'It looks like murder, but it's poverty.' - A paralysed Baiga lady asleep in her village of Harra Tola, Madhya Pradesh. Her village has no access to healthcare nor clean water. It is about 50kms away from Kanha National Park.
Chidambaram’s Omelette: or why I’m left with a very bad taste in my mouth after swallowing your insane ideas of development
Okay, what is development?
I have often had to ask myself this question over the last few years and I’ve so far, found it safe to conclude that it is one of the most ambiguous words used in recent times. It’s more than a mere contradiction, and the fact that one word can affect whole communities, whole cultures and the very idea of subsistence is frightening. This is not merely an article detailing that development has contradictorily become synonymous with extinction for many people. I have written this to bring myself to understand the politics of a simple idea of development, whose contradictions I have often been confronted with during my travels through rural India.
One thing, however, is obvious. Development is dignity.
Development is thus, private property – land to the tiller. Development is the freedom felt in the hands of a once landless labourer who feels that mud in his palms, that hope. Development is knowing that he shall not lose his land, his meager acres for the profit margins of private companies. Development is knowing that he can feed his own children and work on his own land. Development is knowing that he shall not have to kill himself because of debt incurred on his shoulders so others can get rich, fat, grotesque and happy. Dignity is not profit. Dignity is not greed. Dignity is not wearing a $100 pure cotton t-shirt to impress your latest fuck-fad, as cotton-farmers commit suicide for being incapable of paying the $100 debt that falls upon them thanks to farming practices enforced upon them. Development is not the free market. Development is not a world where freedom means desire.
Development is, a mother knowing her children shall not starve to death.
Development is, knowing a mother shall not die giving birth to her children. Development is, knowing a family shall not have to have so many children for fear that most would probably not even make it beyond their 5th birthday – being victims to preventable disease like diarrhea, malaria and dysentery. Yet we rank 171 out of 175 in public health expenditure, according to WHO, and hospitals are so far away from the rural poor that it would take them a whole weeks wages just to travel to a hospital.
Development is not apathy. Why do we live in a world where cynicism is the religion of the urban middle class?
It’s not supposed to be noble to help someone, it’s simple decency. Unfortunately, it has no market value nor any impetus on the stock market. It has no existence in the free market, bought by the rich, held by the rich, over the dust and bones of the poor, with the invisible hand of the market, that is invisible simply because it does not exist.
Live and let live, they say, do we have any idea how much murder we have condoned by that stupid fucking excuse of a morality? Live and let live, we say to the rioting mob who has just burnt a man alive for his is a faith that is not our faith. Live and let live, we say, as we don’t care about justice for the many whose family was just burnt alive for their faith is not our faith. Live and let live, we say, and we accept war and death as natural orders of human civilization, as they’re mere inconveniences to us, so, so far away. Live and let live, we say to the man beating his wife to death.
Live and let live, we say, and we merely fail to protest the horrors of the human condition.
Live and let live, we say, as we destroy whole communities for profit for the few or the many – depends on who is doing the mathematics.
Let me try first.
Let’s take the equation of industrial development and it’s idea of ‘employment generation’. I shall take the National Mineral Development Corporation and Tata’s joint venture in Bailadila in Chhattisgarh as an example. Below are the details of an RTI query filed with the NMDC regarding this issue:
Question: What is the percentage of tribals employed in executive positions of the PSU,NMDC?
Answer: The total number of ST Executives in NMDC was 45 and the percentage is 4.82%, as on 31st Oct 2006.
Question: What is the percentage and number of Scheduled Tribes employed directly by the Bailadila projects (BIOP) of NMDC in non-executive positions?
Answer: The percentage of the Tribals employed directly by the BIOP in non-executive positions is 31.41% and the total number of ST’s employed directly by BOIP is 935.
Contrast that number to the 200,000 people who hit the streets of Dantewada on the 14th of 2006, to protest against the Salwa Judum and the land acquisitions of Tata and Essar.
