mob justice are condoned by the party in power and its stable of stock intellectuals as an appropriate response to a real or perceived historical wrong committed centuries ago, is it fascism? When the middle-class and the well-heeled pause a moment, tut-tut and then go on with their lives, is it fascism? When the Prime Minister who presides over all of this is hailed as a statesman and visionary, are we not laying the foundations for full-blown fascism?
That the history of oppressed and vanquished people remains for the large part unchronicled is a truism that does not apply only to Savarna Hindus. If the politics of avenging historical wrong is our chosen path, then surely the Dalits and Adivasis of India, have the right to murder, arson and wanton destruction?
Successful fascism takes hard work. And so does Creating a Good Investment Climate. Do the two work well together? Historically, corporations have not been shy of fascists. Corporations like Siemens, I.G. Farben, Bayer, IBM, and Ford did business with the Nazis. We have the more recent example of our own Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) abasing itself to the Gujarat Government after the pogrom in 2002. As long as our markets are open, a little homegrown fascism wonâ€™t come in the way of a good business deal.
Itâ€™s interesting that just around the time Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister was preparing Indiaâ€™s markets for neo-liberalism, L.K. Advani was making his first Rath Yatra, fuelling communal passion and preparing us for neo-fascism. In December 1992 rampaging mobs destroyed the Babri Masjid. In 1993, the Congress Government of Maharashtra signed a power purchase agreement with Enron. It was the first private power project in
Economically too, the dual orchestra is a viable model. Part of the enormous profits generated by the process of indiscriminate privatization (and the accruals of â€˜India Shiningâ€™) goes into financing Hindutvaâ€™s vast army â€“ the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and the myriad other charities and trusts which run schools, hospitals and social sevices. Between them they have tens of thousands of shakhas across the country. The hatred they preach, combined with the unmanageable frustration generated by the relentless impoverishment and dispossession of the Corporate Globalization project, fuels the violence of poor on poor - the perfect smokescreen to keep the structures of power intact and unchallenged.
However, directing peoplesâ€™ frustrations into violence is not always enough. In order to â€˜Create a Good Investment Climateâ€™ the State often needs to intervene directly.
In recent years the police has repeatedly opened fire on unarmed people, mostly Adivasis, at peaceful demonstrations. In Nagarnar,Jharkhand; in Mehndi Kheda, Madhya Pradesh; in Umergaon,
When it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi communities, they get killed for encroaching on forest land, (Muthanga) as well as when theyâ€™re trying to protect forest land from dams, mining operations, steel plants (Koel Karo, Nagarnar). The repression goes on and on â€“ Jambudweep, Kashipur, Maikanj.
In almost every instance of police firing, those who have been fired upon are immediately called militants (PWG, MCC, ISI, LTTE).
When victims refuse to be victims, they are called terrorists and are dealt with as such. POTA is the broad-spectrum antibiotic for the disease of dissent. There are other, more specific steps that are being taken â€“ court judgements that in effect curtail free speech, the right to strike, the right to life and livelihood. The exits are being sealed. This year 181 countries voted in the UN for increased protection of human rights in the era of the War on Terror. Even the
So how can ordinary people counter the assault of an increasingly violent state?
The space for non-violent civil disobedience has atrophied. After struggling for several years, several non-violent peoplesâ€™ resistance movements have come up against a wall and feel quite rightly, they have to now change direction. Views about what that direction should be are deeply polarized. There are some who believe that an armed struggle is the only avenue left. Leaving aside Kashmir and the North East, huge swathes of territory, whole districts in Jharkhand,
There is no debate taking place in
Armed struggle provokes a massive escalation of violence from the State. We have seen the morass it has led to in
So then, should we do what our Prime Minister suggests we do? Renounce dissent and enter the fray of electoral politics? Join the roadshow? Participate in the shrill exchange of meaningless insults which serve only to hide what is otherwise an almost absolute consensus. Letâ€™s not forget that on every major issue â€“ nuclear bombs, big dams, the Babri masjid controversy, and privatization â€“ the Congress sowed the seeds and the BJP swept in to reap the hideous harvest.
This does not mean that the Parliament is of no consequence and elections should be ignored. Of course there is a difference between an overtly communal party with fascist leanings and an opportunistically communal party. Of course there is a difference between a politics that openly, proudly preaches hatred and a politics that slyly pits people against each other.
And of course we know that the legacy of one has led us to the horror of the other. Between them they have eroded any real choice that parliamentary democracy is supposed to provide. The frenzy, the fair-ground atmosphere created around elections takes center-stage in the media because everybody is secure in the knowledge that regardless of who wins, the status quo will essentially remain unchallenged. (After the impassioned speeches in Parliament, repealing POTA doesnâ€™t seem to be a priority in any partyâ€™s election campaign. They all know they need it, in one form or another.) Whatever they say during elections or when theyâ€™re in the opposition, no government at the state or center, no political party right/left/ centre/sideways has managed to stay the hand of neo-liberalism. There will be no radical change from â€œwithinâ€.
