May 13, 2009 2 Comments
Ever since1991, when the Indian government decided to accept the conditions of the World Bank-IMF and begin the globalization of the Indian economy, remove all restrictions on inflows of foreign capital and goods and remove all restrictions on profiteering, the people of India have become second grade citizens, or non citizens, in their own land. Helots, as the Roman citizens used to call the others.
The country is now being run solely for the profit maximisation of giant corporations, both Indian and foreign. Laws are being modified to facilitate their plunder. All welfare services, including education, health, electricity, transport, the public distribution system designed to provide food to the poor at affordable rates, even drinking water facilities, are being taken over by these corporations and transformed into instruments of naked profiteering.
The corporations want to take control of the agricultural lands, forests, rivers, mountains, coastal lands. So that they can commandeer the resources – bauxite, iron ore, coal, water… Or set up special economic zones, infrastructural projects… Or build resorts, golf courses, villas, etc. Overnight, the people living on these lands and forests since times immemorial have become encroachers, and have been told to shoo off.
According to the Amnesty International Report of 2008, people are being displaced in every state in the country, including West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Maharashtra and Meghalaya. How many are being displaced? No one knows. The Government collects volumes of statistics every year, on every aspect of the economy. But it does not have a figure for the number of people that have been, or are being, displaced by big projects or sacrificed in other ways at the altars of ‘National Progress’.
What happens to these displaced people? How do they earn a living? No one knows. The government of India does not have a National Rehabilitation Policy. According to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (amended in 1984), the Government is not legally bound to provide a displaced person anything but a cash compensation. Most tribal people and small farmers have as much use for money as a Supreme Court judge has for a bag of fertilizer. In any case, most adivasis do not have formal title to their lands and therefore need not be given compensation.
Many millions are being displaced. Where do they go? No one knows. They don’t exist anymore.
A great majority of the displaced eventually land up in the slums existing in the peripheries of our great cities. To live and work in the most degrading, dehumanizing conditions. True, they are not being sent to the gas chambers, but their quality of life is not better than Hitler’s concentration camps.
Still their nightmare does not end. They continue to be uprooted even from their hellish hovels so that big corporations can build huge residential complexes, shopping plazas, multiplexes, airports…
The people are obviously not willing to be displaced without a fight. And so the Indian rulers are using every possible weapon in their war on the people: friendly courts, trigger friendly police, most draconian laws, corporate friendly media…
Ever since the beginnings of globalization, the higher Indian judiciary has taken a nakedly pro-corporate stance. They have passed judgements permitting displacement and thereby destruction of livelihoods of lakhs of people, in violation of their own previous judgements wherein they had declared the right to food, education, shelter as being fundamental rights. In the Narmada Bachao Andolan case, the courts allowed the project to go ahead, despite the fact that the mandatory environmental impact studies had not been done. In the Tehri Dam case, even though the government’s own expert committee had pointed out serious irregularities in the environmental clearance given to the project, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to the construction of the Dam. Likewise, the Supreme Court gave permission to Vedanta to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, despite the fact that its own environmental panel had accused Vedanta of violating environmental guidelines and urged that the environmental clearance given to the project be cancelled. The project will displace thousands of adivasis living in the area and destroy the pristine environment of the region. Four years ago, in a absolutely shocking judgement, the Delhi High Court, at the behest of the Delhi government, ordered the demolition of slums in Yamuna Pushta, affecting nearly one lakh people – the government wanted the land cleared so that five star hotels and shopping malls could be built there. In an even more blatant display of pro-rich bias, the courts have ordered demolition of slum in cities without even issuing notices to the people whose homes were being demolished, simply on the grounds that they were polluting the environment! Likewise, orders were passed for removal of hawkers from the streets of many cities. Orders were also passed to remove cycle rickshaw pullers from Delhi roads, just so that the rich can drive their luxury cars comfortably on what are supposed to be public roads and on which everyone should have equal rights!
The police are behaving like the private armies of the corporate elites. To evict people from their homes, they are resorting to indiscriminate arrests, brutal lathicharges, custodial torture and in many cases firings with the deliberate intention of killing the agitating people. The Amnesty International Report of 2008 mentioned above alleges that in several states where big projects are being implemented resulting in displacement and destruction of people’s livelihoods, unlawful methods are increasingly used to deal with such protests, and impunity for abuses is widespread.
