Most commentators admit that the Indian people suffered greatly under British rule. Today, it is claimed, India is on a path of rapid technical progress and development; India has its own Silicon Valley, complete with high-tech R&D and hundreds of call centers for everything from Amazon to Victoria’s Secret. New wealth is being created at a rapid rate, a large middle class is developing that is enjoying shopping malls, multiplex cinemas and imported cars, and much of this wealth is working its way down to the villages and urban slums seen in Slumdog Millionaire.
Largest Democracy in the World?
The most common claim is that India is “the world’s largest democracy.” It is said that India’s elected government has ended the oppressive caste system, which assigned everyone to a specific caste and types of work for life. While the government says it is solving the problem by reserving a certain percentage of jobs and places in schools for dalits (untouchables) and other lower castes, today caste oppression continues to define social reality for Indians, especially in the rural areas.
The vast majority of the 1.2 billion people who live in India have no control over their lives. Living and working conditions have not changed for the better from colonial times to the present. According to a 2008 study by the US Agency for International Development, three-quarters of the people live on less than $2 per day. Illiteracy is widespread in the countryside, where more than half of the women cannot read or write and many children leave school to support their families. Notwithstanding its “socialist” pretensions, successive governments since independence in 1947 have postponed and put off free and compulsory education for children.
The threat of starvation constantly hangs over the heads of millions. Over the past 10 years, nearly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide by drinking pesticide because they could not keep up with demands to repay loans. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, which were at the forefront of ‘modernisation’ of agriculture, farmers had been led to believe they would benefit if they adopted a more market oriented approach. Capital intensive farming, requiring taking out loans for fertilizers, pesticides, and re-orienting to more water intensive crops, promised high prices and large returns – but the WTO regime of open markets meant depression in agricultural prices and they could not recover their costs
Dalits: India is a vast, diverse, and extremely oppressive society. Around 30% of the people are dalits, who are confined to jobs such as garbage collectors in the cities and excrement haulers in the villages. India’s reservation system has created a new dalit elite (similar in some ways to affirmative action in the US), but for the vast majority of the dalits--life is still hell on earth.
The dalits are the most oppressed among the farmers and peasants, who make up the majority of India’s population. Farmers eke out a living on plots that average ½ to 5 hectares depending on the state, hardly enough to support a family but enough to feed a layer of usurious bankers and moneylenders. One-third of the workers in the countryside, or about 80 million people, are landless laborers.
Peasants/farmers: Some of the sharpest struggles in recent years--including the successful people’s movements at Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal that stopped construction of a Tata auto plant and a huge foreign-owned petrochemical complex--have developed among farmers and adivasis who are threatened with displacement by mining companies or by corporations operating out of more than 500 newly created Special Economic Zones.
These are more accurately known as Special Exploitation Zones, which ban strikes and labor unions, and are run by development corporations that are not bound by Indian law. Tens of thousands of villagers in Orissa are fighting against the capitalist “development” plans of POSCO, a US/South Korean steel corporation, and Vedanta, a British company, which will have devastating economic and ecological consequences for the indigenous Gondh people.
Adivasis: Nearly 100 million adivasis live in the forested areas of central and eastern India. They were never conquered by the British, or by the Aryans and Muslims before them. The adivasis are not part of the caste system and have collective customs that include equal participation of women in the workforce and political life. India has the second largest number of indigenous people after Mexico, and they are covered by UN conventions on the rights of indigenous people.
The adivasis live in areas containing the richest natural resources in India. Most of India’s iron ore, bauxite and coal come from Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. To paraphrase Arundhati Roy, Indian and multinational capitalists think that the adivasis are sitting on top of their minerals and depriving them of deserved riches. These profit-addicted companies have already signed hundreds of MoUs (Memoranda of Understanding) with state governments to start mining and build steel, aluminum and other industries.