Then of course, there are the Dhurlis and Bhansis – two villages synonymous with the issue of land in Dantewada. Essar Steel wants their land for a 3.2 million tonne steel plant: they want 200 hectares from Dhurli and 400 hectares from Bhansi.
All the meetings between the villagers and the company take place through the people from the Collector’s office, or the Sub-District Magistrate’s office. Meanwhile, the Naxals have threatened to kill the villagers who accept Essar’s compensation packages and surrender their ancestral land. They have killed two people from Bhansi who had accepted their proposals in 2006, and allegedly acted as their agents. A majority of the villagers say no to compensation: aware that money runs out. Another majority wouldn’t sell their ancestral land for money for what their land means to them: it is their sacred mountain. To sell it for money, is to imagine Muslims selling off Mecca, or the Hindus selling off the Chaar Dhaams: Puri, Rameshwaram, Badrinath and Dwarka.
Whenever I think of this, I remember overhearing the superintendent of police of Dantewada saying: ‘we’d have peace here if the Adivasis were taught greed.’
I remember visiting Bhansi on April 2009, tentatively approaching a whole bunch of villagers sitting on their haunches, with axes, bows and arrows in their hands. They were mostly drunk. I remember these were villages where journalists were looked upon with suspicion and treated with scorn.
‘Don’t worry, I don’t work for a company.’ I said, with my hands up, and they all burst out laughing.
Now, let us consider the amount of water that the 3.2 tonne steel plant would need on a daily basis. The proposed Essar project would require around 80,000 meters cubed of water per day. This would also affect those living downstream from the plant. Now, consider that the average amount of water consumed per person in rural India is 100 litres per day. Therefore, the Essar steel plant’s thirst for water would equal the water needs of 80,000 people.
So what development are we talking about now? Policymakers of the country believe these sacrifices must be made for industrial growth, for a stable economy, for ‘development’ and the good of all.
Or what we can summarize as: a few eggs must be broken for Chidabaram’s omelette.
Development is truly, cannibalistic.
* * *
The villagers of Hiroli, Dantewada, marching to the police station to demand the body of Channu Mandavi, 19, who was shot dead in an allegedly fake encounter on the 12th of April, 2009.
Development, is the greater good?
Now, industrial development has taken on a whole new form – it has become a gospel, out to build a new Jerusalem, a promised land, a Utopia that is forgiven for it’s imperfections and no one shall question it.
More people have been murdered, burnt at the stake, and marched into concentration camps over the idea of progress and the greater good – than the idea of senseless slaughter itself. There’s a huge difference between a psychopathic serial killer out on a shooting spree and the McNamaras of the world. One of them, has the grandest excuses to justify mass murder – take patriotism, take ideology, take God, and take development and the progress of nations.
When did McNamara really realize that he was responsible for being part of a historical machine that killed three million Vietnamese civilians and over 60,000 Americans? I wonder. Camus was right when he said that murder punishes the executioner as much as it punishes the victim. The executioner just doesn’t know it yet. And as long as he has an excuse to justify murder, he’d be fine.
Meanwhile, development in India, under the flag of patriotism, is used explicitly to kill the citizens of our country, and we can do a better job at it, than other countries – and surely! THAT is a matter of national pride!
Development, allowing policy-makers to sleep peacefully after they just condemned thousands of people into poverty for the common good of the few. DEVELOPMENT ZINDABAD! Bhenchodd.
Development, the common good! – laying out IED’s and landmines to blow up off-duty policemen and security personnel, hacking to death police informants and dissidents as a matter of survival, attacking police stations and letting a mob gruesomely dismember policemen and policewomen to leave a symbolic message. Surely, a classless society is easier to build, by killing everyone. There isn’t a greater sin the Naxalites are guilty of, than the creation of executioners out of the victims of oppression.
A cycle repeated by the Chhattisgarh State government, by its support for the Salwa Judum.
And what have we done for the oppressed? How much has the legal system failed them? How much has the press failed them? How much as the political system failed them?
How much has ‘developed’ India failed them?
* * *
An old lady of Pisepara, Bijapur district, waiting to return home to her village after three years. Just a few weeks after she was rehabilitated, the Naxalites would murder two people near her village at a village called Hirapur. Hirapur, recently rehabilitated, was once again abandoned.
