The Indian Supreme Court Condemns The Injustices Of Globalization As An Amoral Paradigm Of Developlement
By Niloufer Bhagwat
21 July, 2011
The Indian Supreme Court in the case of Nandini Sundar and Ors vs. the State of Chattisgarh , has held as illegal and unconstitutional the recruitment by the State of Chattisgarh , supported by the Union of India ,of a section of the tribal people as ad hoc ‘Special Police Officers', and of civil vigilante militias for counterinsurgency operations in the tribal and mineral rich heartlands of Eastern and Central India , against ‘ Maoists/ Naxalite' movements supported by the tribal people and a section of the peasantry , opposing take over of the mineral rich areas of tribal regions by Indian and Transnational companies . The importance of this judgment lies in the recognition by the Supreme Court , that there is a breakdown of the ‘social contract ' between the government and people in these regions, as a consequence of the distorted policies of globalization implemented, pursuant to which illegal and unconstitutional measures were adopted by the State .The Court has observed that-
“The problem lies in the amoral political economy that the state endorses and the resultant revolutionary politics it necessarily spawns…………That violent agitator politics , and armed rebellion in major pockets of India have intimate linkages to socio-economic circumstances ,and endemic inequalities has been well recognized ….” 1
Predictably the corporate controlled media, and corporate boardrooms , have reacted adversely to the judgment's observations on the violent displacement of the tribal people, and the emptying of hundreds of tribal villages for ‘development', using poorly paid hired mercenaries and civil vigilante militias, recruited ad hoc from the tribal population itself , in addition to the police and Para military forces , pursuant to agreements signed by the regional State government of Chattisgarh with Indian and transnational Companies, such as Tata , Essar , ArcelorMittal , De Beers Consolidated Mines, BHP Billion and Rio Tinto among others, which has unleashed counter violence by Maoist movements supported by the tribal people , scheduled castes and sections of the peasantry ; leading to escalating levels of increasing violence, aptly referred to by the Supreme Court as the ‘ Dark Side of Globalization' . The reaction from these circles is not surprising, as the media with some exceptions , has highlighted primarily the gains of the present economic policies, exorbitant profits for the corporate class, high incomes for the upper middle class and professional classes, including for those sections of the middle class at the higher end , catapulting these classes to consumers on a global scale, with infrastructure development catering primarily to their interests .
The Judgment is unsparing in its comparison of the violence and brutal methods in the process of implementation of the policies of ‘globalization' in the tribal heartlands of India, to the “ ‘ horrors' of the imperialist -capitalist expansionary policy ” of the late 19 th and early 20 th Century colonization of Africa , described in Joseph Conrad's ‘ Heart of Darkness' - “ the darkness of the forest , representing a struggle for life and the sublime;….the darkness of the colonial expansion of resource…. And the darkness, representing humanity and evil to which human beings are capable of descending …….”. 2
The references in the judgment to serious illegalities following the implementation of these policies , impacting constitutionalism and the' Rule of Law', with conditions in some pockets resembling civil war , have to be read against the backdrop of contemporary developments in India and globally , with governments all over the world resorting to extra constitutional methods and back door decision making on economic and financial policy, resulting in violent upheavals across continents and countries, in Mexico and Haiti , in Central and Latin America , in Africa , in the uprisings in the Arab world and in what is increasingly being referred to as a ‘Banker's War' ,pauperizing citizens of Europe and the United States ,and impacting people globally . 3
Newly emerging countries like China and India are far from unscathed, despite their opening up to industrial development, and the praise lavished by financiers and some rating agencies .China according to the Asian Development Bank recorded the region's second highest increase in income inequality, 4 with fatal accidents among workers taking a toll of almost 100,000 lives a year, reported by China's State Administration of Worker Safety. Since the adoption of these policies in India , more than 250,000 farmers have committed suicides, that is a quarter of a million till date , over a decade and a half since 1995 ,as reported by the Government of India's National Bureau of Crime Statistics, and collective suicides of families of other classes succumbing to the debt trap , except the corporate and the upper middle classes, are increasingly being reported .
