Pupa to its Plant
Let the stillness pass
and I will show you how I am going to light up
this dull winter sky
underneath which you and I
make love to each other, ceaselessly,
and wait for the moment of truth
manifesting itself in beauty, endlessly;
let me burst open
the temporary reality
of this hard shell
and you will see how
our pain and penance
brings the heaven down to the earth
as calmly as the unfolding of a leaf;
let the reluctant sun
with his lecherous face
hidden in the bosoms of helpless clouds
watch us make love:
your succulent tenderness
and you feeding me
your own green self;
and let every speck of dust
my unfurling beauty
as I explode in colours
when at last
I bid adieu.
The intellectual challenge of reading Ambedkar in contemporary India is huge and exciting at the same time. This is not merely because of the burgeoning number of Ambedkarites in the socio-political and academic realms of this country. The ever increasing potential of reading what was once hard and fast texts of political antagonisms in a much more creative and sympathetic manner is alluring in itself, the challenges thrown by it much higher than a ‘straight forward’ understanding of texts. Ambedkar, much like his quintessential ‘other’, Gandhi, offers tremendous possibilities for such a reading.
The peculiarities of Ambedkar’s texts in question, ‘Krishna and his Gita’ and ‘Annihilation of Caste’, are many. The former text is part of a much wider endeavour by Ambedkar under the broad title “Revolution and Counter revolution in Ancient India”. It was a natural and logical outcome of the herculean intellectual project –the construction of a counter history for the Dalits-that was his life’s work. Ambedkar couldn’t have but faced the Gita, the ancient but frequently invoked text of Hinduism in his pursuit of an alternate and touchable history. To “corrupt” [i] the text upon which rests unimaginable defences of centuries of injustice and apathy was a paramount political responsibility for him.
In the case of ’Annihilation of Caste’, the second text in consideration, the peculiarities start from the fact that it was an undelivered speech. But although the speech failed to reach its initial target, namely the audience of the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal Annual Conference of 1936, it strongly resonated with the wider Hindu public in its later written avatar. One can safely claim that ‘Annihilation of Caste’ is perhaps the most well known piece of writing among the vast corpus of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar’s works today. For those who reckon the potency of unuttered words in history, the irony is hard to miss. What is also hard to ignore is the vehemence of the title, coming especially from an ardent believer of non-violence and of the legislative process. ‘To destroy somebody or something completely’ is how the Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘annihilate’. Ambedkar seems to have reached the point of no return while giving shape to this much celebrated speech. His convictions regarding the thoroughly rotten nature of the Hindu religion appears to have fully solidified by then. The attempt here is to look at these two texts briefly in the light of two other exciting pieces of writings- Aishwary Kumar’s ‘Ambedkar’s Inheritances’ and excerpts from D. R. Nagaraj’s critical work ‘The Flaming Feet’.
Aishwary Kumar seeks to go beyond the simple and hostile nature of Ambedkar’s reading of the Gita. Kumar sets in motion a variety of elements to understand the distraught yet intimate relationship that Ambedkar shares with the Hindu religious texts ( here the Gita). History, modernity, universality, hermeneutics and most importantly the overbearing force of politics are the matrices through which he approaches the critical corpus of Ambedkar’s unfinished attempt, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India”. This is done by drawing a parallel between Ambedkar and Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher. In their meticulous attention to both form and content, to the hermeneutics and politics of texts, Kumar identifies a pair of “equally distraught figures in twentieth century thought”.
On the other hand, Nagaraj is concerned with the apparent” irreconcilability” of Gandhi and Ambedkar, the two critical figures of 20th century India. He asks whether there is anything real and fundamental about this much hyped antagonism, an answer for which will have far reaching consequences for the Dalit movement in India. In pursuing this, Nagaraj rigorously apprehends the differences between the Gandhian and the Ambedkarite approaches to the Dalit question. But more importantly, the conclusion he draws is that “both Gandhiji and Ambedkar can and should be made complimentary to each other”.[ii] Nagaraj draws upon the notion of “ontological difference to distinguish between contingent details of historical fact and the truth of a deeper historical concern”.[iii] The deeper historical truth, according to him, reveals not the conflicting facts but a dynamic unity.