If given the choice to sacrifice one man for the good of ten thousand, every rational thinking person would sacrifice that one man without much adieu – it’s simple mathematics. Of course, with a little more power and megalomania and you’d be sacrificing ten thousand people for what you presume are ten million people. This has been happening for centuries, from the Reign of Terror, to the Soviet Gulag system, to the extremes – the Khmer Rouge, who killed for the greater good by killing everyone.
Yet I wonder, what happens if we don’t think rationally for once?
What happens if we don’t sacrifice one man for the good of ten thousand? For the good of a whole billion?
Let us hesitate, let us think about it, maybe the whole world will not fall apart, maybe this little naïve idea can actually change the way this world works.
One man’s life has value – just as every man’s life has value. Is it really simple mathematics? (And of course, let us not forget ‘national security’, where the credo is often: ‘to arrest a 100 innocent men to catch one guilty man who are capable of killing another thousand’ – a difficult choice to make, quite explicitly logical too.) Of course, these ‘difficult choices’ seem to be made by people who have absolutely no difficulty in making them. It has become so easy to condemn people over an idea. Every man is some raging psychotic about to hammer the firing mechanism of a nuclear bomb in the middle of the market, wearing hot-pants and singing Geeta Dutt songs.
Shoot him, please, someone says, it’s logical that he must die so millions don’t evaporate. Of course if this is Bombay, the crowd merely watches as some spurned Majnun is throwing acid onto the face of his beloved Laila.
Okay, bad example – the madman in hot-pants singing Geeta Dutt songs is not as dangerous as the Home Minister who proclaims that he will wipe out the Naxalites and then bring development. Firstly, the Naxalites are just like him, killing for the common good, or what they think is the common good. Secondly, he’d merely be contributing to the destruction of the Adivasis, whose development he should be considering but has yet to detail any plan on how he shall make their lives any better. He has ordered the use of brutal force to kill an enemy who has been made an enemy thanks to the complete failure of the Indian State to bring the murderous, atrocious Salwa Judum to justice, or to provide the tribals with the protection of their rights, a semblance of security, or what is actually Development.
Atrocities are symptoms of war just as apathy is a symptom of peace. They are inevitable. So we shall not argue about whether anyone can have a ‘clean’, ‘heroic’ victory over the Naxalites. Even if he orders the individual States to ensure minimum civilian casualties in their combing operations, one must not discount the fact that many of the people working in the administration have no sympathies for villagers, who they presume, are ‘Naxalite sympathizers.’ They probably are, because the government has done nothing for them but burn their villages, beat them up, or willfully given their support to the Salwa Judum, who has been given a free reign to do as it pleases.
Of course, it’s easy to imagine how the state supported the Salwa Judum when it first came to bloom in Bastar.
History has taught us, that in most situations, insurgencies die as they lose the support of the public – the anger of the oppressed. That’s how the insurgency of the Khalistani movement died out, as did the Islamist insurgency of Algeria. Both movements played out the historical imperative, and came to their logical conclusion – a general public horrified by violence who either turn indifferent to day-to-day killings, or in the exceptional case of Bastar, mutate into a ‘spontaneous’ amoral counter-insurgency backed by an invisible market desire for land.
The people of Bastar turned against the oppressors who once promised them deliverance, the state saw it’s golden opportunity – the Salwa Judum was the theatrical face of a public who had had enough – thousands and thousands of people attended Salwa Judum rallies, screaming anti-Naxalite slogans. It was a big show – and the show must go on. The state began to support it, officially and unofficially, as completely short-sighted as they often are. It was perceived as a peaceful Gandhian movement to everyone but those who were forced out of their burning villages, to everyone but those who were beaten, raped and murdered in cold blood. The same brutality that the Naxalites were known for, was now given state-support and a new moral right. Most of the SPOs as it were, were ex-Sangham members – Naxalites.