To compound the existing horror of these policies , militaries wage brutal ‘unending wars', in which millions have been killed, and the genetic code of humankind destroyed in several areas , where Depleted Uranium weapons manufactured from the waste product of the nuclear industry have been used, in wars waged on behalf of the world's most powerful monopoly companies and financial institutions, seizing the economic space, national budgets, savings and resources of one society after another targeted for enslavement , leading a prominent and perceptive financial analyst to refer to the ideologues of this policy as ‘ Neo-Nazi ' 5 , instead of the milder term ‘Neocons' which most liberals and others hitherto used , as a reference to the Nazi party would have conjured up images of Mussolini's ‘Fascist Business Model', too stark for those who desired to avoid reading the writing on the wall of the apocalypse engulfing societies .
It is this on the ground reality of ‘neo-liberal' policy ,with specific reference to the impact of these policies in India ,which the Indian Supreme Court has focused on in its observations , while declaring unconstitutional and illegal the ad hoc recruitment from out of ‘one half of the poor' tribal people ‘to kill the other half', by the regional state government supported by the Central government for counter insurgency operations in support of seizures of land belonging to the tribal people , by companies preying on these mineral rich areas , despite the statutory and constitutional prohibitions against alienation of tribal land.
Even before this judgment, the official report submitted in March 2009 by the ‘ Committee On State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task of Land Reforms' , commissioned by the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India , referred to the land seizures of the tribal people as ‘colonial', and to the civil war unleashed as “ the biggest land grab ever if it is played out as per the script ” and singled out for adverse mention the companies initially funding the civil vigilante militia the ‘ Salwa Judum', with the sole purpose of emptying the villages, recording that –
“ 640 villages as per official statistics were laid bare , burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state.350,000 tribals half of the population of Dantewada district are displaced , their womenfolk raped , their daughters killed , and the youth maimed . Those who could not escape were herded into refugee camps managed by the Salwa Judum.
640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on top of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder ………….” 6
The editorials and commentators on this judgment, who insist that the Supreme Court was going beyond the legal issues involved in rhetorical observations , and that the descriptive part of the judgment referring to the facts on the ground were unnecessary, have conveniently overlooked that it was the State of Chattisgarh and the Central Government who were relying in their submissions before the court on conditions on the ground ,to justify the recruitment of mercenaries from young tribal youth and civil vigilante militias, in violation of the Constitution of India and the Indian Police Act 1861, pursuant to the mining MOUs signed with companies. It is in this context that the Supreme Court had necessarily to focus on the false premise of a distorted agenda for development, as a consequence of which illegalities were taking place , despite the statutory and constitutional prohibitions against the alienation of tribal land, as the illegalities in decision making by the state had led to the insurgency and the unconstitutional counterinsurgency measures that the state had resorted to, with the Court observing that :-
“The root cause of the problem and its solution lies elsewhere. The culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology , and the failed promises of ever increasing spirals of consumption leading to economic growth that will lift everyone, under-gird this socially and economically , unsustainable set of circumstances in vast tracts of India ……….The justification often advanced ……..is that unless development occurs , via rapid and vast exploitation of natural resources, the country would not be able to either compete on the global scale , or accumulate the wealth necessary to tackle problems of poverty , illiteracy , hunger and squalor . Whether such exploitation is occurring in a manner that is sustainable, by the environment and social structure is an oft debated
topic, and yet hurriedly buried. Neither the policy makers not the elite in India , who turn a blind eye to the gross accumulation of inhuman suffering of the displaced and the dispossessed, provide any credible answer. Worse still they ignore historical evidence which indicates that a development paradigm depending largely on the loot of natural resources more often than not leads to failure of the State;……”
In a period where legal systems have become a mere echo of the dominant paradigm of development in most parts of the world, including in what were hitherto known as the ‘ Western Liberal Democracies', paying lip service to concepts such as ‘ democracy' , ‘ liberty', and ‘constitutional rights', this judicial decision pronounces that -
“ Policies of rapid exploitation of resources by the private sector, without credible commitment to equitable distribution of benefit and costs, and environmental sustainability, are necessarily violative of principles that “are fundamental to governance”, and when such violation occurs on a large scale, they necessarily eviscerate the promise of equality before the laws, promised by article 14, and by the dignity of life assured by article 21. Additionally the collusion of the extractive industry , and in some places it is called the mining mafia, and by some agents of state , necessarily leads to evisceration of the moral authority of the State , which further undermines article 14 and 21 .”