In ‘Krishna and his Gita’, Ambedkar dismisses the Gita as a mere defence of the dogmas of counter –revolution, devoid of any principles worth the name. This is one charge which he extends to the Hindu religion as a whole in’ Annihilation of Caste’ as well. Targeting the philosophic defence of fratricidal war that the Gita offers on the basis of the perishable nature of the human body and the transmigration of the soul, Ambedkar calls it an “unheard of defence of murder”.[iv] He is equally critical of the Gita’s defences of the Chaturvarnya and the Karma Marga, which are also shown by him to be based on fragile and unsustainable premises.
Such attempts to provide a philosophical basis for the counter revolutionary movement that took place in ancient india were necessary since Budhism proved to be too strong a current to be easily broken. The defence offered by the proponents of counter-revolution prior to Gita hinged only on the authority of the Vedas, which was obviously inadequate. Thus, Ambedkar shows the Gita to be a text written predominantly for aiding in the process of the counter revolution which sought to ultimately restore bahminical authority in the Hindu society. In the second part of the essay, he strives to prove the Gita to be a text posterior in time to Budhism and Jaimini’s ‘Purva Mimansa’. In a painstaking and detailed analysis of the text, he reveals it to be permeated by Budhist ideology. Even the dialogic form of the Gita is cited as giving evidence to it being modelled on Budhist Suttas. The challenge thrown by Ambedkar regarding the antiquity of the Gita is both detailed and compelling.
Ambedkar doggedly draws parallels which were hitherto non-existent between texts and traditions. But there seems to be a genuine dilemma at work which he struggles to grapple with in his ‘annihilation’ of the Gita. On the one hand, Ambedkar is determined to show the Gita in its ‘true coulours’, i. e, as a vehicle of the dissemination of counter-revolution. But, he is also reluctant to let go of the text, to dismiss or ignore it, completely. How else could one account for his meticulous attention to those details that reveal the textual brotherhood between the Gita and Budhism , not to speak of the triumphal tone that his essay assumes in conclusion in having successfully drawn the “parallel”? Aishwary Kumar can see Ambedkar committing an act of “hermeneutic fratricide” [v] here; in denigrating the Gita as merely a propaganda literature of Brahminism by failing to acknowledge the cross influences. The question he poses, “What does Ambedkar do with this skewed, disjoint, textual brotherhood?”, is undoubtedly pertinent.
But does Ambedkar really go to the extent of commiting a textual fratricide here? To me, what stands out is the ambiguous and fraught nature of his relationship with the text. Kumar says,” this limited concession to the probable and partial originality of the Gita and a more circumspect attitude toward his own dating of the texts would have marked the generality of Ambedkar’s ethical responsibility. It would have marked his commitment to an interrupted yet conjoined history and memory of religious heterodoxies that punctuate Indic classicism”. Yet, I think, it is the sheer weight of these heterodox traditions and conjoined history that imbue Ambedkar’s essay with its unintended ambiguity. The claim that Kumar makes that Ambedkar becomes “the most modern reader and practitioner “of the Gita in committing this “act of unacknowledged fratricide” is indeed interesting. That is what he is desperately trying to do by revealing the counter revolutionary interests of the Gita. But, the very fact that the Gita borrowed heavily from Budhism , makes it a much more complex text than it appears to be. And by acknowledging and utilising this shadow of the budhist thought looming large over the Gita in his attempt to undermine the text’s antiquity, Ambedkar unwittingly opens the porous doors of textual and traditional neighbourhoods of ancient India. Ambedkar is clearly inspired by the clarion call of politics to slay the ‘other’ but is prevented from accomplishing his aim by the omnipotence of history which confronts him in its deceptively heterodox form. ‘Fratricide’ remains, I think, at best an unfinished task for Ambedkar.
In ‘Annihilation of Caste’, he is fundamentally concerned about the unsustainable nature of the institution of caste in an organic society. Ambedkar systematically demolishes different shades of defences striving to legitimise caste. Neither the ‘division of labour’ argument nor the justification of caste in the name of ‘eugenics’ stands the scrutiny of his ruthless exposition of the vested interests at work. The inability of Hinduism to take up a proselytising mission like Christianity or Islam is attributed to the uniquely enclosed nature of caste. The Hindu is prevented from sharing the “light” by his caste. Ambedkar is at his polemical best here, “if the Mohammeden has been cruel, the Hindu has been mean and meanness is worse than cruelty”, he says. Such a state affairs is sanctioned and endorsed by the Shastras which provide a divine basis for the caste system and hold men in their thraldom. Ambedkaris convinced that to destroy the rationale of caste, one will inevitably have to undermine the authority of the Shastras and the Vedas. Only a complete break from its scriptural past will reform the Hindu religion which, according to Ambedkar, is nothing more than a mass of sacrificial, socio political and sanitary rules devoid of principles. He even “corrupts”[vi] the much hailed ‘sanatan’ nature of values by opining that there must be a constant revolution of old values, striking a surprisingly similar tone with Faucault who argued for the “continuous critique of our historical era”.
