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The Colonised And The Damned

By Cynthia Stephen

02 May, 2011

It has long been the contention of the subalterns in Indian society – the Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities, especially the Christians and Muslims who are also Dalits and Adivasis – that the Indian state, while theoretically set in a liberal secular frame, is actually functioning as a colonial power over the subaltern castes and classes. G. Aloysius, the scholar and author of the book: “Nationalism without a Nation in India” writes , that between the traditional caste-class ruling elites in colonial India, “A colonial bargain was struck” (1) - the bargain was that the existing ruling classes would not interfere with the colonial project of the British, rather, they would be collaborators by the simply being the beneficiaries of the Zamindari and Ryotwari systems, and thus integrated into the system of extraction of economic and political surplus from the laboring and productive classes.

With the rise of the anti-colonial struggles, the newly empowered “middle classes” easily juxtaposed their location in the varna-caste hierarchy into the notion of dharma, meaning caste-ordained duties, as a part of the imagining of a cultural national unity. Despite difference in profession, politics and religion, these groups found tacit and minimal consensus of dharma and varna being the ideal cultural national unity. The presence and claims of other forms of culture, religious and philosophical systems, while not negated, were still thought to be outside the ambit of this consciousness of the cultural nation. Thus exclusion and inclusion became a part of the DNA of this politico-religious identification with the culture and the idea of nation. (2) Leaders of the national struggle from Raja Rammohun Roy right down to Gandhi worked on in this assumption, as Aloysius points out.

As a result, despite the robust egalitarian values of the 62-year old Indian Constitution, the subaltern sections, comprising a significant section of Indian society, continue to suffer huge disadvantages in claiming the full citizenship rights or even having their constitutional and basic human rights protected. The complicity of the state in the violation of their human rights is nowhere more clear at the present time than in the tribal homeland regions of Central and Eastern India, which are actually given sacrosanct protection under the 5th Schedule. But the neo-liberal economic policy has been successful in subverting the constitutional protections afforded to the adivasis and their homelands and, in a manner reminiscent of the colonial British, used brutal state and mercenary power to ride rough-shod over the lives, lands, and liberties of the adivasis.
The latest outrage against the villagers in Dantewada district is a clear case in point, where according to reports in the Hindustan times , Chandigard Edition, dtd 30th April, the state government of Chhatisgarh has diverted foodgrains meant for the PDS to the state-funded local militia Salwa Judum, who have been instrumental in perpetrating humongous human rights abuses on the adivasi villagers for having apparently being supportive of the Maoists/ Naxals. The adivasis, caught in the crossfire between the central forces, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, are facing dire hunger and starvation.

But the story is not limited to the tribal parts of India. Vigorous capital extraction, as never before, has been witnessed in the iron-ore-rich areas of North-central Karnataka, in the past four years, driven by a demand for iron and steel in China. All norms and protective legislations have been thrown to the winds by a nexus of political, economic and brute power which have colluded to create and uphold a loot of natural resources of the country and the state, propelled by the very men who swore by the Constitution protect and uphold these rights and resources.

Is it any accident that these outrages are happening in states in which the political party which believes in cultural nationalism are in the government – Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka? It is widely believed the National leadership of the BJP continues to tolerate the rule of the notoriously inept and corrupt B S Yeddyurappa because, the plunder of state can be gathered to fill the party’s coffers. It is no one’s case that other political formulations are notable for their probity and ethics, but nowhere are the livelihoods of the poor, forests and agricultural lands are irrevocably changed within weeks and months by these rapacious powermongers, as in these states. Oppressing the poor and needy is venality of a class of its own, much above and beyond the subverting of legal norms by corporate entities to grab non-material assets like spectrum, which, crucial though in the present day, does not fill stomachs.

As the case of Dr. Binayak Sen has shown, even sympathy with the victims of such oppression is likely to be punished severely by these goons who have suborned every democratic institution including the High Court in the state of Chhatisgarh, and have diverted foodgrains from the mouths of its own BPL citizens to feed their mercenaries who oppress them! Doesn’t this bring to mind the Bengal famine during the World wars, when the British diverted food to feed their armies and caused millions of poor Indians in Bengal to starve to death in the streets of Calcutta?

(1) in his essay entitled “Caste in and above History”, included in the volume “Nation and National Identity in South Asia”, S.L Sharma and T.K Ommen, eds,p.161

(2) Ibid, p 169

Cynthia Stephen is an Independent Writer and Researcher


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