The Home Ministry of the Government of India has reported that 120 to 160 districts out of a total of 607 districts in India are Maoist or Naxalite affected, and that the movement has spread to nearly one –fourth of the territory of India, though the description of ‘Maoist /Naxalite' has been loosely used for several political movements in agrarian India, wherever they have been sought to be crushed with a heavy hand. The judgment in this context clarifies that the state in a democracy ,is not justified in resorting to illegal means to deal with such movements, in violation of the Constitution , statutory laws and the ‘Rule of Law', as this would lead to ever increasing levels of escalating violence ,in particular in the face of genuine discontent as reported by official committees of the government , reminding governments , law makers , civil and military officials and citizens that :-
“ Given humanity's collective experience with unchecked power , which becomes its own principle , and its practice its own raison d ‘etre resulting in the eventual dehumanization of all of the people, the scouring of the earth by the unquenchable thirst for natural resources by Imperialist powers, and the horror of two World Wars, modern Constitutionalism posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate state's violence against any one , much less its own citizens , unchecked by law , and notions of innate human dignity of every individual …..”
Before this judgment, citizens with a conscience who raised their voice against what the Supreme Court has referred to as the “horror ” of the conditions of the tribal people, the scheduled castes, the peasantry, the working class,and minorities, among other exploited groups,were indiscriminately labeled as ' Maoist' or ‘ Maoist' sympathizers or as ‘ Jehadis', and faced arbitrary arrests and detention under various special acts passed with the oblique objective of protecting public safety and security. The Court has unequivocally condemned the indiscriminate labeling of citizens as ‘Maoist' or as ‘Maoist sympathizers', by governments and police agencies, to justify arbitrary arrest and detention, declaring that -
“ …..We must state that we are aghast at the blindness to constitutional limitations of the State of Chattisgarh and some of its advocates, in claiming that any one who questions the conditions of inhumanity that are rampant in many parts of the State ought to necessarily be treated as Maoists , or their sympathizers………..”
The extent to which policing agencies and instrumentalities of the state
in India, have been dovetailing their policies and practices to further corporate acquisition and other policy, is borne out by the fact that fascist movements and political parties attacking Muslims, Christians , Scheduled castes ,women and other socially and economically disadvantaged categories ,were by and large untouched in India till very recently( with some feeble attempts recently made), and have been permitted with impunity to resort to bomb blasts and pogroms and other forms of attacks in collusion with covert agencies , after which commissions of inquiry were appointed in respect of a few pogroms ,to pacify those affected, with a view to dilute public anger and alienation, with little or no action taken on these reports by the government. Recently the concept of ‘ Homeland Security' has gained adherents in India , in chambers of commerce and industry, both as a source of potential profit and to crush movements , with meetings increasingly being addressed by retired army and police personnel. Several new entrants to the police force of several regional state governments have been indoctrinated and informed that the main threat to Indian democracy are the' Maoists' or ‘Naxalites', and their sympathizers( those sympathetic to oppressed classes are prima facie suspect), or from so called “ Jehadis” of the Muslim minority, with the word ‘ Jehad' widely misused ( though it connotes struggle in Islam , primarily against the baser instincts of the self). The reality is that the Muslim minority in India , is now acknowledged to be on the margins of economic and social development, with their status comparable to the scheduled castes by the government appointed Justice Rajinder Sachar Commission, among other reports. As a consequence of this indoctrination of the police force, Gandhians, genuine Ambedkarites ( followers of Dr. B. Ambedkar widely known for his struggle to emancipate the scheduled castes and for his contribution to the framing the Indian Constitution ); writers and academics focusing on conditions in tribal India or among the peasantry and scheduled caste, those actively involved in civil liberties organizations or with community health care , environmental and other civic activities, and members of the minority communities not even remotely associated with any violent or revolutionary politics, have been arbitrarily arrested and detained as either ‘ Maoist' or ‘Jehadi'.