Annihilation of Caste, despite having a reformative tone about it, in a way is Ambedkar bidding his good bye to Hinduism. This is revealed by the way he concludes his speech, after what can be termed an extremely provocative and powerful exposition of the cankers devouring the body politic of the Hindu society:
You must make your efforts to uproot Caste, if not in my way, then in your way. I am sorry, I will not be with you. I have decided to change. This is not the place for giving reasons. But even when I am gone out of your fold, I will watch your movement with active sympathy and you will have my assistance for what it may be worth. [vii]
The prescriptions he gives for a ‘religion of principles’ which precedes the above remarks also smacks of incredibility and utopianism. The cleansing act that he demands of the Hindus, interestingly, is far greater in magnitude than any project of ‘self purification’ [viii] ever endorsed by Gandhi. The institution of a single sacred book for the Hindus and the introduction of state supervision over priesthood are clearly tasks nigh impossible. Yet, it is as if Ambedkar is deliberately stretching the limits of his ambitious plan for a renewed religion, knowing full well that what he is actually asking the Hindu religion (as it is now) is to commit hara-kiri.
Any appraisal worth its name of Nagaraj’s essays will take several pages, and hence is beyond the scope of this note. I will only look at a single strand of thought from Nagaraj which to my mind is also central to the Dalit question. It will also, I think, let us appreciate the emancipatory leaps of the following declaration that Ambedkar makes in ‘Annihilation of Caste’:
“I will not join with them in performing the miracle-I will not say trick- of liberating the oppressed with the gold of the tyrant and raising the poor with the cash of the rich”.
The Gandhian project of removal of the scourge of utouchability through a process of ‘self purification’ of the Hindu society had every conceivable element for success except one-the sense of agency for the Dalit. Although the movement tried to mask and make up this fatal absence by a variety of other means like its romantic spirit, idealism and even suffering on the part of the Dalit, they were all far from being an adequate substitute for the craving for action and agency. Put simply, there was nothing for the Dalit to do, other than admire the big brother’s generosity and wait. Nagarj beautifully sums up this historical vacuum in the Gandhian project, “That was the basic limitation of the Gandhian mode:Sugreeva, Hanumantha, and Guha could never aspire to act the major part displacing the hero in the Ramayana. Only Rama is the hero and Ambedkar could never settle for the roles of Hanumantha and Sugreeva”.
Emancipation by others always stops short of empowerment. Every liberation struggle across the globe screams out this fact. The self respect of the Negro in today’s America comes from the historical memory of the self assertion by his predecessors in the Civil Rights movement. The oppressed can be aided in his struggle by every sympathiser of his cause, but the yoke has to be thrown off by his own hands, if real freedom is what the aim is. The political genius of Ambedkar lies in his realisation of this fact despite being confronted by the apparent moral supremacy of the Gandhian mission.
* Reading the Gita as an ‘earthly’ text, the Ambedkar way
The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most revered and quoted text among the works of ancient Hindu literature, which makes any challenge thrown at it extremely important and interesting. It has also remained the cornerstone of all justifications offered in favour of the institution of chaturvarnya, which later degenerated into the caste system of which the dalits were the greatest victims. Hence, it happens to be the text to confront for anyone writing on the religious and socio political evolution of the Hindus as a society with a Dalit perspective. Thus, it could be seen that the essay in question, ‘Krishna and his Gita’, was a natural and logical outcome of the herculean intellectual project that Dr. B.R.Ambedkar undertook as his life’s work. Ambedkar couldn’t have but faced this ancient but frequently invoked text of Hinduism in his pursuit of an alternate and touchable history.