In Nandigram (West Bengal), where people refused to give their fertile lands for a special economic zone, the police and private militias owing allegiance to the ruling CPM brutally attacked the people, and indulged in unlawful killings, abductions, sexual assault on women; in open collusion with the attackers, the authorities denied access and information to the media and human rights organizations, harassed human rights defenders and even denied justice to the victims. Just a few months ago, in December 2008, police opened fire on a peaceful protest by 7000 adivasis in Dumka, Jharkhand, murdering at least 3 people. The adivasis were protesting against the setting up of a 1000 MW coal based power plant in their area by CESC, an RPG group company. In Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, the state has deployed thousands of armed police to brutally crush the local people who have been fighting for the last three years to prevent their lands, resources and livelihoods from being taken over for a mega steel plant and port by POSCO, a South Korean giant. Not very far from there, in Kalinganagar, on January 2, 2006 police gunned down 13 people in a bid to terrorise and subjugate tribals protesting against acquisition of their lands for a massive steel plant being set up by the Tatas. Five corpses returned after post-mortem were mutilated; one dead woman’s breast was ripped off, and a young boy (also killed in the firing) had his genitals mutilated. All had their palms chopped off. Since September 2007, government officials and police have virtually unleashed a war on the people of two mandals in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh an effort to forcibly acquire 4000 acres of land for the Kakinada SEZ. Nearer home, in 2004-05, the police and local administration brutally demolished homes of more than 4 lakh slum dwellers; probably another million more will have to suffer the same fate; the state government is seeking to acquire their lands for huge infrastructural projects and transform Mumbai into Shanghai. Likewise, most of the city’s 300,000 hawkers are being evicted.
In the French Canadian wars of the 1770s, Lord Amherst exterminated most of Canada’s Native Indians by offering them blankets infested with the small-pox virus. Being a democracy, India’s rulers have to find less obvious ways of achieving similar ends. The people of the country are waging heroic struggles to prevent the destruction of their livelihoods by the corporations-bureaucracy-police nexus. In many places, like in Nandigram-Singur-Kakinada-Jagatsinghpur, they have been able to keep these bloodhounds at bay. And so, India’s ruling classes are passing the most draconian laws to enable the police to attack people’s struggles even more ferociously.
Taking advantage of the shock created by the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008, the government rushed through the Parliament amendments to the already draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on December 15, 2008. These amendments make this law as harsh as the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota). Pota had been repealed by the UPA government just four years ago following widespread protests over its misuse – more than 98% of the people charge sheeted under this Act were found to be innocent and were acquitted. Now the very same government has surreptitiously brought it back.
Under the new law, the police have been given the powers to search, arrest, and keep in police custody and in jail persons on mere subjective suspicion – even if there is no evidence of their being involved in any terrorist acts. Even if no chargesheet is filed, those arrested can be kept in jail for six months. The bail provisions have been made more stringent. It’s an ingenious law – the government can now use it to stifle criticism, arrest adivasis protesting against displacement, clamp down on people fighting to save their livelihoods, incarcerate Muslims, Christians and Dalits. Pota, which had precisely the same provisions, was used in the very same way. By the time the thousands arrested under Pota were acquitted and released, their reputation, health, the economic conditions of their families, their very lives, had been ruined. The purpose had been served.
The new law extends the maximum period of police custody from 15 to 30 days. The police now have more time to hang people upside down and beat them up, burn them with cigarette butts, put iron rods up their anuses. Even without the harsher provisions of this new law, police torture was rampant in India. According to the national director of the European Union supported National Project on Preventing Torture in India (NPPT), “In the name of investigating crimes, extracting confessions and punishing perpetrators, torture is inflicted not only upon the accused, but also upon bona fide petitioners, complainants and informants. Torture in the form of custodial death; custodial rape; threats; psychological humiliation; and deprivation of food, water, sleep and medical attention is rampant in our country.” An extrapolation of the NPPT data suggests that a staggering 18 lakh people in India fall victim to police torture every year!
