Us Hope The Darkness Has Passed
14 May 14, 2004
many of us who feel estranged from mainstream politics, there are rare,
ephemeral moments of celebration. Today is one of them. When India went
to the polls, we were negotiating the dangerous cross-currents of neo-liberalism
and neo-fascism - an assault on the poor and minority communities.
None of the pundits and psephologists predicted the results. The rightwing
BJP-led coalition has not just been voted out of power, it has been
humiliated. It cannot but be seen as a decisive vote against communalism,
and neo-liberalism's economic "reforms". The Congress has
become the largest party. The left parties, the only parties to be overtly
(but ineffectively) critical of the reforms, have been given an unprecedented
mandate. But even as we celebrate, we know that on every major issue
besides overt Hindu nationalism (nuclear bombs, big dams and privatisation),
the Congress and the BJP have no major ideological differences. We know
the legacy of the Congress led us to the horror of the BJP. Still, we
celebrate because surely a darkness has passed. Or has it?
Recently, a young
friend was talking to me about Kashmir. About the morass of political
venality, the brutality of the security forces, the inchoate edges of
a society saturated in violence, where militants, police, intelligence
officers, government servants, businessmen and even journalists encounter
each other, and gradually, over time, become each other. About having
to live with the endless killing, the mounting "disappearances",
the whispering, the fear, the rumours, the insane disconnection between
what Kashmiris know is happening and what the rest of us are told is
happening in Kashmir. He said: "Kashmir used to be a business.
Now it's a mental asylum."
conflicts in Kashmir and the north-eastern states make them separate
wings that house the more perilous wards in the asylum. But in the heartland
too, the schism between knowledge and information, between fact and
conjecture, between the "real" world and the virtual world,
has become a place of endless speculation and potential insanity.
Each time there
is a so-called terrorist strike, the BJP government has rushed in, eager
to assign culpability with little or no investigation. The attack on
the parliament building, on December 13 2001, and the burning of the
Sabarmati Express, in Godhra, the following year are fine examples.
In both cases, the evidence that surfaced raised disturbing questions
and so was put into cold storage. Everybody believed what they wanted
to, but the incidents were used to whip up communal bigotry in a haze
of heightened Hindu nationalism.
- state as well as centre; Congress, BJP, as well as regional parties
- have used this climate of manufactured frenzy to mount an assault
on human rights on a scale that would shame the world's better known
In recent years,
the number of people killed by the police and security forces runs into
tens of thousands. Andhra Pradesh (neo-liberalism's poster state) chalks
up an average of about 200 deaths of "extremists" in "encounters"
every year. In Kashmir an estimated 80,000 people have been killed since
1989. Thousands have simply "disappeared".
1-800-CHARITY - Vehicle Donation Program
Donate your automobiles to the nationally acclaimed the...
Breast Cancer Charity and Donation
The Breast Cancer Foundation of Arizona provides research,...
Cars for Charity
Visit Cars 4 Causes to donate your car, boat, motorcycle or...
According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared People in Kashmir,
more than 2,500 people were killed in 2003. In the last 18 months there
have been 54 deaths in custody. The Indian state's proclivity to harass
and terrorise has been institutionalised by the draconian Prevention
of Terrorism Act (Pota). In Tamil Nadu, the act has been used to stifle
criticism of the state government. In Jharkhand, 3,200 people, mostly
poor adivasis (indigenous people) accused of being Maoists, have been
named in Pota cases. In eastern Uttar Pradesh, the act is used to clamp
down on those who protest about the dispossession of their land. In
Gujarat and Mumbai, it is used almost exclusively against Muslims. In
Gujarat, after the 2002 pogrom in which an estimated 2,000 Muslims were
killed, 287 people were accused under Pota: 286 were Muslim and one
a Sikh. Pota allows confessions extracted in police custody to be admitted
as evidence. Under the Pota regime, torture tends to replace investigation
in our police stations: that's everything from people being forced to
drink urine, to being stripped, humiliated, given electric shocks, burned
with cigarette butts and having iron rods put up their anuses, to being
beaten to death.
Under Pota you cannot
get bail unless you can prove that you are innocent - of a crime that
you have not been formally charged with. It would be naive to imagine
that Pota is being "misused". It is being used for precisely
the reasons it was enacted. This year in the UN, 181 countries voted
for increased protection of human rights. Even the US voted in favour.
cheering from the pages of corporate newspapers inform us that the GDP
growth rate is phenomenal, unprecedented. Shops are overflowing with
consumer goods. Government storehouses are overflowing with grain. Outside
this circle of light, the past five years have seen the most violent
increase in rural-urban income inequalities since independence. Farmers
steeped in debt are committing suicide in hundreds; 40% of the rural
population in India has the same foodgrain absorption level as sub-Saharan
Africa, and 47% of Indian children under three suffer from malnutrition.
But in urban India,
shops, restaurants, railway stations, airports, gymnasiums, hospitals
have TV monitors in which India's Shining, Feeling Good. You only have
to close your ears to the sickening crunch of the policeman's boot on
someone's ribs, you only have to raise your eyes from the squalor, the
slums, the ragged broken people on the streets and seek a friendly TV
monitor, and you will be in that other beautiful world. The singing,
dancing world of Bollywood's permanent pelvic thrusts, of permanently
privileged, happy Indians waving the tricolour and Feeling Good. Laws
like Pota are like buttons on a TV. You can use it to switch off the
poor, the troublesome, the unwanted.
When Pota was passed,
the Congress staged a noisy opposition in Parliament. However, repealing
Pota never figured in its election campaign. Even before it has formed
a government, there have been overt reassurances that "reforms"
will continue. Exactly what kind of reforms, we'll have to wait and
see. Fortunately the Congress will be hobbled by the fact that it needs
the support of left parties to form a government. Hopefully, things
will change. A little. It's been a pretty hellish six years.
Roy is the author of The God of Small Things and The Ordinary Person's
Guide to Empire