In his thoroughly detailed analysis of the Gita, Ambedkar argues that it is posterior in time to both Jaimini’s ‘Purva Mimansa’and Budhist philosophy. He quotes versus from the text discussing the doctrines of ‘Purva Mimansa’ (chapter 3, verses 9-18) to prove this. By preaching concepts such as the Anasakthi karma, a fundamentally modified concept, the Gita reveals itself as a text posterior to ‘Poorva Mimansa’. Also, the reference to ‘brahma sutras’, according to Ambedkar, furnishes direct evidence for the conclusion that the Gita is later than the Brahma Sutras of Badrayana. Similarly, concepts such as the Brahma nirvana and ‘the character of a true devotee’ in Gita prove that there were serious attempts to co-opt Budhist principles into the fold of Hinduism. The dialogic structure of Gita and Krishna’s offering of salvation to even women and Shudras are other instances of the Gita being deliberately modelled on Budhism , as identified by Ambedkar. The permeation of Budhist ideology and attempts to perfect the doctrines of ‘Purva Mimansa’ in the Gita are the main evidences offered by the author in his bid to challenge the antiquity of the text.
Ambedkar’s challenge of Gita’s universality is subtler. To make sense of this, one will have to see his depiction of ‘revolution and counter revolution’ in ancient india. The emergence of Budhism as a religious and socio political movement is regarded by Ambedkar as a revolution which came into full bloom under the patronage of the emperor Ashoka. The Brahmins who had lost their position of privilege as a result of this heralded a counter revolution after the the Maurya empire declined. [i Pushyamitra Sung, who was from a brahmin dynasty lend the necessary political support for this process. Other texts enforcing counter revolution like the ‘Purva Mimansa’ were tottering under the attack of Budhism as they only had the authority of Vedas to fall back on, which was obviously inadequate. This is where Gita comes in, armed with its apparently tenable and stable defences of concepts such as Chaturvarnya and rationalisation of violence. Thus, Ambedkar shows the Gita to be a text written predominantly for aiding in the process of the counter revolution which sought to ultimately restore bahminical authority in the Hindu society. This effectively shatters all claims of universality.
Adding depth to the political implications is, I think, yet another facet of Ambedkar’s challenge as delineated in ‘Krishna and his Gita’. Apart from his attacks on the antiquity and universality of the text, there’s also an attempt to de-philosophize the Gita (and thus make it more touchable?) by the author. This he does by objecting to the common translations of karma yoga and jnana yoga, two concepts of vital importance in the text, as ‘action’ and ‘knowledge’ respectively. He rejects the proposition that the Gita is concerned with any general, philosophical discussion of action versus knowledge. He says, “By karma yoga or action, the Gita means the dogmas contained in jaimini’s karma kanda and by jnana yoga or knowledge it means the dogmas contained in Badarayana’s brahma sutras”. The attribution of debates about activity or inactivity and quieticism or energism to the Gita is wrong since the references originally are to religious acts and observances . Ambedkar ruthlessly tears the facade of high philosophy away from the Gita for which he holds “patriotic Indians” like Tilak as the culprits. This also counters the perception of the Gita as a self-contained text devoid of literary predecessors.
But, the question still remains as to what exactly happens when the antiquity of a text, or a tradition for that matter, is questioned. Human beings have a palpable sense of veneration for things ancient, more visible in traditional and [ii]prismatic societies. Many a times, it is also accompanied by an automatic attribution of authority to such traditions or texts. The Indian society, being largely untouched by the transformational effects of modernity, is certainly susceptible to this irrational awe and veneration of the ‘distant past’. Hence by questioning the antiquity of the gita as a text, Ambedkar seems to have effectively countered its claims of authenticity stemming from its origins in the ‘the distant past’. This is more striking when one comes to think of the innumerable traditions and practices in India that has managed to avoid scrutiny of any kind by seeking refuge in the imprints of the past that they claim to have upon them.
The political implications of showing the Gita as not so universal are much more evident. As a text that is constantly invoked to deal with the moral and ethical dimensions of public life, the Gita has played an unprecedented role in Indian history, especially during the freedom struggle. Gandhi, undoubtedly the greatest practitioner of the logic of Gita, frequently referred to it as a source of guidance and inspiration. It was important for Ambedkar to break free of this strangle hold of organic unity of the imagined hindu community as envisaged by leaders including Gandhi. This is what he sought to achieve by establishing Gita to be an exclusively brahminical text and propaganda literature of counter revolution. This added to the radical edge of the socio political movements that he led in a substantial way. Ambedkar’s general contempt for the hindu scriptures and his plea for a universally accepted sacred text for the hindus should be read along with this.
If the aim of writing the essay was to logically undermine the moral and scriptural authority of the Gita as a text, Ambedkar has remarkably succeeded in his endeavour. But there are other tasks that the essay carries out, wittingly or unwittingly. It drags down the Gita from the high echelons of moral and philosophical positions to more reachable and [iii]touchable grounds. It also makes it acknowledge the ‘uncomfortable neighbourhoods’ of texts and thoughts. In other words, Ambedkar seems to have made the Gita lose its aura of divinity and purity, bestowing upon it the more earthly colours of reality. The latter effects, somehow, seems more interesting.
*This is something I wrote as part of my course, thought it is general enough to be posted here.
The moon is only a glimmer
of what she used to be
in the cobwebbed sky over us
of a marijuana grey,
as the dawn breaks stealthily.
There are no pains,
only their distant memories
and numbed even more by the quiet night
I let them slip through my fingers like sand
and hope nobody notices.
A Wind chill through our words
making them cling to each other in desperation
even as we remain distant
mired in worlds eons apart.
I hear our long famished thoughts gasp
incarcerated in the stillness
of rocks feigning indifference
strewn around us in abundance.
I think of us as people shipwrecked
trying not to remember where once home was
and huddled together for what there is,
I don’t know, I just think.
This neither is reality nor a dream
just, I’m told, a secret place in between
a pause before the plunge ahead
or a song before silence descends.
*the setting is one among the many quiet places in HCU where we got together after a party.
Tales from Dantewada: State, Maoists and the Tribals
The question ‘whose side are you on’ is an often repeated one in history. Marx, Gandhi and even Hitler arrived on the world stage as answers to this particular question. Revolutions, freedom struggles and revolts have all been different manifestations of the quest to answer it. They all happened as responses by the people to their realities in different contexts in history. But what happens when the very concept of a single reality is shattered? The 21st century is characterised by multiple voices, true, but it’s also characterised by multiple realities. This short introduction is meant to draw your attention to the changing nature of the Indian state since its ‘conversion’ to neo-liberalism, especially after the 80′s. Also, to impress upon the contemporary complexities of the seemingly simple ‘on whose side are you’ question.
It was in 2005 April that Dr. Manmohan Singh described Maoism as the ‘gravest internal threat’ of India.The Maoist movement back then hadn’t really qualified itself for such a remark. But today what we see is a movement spreading over 60,000 sq.k.m of forest land, with lakhs of supporters, in thousands of villages. It has become a movement that has established itself as the strongest rebel force challenging the writ of the Indian state.
The Naxalbari movement of 1967 in Bengal under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jungle Santhal (which later came to be known as Naxalism) is the first organised Maoist movement in India. This movement characterised by the adage ‘the thunder of spring’ rose to prominence in the 70’s and was suppressed by the 80’s. Charumajumdar’s essays and speeches inspired by Chairman Mao gives a general idea regarding the nature of this movement. Majumdar’s violent and unpopular ‘annihilation theory’, lack of influence in the urban areas etc were some of the reasons for the failure of the movement. The Naxal uprising in AP during the 80’s can also be viewed in this context. Like Naxalbari, it was also suppressed ruthlessly and effectively by the state. The goverment intervention using special forces such as the ‘Grey Hounds’ in AP is regarded as a model for anti naxal campaigns even today.
Today, India is witnessing the strongest Naxal resurgence ever in its history. The media, irrespective of its corporate and alternate avatars, has been continuously voicing its concern over the issue. The Indian state has launched ‘Operation Green Hunt’, a massive military campaign against the Maoists. In one of their most brutal attacks, the maoists massacred 75 CRPF personnel in an ambush in Dantevada recently. Special Police Officers and civilians have also been targeted. Maoists have also had to face severe setbacks. Talks about the armed forces being brought in to action are in the air.
What is it that enables the Maoist movement to re-emerge from their ashes time and again even after being repeatedly and brutally suppressed by the state? What makes a country that claims to be the largest democracy, declares war against its own people? What exactly is the alternative put forward by the Maoists? What should be the stand of the civil society of this country in this highly volatile and threateningly huge issue? These are some of the important questions to which answers are sought through this article.
An analysis of the history of the Indian Maoist Movement right from its beginning in 1967 reveals a crucial fact. Be it Naxalbari in WB or Wayanad in Kerala, the adivasi population has been the strongest bastion of all these movements. The voice of this highly marginalised and exploited section of the Indian society has been unmistakably loud and clear in all these battle fields. If we take a look at the maoist strongholds in the country, tagged as the red corridor by the Indian state, this will become very obvious. The states of Chathisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and W B are the core realms of influence for the Maoists. These states are largely inhabitated by tribal populations like Ho, Santhal, Oron, Kole, Munda and Gond, ‘black people’ who have been around much before the birth of a country named India, much before colonisation took roots here.