Personally, I donâ€™t believe that entering the electoral fray is a path to alternative politics. Not because of that middle-class squeamishness -â€˜politics is dirtyâ€™ or â€˜all politicians are corruptâ€™, but because I believe that strategically battles must be waged from positions of strength, not weakness.
The targets of the dual assault of communal fascism and neo-liberalism are the poor and the minority communities (who, as time goes by are gradually being impoverished.) As neo-liberalism drives its wedge between the rich and the poor, between India Shining and
A political party that represents the poor will be a poor party. A party with very meagre funds. Today it isnâ€™t possible to fight an election without funds. Putting a couple of well known social activists into Parliament is interesting, but not really politically meaningful. Not a process worth channelizing all our energies into. Individual charisma, personality politics, cannot effect radical change.
However, being poor is not the same as being weak. The strength of the poor is not indoors in office buildings and courtrooms. Itâ€™s outdoors, in the fields, the mountains, the river valleys, the city streets and university campuses of this country. Thatâ€™s where negotiations must be held. Thatâ€™s where the battle must be waged.
Right now those spaces have been ceded to the Hindu Right. Whatever anyone might think of their politics, it cannot be denied that theyâ€™re out there, working extremely hard. As the State abrogates its responsibilities and withdraws funds from health, education and essential public services, the foot soldiers of the Sangh Parivar have moved in. Alongside their tens of thousands of shakhas disseminating deadly propaganda, they run schools, hospitals, clinics, ambulance services, disaster management cells. They understand powerlessness. They also understand that people, and particularly powerless people, have needs and desires that are not only practical humdrum day to day needs, but emotional, spiritual, recreational. They have fashioned a hideous crucible into which the anger, the frustration, the indignity of daily life, and dreams of a different future can be decanted and directed to deadly purpose. Meanwhile the traditional, mainstream Left, still dreams of â€˜seizing powerâ€™, but remains strangely unbending, unwilling to address the times. It has laid siege to itself and retreated into an inaccessible intellectual space, where ancient arguments are proffered in an archaic language that few can understand.
The only ones who present some semblance of a challenge to the onslaught of the Sangh Parivar are the grassroots resistance movements scattered across the country, fighting the dispossession and violation of fundamental rights caused by our current model of â€œDevelopmentâ€. Most of these movements are isolated and, (despite the relentless accusation that they are â€œforeign funded foreign agentsâ€) they work with almost no money and no resources at all. Theyâ€™re magnificent fire-fighters, they have their backs to the wall. But they do have their ears to the ground. They are in touch with grim reality. If they got together, if they were supported and strengthened, they could grow into a force to reckon with. Their battle, when it is fought, will have to be an idealistic one â€“ not a rigidly ideological one.
At a time when opportunism is everything, when hope seems lost, when everything boils down to a cynical business deal, we must find the courage to dream. To reclaim romance. The romance of believing in justice, in freedom and in dignity. For everybody. We have to make common cause, and to do this we need to understand how this big old machine works â€“ who it works for and who it works against. Who pays, who profits. Many non-violent resistance movements fighting isolated, single-issue battles across the country have realized that their kind of special interest politics which had its time and place, is no longer enough. That they feel cornered and ineffectual is not good enough reason to abandon non-violent resistance as a strategy. It is however, good enough reason to do some serious introspection. We need vision. We need to make sure that those of us who say we want to reclaim democracy are egalitarian and democratic in our own methods of functioning. If our struggle is to be an idealistic one, we cannot really make caveats for the internal injustices that we perpetrate on one another, on women, on children. For example, those fighting communalism cannot turn a blind eye to economic injustices. Those fighting dams or development projects cannot elide issues of communalism or caste politics in their spheres of influence â€“ even at the cost of short-term success in their immediate campaigns . If opportunism and expediency come at the cost of our beliefs, then there is nothing to separate us from mainstream politicians. If it is justice that we want, it must be justice and equal rights for all â€“ not only for special interest groups with special interest prejudices. That is non-negotiable.
We have allowed non-violent resistance to atrophy into feel-good political theatre, which at its most successful is a photo opportunity for the media, and at its least successful, simply ignored.
We need to look up and urgently discuss strategies of resistance, wage real battles and inflict real damage. We must remember that the Dandi March was not just fine political theatre. It was a strike at the economic underpinning of the
We need to re-define the meaning of politics. The â€˜NGOâ€™isation of civil society initiatives is taking us in exactly the opposite direction. Itâ€™s de-politicizing us. Making us dependant on aid and handouts. We need to re-imagine the meaning of civil disobedience.
Perhaps we need an elected shadow parliament outside the Lok Sabha, without whose support and affirmation Parliament cannot easily function. A shadow parliament that keeps up an underground drumbeat, that shares intelligence and information (all of which is increasingly unavailable in the mainstream media). Fearlessly, but non-violently we must disable the working parts of this machine that is consuming us.
Weâ€™re running out of time. Even as we speak the circle of violence is closing in. Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us.