Now, we can look back and see the Salwa Judum as the monster it really was, back then, some people saw it as hope from Naxalite oppression. Before the Indian government entered some villages of Bastar for the first time, to burn it, and for the second time, to burn it again, the Naxalites were there. There are no secrets amongst the public that the Naxalites have helped in some ways – they ensured better wages for the villagers of Bastar and they did help stop the exploitation of the tribals by private contractors and the forest officials. But they are victims of an old human trait: the vanity of good – the illusion of it, they are the Robespierres and the Saint-Justes of India, violence begets violence, tyranny follows violent revolution, day follows night follows the day - the Naxalites oppressed the very villagers they wished to serve.
The State meanwhile, was a victim of it’s short-sightedness by supporting the Salwa Judum and made a whole bloody mess by giving a whole angry community right back to the Naxalites. A short-sightedness, that they’re still suffering from, trying to bring parallels of the LTTE’s apparent destruction by the Sri Lankan military, to the Naxalite movement. Number one: if you do manage to weed out every red-book waving hardcore Maoist out from the mass of angry tribals fighting for their land and their rights, will you provide the mass of angry tribals with their land and their rights? Number two: what development are you talking about when you’re yet to detail any plans for healthcare, education, angaanbaadi, roads and yes, dignity for the Tribals by the protection of their land rights?
Development, is the Fifth Schedule.
Human rights, lest we forget, is also development. This is not the age of genocide, nor it’s consent, this is not the age of extrajudicial killings that leave families hopeless, or it’s consent. Tell weeping families that their children were accidentally killed in an encounter for ‘development’, for the ‘common good’.
I dare you.
Number four: development is justice.
If the Indian state wishes to bring development to the Adivasi people, then it should disband the Salwa Judum and indict and punish every individual responsible for the rape, killings, lootings and arson of the villages of Bastar.
* * *
Special Police Officers (SPOs), on duty during a Salwa Judum rally at Bijapur on the 21st of January, 2009.
For the common good, murder is easy, almost consistently, beyond borders. Maybe it’s easy because it’s not about the common good at all – maybe it’s easy because it’s fun. And it’s fun because it’s about power. Power, is the porn of the inhuman. Compassion and mercy are not virtues for men in power. Why would they protest to murder?
People who protest to murder are often social workers, activists, journalists, the Gandhians and they are, the very people who’ve suffered from persecution for their dissent – ‘the human rightwallas’ as some policemen I met would call them. They are a civil society, the conscience. And we’ve obviously not forgotten about the Binayak Sens and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
A little warning sign – the systematic destruction of a dissenting civil society as it has taken place throughout history has only led to one logical conclusion: a society that condones and commits genocide. Sudan’s systematic destruction of her civil society during the early 90’s has inevitably led to the consent to genocide in Darfur, and the recent outpouring of public support by the Sudanese public for their President Omar Al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, is evidence that dissent is dead. The same applies to Putin’s Russia. Human rights activists and lawyers who speak up about atrocities committed in Chechnya, are systematically assassinated. The forgotten war in Chechnya continues. After Beslan, it’s hard for anyone to question it. And the best example shall forever remain Nazi Germany.
When I was growing up, I chanced to come across one of the most potent photographs of the concentration camps. It was not a photograph of a myriad mangled corpses lost in the dichotomies of the scorched landscape nor any portrait of a man who was nothing but skin and bones and bloodshot eyes. It was a photograph that Margaret Bourke-White had taken of the citizens of Weimer asked to look at the atrocities of the Buchenwald Concentration camp. They, the citizens of Germany could probably smell the rot of corpses. Their faces were cringing and yet their expressions remained stoic. They had now become witnesses to one of the worst atrocities committed in recent times.
‘My God? How could we let this happen?’ I wonder if any of them had ever asked themselves that.
* * *
Portrait of a mother and child in the village of Avapalli, Bijapur district, 2009.
All across the country today, farmers – especially Adivasis and Dalits are fighting against the land grabs for SEZs and development projects. It is not a matter of remuneration and compensation, at most times, that is not even adequate.
It is about a way of life.