The factual position on conditions in the affected regions, reproduced in the judgment , which has disturbed detractors of the judgment , have been extracted by the learned Judges from impeccable sources, including from the report of the an ‘ Expert Group' of the Planning Commission on the ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas' submitted in April 2008, which has highlighted that -
“The development paradigm since independence has aggravated the prevailing discontent among the marginalized sections of society …. ……….causing irreparable damage to these sections. The benefit of this paradigm has been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expense of the poor, who have borne most of the costs. Development which is insensitive to these communities has inevitably caused displacement and reduced them to sub-human existence. In the case of tribes in particular it has ended up destroying their social organization, cultural identity and resource base ………which cumulatively makes them increasingly vulnerable to exploitation ……..the pattern of development and its implementation has increased corrupt practices of a rent seeking bureaucracy and rapacious exploitation by contractors, middlemen, traders and the greedy sections of the larger society, interested in grabbing their resources and violating their dignity ….”7
In the context of the failure of the parties in parliament , who have successively constituted governments either at the Centre or in several regions and states, to respond democratically to the grievances of several movements against arbitrary land seizures and acquisitions, including the two Communist parties represented in parliament, constituent units of the erstwhile ‘Left Front' government in West Bengal, all of whom responded brutally to crush these movements; the Court has highlighted the necessity for governments at the Centre and in the states to adopt an approach within the constitutional framework to movements and protests by those affected, instead of treating these movements only as law and order problems , quoting from the report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission to focus attention on what the correct approach should be , in view of the reality that -
‘ there are different kinds of movements and treating them generally as unrest , disruptive of law and order , is little more than a rational for suppressing them by force … ..It is necessary to contextualize the tensions in terms of social, economic and political background and bring back on the agenda the issues of the people …The State has to adhere strictly to the Rule of Law ……,………What is surprising is not the fact of unrest but the failure of the State to draw right conclusions from it …….”
The Judgment exposes the attempt to demonize all movements, and distinguishes between state violence assisting rapacious exploitation in violation of the rule of law, and the counter violence of the oppressed, while not condoning indiscriminate violence. The stark political reality however is that judgments, even of the Supreme Court, cannot substitute for political movements of the dispossessed and oppressed, which have been hitherto confined in India predominantly to the tribal people, to the scheduled caste and sections of the peasantry and those in traditional livelihoods except for localized movements of industrial workers. It is necessary for these sections to ally with other democratic sections of citizens in urban India , to gather a mass, to broaden and widen the movement , and to recognize the inherent limitations of a strategy confined only to violent confrontations with counterinsurgency forces; even as the objective all over the world is to build a better civilization, as humanity faces an existential crisis, and it is being increasingly recognized that the dominant economic and financial system, with its demand for endless growth is breaking down , ravaging planetary resources, and devastating the environment .
In the context of the existing intellectual and political vacuum in urban India, the judgment is a warning that the ‘Constitution of India ' is not to be interpreted as a ‘pact for national suicide, by brutally crushing the voices of the oppressed reacting to seriously distorted policies and by pursuing “ socio-economic policies that cause vast disaffection amongst the poor” . The Court while focusing on the manner in which the government has resorted to illegalities in pursuance of a skewed agenda of development, has asserted unambiguously that only constitutional methods can be resorted to by governments even in dealing with violent movements, if the ‘Rule of Law ‘is not to be torn apart , which the Supreme Court concludes has happened in the heartland of Central and Eastern India, while reiterating that the Indian Constitution as framed , is a document committed to “the right to livelihood, the right to life and to a dignified honourable existence …” for all its citizens .
The judgment observes , that “ it is critical for any government to recognize that dissent or expression of dissatisfaction is a positive feature of democracy” .Going further, the Court reminds those who make and implement policy, that there is “ a direct correlation between extremism and poverty”, which cannot be wished away or suppressed by force of arms alone. Finally the Supreme Court acknowledges the reality of the dilemma faced by those struggling for a voice for marginalized sections, the Court articulates in different words the viewpoint expressed by Frederick Douglass, the famous slavery abolitionist in the United States of America , that in the final analysis “Power conceded nothing without a demand”.
1. Nandini Sundar & Ors. Vs. The State of Chattisgarh & Ors.
( AIR S.C. July 2011).
2. Joseph Konrad, Heart of Darkness (Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003).
3. Washington Blog, ‘ Big Banks Waging Warfare Against the People of the World',
Globalresearch .ca, Centre for Reaseach on Globalization, 12 Th July, 2011.
4. Martin Hart –Landsberg ‘The U.S. Economy and China , Capitalism, Class and Crisis', Monthly Review, Vol7, No.11, February 2001.
5. Jim Willie, ‘The Great Misdiagnosis of the US Economy, Problem of Insolvency Not Liquidity', The Market Oracle, 1 July 2011 .
6. Report of the Committee ‘On State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task of Land Reforms', Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India (New Delhi, March 2009
7. Report of an Expert Group of the Planning Commission of India, ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas ‘, (New Delhi, April 2008)
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