In Jammu and Kashmir and many North Eastern States – particularly Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura – the government has imposed an even more murderous act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It’s a harsher version of the act the British used to quell the 1942 Quit Indian Movement. This act allows not just officers but even Junior Commissioned 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. Yes, they can kill anyone with impunity, without fear of persecution! Nobody who lives in India can harbour any illusions about what that leads to. The documentation of instances of torture, disappearances, custodial deaths, rape and gang-rape (by security forces) is enough to make your blood run cold. Despite all this, most middle class Indians and even the international community still believes India to be a democracy. It’s a fantastic public relations coup!!
The country’s political parties are waging a war on the people of the country to hand over the country’s wealth – lands, rivers, forests, coasts, minerals, mountains – to a handful of giant foreign and Indian corporations.
A tiny minority, the country’s elites, are seeking to seize control of the nation’s wealth – lands, rivers, forests, coasts, minerals, mountains. And so, they are waging a war on the people of the country. Simultaneously, they are also driving the country into the cauldron of fascism.
Just to recall recent well known incidences: in Gujarat in 2002, the fascist thugs organised and led mobs 10,000-15,000 strong that butchered 2000 Muslims, stripped, gang-raped and then burnt alive Muslim women, looted and burnt shops, homes and mosques, and drove out more than one hundred and fifty thousand Muslims from their homes; In Orissa, fundamentalist goons instigated and led mobs of poor tribals into attacking poor Christian Dalits in Orissa – the orgy of lootings, burnings, murder began in August 2008 and continued for nearly two and a half months, left more than 40 dead, and led to forty thousand people fleeing their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs; in Karnataka, fascist goons vandalised churches, attacked women in pubs, declared a ban on girls and boys from different communities intermingling with each other, and they did all this with impunity – their leaders openly held press conferences and issued threatening press statements.
The country’s anti-terror laws are not applied on the fascist leaders of these murderous mobs. Not only do they roam free openly spouting their poisonous venom in society, they are allowed to contest elections and sit in Parliament despite openly violating the Constitution of India, and are feted by the country’s top corporate houses for their leadership qualities. Because it is in the interests of India’s ruling classes to promote communal divisions and push the country towards fascism; all major political parties are willing to play the communal card to a greater or lesser extent. In the words of Arundhati Roy, “The Government is conducting an extraordinary dual orchestra. While one arm is busy selling the nation’s assets in chunks (to the foreign and Indian corporate houses), the other, to divert attention, is arranging a baying, howling, deranged chorus of cultural nationalism.” The hatred preached by the fundamentalists, together with the frustration of relentless impoverishment caused by corporate globalization, acts as fuel for violence – of the poor against the poor. It’s perfect for the elites, they are happy with the poor killing the poor, because the poor are not challenging the power structure of society, the robbery of the country’s wealth by the rich.
So, then, what do we do? How do we, the ordinary people, fight this increasingly violent, brutal state?
The hope lies in the numerous people’s struggles taking place all over the country fighting the dispossession and violation of fundamental rights caused by our current model of “Development”. It is true that at present, they are scattered, small, isolated, have little money and resources, and are fighting an uphill battle. Nevertheless, they are magnificent. With time, many of them will grow, build links with each other, and become a force to challenge the corporations-politicians-bureaucracy-criminals ruling the country.
Friends, we also need to begin our own small initiatives, come together and build our own small movements to challenge the loot and plunder of the ruling elites, and gradually link up with the people’s struggles taking place all over the country. There is no need to be despondent about the power of the ruling classes and our own small numbers and weaknesses. The biggest and tallest trees all ultimately sprout from the Earth.
To begin, we must find the courage to dream. To dream of building a new and beautiful society, where there would be justice, freedom and dignity for all. The same dream which inspired Dr. Binayak Sen to set up health services for the tribals in Chattisgarh where none existed, the same dream which gave him the courage to speak out against the violations of their human rights by the state government and corporate houses, the same dream which has kept his spirit alive despite his incarceration for the past two years on absolutely fictitious grounds. The same dream which inspires Irom Sharmila to continue her hunger strike for nine years now, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act… Come, let us begin, by sharing their dreams…