By Vatsal Khandelwal

Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

“Middle-class people have the choice between hope and despair, just like they have the choice between shampoo for dry hair and oily hair; they have the choice between doing politics and interior design. People who are fighting don’t have a choice; they are fighting and they are focused and they know what they are doing.” – Arundhati Roy

Development has diverse interpretations in a society with antagonistic class interests; wherein the interests of one particular class are contradictory and even highly opposed to the interest and will of another class. Development thus tends to be synonymous with asymmetric growth, particularly in the Indian scenario where the policies of the government often caters to the interest of ‘a’ particular class and subsequently causes harm to the others. With respect to Articles 14-21 of the Indian Constitution it is the foremost duty of the Indian Welfare State to give the people the right to express their discontent, listen to their opposing views, make changes and formulate better policies henceforth. The inability of the state to perform its duty in this manner and its turning hostile towards the protestors instead leads to an anti-state sentiment much of which is reflected in strong powerful movements such as Naxalism. Lopsided development induced displacement, lack of inclusive growth, and the inability of the government to take action, to amend its policies and to maintain the sentiment of trust in the minds of the citizens lead to discontent, dissent and protests, as seen in movements like that of the Naxalites.

The Naxalites, referring to armed agrarian revolutionaries predominant in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal, have been declared by the state as a ‘terrorist organization’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Firstly, the freedom of expression and dissent, blatantly claimed to be granted by the State, is ‘not so free’ in nature as the protestors are often charged with titles such as ‘terrorists’. Secondly, instead of handling their justified grievances against exclusive development and consequent displacement, the state chooses not to hear but to subdue and silence their voices. Thirdly, what is often traced as the weakness of any movement (in this case, the Naxalite Movement) is the use of violence. However, making this claim of the Naxals being violent and hence their ideology, demands and grievances being “unlawful” under the 1967 Act is nothing but a farce to hide the truth of the government being incumbent, insensitive and indifferent. Also, if the Naxals are violent and committing a blunder by trying to ‘make their voices heard’, the State cannot be vindicated in the same light either. P. Chidambaram (supposedly the CEO of the war, according to Arundhati Roy in “Walking With the Comrades”), in a statement against the Naxalites, referred to Operation Green Hunt as a “media myth” and denied its existence, but still could not explain the allocation of huge funds into the project to which thousands of ‘private armies’ (Democracy?) have been deployed. Moreover, the shocking truth is that two PILs remain pending in the Supreme Court since 2007 asking for inquiry into the rapes and murders since 2005. The bodies were not even counted but they are now being identified as those of the Naxalites who were killed in the ‘encounters’. While the civilian deaths attributed to Naxal violence fell from 143 in 2008 to 116 in 2009, the ‘registered’ (note) number of Naxals killed increased from 66 in 2008 to 113 in 2009. This statistical data has been obtained from Police Records (quoted from The Hindu). However, the statistics do not give a clear picture; i.e. while the number of Naxals killed has been mentioned as 113 in 2009 one must not forget how many bodies have remained unidentified , how many cases have not been registered and how many of them have even been hidden in records. Thus, blaming Naxals for violence is hypocritical on the part of the State, itself responsible for an even greater violence which, according to its fundamental principles, should not be used to silence voices and dissent at all.

Caught in this web of violence and revenge between the State and the Naxals are the adivasis. As the bone of contention between the two sides increases, ultimately the tribals are forced to assume ‘fluid identities’ depending on who holds the power circumstantially. The adivasis, no matter how well tagged as ‘minorities’ by the Constitution and given special rights, have to either assimilate into the mainstream (a narrow, pejorative term defined by the urban academia) by losing their identity, integrate into it by retaining their identity and still be a part of the ‘mainstream’ or isolate i.e. remain geographically and culturally distinguished from the mainstream. The three options, before even being considered, raise the following questions:

(a)  What exactly is the ‘mainstream’ and,

(b) Is the State’s exclusive development strategies, (exclusive displacement strategies, rather) not widening the gap between this mainstream and the tribals?

Further, Naxals who follow a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology and stand for the tribals are also being violently subdued by the state. In this consequential process of retort and revenge between the Naxals and the State, the adivasis have gained nothing; neither could they assimilate in the system (though they have lost their identity) nor could they integrate into the system. What they have to face is nothing but hostility, fear and a constant feeling of being between the ‘devil and the deep sea’, where both sides claim to stand for them but neither is actually doing so.

For the tribals the Right to Vote has come at a huge cost of losing their right to a dignified livelihood. Each time the government undertakes a manufacturing/infrastructure project such as that of building a dam or a four-lane highway across the forests, it proclaims the project to be a strategy undertaken to give the tribals ‘the fruits of modern development’ and bring them into the ‘mainstream’. Further, a minister of the government went on to say that he does not want the tribals to live with their ‘museum cultures’, and therefore seeks to justify how the negative cost of displacement is lower than the positive benefit of development. This ‘strategy’ of assuaging the tribals through these projects and intrusion into their land is a ‘stratagem’ for forcing a purely economic decision in the name of ‘tribal alleviation’. The State creates highways for ‘them’, cutting down their forests and subsequently their livelihood, under the false assumption that the people whose history has transcended from the self-sustaining societies of Santhals, Mundas, Gondas would be enchanted to have a highway in their vicinity when they have not even dreamt of owning cars. (Economies of Concentration, apparently) Post 1947 historical transformation has not granted anything to the tribals. The only difference is that now the oppressors are not British; the government well advanced in its approach, tacitly practices ‘internal colonialism’ projecting it ethically as development and modernization. The tribals are nothing but forced riders and their rights are being sold, everyday, in MoUs.

Apparently Israel’s Mossad is training 30 high ranking police officials in techniques of perfect assassinations to combat the ‘Naxalite problem’. High quality weapons have been invested in. A country proud of being called a democracy is in fact, declaring a silent war over those who protest. If this is the meaning of development, then however economically forward India does become it shall always face the threat of losing internal sovereignty and constant discrepancies and conflicts within the system shall always exist. The only option, and perhaps the most viable one, would be to abandon this asymmetric idea of development which is just beneficial for a particular section of the society. Growth needs to be inclusive, development needs to cater to the common interests of the entire population and any kind of loss caused to one segment of the society in the name of development should not be justified at all. Policies need to be formulated keeping in mind the ‘population-welfare objective’ and not the ‘class welfare objective’. The tribals should not be forced to adapt to this farce, beautifully termed as ‘modernity’.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind