Wednesday, January 28, 2004

On the move

The World Social Forum brings together the poorest people on the planet. Randeep Ramesh in Mumbai hears new calls for the environment and social justice.

The ebullient crowd of 100,000 that filled the streets of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, last week, represented not just a triumph of people power but of ideas. Led by hundreds of red-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks, the global gathering of the radical left at the World Social Forum (WSF) paralysed traffic in India's financial centre.

But, in the words of organiser Gautam Mody, the idea was not to stop capitalism but to "contaminate" it. "The WSF is about contamination," he says. "People can come here and contaminate each other so that we can find new ways to work with each other."

Although much of the fervour generated was directed at old foes, such as Coca Cola and the International Monetary Fund, there were new targets also. Oxfam launched its campaign for a global treaty against the proliferation of small arms, which the charity describes as "the real weapons of mass destruction".

There were impassioned cries for justice in Kashmir from Yasin Malik, a former militant who has renounced violence to campaign for the state's independence. There were pleas from farmers in South America demanding land rights, and angry shouts from Bhutanese refugees in Nepal who want to return home.

The forum took place among the dust of a large empty factory complex in a northern suburb of Mumbai, better known for its auto showrooms and shopping malls than its concern for the poor. Under the slogan "Another world is possible", tens of thousands of people gathered from more than 100 countries.

The profusion of agendas made it difficult to see how an effective, coherent coalition could be formed. For example, not everybody cheered a retreat from the global market. Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, who used to work for the World Bank, one of the bogeymen of the WSF, criticised the way enforced trade liberalisation meant that poorer countries benefited less than richer countries, and he was well received.

But the common thread running through every argument was of the struggle of the powerless against the powerful. It ties together all the disparate causes.

The shape of the anti-globalisation movement has been altered forever by holding the WSF away from its "home", Brazil. Held annually from 2001 to 2003 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, the WSF organisers decided that a move abroad was needed to build wider support, acknowledging that it had long been dominated by Europeans and Latin Americans. At the last meeting, only 200 people from Asia attended. This year, more than half were from Asia, which contains nearly half of the world's poor.

India was chosen not only for the large number of its activist groups and its historic stance as an advocate of poor nations but because the country has been liberalising its economy for the past decade and has seen the arrival of a growing number of multinational firms.

Despite its image as a software superpower, most Indians work in agriculture. Devinder Sharma, who runs the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, in Delhi, campaigns against GM foods, pointing out the diminishing returns of using crops that have no long-term resistance to insect attack.

His argument is not just with the corporate takeover of farming, but with the pitiful response of governments to globalisation. "Every fourth farmer in the world is from South Asia," he says. "Productivity increases will mean more people leaving the land for the cities. Which is fine if you have created jobs for them, but the government has not. By liberalising our accounts, we now import cotton, maize, edible oil, even pulses. And we wonder why farmers here in India are beginning to commit suicide."

The anti-globalisation movement, which coalesced around the protests at the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in November 1999, started primarily as an anti-big-business movement, but the WSF has ensured that it revolves around anti-war and issues of discrimination.

In particular, the issue of caste was a central theme of the six-day event in Mumbai. "We are suffering an injustice that means people are killed because of who they are," says Dr Umarkant, a researcher with the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.

"We are the untouchables, the unapproachables, the unseeables of Indian society. If a Brahmin were even to look at us we will defile him. Yet we were promised 55 years ago that things would change and little has changed. So it is time to internationalise the cause."

Nearly 140 million Indians belong to the lowest caste known as the Dalits, or "the oppressed". The New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100,000 atrocities, including murder and rape, are committed each year against Dalits, who, in the view of Hindu traditionalists, should not be allowed even to sit on the same bus seats as higher-caste Indians.

Many of the activists in Mumbai were unaware that they were surrounded by millions who were born into a system of "invisible apartheid" and were furious once they learned about Hinduism's centuries-old social hierarchy. Links were made between groups discriminated against in Japan, Nigeria and Ecuador.

India's government is extremely sensitive to criticism on the issue of caste. Three years ago, it moved to delete the word from the agenda of the UN conference on discrimination in South Africa. But, says Umarkant, "We are going to start raising this issue at every opportunity to embarrass the Indian government into action."

The face that dominated the forum was that of US president George Bush. It could be seen among every march and on every float that passed. The figure everybody loved to hate. "We are pro peace and against war - the opposite of what Bush wants," says one of the delegates, Hassan from Tunisia. The WSF organisers aim to capitalise on the anti-war sentiments and plan a series of rallies around the world later this year.

As the WSF came to a close, the World Economic Forum kicked off in Davos, Switzerland, bringing together the richest and most powerful people on the planet. Although both profess to have the same aim - bringing about a more prosperous, secure world - they are poles apart in how to achieve it.

While the meeting in the Alps might at best claim to generate the growth and resources needed to fight poverty, in Mumbai the call was for more economic and social justice first. If the two are to be reconciled it will mean that both sides will have to listen to and learn from each other.

Source: The Guardian, January 28, 2004

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Message of Dalit Voice Summarized


Dear Editor,

I receive a lot of letters suggesting that minority religions should 'unite' with Dalits and low castes of India and become a permanent majority. I answer individually but since my response might be of interest to many more, I am making a public response.

It is true that five per cent Brahmins plus ten per cent other high castes rule India. The remaining eighty five per cent are the victims of the most vicious form of apartheid that ever existed any where. But the caste structure of India is more complex than those lving outside India understand. I have been reading Dalit Voice for several years and I understand a bit more. There are three planks to Dalit efforts to fight oppression and exploitation.

1. To assert that Dalits are not Hindus; they are the original inhabitants of India that populated the land before the Aryan immigration into the sub-continent and imposition of the caste system by them.

2. Dalits have been denied nourishment (by imposition of vegetarianism) and education (restricted by Brahmins to themselves) for so long that in multilingual India their jati (ethnic identity) is their only political identity. Since they constitute majority in many states of India, Dalits can secure their rights by jati solidarity in politics (elections) and in social activism.

3. The Brahmins and high caste rule India by their control over the press, education, judiciary, administration and national politics and popularise a view of history in which some foreign force is the villain and they the vanguard of resistance. This is the same methodology that was used by the Nazis to rule Germany and now by Zionists to rule America. Dalits in India would never escape the Brahmin stranglehold without internationalising their problem. They would get redress more readily by aligning themselves against all the present day Nazis - high castes in India, and racist Neo-Conservatives in America.

Unity can never be brought about without clear objectives. Dalits have a clear objective now. They want to rule the states in India in which they are in majority. To sustain their position in power they seek to ally themselves with all the oppressed of India including religious minorities - Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

I am impressed with the clarity of thinking and mounting self confidence of Dalits. The Editor of Dalit Voice - V.T.Rajshekar - is now the most articulate and effective voice of Dalits of India whose advice and political line carries weight not merely with Dalit political parties but with oppressed all over the world. I suggest that Muslims and Christians in India should form chapters and vote en bloc for Dalit parties in their states.

Sincerely,

Usman Khalid
Director London Institute of South Asia

Source: Paknews.com, January 24, 2004

Monday, January 19, 2004

DPI to wait and watch for LS poll strategy

A day after threatening to take on the secular alliance led by DMK, DPI general secretary Thol Thirumavalavan who held that victory of any front in Tamilnadu would be of no concern to them today said the party would wait for a while before announcing the final decision on poll strategy.

'A final decision on our official stand vis-a-vis polls would be announced only after announcement of poll dates. In the meanwhile, we will decide today on our next course of action, including whether we must send feelers to political parties', Thirumavalavan told newspersons in a brief chat on the sidelines of their Central Committee meeting held in the city.

'Our meeting today is a preliminary effort on steps to take on forging an alliance. Several stands including whether we must go it alone will be discussed. We would also be approaching minority outfits, other Dalit outfits (Pudiya Tamizhagam president Krishnasamy spoke to me but our decision would be after Central committee meeting), Tamil nationalist organisations and also fishermen associations', he said.

The DPI leader said that in the last 50 years whenever elections were held, both the Dravidian parties had not given Dalits their rightful recognition. 'We cannot permit the situation to continue. Allotting seats in elections alone can be taken as rightful recognition of Dalits,' he said.

He denied that he had approached any political party on forming alliances. Asked if the DPI was prepared to split the votes of the opposition front forged by DMK and other parties against the AIADMK in the State and the BJP at then Centre, Thirumavalavan reasoned that the alliance formed by the DMK cannot be taken as a firm one. 'This alliance before elections is only a preliminary one. I doubt, as others do too, that it could undergo a change after elections. I am not ruling out the DMK again joining the BJP', he said.

Earlier, speaking in their Central Committee meeting attended by various district and chief office-bearers, Thirumavalavan said they were still fighting politically to get into the mainstream.

Dalit parties in Tamilnadu had not been getting the respect that Dalit parties in the northern States were receiving today, he said. 'Our question is not who would be MLA or MP. In a State where 80 per cent of the voters are Dalits we want political recognition'. He also hinted that the party has an eye on the Chidambaram seat.

Source: News Today, January 19, 2004

Low-caste Indians seek support

Low-caste Indians sought support to end discrimination with impassioned pleas at the world's largest anti-globalisation meeting.

The so-called Dalits, who are at the bottom of Hinduism's ancient caste hierarchy, gathered from all over India to highlight their problems and draw the attention of more than 100,000 people assembled at the World Social Forum (WSF).

The fourth WSF is being hosted by Bombay, India's financial hub, and is being held in Asia for the first time.

"It is time to build solidarity with other international groups and demand our place on the world arena," said Paul Divakar, a Dalit, addressing crowds at the WSF. "We have to fight not just casteism and Hindu fundamentalism but also globalisation which robs us of our livelihood," he said.

Dalit men and women, sporting bandanas proclaiming "Caste out caste" and jackets emblazoned with slogans like "Life with dignity", broke into applause as Divakar spoke.

Although India abolished untouchability after independence from British colonial rule in 1947, millions of Dalits are still treated as "unclean" in many parts of the country.

The discrimination is particularly deep in India's villages where Dalits cannot live with, pray in the same temple as or even drink the same water as higher caste Hindus.

Marrying outside their community can even mean death at the hands of upper caste Hindus.

The Dalits are hoping the WSF, designed as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum and an annual rallying point for anti-globalisation activists, will live up to its slogan: "Another world is possible".

Last year, the WSF hogged headlines in Brazil, which hosted the previous three WSF events, after it triggered demonstrations worldwide against a then imminent attack on Iraq.

"I want the world to know the kind of atrocities we face everyday," said Navamani Paramasivan, a Dalit who travelled for the first time to a city from her village in southern India.

"I want a better world for my children."

Prashant Malik, a Dalit from eastern India, who was thrilled at meeting marginalised people from countries such as Japan, the United States, Pakistan and Brazil, said: "It's encouraging for us to know we are not alone and others in the world share our sufferings and concerns."

David Haslam, chairman of Britain-based Dalit Solidarity Network, told the Forum the oppressive caste system in India had to be tackled at a global level, the way apartheid in South Africa was opposed by countries around the world.

"The world must outlaw the caste system in India and other countries. We have a long struggle ahead but the movement has started."

Source: Reuters, January 19, 2004

Dalits protest prejudice at WSF

Anti-globalisation activists who have gathered in Mumbai for the World Social Forum have rallied for an end to discrimination against minority groups, such as those born into the Dalit caste in India.

Dalits occupy the lowest rung in the Hindu caste system, and, despite affirmative action policies for the past few decades, they still find it hard to move up.

Dalits have marched through the streets of India's financial capital with their feet chained to symbolise oppression.

In Bihar, a poverty-stricken and lawless state in India's north, caste disputes have accounted for more than 5,000 deaths in the past decade.

Around 100,000 delegates from around the world have converged upon Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, for the annual forum, which this year includes seminars on racism, caste and labour.

Source: World News, January 19, 2004

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Left untouched: Dalits in India and at the WSF


By Zofeen Ebrahim

Vimla Valmiky may have helped usher in the birth of scores of babies from the higher-caste Hindus, but every time she gets "the same uneasy feeling that they cleanse up after me to purify not just the baby and the mother, but the whole house by sprinkling the holy water all over the place," she says.

A traditional birth attendant who studied till Grade 5, the vibes she gets are all too real in this country born as a 'democratic' and independent state. The more than 260 million Dalits who live in India today are the most marginalised among the lot of scheduled castes.

She is here with some 20 other women, all of different ages and occupations, among the 25,000 or so Dalits from 20 states that have come together to be heard at the World Social Forum where caste as an issue will be one of the five main themes for its panels and protests.

According to Xavier Joe Freddie from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a non-Dalit himself: "For some the journey started on December 6, 2003, with the launch of the historical Dalit Swadhikar Rally, a national rally of Dalits for the assertion of rights."

The rally started from four different points of India -- Jammu, Kanyakumari, Kolkata and Delhi -- and ended in Mumbai on Jan. 16.

Fifty-something, fragile Sahu Devi, with her salt and pepper hair has ventured out of her village in Barmer, Rajasthan state for the very first time. "It took me four days to get here," she explains as she squats on the dusty ground, unperturbed by the heat or the dust.

On the other hand, young Khatu Devi, who especially dressed up for the occasion in a bright yellow sari, a set of red bangles and a bindi, is loud and articulate. "We have come here to tell others to what extent are we discriminated. We want our rights and we think this forum is a place we can tell the world about our woes."

She seems well briefed. She works in a mine and for the next 10 days or so that she's taken off she will not be earning 50 rupees a day or cooking or taking care of her children or fetching the water. "But the price is not too high considering what we are getting in the bargain -- bringing about a change in the mindset of the people," she says optimistically.

Ghumpat Lal Mehra, who has been listening carefully to the women, feels it's time to interject. He says these women face double discrimination. They are not only poor women but to add to their problems, they are Dalits. "So, on the one hand they are untouchables, but on the other, the thakurs (upper-caste people) can touch them for their pleasure."

But the most prize-winning comment comes from Mahesh Panpalia: "Tomorrow if a thakur offers me water from the same pitcher, I'd be so stunned I wouldn't know what to do." Ghumpat Lal Meher, a Dalit, goes on: "And God forbid if I take a sip, all hell will break."

They can't imagine the dawn of such a day, not in the near future at least. They tell me of how in the past, not so distant past, say a few months back, Dalits actually ventured to fill water from pond that have been off limits -- and had to bear the brunt of that act. "Kerosene oil was poured over them and they were roasted alive."

So while they clamour for jobs, better prospects, elimination of bonded labour and a respectable share in the crop that they grow on the land "which has been given to us by the government" but which their feudal lords refuse to accept, they feel that real liberation can come only "if we can bring about a change with regards to the untouchability issue".

Source: Indymedia, January 18, 2004

Friday, January 16, 2004

Bove bonds with India's 'untouchables'

BOMBAY, Jan 16 (AFP) - Jose Bove, the militant French farmer who gained worldwide publicity for helping destroy a McDonald's outlet in 1999, vowed Friday to forge a bond with India's lowest caste as he arrived in Bombay for the anti-globalisation movement's annual forum.

Smoking his trademark pipe at a "solidarity tent" on the lawn of the World Social Forum, the radical unionist acknowledged he could do little to change Hinduism's centuries-old caste system.

"We are powerless," Bove told AFP. "But we are here to express our solidarity and to show our concern.

"According to the law, the problem does not exist, but this forum will allow us to expose the situation," said Bove, who was mobbed by well-wishers as he appeared at the forum.

More than 138 million Indians belong to the lowest caste, the Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables," who according to US-based Human Rights Watch are the victims of some 100,000 crimes a year.

However, caste discrimination was abolished under the 1949 constitution and a number of Dalits have risen to prominent positions including K.R. Narayanan, India's ceremonial president from 1997 to 2002 and a speaker at the World Social Forum.

Bove said Bombay, a metropolis of 18 million people of whom half live in poverty, was "symbolic of the problems we're facing."

"It's a city of contrasts, a city of technology, but also there is a real social problem with so many people out on the streets."

Bove has been an emblem of the anti-globalisation movement since 1999 when he helped demolish a partially built McDonald's in France to protest US trade sanctions.

He is due to participate in a debate Saturday on sovereignty over the world's land, water and food.

Tens of thousands of activists are in Bombay for the meeting that closes Wednesday, when the rival World Economic Forum of business and political leaders opens in Davos, Switzerland.

Source: Agence France-Presse, January 16, 2004

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bodycount on in the killing fields of South Bihar

VARGHESE K. GEORGE

PATNA, JANUARY 13: There is palpable fear in south Bihar following a series of violent incidents in recent months. And approaching elections have only added to that fear, given the caste-oriented campaigning of many of the state's politicians.

Jehanabad, Arwal, Aurangabad, Gaya and Bhojpur districts in this highly volatile region have become notorious in the last decade for massacres by extremist Left organisations and the landowners' Ranvir Sena.

The upper caste Bhumihars, considered patrons of the Ranvir Sena, have been BJP supporters but Laloo, too, claims a slice of the votebank. The BJP-sponsored POTA lists the ''Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), People's War (PW) and all its formations and front organisations'' as terrorist organisations, but leaves the Ranvir Sena out.

Former Arwal SP Amitabh Das had written to the state government, urging it to recommend to the Centre the inclusion of Sena in the list. He cited 33 massacres carried out by the Ranvir Sena. However, the government said since POTA is not notified in the state, the question does not arise. Soon after, Das was transferred from Arwal, reportedly at the instance of RJD minister from the region, Akhilesh Singh, a Bhumihar. He reportedly visited the house of an absconder in the Miapur massacre of 34 people in December. The minister denied the allegation.

The people of Pariyar Bigha in Arwal protested against Das's transfer. They felt that the January 3 massacre of five people in the village would not have taken place had Das stayed on. Three Dalits and two persons from the backward caste were killed in the massacre by suspected Ranvir Sena activists.

The Pariyar Bigha massacre has once again set the alarm bells ringing. The MCC has directed its cadres to avenge the killing. The murdered were reportedly sympathisers of the PW. The MCC and PW, once archrivals, have finalised a merger.

Source: The Indian Express, January 14, 2004

Dalits barred entry into temple

By Mohammed Iqbal

JAIPUR, JAN. 13. Activists participating in a national Dalit Swadhikar rally that crossed Rajasthan the other day were denied entry into the famous Shrinath temple in Nathdwara, despite a 15-year-old judgment of the Rajasthan High Court directing the State Government to ensure unhindered access for Dalits to the temple.

The rally, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, started from four different locations in the country last month and would culminate in Mumbai on January 15 at the World Social Forum venue. The northern segment, starting from New Delhi, arrived in Nathdwara after covering 16 districts in Rajasthan on January 2, when the participants tried to enter the Shrinath temple for worship.

The convener of the Centre for Dalit Human Rights, P.L. Mimroth, who accompanied the rallyists, told reporters here today that hundreds of people assembled in the town and stopped the rally -- comprising 35 Dalit activists -- about 2 km from the temple and used abusive and threatening language against them. The crowd comprised local residents belonging to the so-called upper castes and was determined not to allow Dalits into the temple, considered the second richest in the country. Though the rallyists could have visited the temple without being noticed, the people recognised their caste status after spotting a local Dalit, Kishan Lal, among them.

"They were the normal next door people whom we regularly meet in our daily life. But when it came to the temple, they were adamant on not allowing us inside so as to protect the sanctity of their religion,'' Mr. Mimroth said, adding that Dalits had always been exploited for selfish interests of upper castes but never treated equally.

The people of Nathdwara town especially took exception to the clothes and ribbons worn by the rallyists displaying slogans demanding equality for Dalits. Ironically, the rallyists had informed the local police authorities beforehand about the march and a police escort was provided to them. But when the policemen saw hundreds of people collecting on the road, they did nothing to disperse the mob and expressed their inability to help the rally go ahead for want of adequate force.

The Dalits, while avoiding any confrontation, abandoned the idea of worshipping inside the temple and left the place after a brief verbal duel with the crowd.

A similar situation had arisen in 1988 when the Arya Samaj leader, Swami Agnivesh, wanted to lead a batch of Dalits inside the Nathdwara temple on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary and approached the Rajasthan High Court with a plea to direct the State Government to ensure that entry was not denied to them by imposing any discriminatory conditions.

The High Court held that denying the Dalits entry into the temple or putting any conditions on them was in violation of Article 17 of the Constitution prohibiting untouchability in any form and directed the State Government to permit every devotee, including Dalits, to enter the temple in accordance with the general practice of entry applicable to all.

Mr. Mimroth regretted that nothing had changed during the past 15 years and the next generation of upper castes had inherited the same anti-Dalit mind-set.

He said the denial of entry to the Dalit rallyists was not an isolated incident and the local Dalits too were unable to enter the temple, not just in Nathdwara but in other important places of Hindu worship elsewhere as well.

The Centre for Dalit Human Rights has sent memoranda to the Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, and the chairpersons of the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the State Human Rights Commission, urging them to take appropriate measures to facilitate entry of Dalits into the Shrinath temple and strict enforcement of Article 17 of the Constitution.

Source: The Hindu, January 14, 2004

Monday, January 12, 2004

Where landless labourers are treated as slaves

Patna, Jan 12 (IANS) :

Modern-day Bihar continues to live in the feudal ages with upper caste landlords still treating landless labourers as slaves and not paying them minimum wages, said a report of the National Commission for Women (NCW).

In its report on violence and killing of landless labourers, mostly Dalits, in central Bihar's Arwal district, the NCW said upper caste landlords even today used the Ranvir Sena, their private militia, to scare and terrorise them into submission when they raised their voice against exploitation.

A three-member NCW team had visited Arwal last month to probe the killing of Manju Devi, a leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML), by the Ranvir Sena.

Manju Devi was allegedly shot dead in a village in Arwal on November 27 last year by a Ranvir Sena activist for working among landless labourers and helping them voice their protests.

The NCW report expressed its unhappiness that no action had been taken against the Ranvir Sena in the case. It stated that the district administration was not serious in tackling the menace.

In a letter to the Bihar government, the NCW stated that at least 100 women, mostly Dalits and backwards, were killed by suspected Ranvir Sena activists in the last seven years.

"The armed landlords not only deprive minimum wage to landless labourer, they torture and humiliate them time and again," the report said.

The NCW report categorically said that Ranvir Sena killed Manju Devi for uniting landless labourers to assert their rights.

The NCW has demanded the arrest of all accused in her killing.

Besides, it directed the state government to initiate action against the Ranvir Sena and implement the minimum wage law.

The militia targets members of the lowest caste groups, including women and children, for apparently supporting Maoist outfits and left parties that fight against rich upper caste landlords.

The Ranvir Sena is blamed for the killing about 300 people since 1995. It came into existence in 1994 in a village of Bhojpur district to oppose the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML).

Source: NewKerala.com, January 12, 2004

India's caste system under fire at anti-globalisation meet

NEW DELHI : India has for years fought to keep caste discrimination off the international agenda. But starting on Friday in Bombay, Hinduism's centuries-old social hierarchy will be a focus of fury for thousands of global activists.

The World Social Forum, the annual convention of the anti-globalisation movement which is being held in Asia for the first time, will take up caste as one of five main themes for its panels and protests.

Caste "is certainly a very central issue that's going to be put on the table," said Gautam Mody, a spokesman for the forum which organisers expect to draw 75,000 people through January 21.

More than 138 million Indians belong to the lowest caste known as the Dalits, or "the oppressed," the term the community prefers to the archaic "untouchables." Another 68 million Indians belong to tribes facing similar social stigma.

By the estimate of New York-based Human Rights Watch, more than 100,000 atrocities including murder and rape are committed each year against Dalits, who in the view of Hindu traditionalists should not be allowed even to sit on the same bus seats as higher-caste Indians.

However, caste discrimination was banned by the 1949 constitution and a number of Dalits have risen to prominent positions -- most notably K.R. Narayanan, president of India from 1997 to 2002 and a scheduled speaker at the World Social Forum's closing session.

The Indian government, always sensitive to international criticism, in September 2001 moved to block caste from the agenda of the UN Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, arguing that it was already tackling a problem which was not racism.

The final resolution condemned discrimination based on "descent" without specifically mentioning caste.

Omar Abdullah, who headed the Indian delegation to Durban as junior foreign minister but is now out of the federal government, said he was not bothered by the focus on caste at the World Social Forum.

"At that time I was representing the government of India's position. But as an individual I recognise there is a problem," Abdullah told AFP.

"If there is an international forum that discusses caste discrimination, then fine," said Abdullah, who leads the main opposition National Conference party in Indian-administered Kashmir.

"But the problem is not necessarily going to be resolved just because of the international community. It requires greater domestic involvement."

It is domestic concern that Dalit activists are hoping to spur by the high-profile meet in Bombay.

"Untouchability has been officially abolished for 50 years. Fifty years should be sufficient time to get into the bloodstream of the country," said Paul Divakar, convenor of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

Activists from Divakar's movement have been criss-crossing India since December 6, holding Dalit rallies that will culminate at the World Social Forum.

While the focus in Bombay will be on India, Dalit campaigners said they wanted to form alliances with other communities suffering hereditary discrimination, such as the Burakumin, Japanese who traditionally lived in isolation as tanners and butchers, and indigenous Americans.

Among the speakers at the World Social Forum will be Ecuadorian indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso and Victor Dike, who has lobbied against discrimination among the Igbos of Nigeria.

"The whole concept is to rally all the communities who are being humiliated by no fault of theirs," said Ashok Bharti, convenor of India's National Conference of Dalit Organisations.

World Social Forum organisers said they hoped the meet would bring greater cooperation between Dalits and other Indian movements such as labour unions, Muslims and feminists.

Besides talks and rallies, the World Social Forum will showcase arts of the low castes, including an evening of "Dalit tribal fusion music."

Source: Channel News Asia, January 12, 2004

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Understanding India -Ishtiaq Ahmed

We need to see India as a great ongoing experiment in social, economic and political transformation. If nothing is done to create greater economic and social democracy the whole project can run aground. The battle for democracy in India is not yet won.

Understanding India is important if we are to have normal, friendly relations with our bigger neighbour on the eastern border. Ignorance is bliss only for fools and my essay does not address them. As a political scientist I find India a most intriguing social science puzzle: a caste-ridden, poverty-afflicted, ethnically and racially heterogeneous, religiously diverse and linguistically fragmented mosaic of over one billion human beings has managed to stabilise as a democracy, destined to emerge as a major economic power in the earlier part of the 21st century. How is this possible?

Let me begin by discarding the vulgar conspiracy explanation. Indian democracy is not a rule of clever Brahmins who have fooled the Indian population and the whole world. India has held free and periodic elections on a multi-party basis and that cannot be sustained through racism and casteism; rather despite two-thousand-and-more years of racism and casteism built into Brahmanic theology, the Indian system has evolved perhaps the most sophisticated system of inclusion and accommodation of races, ethnies, castes and nationalities in the political process.

Apart from secessionist attempts which were and are being clamped down forcibly, other legitimate demands for regional autonomy have sooner or later won acceptance with the result that the Indian federation today consists of many more states or provinces than at the time of independence. Even Hindu nationalist parties seem to have accepted the hegemony of the democratic process, although extremists among them carried out the carnage of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and similar crimes against Christians.

Democracy brings stability; it provides ventilation of grievances and also freedom of expression for not only creative thought and enquiry but also artistic and aesthetical fantasy. All these qualities are important for creating a strong middle class and an economic environment conducive to economic growth and investment. India is therefore attractive to international investors. Thus a connection if not a direct causal relationship between political democracy and the market economy can easily be established.

All this would not have been possible without an enlightened and dedicated leadership. The main architects of the Indian Constitution, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the chairperson of the Constitution Committee, the Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar, nurtured a vision that would take India forward into the 21st century rather than back to some imaginary, fictitious golden age. They received a helping hand from Mahatma Gandhi who despite his formal symbolism of Ram Raj, in practice incorporated progressive ideas about equal rights of all citizens in his notion of the polity. The Indian constitution therefore unequivocally rejected the Manusmriti and other orthodox Hindu texts as the source of law and legislation. Consequently practising untouchability was declared a penal offence in 1955 and the constitution reserves seats in the legislative assemblies and government employment for the various untouchable castes and tribal peoples from among the religions deriving from Hinduism. Considerable resentment exists among the upper castes against the reservation policy, but there is a consensus that it should be maintained. In fact the percentage of reservation has gone up from the original 22 per cent and there are calls to expand it to include Dalits from Muslim and Christian backgrounds.

Today, a growing body of Dalit intellectuals and professionals are able to articulate the grievances of their people and demand justice forcefully. Under a purely Hindu dispensation it would be unthinkable for Dalits to get an education and climb up the social ladder. The problem is the traditional Hindu culture which still dominates in the villages; everyday Dalits are subjected to humiliation and violence and they no doubt constitute the bulk of the Indian poor.

Women have also been the beneficiaries of Indian democracy. Hindu marriage laws have been reformed in a democratic and equalitarian direction. Hindu women are in an infinitely better position today than they would be under the Laws of Manu. As soon as one crosses the border between Pakistan and India, one notices that urban women in India enjoy greater freedom. They ride bicycles and motor-bicycles, travel in mixed buses where they sit next to men, many of them work and are increasingly taking up professional careers. With regard to the Muslim community of India, we need to remember that mainstream Deobandi ulema supported the Indian National Congress's idea of a united India. In return they were given assurances by Nehru and other Congress leaders that the government would not interfere with the internal matters of the Muslim community, but it was hoped that in due course Muslims would voluntarily integrate into mainstream political life, partaking in the democratic nation-building project.

Consequently, when Nehru initiated a number of reforms to modernise and democratise Hindu marriage and inheritance laws (also applicable to Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains) the Muslim community was exempted. Marriage and inheritance have continued to be based on dogmatic Sharia. Many educated Muslims have been demanding that uniform laws should apply to all Indian citizens but the ulema continue to block the integration of the Muslim community into the mainstream. Although the richest man of India is reportedly a Muslim, Azim Premji, on the whole, the Muslim community lags behind the other communities. Partly the roots of this can be traced back to the partition which continues to produce prejudices against Muslims, but the absence of an educated leadership and the baneful influence of the ulema compound the difficulties of the Muslim community.

However, the Indian film industry should be congratulated for its high standards of meritocracy. The highest awards for the best actor have gone to Dilip Kumar (Yusaf Khan) and Shahrukh Khan is second on that list. The late Mohammad Rafi enjoys the status of a god among true connoisseurs of music. Urdu or Hindustani remains the primary language of Indian films and song and dialogue writers of Muslim origin have always been the most sought after.

Thus we need to see India as a great ongoing experiment in social, economic and political transformation. One cannot deny that police brutality, widespread corruption, minority-bashing and caste-based oppression abound. And if nothing is done to create greater economic and social democracy the whole project can run aground. The battle for democracy in India is therefore not yet won.

The author is an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email address is Ishtiaq.Ahmed@statsvet.su.se

Source: Daily Times, January 11, 2004

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Aid sought for Arwal victims

PATNA: Several political parties have condemned the killing of innocent persons at Pariyaribigha village of Arwal district by the private army of landlords, Ranvir Sena, and declared that it simply reflected the government's failure to tame the extremists in the state. The parties also termed the killings as slur on humanity.

CPM secretary Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi said that the party vehemently condemned the inefficiency of the police administration and their tacit connivance in patronising the marauders in the state.

Vidyarthi demanded that the victim Dalit families be given adequate compensation, besides a government job to one of the dependants of each victim.

He also appealed to all the Left parties to fight unitedly against such criminal elements.

BJP state spokesperson Kiran Ghai said that what has become more ridiculous is the fact that Dalits were subjected to more violence and atrocious treatment than anybody else in the state where the government claims that it is the "messiah of Dalits".

She stated that a team of the BJP, led by leader of opposition Sushil Kumar Modi, would soon leave for Pariyaribigha village to ascertain the cause of killings.

Pradesh Congress spoke-sman H K Verma said that party chief Ram Jatan Sinha, in a telephonic message from Sheikhpura, squarely blamed the inefficiency of the police which resulted in killing of Dalits and demanded Rs 5 lakh to the kith and kin of the victims as compensation.

CPI-ML New Democracy stated that while the poor backward and Dalits are fighting against exploitation and oppression and trying to assert their just rights as equal human beings, the feudals in association with the administration are massacring and attacking them through their private armies like Ranvir Sena.

CPI state secretary Jalaluddin Ansari questioned the functioning of the state government saying, "how come the Ranvir Sena which has already been banned in the state is still operating with ferocity." He appealed to the people to give a befitting rebuttal to the incompetent state government by making the proposed Bihar bandh on January 7 a great success.

Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad (Bihar) has in a statement demanded the closure of Ganiyari police camp near Pariyaribigha village as it was set up to provide security cover to the Ranvir Sena. Indian Federal Democratic Party stated that the killing was a challenge to the state government. It also demanded compensation for the victims' family.

Source: The Times of India, January 6, 2004

Monday, January 05, 2004

BJP's state election strategy confirms Muslim fears for general elections in 2004

by Qazi Umar

"Take any politically volatile issue - nuclear tests, the Babri mosque, TADA or the anti-Muslim pogroms engineered and backed by the government - in each the Congress Party has sown the seeds and the BJP has reaped the hideous harvest. The Congress has done hypocritically what BJP does proudly."

The outcome of the elections on December 1 in four Indian states (Delhi, Rajastan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) confirms beyond any possible doubt that the BJP's electoral strategy and future political direction are based on attacking India's Muslims and promoting the Hindu-fundamentalist agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The success in "Operation 2003", as the party called the recent elections, is expected to be a launch-pad for BJP to try a similar experiment for "Mission 2004", the forthcoming general election, in which Vajpayee's government is hoping to obtain a second term.

On December 20 environment minister T. R. Baalu and health minister A. Raja resigned from the BJP-led central government. Both ministers, along with nine other MPs, belong to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, which is one of the allies of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. DMK's decision to withdraw is easily explained: the government has misused POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) against one of its leaders. The DMK and several other parties that joined the BJP-led alliance at the centre have won elections with Muslim votes and with political manifestoes diametrically opposed to that of the BJP, yet they joined to form a government. But none of the ministers or parties has protested the misuse of POTA against Muslims; nor did any of them resign after the genocide in Gujarat.

The BJP government is exploring various options to improve the BJP's fortunes in the general elections. Within days of coming to power in 1998, and even before winning enough seats in parliament to achieve political legitimacy, BJP declared India a "nuclear power".

The myths that India is a Hindu-majority nation, and that Congress is a national party, were first floated by 'Mahatma' Gandhi in the 1930s. Lord Linlithgow, the British viceroy, disliked Congress profoundly, considering it a "movement of Hindu hooliganism". Gandhi neutralised leaders such as Subash Chandra Bose and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who tried to change this 'Hinduness' within Congress. Ambedkar, "father of the Indian constitution", wrote in his masterpiece Pakistan or the Partition of India, " It is no use saying that the Congress is not a Hindu body. A body, which is Hindu in its composition, is bound to reflect the Hindu mind and support Hindu aspirations. The only difference between the Congress and the Hindu Maha Saba [the founding party of BJP] is that the latter is crude in its utterances and brutal in its actions, while the Congress is politic and polite."

Take any politically volatile issue - nuclear tests, the Babri mosque, TADA or the anti-Muslim pogroms engineered and backed by the government - in each the Congress Party has sown the seeds and the BJP has reaped the hideous harvest. The Congress has done hypocritically what BJP does proudly. The opposition parties, led by the Congress, launched a public agitation after the Gujarat genocide, demanding Modi's resignation. Criminals are not meant to resign but to be charged, tried and convicted. The Supreme Court has the option of acting in the light of hundreds of testimonies. The constant infiltration of all the instruments of state denies even the Supreme Court independence action.

On December 10 M. G. S. Nara-yanan, the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), was removed from his chair for the simple reason that he challenged the body's policies of distorting history textbooks and allowing Sangh Parivar candidates into the organization. This is just one instance of routine injustice and the erosion of civil liberties in India today.

After 'independence' (transfer of power from British imperialism to Brahminic hegemony, as Ambedkar defines the independence of India), Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, decreed that Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs would also be called Hindus. Morarji Desai's government forbade Thames Television to make a film on Untouchables, in order to protect India's image abroad. And how does India protect its image? Bollywood is one means. In Johannesburg, London and New York Bollywood movies are subtitled in English. Kuala Lumpur adds subtitles in Chinese and Malay. In Tehran we even see dubbed Bollywood movies with Sharukh Khan speaking in Farsi. It is not a bad idea to camouflage India's horrifying poverty and underdevelopment by distracting attention to its undeniable riches of music and colour.

In 1978 India observed International Anti-Apartheid Year in flamboyant style. A. B. Vajpayee, the then foreign minister, while addressing the UN general assembly, denounced apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination in other parts of the world. But 23 years later, in 2001, as the prime minister of India, the same Vajpayee denied exit visas to Dalit activists to present their case at the Durban conference on racism.

Advani proclaimed in 2001 that all of India should identify itself with "Ram". Gandhi was the first to float this slogan of "Ram Rajya". Gandhi used his loin-cloth and spinning-wheel to exploit the marginalized, poverty-stricken and illiterate masses of India for his own political ends. Advani and the BJP decided to use technology: the launch of television in India was an opportunity for the serialization of the Ramayana and Mahabarath. Water, food, electricity and shelter are scarce in most Indian villages, but Ramayana would still be shown somehow. Advani's 'Ram chariot' had a Muslim driver, and a Dalit laid the foundation-stone of the Ram Temple on the debris of the 464-year-old Babri mosque. Ram, a mythological figure in the Vedas (perhaps originally a feudal king), who killed Shambuk, a Sudra ascetic, still fascinates the Sudras (the lowest caste in the four-tier caste system) and Dalits (untouchables, not even in the caste system), who were fully involved in the demolition of the Babri mosque and its consequences.

Narasimha Rao's 'secular' Congress government watched the karsevaks raze the Babri mosque in broad daylight; then his governor in India's "integral state" issued orders to shoot unarmed protesters, and we have to wait for Asia Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to expose Jagmohan's brutal policies in Kashmir.

The Ram Temple has become a 'national' issue. Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Dalits and Sudras (comprising more than 900 million people in India) have nothing to do with Ram, history and archaeology having proved substantially that he is a myth. But the Ram Temple still heads the political manifestoes and brings electoral victories, thanks to the role of the supposedly free media in the 'world's largest democracy'.

Another electoral plank of the BJP is the so-called ban on cow-slaughter, their main allegation being that Muslims slaughter cows for Id-ul-Adha. Uma Bharati, a criminal charged in the Babri mosque demolition case, became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh after the December 1 state elections. The first law she passed was the ban on cow slaughter. For most Indians beef is a staple; for Dalits, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and others the cow is not a 'holy God'. Even Brahmins were once beef-eaters, as shown by their own Vedas. There are more than 200 million cows in India, despite their daily slaughter for food. Yet one Bal Thackrey appeals to countries all over the world to export their 'living Gods' (cows) to India, so that India can save them. Cow-leather and beef exports contribute millions of dollars to the Indian economy every year; surely Vajpayee should close down these industries before he talks about a ban on cow slaughter?

The 'anti-conversion' bill is another issue that the BJP and Sangh Parivar use for electoral purposes. In 1981 in Meenakshipuram, thousands of Dalit families accepted Islam. This provoked the anti-conversion bill in the mid-1980s. In Maharashtra, a Marati play was called Meenakshipuram, not merely to pay tribute to an event in Tamil Nadu, but to promote conversion (to Islam, or to any other religion that does not encourage a caste system) as the most feasible method of rescuing people from the caste system. The Indian constitution approves the freedom to choose, practise and propagate any faith. Ambedkar set the trend of conversion when he kept his vow not to die a Hindu by converting to Buddhism, with tens of thousands of his followers. He even dared to burn the Manusmruti, the Hindu scripture that advocates caste-based discrimination. Millions of Dalits and tribals have accepted Christianity and Islam.

The sacrifices, commitment and services of Christian social activists and organizations in the ghettoes of India to improve the condition of the masses are unparalleled in modern Indian history. Yet the Sangh Parivar justifies the brutal murder of a Australian missionary, Graham Staines (with his two children), who sacrificed his life to serve leprosy patients, and Staines' widow displayed remarkable love and compassion by forgiving the murderers and continuing to serve. But it still took six years for the Indian judiciary to convict one Dara Singh of the Staines murders.

Christian churches are razed to the ground, and Vajpayee responds with a call for national debate on conversion. Yet nobody calls for a national debate on the forced assimilation of Dalits and Tribals into Hinduism. There is no anti-assimilation bill to rein in the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Every year independence day celebrations set off violent protests in the north-eastern states. Advani is even exploring the "genuineness" of "cross-border infiltration" across the Bangladesh border. Dalits and tribals are barred from entering Hindu temples, never mind being priests, yet the VHP wants to 'reconvert' them to Hinduism. There is not even an 'anti-reconversion' bill in India.

For Narendra Modi, "the Butcher", India is an "emerging industrial power"; for his party India is also an emerging "nuclear power". Arundati Roy in 1998, following India's nuclear tests, quoted some statistics in her essay, End of Imagination: "We are a nation of nearly a billion people. In development terms we rank No. 138 out of the 175 countries listed in the UNDP's Human Development Index (even Ghana and Sri Lanka rank above us). More than 400 million of our people are illiterate and live in absolute poverty; more than 600 million lack even basic sanitation and more than 200 million have no safe drinking water." Perhaps Vajpayee and Modi are not aware of these facts.

Information technology (IT) is booming in India. Indian software engineers are employed all over the world. Hyderabad and Bangalore, the two IT hubs, compete with some of the best companies in the world. The world today is supposed to be a 'global village' and "information is at the tip of one's fingers", yet in India there are at least 950 million people who have never touched a keyboard. In effect India's rural economy is being garrotted. It is the Brahminical legacy: colonize knowledge, build four walls around it, and use it to the Brahmins' advantage. The Manusmriti advocates molten lead being poured into a Dalit's ears if he overhears any part of the sacred scripture. It is no coincidence that although India keeps one foot in the forefront of the "information revolution", millions of its citizens are illiterate.

The BJP is desperate to implement a uniform civil code, the main target being polygamy among Muslims, although statistics have unequivocally demonstrated that Hindu society is more polygamous. If democracy in the rest of the world is about manufacturing consent and manipulating public opinion, in India it is also about distorting history and exploiting ignorance, poverty and prejudice.

Muslim leaders do not realise that the Sangh Parivar's agenda is utterly anti-Muslim. Even if Gujarat is not repeated in the rest of India, it is still only a matter of time before the BJP comes to power anyway. The oppressed masses of India are desperately awaiting a leadership that will dismantle the "Ram politics" of the "world's largest democracy".

At the moment the only effective strategy for Muslims in India would appear to be dissent.

Source: Media Monitors Network, January 5, 2004

Sunday, January 04, 2004

BJP Wins On A Negative Vote

Vasudeo

THE recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan led to the BJP securing an absolute majority in the state, winning 120 seats in a house of 200. This was the first time the party got a majority on its own; it had earlier failed to secure a majority even when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was at the helm of its affairs. The BJP had won only 32 seats in 1980 after the Jan Sangh group came out of the Janata Party and formed the BJP, 38 in 1985, 85 seats (in alliance with the Janata Dal) in 1990, 96 in 1993, and could manage only 32 seats in 1998. This time the Congress has suffered its worst defeat post emergency, winning only 56 seats, a third of its 1998 tally. It did not win a single seat in six districts. Both the deputy chief ministers and 29 ministers of the Ashok Gehlot government have lost. Though the BJP made substantial gains across the state, its former deputy chief minister Hari Shankar Bhabhra and another senior leader Lalit Kishore Tiwari have also lost. Other parties won 24 seats, with the CPI(M) retaining the Dhond assembly seat. The BJP secured 39.35 per cent (88,29,112), the Congress got 35.65 per cent (80,89,369) and others got about 25 per cent (56,75,381) out of the total 2,26,98,184 votes polled.

The election results surprised even the BJP that had not anticipated such a massive victory. During the elections, it had been contacting the rebels and potential winners, so that their support could be utilised in the event of a hung assembly. The Congress was hoping to form a government again, even though its thinking was that its seats would come down 153 to 110 or 105.

But the opinion as well as exit polls proved hopelessly wrong, as they had been predicting a hung assembly. The CPI(M) state committee too was of the opinion that the Congress would win with a reduced majority and that there was no possibility of a BJP victory. Though the state committee had underlined the mass discontent against the Congress government because of its anti-people policies, it felt that there was no wave against the Congress or in favour of the BJP.

The assessment of the CPI(M)'s state unit was that the BJP could achieve little due to the departure of Shekhawat from state politics, differences in the BJP over the nomination of Vasundhara Raje Scindia as state BJP president, its failure to launch mass agitations against the anti-people policies of the Gehlot government, hostile opposition of the Brahmin and Rajput caste organisations to the BJP, and open opposition to the rallies held by Ms Scindia during her parivartan yatra. But this assessment has proved to be incorrect. Yet the CPI(M) was right in its assessment that there was no powerful third front in the state and therefore the main contest was going to be between the BJP and the Congress, while some independents or other parties could provide an alternative at the local level.

The election results prove that while the people of Rajasthan voted against the anti-people economic policies and the communal drive of the BJP in 1998, they punished the Congress for implementing those very economic policies even at a faster pace, and for trying to use the soft Hindutva line. The people had been expressing their discontent against the Congress in all byelections held since the 1999 parliamentary elections when the Congress had won only 9 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats. Barring one Lok Sabha and three assembly byelections, the BJP had won all of them and fared better in the panchayat and nagar parishad polls.

The CPI(M) is yet to make a detailed analysis of the election results on the basis of reports from districts committees. Yet, the reasons for Congress defeat appear to be a reduction in the retirement age from 60 to 58 years, retrenchment due to the closure of state public sector undertakings, ban on bonus, allowances and earned leaves of employees, politically motivated transfers of employees, and brutal suppression of the employees' agitation that forced them to adopt a strong anti-Congress position and work openly against it. The party had promised eight hours of uninterrupted electricity supply to the peasantry but no agricultural zone got power for more than six hours a day. On the contrary, tariffs for agricultural and domestic electricity consumption were raised twice. Disconnection of electricity connection to wells and high electricity bills also turned the rural masses against the Congress. Villages did not get electricity even during the night hours. The state was reeling under a drought for the past four years, children died of starvation, but adequate famine relief was not provided, and corruption in famine relief works damaged the credibility of the government. Even a good monsoon leading to good harvests could not reverse the anti-government feelings.

In Ganganagar and Hanumangarh districts, farmers did not get adequate irrigation water. Further, the state government did nothing for rehabilitation of the people who were displaced by the army's movements in the border areas. So intense was the feeling against the government that the Congress failed to win a single seat in Ganganagar district. These areas witnessed big mass movements against the government.

Privatisation of education, massive increases in education fees, the rising number of the unemployed with the number of the registered unemployed touching the 15 lakh figure, and non-regularisation of the para-teachers who were appointed at a fixed salary of Rs 1200 swayed the students and youth away from the Congress.

The atrocities against the Dalits increased in the last five years. They could not have a bath at public wells or draw water. Incidents of humiliation of Dalits such as dismounting them from horses during marriage processions, incidents of land grabbing by feudal lords, displacement of Adivasis and such other tendencies alienated these sections from the ruling party. As a result, while the Congress won only six out of 34 SC seats, the BJP won 26.

The anti-Gehlot stand of the Jat community played an important role in defeating the Congress. Both the BJP and the Congress used caste as an electoral strategy but the BJP reaped the benefits. The results indicate that, in the BJP camp, 7 Brahmins, 13 Jats, 20 Rajputs, 1 Muslim, 13 Vaishyas, 6 Gujjars, 3 Kumawats, 2 Dhakars, 2 Bishnois, 2 Sikhs, 2 Rajpurohits, 1 Rawat and 1 Sindhi candidates were elected. On the Congress ticket, on the other hand, 8 Brahmins, 14 Jats, 4 Rajputs, 4 Muslims, 5 Vaishyas, 2 Gujjars, 1 Sikh, 1 Mali, 1 Charan, 1 Sindhi, 6 SCs and 6 STs won the contest.

Even though the Congress government arrested the VHP leader Dr Praveen Togadia, it on the whole adopted a vacillating position vis-à-vis communalism. But the most important reason for the Congress defeat was intense factionalism within the Congress, with rebels severely damaging the party's prospects. The Congress campaign was also weak and dull in comparison to that of the BJP.

It is clear that this victory of the BJP cannot be construed as a mandate in its favour; it is in fact a negative vote against the anti-people policies of the state Congress government.

The CPI(M) contested 18 seats in the state in order to increase its influence and expand to newer areas. The party retained the Dhond seat, with Amra Ram winning for third time. He defeated his nearest BJP rival by 21,146 votes. Bagging 49,326 votes, the party came second in the Sangaria assembly constituency, and gathered a total of 1,76,124 votes in the 16 seats it contested.

Source: People's Democracy, January 4, 2004

Saturday, January 03, 2004

5 Killed in Apparent India Caste Dispute

PATNA, India (AP) - Unidentified gunmen stormed a village and shot to death five so-called "untouchables'' Saturday, in what police said was apparently to settle a score in the interminable caste wars of eastern India.

Several residents of Bariari - a village exclusively of low-caste people - were also wounded in the predawn attack, police Inspector-General A.C. Verma told The Associated Press. Bariari is about 30 miles east of Patna, the capital of Bihar state.

Verma blamed the attack on Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper-caste landlords in Bihar. No other details were immediately available.

In many regions of India, members of higher castes continue to discriminate against untouchables, also called Dalits. Violence breaks out when the untouchables attempt to claim their rights to vote, land ownership, send their children to school, seek political office, or refuse to do traditional tasks without being paid.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the past decade over caste-related disputes in Bihar, one of India's poorest and most lawless states.

Political analysts say the fight between the castes is about scarce resources in a poor state where there is little development and rampant government corruption.

Source: The Guardian, January 3, 2004

Friday, January 02, 2004

Janvani to focus on rural issues

Sampad Mahapatra
Friday, January 2, 2004 (Bhubaneswar):

In an attempt to give a voice to those who have been largely ignored by the mainstream media, Janvani newspaper has been launched in Orissa. The daily will highlight the issues and problems of the dalits, adivasis and the rural poor.

The newspaper was launched in Gopinathpur village, 12 kilometres away from Bhubaneswar, by a local village elder who formally released the inaugural edition.

"No newspaper talks about us. They report matters of little value to us. Do they ever talk about how the poor are treated and how they have to struggle to fill their stomachs?" said Sudam Kanugo, village elder, Gopinathpur

Janavani described as India's only rural based social daily was launched on the New Year's day in similar fashion across all the 314 blocks in Orissa.

Parallel media

The publishers, Janavani Charitable Trust have been toying with the idea for the past five years during which they trained over 800 young men and women from rural and tribal dominated areas in the art of reporting.

Priced at one rupee, the four-page daily is perhaps the first major experiment in parallel media in the country.

"Our focus is development of those who are underdeveloped and are deprived of the benefits of development. That's our priority they are our clientele, they will be our readers and they will also be the source of information," said Dr Radhakant Nayak, Chief Editor, Janvaani.

The editorial policy of Janavani will be to concentrate on the events, issues and realities of the 50,000-odd villages across the state. It will also give voice to the millions of people who have been largely ignored both by the media and the policy makers so far.

Source: NDTV, January 2, 2004

Thursday, January 01, 2004

The unlikely pundits

MANJARI MISHRA

LUCKNOW: The proudest moment in his life, says Shahe Zama Ansari, would be when he could explain in detail, intricate passages from Bhagwat Gita to the village elders in Nivada, a small hamlet in Mubarakpur. The lot expressed its gratitude to Ansari by promptly rechristening him Pandit Shahe Zama, proudly recalls this 22-year-old Acharya in Sanskrit. Ansari now plans to set up a 'pathshala' to introduce other Muslims from his native place to Sanskrit language.

Ansari, incidentally, is one of the four Muslims selected for a week-long Central government sponsored special training for Sanskrit teachers. And while he could be one of the youngest among the trainees, forty-something Mohammad Laam is acknowledged as the brightest pupil. In fact, his family in Khajuria, Prayag is already well-known for its command over Sanskrit. Laam introduced his teenaged son and daughter - Tajuddin and Rabbatun - to the language since their infancy. ''And now they can speak as fluently as I can", he declares. He would like them to follow his footsteps by doing their post graduation in Sanskrit as well as Acharya course.

It would be much easier for these two to do so than it was for me, says Laam. Initially, he faced stiff resistance from hardcore Hindus and Muslims as well. "There was rejection, ridicule and shock when I opted for Sanskrit language and it took quite some time for it to ebb away", he confides.

Dilbar Ahmed Siddiqui had been luckier. Well-versed in 'Karm Kand', Siddiqui has taken part in a number of 'hawans' organised in his home district Meerut. Be it marriage 'mantras' or 'upnayan samskar', his expertise is unchallenged. Of late he has earned a new and eager convert - his wife who has filled up a form for Acharya this year.

Over the last few years, Sanskrit has ceased to be a domain of the upper caste Hindus in UP says, Sacchidanad Pathak, director of UP Sanskrit Sansthan. That more than a dozen, among a batch of 100 teachers selected on the basis of merit from all over the state, are from minority community or dalits, he feels, is extremely encouraging, adding "as they know the subject well, they naturally command more attention and applause".

Back home, it could be a different story though. Mahendra Nath, a dalit teacher from Azamgarh complains about the "Sawarn outrage at his supposed encroachment in their exclusive preserve".

Source: The Times of India, January 1, 2004

Imperialist Globalisation & Hindu Fascism

Only Answer to Imperialist Globalisation & Hindu Fascism

Peoples' Struggles and Peoples' War

- Kamlesh

Many are gathered in Mumbai to voice their disgust with the ills of society. They want something different; a change from the present state of affairs. Corporate greed, US war-mongering, racism, communalism, fascism, consumerism, casteism, patriar-chalism, etc are evils all are sick of. We all find these intolerable. They must no doubt be eradicated from this system. But, on the contrary they tend to fester and grow. The question before us is: Why? Unless we answer this it is difficult to make "Another World Possible".

Yet, they say that another "World is Possible"! True. But, what does it entail? Can it co-exist with the despots of today? Can it be born through a small fraction of the billions (nay trillions) of dollars with a handful of families getting redistributed? Can it come through such gatherings? Can we hope for the rulers to reform and change their ways?

So, what is the method to usher in this "Another World"? Why could not the millions coming on to the streets in February and March 2003 against war, stop Bush's war on Iraq? Such huge gatherings have never taken place before, yet, it could not; then, what could have? Or, could imperialism change its colours? It has caused massacres of a size unheard of in prior human history - WWI, WWII, and killer regimes in Latin America, Africa, and Asia leading to the murder of millions - can we still stay it can become more humane?

Finally, what can be the character of this "other world"? Will it continue to be capitalist, or will it be socialist/communist, or will it be some form of stateless system, or will it be some indefinable utopia?

These are some of the questions that require not only "reflective thinking" but clear-cut answers. For anyone serious in fighting imperialist globalisation and war, it is these types of questions that primarily need to be answered. For, unless these are answered all will keep groping in the dark and we will continuously go round in circles, like a dog running after its tail.

But will they be even raised at the mammoth WSF gathering? Will they be part of the Agenda? When it is claimed that the WSF is all about democratic space for "reflective thinking", why does it not seek solutions? This is common sense. Even the most ineffectual bodies seek solutions to what they set out to achieve - whether it be some business, sports, entertainment, or social action or anything for that matter in the world. But why on earth should the WSF not seek solutions but only indulge in "reflective thinking" - that too year in and year out, again and again, every January!!! And just to facilitate a thinking-process-extravaganza in Mumbai, a massive Rs.135 crores ($ 30 million) will be spent. By any standards this seems ridiculous. The miserly bourgeoisie will not spend even one dollar without guaran-teeing a return. Then why should they spend 30 million of it merely to facilitate "thinking" and no solution? Of course, they are not so foolish; it is obvious that the returns are there; no doubt, camouflaged.

Those attending this extravaganza must really reflect on these basic questions and come out with-clear-cut answers, or else they are likely to fall prey to imperialist schemes. Reflect also on what genuine opposition to imperialist globalisation and war really entails.

Now, without looking for the reasons for the WSF (this magazine has already covered a series of articles on this), let us turn to India, the present arena of the WSF. What imperialist Globalisation means to the people of this country, and how are they fighting it at the ground level. This may help enlighten those attending the WSF and encourage them to concrete and effective action.

What we see in this country is that economic liberalisation, which began in the mid 1980s, took a major leap in the 1990s. And it continues apace till today, with new rulings being introduced continuously. The first generation of economic reforms gave way to a second generation in the year 2000. There is not a sphere of the Indian economy that has been left untouched by foreign capital. Now, even the water we drink and the air we breathe is being privatised with profits siphoned away by the transnational corporations and their India accomplices.

And simultaneous with this economic policy came the politics of Hindu fascism. Economic reforms are in essence an all-round attack on the living standards of the people in the interests of big capital (both Indian and foreign). Such a massive attack would inevitably result in revolt. Big capital and the ruling classes of this country required to divert this discontent and/or suppress it. For diversion, Hindutva became the most lethal weapon; and to crush it fascist repression became the twin brother of Hindutva. So we find that in the mid 1980s itself the lock to the Babri Masjid was opened ushering in the politics of Hindutva by the then Rajiv Congress itself. This is when economic reforms were in the stage of incubation. And when in the early 1990s economic reforms was pushed forward at full speed, Advani too began his infamous rath yatras taking Hindutva to every house and communalisng the whole atmosphere of the country. It is not a mere coincidence that the two went together. And with this came TADA (now POTA), ban on strikes, the judiciary turning vehemently anti-people, the police being given a free hand, a massive hike in intelligence gathering and state surveillance - in short, all steps towards state terrorism. Expenditure on both the police and the military have increased four-fold in the 1990s; both of which are being used against the Indian people. The mix of state terror with Hindutva, gave the cocktail of Hindu fascism. And as Gujarat has shown, it is a close friend of big capital. In the year of Modi's pogrom against the Muslims, the Gujarat government gave just one company - Reliance - a massive tax rebate of Rs.1,000 crores!!! It is also the VHP, RSS, BJP, etc who are the strongest voices in favour of capitulation to the US/Israeli Axis.

So, we find today that globalisation and Hindu fascism are twin policies with a common goal - maximisation of profits for big capital, at the cost of the lives of the Indian people; and turning over the country to the hands of the international sharks of finance capital, particularly that of the US, at the cost of India's even limited sovereignty.

Given this reality what should the progressives, gathered in Mumbai, be debating and planning. If concern for the poor and oppressed is sincere, where should it focus its attention? To answer this let us delve a little deeper into the impact of both on the country and its people.

IMPACT OF GLOBALISATION ON INDIA

Globalisation in the country primarily goes under the signboard of economic reforms - i.e. liberalisation and privatisation of the economy and the opening out of the country to unhindered loot by foreign capital. What then has been the result of the past 13 years of such policies?

Even before globalisation India was a highly impoverished country with a living standard equivalent to that of Sub-Saharan Africa. Forty years of so-called independence had done little for the common man; those who gained were the Tatas and the Birlas, top politicians and bureaucrats, and the powerful TNCs operating in the country, who were able to amass great fortunes of wealth. In those days the pro-rich polices were camouflaged in slogans like 'garibi hatao', nationalisation, socialism, etc. In the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and the reversal in China, communism no longer became an immediate threat. Now, policies in India became openly and avowedly pro-rich, and particularly pro-foreign capital. No smokescreen was now necessary; and, anyhow, by now, 'garibi hatao' had become a joke.

This process was launched by the Congress (I) government in 1991, with its "Statement of Industrial Policy". It was speeded up by the United Front government (inclusive of the CPI/CPM), which came to power in 1996. And it took a big leap forward ever since the BJP-led government has been in power since 1998. For all their rhetoric against each other, all these ruling-class parties (including those at the State level) are fully united in serving the imperialists and implementing the policies of "economic reforms". These have had a disastrous impact on the lives of the masses and have basically benefited a small 5% elite in the country.

Enormous Impoverisation

An already poverty-ridden country has been pushed to the brink by the new policy measures since 1991. Today roughly 70% of the population live below the poverty line, and the situation continues to worsen each day. Foodgrain availability dropped from 550 gms per day in 1990 to 470 gms per day in 2000. Never before has one seen suicides taking place in India on the scale as that in the past five years. Not only is this a sign of enormous suffering, but total hopelessness of a way out, with no political force visible (the revolutionaries still being relatively weak) to give them confidence in their battles against their exploiters. It is also a sign of the extreme alienation of the individual, with little or no community support, created by the culture of crass consumerism, individual greed, and ruthless competitiveness - a result of the policies globalisation. The largest number of suicides has been amongst the debt-ridden peasantry, then the unemployed or dismissed worker, then bankrupt petty-businessmen and even a large number of frustrated teenage student and youth.

Privatisation, contractualisation and high-tech foreign technology have thrown out millions of workers and employees from their jobs in the past decade. The recent stampede at the railway exams is an indication of the level of desperation amongst the youth. There are virtually no proper jobs available today. And those that are able to retain theirs are being faced with excessive workloads, wage freezes and cuts in welfare measures. Job insecurity is very high, with the government introducing a hire-and-fire policy and the Supreme Court calling for a ban on strikes.

Pensions are being reduced; interest on Provident Funds have been slashed from 12% to 9% (and will be reduced further); savings are increasingly insecure with the hosts of bank scams and low interest rates; government social welfare measures have been drastically cut, with the cost of health and education soaring; and all charges are being hiked, whether it be transport, power, water, or even mere leisure (e.g. TV costs). It is a dead-end for the bulk of the working and middle classes. They see their standard of life being pushed to the brink, with the next generation facing a bleak future without secure employment, living off temporary and uncertain jobs.

Now, if we turn to the peasantry their situation has deteriorated even more. With globalisation, has come a total neglect of investment in agriculture; with privatisation of the banks has come the return of the moneylender due to the drying up of cheap credit; with the implementation of WTO stipulations and the slash in import duty, has come a flood of cheap imported products, resulting in a crash in agricultural commodity prices; with the de facto disbanding of the of the PDS (Public Distribution Scheme) has resulted in the disappearance of cheap grain for the millions of impoverished families, and the (de facto) end to support pricing, turning over the agriculturist to dependency on the ruthless traders (a traditional vote-bank of the BJP); and the removal of subsidies for handicrafts has pushed millions of weaver and other artisan families into a state of total collapse. And, added to all this is the yearly devastation of droughts and floods, caused by the rapacious destruction of the forests and the voracious sapping up of ground water. Never before, except during colonial rule, had droughts and famine become such a common occurrence as in the past five years.

The middle-classes too have not been spared by the policies of globalisation. Except for the upper crust from this section, most face a future with no proper employment. The only sphere where a few jobs are available is in the info-tech sector, which is inaccessible to the masses of the middle-classes for its English bias and westernised culture. This too services the elite, for the rest it is growing insecurities - with not only no jobs, but even the limited savings giving far less returns than before (if they have not already disappeared from bank scams and frauds). Besides, while wages are frozen, costs have shot up, like LPG, diesel, petrol, electricity, municipal charges, etc.

Finally, not only the middle-classes but also small business have been badly hid by the influx of the TNCs into every sphere of production, trade and finance. The production lines reserved for the small-scale sector have been cut drastically - besides, the low import duties make it unviable to compete with imports. Lakhs of industries are sick or have closed down.

Besides the effect on all these class, various sections have been also badly hit by globalisation. Students have been hit by privatisation of education and the huge hike in fees. Women have been affected by the cheap commoditification of beauty; the proliferation of the tourist industry and accompanying spurt in prostitution; the high profile promotion of the beauty-industry, where appearance is made the sole criteria of acceptance; and the debasement of women through the spread of pornography by means of the internet. Dalits have been badly affected by the privatisation of both jobs and education, removing thereby the possibility of getting jobs and education through reservations. Finally, tribals have been marginalised even more, being pushed off their lands, forest and natural habitats by imperialist sponsored big projects, mining, forest plantations, tourist parks, etc. They are normally given little compensation and have to eke out an existence on the fringes of society.

When people gather at Mumbai there is need to reflect how these attacks on the living standards and the rights of the people can be fought back.


Attack By Foreign Capital

It is continuously argued that foreign capital is good for the country as it facilitates development. And on this basis everything is done to attract foreign money, including giving it all sorts of concessions to maximise returns. Also guarantees and counter-guarantees are given to it.

But what is the reality?

The reality is quite the reverse. 70% of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) goes to swallow up existing business, so neither does this type of capital generate new employment nor does it encourage growth. All FII (Foreign Institutional Investment) is merely speculative capital that makes fortunes through speculation on the Indian market and serves no constructive purpose. In addition, the bulk of the profits generated by such investment leave the country (either legally or illegally) - so the benefits go to the mother country and not to India. Also, with its high tech quality it, in fact, displaces labour enhancing unemployment in the country. Lastly with the deep penetration of foreign capital small scale indigenous industries are wiped out resulting in de-industrialisation of the country. So we find that for the country in general foreign capital does much harm and does not generate many jobs as propagated by its sponsors and apologists.

What is required is a holistic approach to capital investment and growth, which is geared to expanding the home market and generating surplus from an ever-expanding local market. It is this that should act as the prime source of investment if there is to be systematic growth in the country and not foreign capital.

A foreign investment, based on an expanding market of exports, is hollow and in no way benefits the country and its economy at large. Besides, a small disturbance in international markets creates a severe crisis at home.

It is then argued that in the present globalised world it is outdated to talk of things like self-reliance - the TINA there is no alternative) effect. But, ever since imperialism came into being, at the beginning of the last century, the world has been globalised. What has taken place in the 1990s is merely an extension of what imperialism has always been about. Earlier they did it through colonisation, now they do it through neo-colonial control. The IMF/WB/WTO, and for that matter the US administration, dictate terms to the Indian government on all its economic policies. Of course the magnitude of the penetration of foreign capital in the 1990s has taken a leap. In fact as the stranglehold of foreign capital tightens, the devastation of backward countries increases, and the urgency of movements of national liberations grows, to free itself from the suffocating domination of the alien power. So, the question of self-reliance and national liberation continue to be very much on the agenda, in fact even more so than before, due to the leap in imperialist penetration of these countries. Foreign capital is in fact a noose around the country's neck; where the backward countries are its victims, with the bulk of the population (except for a small urban elite) pushed back to the dark ages.

Foreign capital has skyrocketed since the 1990s. While net foreign investment was $146 million per year in the 1980s, in the period 1993-2001 it was $4,443. The decade of the 1990s witnessed a gigantic $73 billion of foreign capital into India. In addition, the foreign debt jumped from $84 billion in 1990 to $ 110 billion today.

Slowly all industry, agriculture, finance and trade are coming under the vice-like grip of foreign capital interwoven with that of big comprador capital and that of the government. Their predominance is growing by the day. Daily reports come in of local industry being taken over. The PSUs are being sold to them for a song. The Bombay Stock Exchange is already under their (FII) control. Mining is being taken over by foreign consortiums. Banking and insurance is slowly moving into their hands. Major industries are already in their control, and with the patent act to be passed on Jan.1 2005, more will be swallowed up. A month back the first banks were taken over by British and American multinationals - UTI Bank and Centurion Bank. At the rate at which their penetration is growing, it will not be long before their control will match that of the British during the colonial days


Globalisation : An Attack on India's Sovereignty

It is estimated that every year $65 billion, or rupees three lakh crores, are drained out of the country. This amounts to a gigantic 20% of the country's national income being drained out each and every year. Is it possible for any country, least of all an underdeveloped country like India, to develop with such a huge drain on its resources? This loot takes place from: (i) returns on accumulated FDI in the country, (i) Returns on FIIs and GDRs, (iii) Interest on foreign debt and NRI deposits, (iv) losses through foreign trade, (v) Brain drain, (vi) yearly flow of illegal money abroad, etc.

The main aim of earlier colonial rule in India was to extract its wealth in the interests of the British rulers. The British are now only replaced by the imperialists in general, and more particularly the US imperialists. Earlier the British ran the government directly; now much the same is being done by proxy. Besides, over the passed few years, the US has sought to enmesh the country in a series of military and diplomatic ties, thereby tightening its noose around the Indian administration.

For the first time ever the US intelligence, the FBI, has been allowed to open an office in Delhi. High-level joint military exercises have been conducted with the US army, navy and air force. For the first time ever the Indian navy is being used by America to police the Mallacca straits. In the name of counter-terrorism, the India secret service has been working in close alliance with Israeli intelligence, Mossad, and US intelligence agencies. Though differences may have temporarily occurred regarding sending troops to Iraq, a little arm-twisting (like cutting off India from the lucrative Iraqi contracts) and with elections over, the Indian rulers are bound to comply. In the colonial days thousands of Indian troops were sent to their death fighting as foot-soldiers of the colonial power in foreign lands. Is the same to be repeated today? Already one young 21-year-old army officer from Chandigarh has returned back from Iraq, DEAD.

So, self-reliance is not some impractical or idealist concept. It is the very basis to prevent foreign loot of the country and build an economy standing on one's own legs. Self-reliance is the only means by which to assert India's sovereignty. It does not mean no trade or dealings with foreign powers, but what it means is doing so on our own terms. It is only threw the development of the home market (and not increased imports-exports) that the country will develop and people's purchasing power grows. This, in turn, will act as the motor for further growth.

For this to happen it is necessary to kick the imperialists out of the country, as was earlier attempted of the British; confiscate all their capital and that of their comprador agents within the country; annul the foreign debt; re-negotiate all agreements and treaties on the basis of equality to both sides; kick foreign troops and intelligence services out of the country; and begin to build a country free from imperialist domination.

Those attending the Mumbai events must seriously ponder over these points as to whether there is any other possible method to alleviate the suffering of the vast Indian masses. If not, they should forthwith adopt this programme of long-term action.

But having said this is not enough. How is this to be achieved in the given scenario?


Roadmap To Change

Given the above state of affairs, how to proceed on the path to change. One thing is certain is that unless there is a clear-cut alternative to the existing state of affairs, much of the debate is mere intellectual semantics. Of course the alternative must be not only viable but also possible. But, history has also shown that no basic change in a system has been easy. Short-cuts may be convenient, but are not practical - they do not work. On the other hand life itself is going to get more and more difficult.

There will be only but two alternatives before the people: either take the path of radical opposition to the evils of today; or succumb to a life of perpetual insecurity, fascist internecine strife, state terror and wars of increasing intensity. We saw that even the gigantic peaceful mass movements in the West could not stop the war in Iraq, as it is clear that the imperialists do not listen to reason; they only understand the language of force. So, it is no use debating on the question whether violence be used or not; the world situation is fraught with the worst forms of violence, as seen with the Gujarat holocaust. In the days to come, besides the silent death of millions from poverty and disease, there will be fascist violence, there will be parochial violence, there will be state terror, and there will be increasing number of wars of the Iraq type for conquest and markets. The deep crisis in the world economy points only in this direction. We will all be pushed to choose as which side we are on; fence-sitting will become all the more difficult as the situation worsens.

In such a situation comfortable change, imagined by the NGOs, is not possible. This battle is not going to be a carnival of debates. The only answer lies in mobilising the masses for militant struggles in their thousands. Fascism, parochial violence, state terror and wars cannot be countered with platitudes. We already find today in the country that even minor economic demands are not tolerated by the system, let alone any demand to reform it. The Tamilnadu government employees witnessed this when hundreds were arrested, thousands thrown out of their jobs and their strike declared illegal, for merely demanding the economic rights that were withdrawn form them. Even the Supreme Court took the opportunity to declare all strikes as illegal. So, in today's atmosphere for even the smallest demand it will entail major struggles, if it is to be successful.

And then what about the growing number of fascist gangs in the form of the VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc, which are openly arming themselves for further attacks. Hindu fascism is now virtually state policy. Lack of a BJP majority prevents it from being overt. How does one face up to Modi-type pogroms? Do those attending the WSF have an answer? In this atmosphere to preach peace seems totally defeatist. Thousands are being recruited and trained in these gangster forces; they are stock-piling swords, hatchets, country bombs and even undergoing open rifle training. History has shown that the anti-minority actions of these fascist gangs will also be used against the struggling masses, when they take to militant battles. Are the people attending the WSF listening?

So, we find at the ground level only those forces able to grow who have the capacity for militant battle, all others are getting pacified or co-opted. The people are themselves coming out on to the streets in battle, whether for jobs, wage hike, electricity charges, fee hike, etc. But they are being crushed, either due to betrayal by the revisionists, or due to the unplanned nature of the action. The numerous strikes by government employees have either been token revisionist affairs, to let off steam; or they have been brutally crushed by the truncheons and arrests of the rulers. If more militant, they have been mowed down in cold blood. Where movements have taken the form of insurgencies as the nationality movements for their right to self-determination, the India army has been used, with the people witnessing the most cruel forms of atrocities.

In such a scenario it is only the revolutionary forces that have the ability to fight back and lead the broad section of the masses against a monstrous enemy. Having revolutionary foresight, a scientific ideology, flexible tactics to utilise both legal and illegal means of struggle, and most particularly utmost dedication to the masses and communism - it is they alone who can beat back the offensive of the present-day rulers and their hangers-on.

So, it is quite natural that it is the Maoist forces in the country conducting a people's war, who have been gaining ground particularly in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country. In spite of the worst forms of terror unleashed against them, they are still able to grow, particularly in the backward rural areas of AP, Bihar and Central India (Dandakaranya). In neighbouring Nepal they have, in fact, established Base Areas and a new people's government in vast tracts of the country. In India, Guerrilla Zones have been established in the above three areas, where peoples' power is sought to be exerted in its embryonic form. This is the "Other Possible World" being born before our very eyes. Do those at the WSF wish to see it? Or do they prefer to look the other way pretending that it does not exist? Or do they even fall prey to ruling-class propaganda labelling these movements as 'terrorists'?

It is the Naxalites who have stood up and refused to bow before either state terror or the moneybags. Many a lesser being, drivel before the big-bosses of the system, cringing before their money, or panic-stricken by their threats. Witness the PW Central Committee member, Com. Shyam, who refused to bend in spite of the most inhuman tortures by Naidu's hi-tech police. And the other CC member, Com. Mahesh, whose leg was even chopped off in the course of torture, who also stood firm as a rock; as did Com. Murali, the third CC member, brutally murdered. These are three shining stars for all the oppressed of the country and world to emulate. They were the staunchest anti-imperialist fighters, together with hundreds of other martyred revolutionaries, in this age of globalisation.

People's struggles and people's wars are the only recourse against the growing fascist danger looming over our country. The rulers are and will sell every stone in this country to the imperialist (particularly US) robber barons; and to do so they will allow oceans of blood of the oppressed to flow. Hindu fascism and state terror are a necessary pre-requisite to facilitate the further the sale of the country to foreign capital unhindered. Economic reforms can only ride into the country on the back of Hindu fascism and state terror. The three are an inseparable package, and one cannot be opposed without the other. The CPM's tall talk of 'secularism' is therefore a hoax (it too is half-baked) unless it is coupled with a systematic fight against economic reforms and state terror. The fight is necessary on all three fronts to be, at all effective.

The ongoing people's war in the country is the sole beacon light to a bright future of the Indian people. In their areas of strength in Dandakarnya and Bihar, where enemy forces have been kept at bay, the people have been mobilised to build their own future - there, they have built small dams, ponds, schools, health centres, fisheries, etc; and have been trained, not only as guerrillas and organised in militias, but as para-medics, agriculturalist (stressing on organic farming), and in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Shramdan and cooperative agriculture are encouraged, not only to enhance production, but to create the new communist values of sharing and concern for others. The people's welfare is the central goal of all activities. Besides this, all disputes are settled in people's courts and a new judicial system is functioning.

In Nepal they have gone even one step ahead by setting up the Base Areas with an alternative system of the new democratic government run by the GAVISA. At the village level and even at the district level they have set up the new organs of power, the Gaon Samyukth Jan Samiti (Gavisa). There are two Base Areas in the Western region and one in the East. The immediate plan is to set up a total of six BAs in the middle Himalyas, stretching from east to west. In September 2001 the URPC (strategic united front) was formed at 4 levels - Central, Autonomous Region, District, Village/town levels. From 1997 - 2000 village-level GAVISAs were being formed. They were being elected; calling all adults, except the enemy. After 2000 they formed the Election Commission. In the Special Region there was a 6-member EC, with an Election Commissioner. They declare the elections - people fill election forms etc. In every GAVISA there must be a combination of the Party, Military, and Masses (Mass Organisation).

All higher levels of GAVISAs are elected through a House of People's representative. A village level GAVISA will have one member elected from each ward, one member from each of the mass organisations in the village, one from the militia and two will be directly elected. All representatives elected from each village form a House of People's Representatives comprising roughly 70 to 100 people in a total population 5000 to 10,000.

Now for election to the higher body (district-level) : Assume there are 70 House of People's Representatives for each Gavisa area; and there are 14 Gavisas in the district; so for the process of electing the House People's Representatives at the District level, the entire representatives of the region (comprising 14 x 70 - 980 representatives) will gather and elect their representatives for the District House of Representatives. For example, say these comprise 129 members in that district. These 129 members are the members of District People's Representatives of the district. These 129 then elect a body of 29 by secret Ballot, to form the District GAVISA.

This district body has introduced taxation on the following basis : Land Registation - 2% (Government takes 7%); Forest produce - e.g. For House-building (big houses); Mill (chakki) - Owners, not small houses; Salla Tree - Gum + powder - sell - taxed; Traders tax - small traders are not taxed (Medium traders - Rs.1000/yr; Big traders - Rs.5000/yr; Granite stones from mines small coal mines (tiny)- tax). There is also the same style of taxation also by GAVISAs at the village level.

For a new judicial system the following norms have been set: Crimes have been classified into 4 types:

1. Murder, Rape, Anti-national Narcotic etc - counter revolution, informers - (district GAVISA only deals with such cases) -First Death sentence was the punishment; now under debate; life sentence + labour camp is being considered

2. Attempt to (1) - 6 months - 3 years labour camp, some referred to district GAVISA.

3. Social crimes - theft, prostitution - village GAVISA through Jan Adalat

4. Simple crimes - liquor, husband-wife problem, land dispute; same as (3)

Now no case are going to the government - nor is any tax going to the government. Earlier there was money lending; now interest is not allowed to exceed 20% per annum. Credit cooperatives have been set up which take deposits at 10% and give it out at15%.

Untouchability has been abolished.

Such PEOPLE'S GOVERNMENT ARE BEING RUN IN 15 DISTRICTS OF NEPAL

These then are the only other possible worlds to be built in the process of fighting imperialist globalisation and war. It is not utopian, but a living reality right in the neighbourhood of where the WSF is being held.

Though we do not expect all to be directly involved in building this new world, what is essential is to appreciate its importance in the worldwide struggle against imperialist globalisation and war. And in the process, ally with these revolutionary movements in the fight against imperialism to build the broadest possible united front against the main enemy, both at the international level and locally. In the given situation, though all imperialist powers are part of the enemy camp, at present it is US imperialism that is the number one enemy of the world people; and it is this that must be targeted.

So let us now all join together in this common battle, dissociate ourselves from the apologists of imperialism, and build a strong worldwide and local anti-imperialist/anti-US imperialist movement, to beat back its offensive, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all around the globe. In India they must be targeted together with their local accomplices and agents.

Source: Indymedia, January 1, 2004