As I mentioned earlier in this piece, development projects and SEZs mostly provide employment to the white collar worker, not the farmers. At times, the farmers are paid compensation and pushed off the land, and everyone is aware that the compensation money will run out. The farmers have spent their whole lives on this land, nurturing each tree, digging each pond, tilling each acre, weeping for every drought that destroyed their Kharif crop. There is a sentimentality that money cannot replace.
Economic growth, of course, is blind. Sometimes, I wonder how much growth is possible if the rural sector was allowed to grow. If small companies and small holders were allowed to grow.
Nevertheless, there will always be more Narmadas, Nandigrams and Singurs. There are around 68 SEZs notified in Andhra Pradesh alone and the villagers are not pleased. There is resistance. They have mobilized themselves, they have said: NO. Activists and lawyers take them across bureaucratic and legal hurdles and into the democratic fold, to fight peacefully for their rights. And what happens when that fails?
It has always been the responsibility of the civil society to bring the issue justice. And if we don’t care about what is happening to the Muria farmer, or the Irom Sharmilas of India, then India ceases to exist. There is an old saying, it is not about how deep you feel but how wide, and this has always applied to nationalism more than anything else – to live in a country where we care about every one of our citizens, rather than sending military battalions to deal with insurgencies to protect ‘national interests’ and our ‘sovereignty.’
That day, is the day, we will be a developed country.
* * *
Meanwhile, a MBA graduate with a goatee and the newest Blackberry approaches a semi-nude farmer sitting on his haunches, drinking salfi and waiting for the rain.
‘We’re here to claim your land for a new factory for rich people who think you smell funny.’ Says the MBA graduate, who I shall now, refer to as, the Developer.
‘Why?’ asks the confused farmer.
‘It’s called development. It shall be good for you.’
‘It will make us a superpower. Our GDP and our growth would increase and investors would come flocking to our country. It’s all economics, I don’t think you’d understand.’
‘What about me?’
‘You stop being a farmer who can barely pay your debts because of government policies and people like me, and you become a chapraasi for one of our CEOs.’
The farmer thinks for a second.
‘What if I say no?’ He asks.
‘Then we get our goons to come beat you up. And we always have the bureaucrats. Even the banks belong to us and you will never get another loan.’
‘What if I still say no?
‘Then we send the whole damn army after you.’
‘What if I still say no?’
‘We shall break your spirit.’
‘And if my spirit doesn’t break?’
‘We shall kill you all.’
(Now this is where I take some more creative liberties and shall try to draw out a logical continuation to the above scene.)
‘Okay, you can have my land, but you die first.’ Says the farmer to the Developer.
‘I read somewhere that development really follows a logic that Some need to suffer for the Many. And sacrifices must be made. I believe your friends, the Maoists, say the same.’
‘What? My friends?!’
‘So I will give you my land, if we can chop your arms off first.’
‘It’s development, why not?’
‘Come on, you and your CEO, you and your government.’
‘Are you mad? Get away from me.’
‘….you all should make sacrifices for development too!’
‘The world is a cruel place and difficult choices must be made.’ Says the farmer.
‘Get away from me!’
‘Okay, I’ll just chop off one testicle, is that okay?’
The farmer brandishes a rusty blade, the Developer runs away, the farmer sits on his haunches again with his salfi along with a harbinger. Tomorrow, a combing operation in the name of hunting Naxalites shall leave his village burnt, his crop destroyed and his children hungry.
‘DEVELOPMENT ZINDABAD! Bhenchodd!’ Says the farmer.
* * *
Once upon a time, a man holding his young daughter walked under the office of Robert McNamara, the architect of the Vietnam war. To kill a man, you can save millions? Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t work for people who wouldn’t even take a single life. This is the real protest to the human condition.
Norman Morrison was that man’s name. He lay his daughter down, and in protest to the Vietnam war, he doused himself in kerosene and immolated himself to remind the executioner of what he is doing to himself.
At Tiananmen Square, the man who stood before the tank was not the only hero of the day, there were many people who stood before tanks that morning who were systematically run over. The other hero of that day was the man who was driving the tank……… who hesitated, who stopped.