These are people with a history of entering in to conflict with the mighty British empire even before the uprising of 1857. They have also offered resistance against the exploitation of the Jamindars who came later at the scene. Today, armed and organised by the Maoists, they’re fighting yet another battle, this time with the Indian state.
What exactly makes the gigantic Indian state so worried about the Maoist movement? After all, it’s just poor, illiterate and malnourished adivasis led by a bunch of ideologues. This question inevitably leads us to the concept of sovereignty, a basic tenet of state as the highest political association. Apart from sovereignty the other important elements that characterises a state are territory, population and government. When these basic elements are challenged it’s the very existence of state structure that comes under question. Today, this is exactly what the Maoist movement has managed to achieve. The system of parallel government that exists in Maoist dominated areas bear testimony to this fact. If one also takes in to account the self declared goal of the Maoists, the overthrow of the Indian state by 2050, the picture becomes clearer, but also grimmer. The system of government followed by Maoists in their areas of influence goes roughly like this:
These areas are governed by janatha sarkars, modelled on Chineese revolution and Vietnam War. Each janatha sarkar is elected by clusters of villages with populations ranging from 500 to 5000. They function with the help of 8 depts. -agriculture, trade, finance, justice(nyay), defence, health, public relations, education and culture and forest conservation(ironically, gov. statistics say that the forest cover has actually increased in naxal affected areas!)
The chief aim of ‘Operation Green Hunt’ is to ‘liberate’ these areas from the Maoists (in yet another instance of irony, these are already ‘liberated zones’ as per the Maoists i.e., liberated from the tyrannical Indian state). The relevant questions here are:
1) Why does the Indian state insist on bringing these areas under the “rule of law”?
2) What prevented the state from achieving this goal till now?
3) What exactly was the role of the Indian state in these areas which are comparable to Sub-Saharan African countries in terms of poverty and backwardness (as per MPI-Multi Dimensional Poverty Index- Study done by Oxford backed by UN)?
It can be seen that it’s the adivasi communities that has been at the receiving end of almost all the large scale developmental projects undertaken by the gov. of India ever since independence. It’s true that the country needs hydro electric projects, express highways and mineral ores for its growth. But nothing can justify our wilful negligence of this basic question which an egalitarian society is supposed to pose at every mode of its journey-“On whose cost development?”
How on earth can you expect a people to accept and acknowledge a ‘state’ that shows no interest whatsoever in fulfilling their basic needs such as food and education? Why would they recognise such a ‘state’? For the people in the states of Chathisgarh and Jharkhand, for a long time, the officials of the Forest Dept. have been the chief symbol of the Indian state. These were men who took raping adivasi women as a matter of their right, whose routine involved destroying adivasi farm lands, day after day. It’s this brutal face of the state that forced the people in to direct confrontation with it, under the leadership of the Maoists. Today the whole Dankaranya region is devoid of the dreaded forest dept. officials. The reasons for the rise of the Maoist movement are obvious.
There’s no dearth of statistics. More than two and half crores of people have been displaced as a result of mining activities in the first four and half decades of Indian independence. Not even 25% of these people have been rehabilitated. Out of this population more than half are Adivasis (‘Rich Lands, Poor People’- report by CSE, 2008). The blatant loot by private players empowered by National Mineral Development Policy of 1993 is largely responsible for this sorry state of affairs. More than 164 lakh hectares of forest has been cleared for this purpose till now. Official statistics say that there are more than 15,000 illegal mines in the country. All the gallant declarations made by the Indian gov. in various international forums for climate change regarding its commitment towards forest conservation and environmental protection has been reduced to just another joke.
Arundhati Roy, in her brilliant essay titled “Walking with the Comrades”, raises yet another aspect of the problem. The Gond tribes of Orissa have been worshipping the ‘Niyamgiri’ hills as their gods for centuries by now. MNCs like Essar, Tata and Vedanta have signed various MoUs with the state government to mine these hills which happens to be a rich source of bauxite, iron ore and other natural resources, obligating the gov. to provide basic infrastructure like roads and conducive atmosphere for the same. Now, the question is, “would the government have acted in the same way if it was faced with a situation involving, say temples or mosques instead of these hills?” Isn’t Right to Religion applicable when it comes to adivasis? The 5th schedule of Indian constitution dealing with Administration and Control of Tribal Areas assigns the governor to report directly to the President regarding the administration of tribal areas. But all these safe guards provided by the constitution vanish in to thin air at the prospect of multimillion dollar agreements between the MNCs and the government.
This reflects the inevitable internal contradiction faced by all ‘democratic’ governments that follows the neo-liberal paradigm of development. This happens when the very conception of development becomes extremely one sided and the majority of people gets evacuated from its premises. The neo liberal slogan of development above politics effectively reduces the scope and depth of political activity in the society. Politics devoid of a dialogue about the nature of development is undoubtedly impoverished and ineffectual. Above all it makes Democracy a meaningless and wasteful exercise that’s visible only in the polished streets of Delhi and not in the villages of Dantewada.
It was in 1980 that the Maoists, fleeing from AP, reached Dantewada, amidst the unorganised and exploited tribals. They had to build the organisation from scratch, and that’s exactly what they did. It all started when the Maoists intervened to secure higher prices from the contractors for the ‘tendu’ and Bamboo products on which the sustenance of the adivasis depends upon heavily. They won over the peoples’ hearts with a relentless struggle against forest officials that saw the men in uniform retreating in to safety, out of Dantewada. The Maoists’ dominance in these areas is not an overnight phenomenon. It happened as a result of relentless struggle for the peoples’ rights along with ideological education and military training. Today the Maoists claim that there’s not a single landless adivasi left in the whole region.
But we also need to enquire here about the nature of the alternative put forward by the Maoists. It’s obvious that that in the last 30 years of their campaign they have been focussing almost solely on building up a well trained armed force. Till now, disappointingly, they’ve not been able to effectively intervene in basic issues of the people such as agriculture, health and education, nor have they managed to raise the standard of living of the people. Most importantly, the Maoists have failed to initiate Panchayathi Raj institutions, a vital prerequisite of people’s democracy, which is promised to be heralded by the Maoists. Also, pro poor legislations of the state like NREGA and Forest Rights Act etc also remains largely under utilised by the Maoist administration which denied the people the little relief that they could have got from their daily routine of penury and exploitation. Of course the Maoists were severely crippled as a banned organisation, no doubt, but even then there were things they could’ve done, if they were willing to shift the focus from arms. It’s a fact that almost all the money tolled from the contractors was dedicated for the procurement of arms.
But the most disappointing aspect has been the rise in the violence unleashed by the Maoists in the last few months. One might even be able to justify the resistance they offered against Salvajudum, the tyrannical and government sponsored militia which heralded a reign of terror in the villages. But the killing of civilians in recent times strips them off from whatever moral justification they had and points to a serious degradation in the organisation. It also offers a taste of things to come. The ultimate casualty is undoubtedly the life of the poor tribal, caught in the crossfire between the state, Maoists and the salvajudum.
The Maoists have time and again proclaimed their reluctance to compromise with the “bourgeois democracy” of the Indian state. But when one takes a closer look, what’s happening in Dantewada doesn’t look like a struggle to capture the state at all. Instead, what’s revealed is the sad plight of a people forced to take up arms when their last resource, the land, is being forcefully looted by a corporate-state nexus. In their struggle for existence they’ve none to turn to, except the Maoists. So naturally, they become Maoists. But it’s not the Maoists who have forced the adivasis to take up arms; it’s the vicious and unyielding exploitation inbuilt in to the system that’s responsible.
The conflict that’s snowballing in to a full scale war in the Indian heartland is a cause of concern for every citizen in this country. With the murder of Azad (maiost spokesperson) in a fake encounter, the prospects for dialogue between the gov. and the Maoists have become bleaker. The Indrāvati river in Dankaranya is turning dead red.
“History had taught him
how dictators are born
from the blood of the poor
time and again.
but at this moment
he’s with the these black people
singing the songs of liberation
under these tamarind trees”
Today, the Indian democracy is confronted with the ‘on whose side are you’ question. It doesn’t look like as if it can escape answering it, not this time.
Will it be able to stand with these “black people singing the songs of liberation”? Shouldn’t it be?
Kalpana Sharma at H C U
N.B: to know more about Kalpana Sharma, please check out this website- http://www.indiatogether.org/opinions/kalpana/