The adivasis--and the progressive and democratic organisations that have been working among them for decades in some areas--stand in the way of their elaborate plans to exploit these riches. One of these groups is the CPI(Maoist) which has set up parallel governments in many adivasi areas that organize collective farming and agricultural research and development, undertake irrigation projects, and build schools, health centers and roads with local materials. The Indian government has set out to destroy these progressive political and social developments in the adivasi-inhabited regions in order to get at the minerals that are worth hundreds of billions of dollars/euros and trillions of Indian rupees.
Salwa Judum: The immediate precursor to the major military operation code named Operation Green Hunt was the formation of Salwa Judum (“Purification Hunt”) in 2005. The SJ, a government-armed private militia, emptied 644 Chhattisgarh villages of their inhabitants (allegedly all Maoist supporters) and left adivasi villages in smoking ruins. This brutal military campaign killed thousands of villagers and scattered 300,000 of them throughout the region. The SJ forced nearly 50,000 adivasis into squalid concentration camps similar to the strategic hamlets that the US set up in Vietnam in an unsuccessful attempt to separate the Vietnamese people from the National Liberation Front.
After five years of political mobilization throughout India--which included heavy fighting in Chhattisgarh between Special Police Forces/paramilitaries and the Maoists--.the SJ forces are in retreat. According to Gandhian Himanshu Kumar, who advocates for the adivasis in south Chhattisgarh displaced by SJ, this campaign generated widespread anger, and has been the best recruiting tool the Maoists have had for many years.
Lagarh Movement: In many ways, OGH has been a reaction by the Indian government-- and the Indian capitalists and imperialists that it fronts for--to the defeat of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and similar government-backed tribal militias in Bihar and other states. It is also a response to the following, startling events in the Lalgarh region of West Bengal.
Starting in November 2008, tens of thousands of adivasis organized in the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities rose up in November 2008 against the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the misnamed capitalist party which is now the dominant force in the “Left Front” government that has been in power in West Bengal for decades. This party, known as “CPM”, first rose to power due to its killing of 18,000 CPI(ML) activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After years of systemic police brutality, and siphoning off development funds meant for adivasis, CPM leaders and cadre have been driven out of the Lalgarh region. In response, the Indian state has blanketed the Lalgarh region with paramilitaries and police who have taken heavy casualties but have had little luck in finding the Maoists, who are able to blend into the people with ease because they are overwhelmingly adivasis, and have widespread political support.
Political Repression: Complementing the military suppression in the Lalgarh region and other states through OGH, the Centre, West Bengal’s “communist” government, and other states have made it a crime (a political crime, that is) punishable by long prison sentences to be a member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Centre and many states have also passed laws such as the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 2008, which anyone accused of contact with the Maoists can be kept in jail for 180 days without trial and without bail. When held, trials are held before a secret court with the identities of witnesses also kept secret. Such fascist laws have been a common feature of “Indian democracy” throughout the post-independence period.
The UAPA is being applied widely in West Bengal today, especially targeting Kolkata intellectuals and rights activists--some who politically support the Maoists, and other progressives who are falsely charged with being Maoist supporters.
Due to decades of application of “anti-terrorism” laws such as TADA and POTA, India’s prisons are filled with more than 100,000 political prisoners, including large numbers of Kashmiris, Muslims, Northeast peoples (see below) and Maoists, living under squalid conditions that lead to early death. Such conditions, including the denial of necessary medical care, recently led to the first casualty of the UAPA in Kolkata, Deswan Dasgupta, the editor of the Bengali edition of People’s March magazine.
Muslims and Christians: India has the third largest population of Muslims in the world, or 160 million people. Muslims are significantly poorer than Hindus. Indian Muslims live in urban ghettos and separate villages where they are periodically victimized by Hindu mobs animated by the chauvinist ideology of Hindutva. The small Christian minority in India (most of whom are lower-caste Hindus who have converted to escape the caste system) also faces severe religious persecution with the rise of fundamentalist Hindu organisations such as the RSS.
Women in India are still married off by their families irrespective of their wishes, and marriages often require large dowries. Though dowries were legally prohibited in 1961, this payment in cash or in kind by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s family is still practiced among well-do Indian families. Dowry abuse is a rising practice in India, particularly bride burning—the burning of women whose dowries are not considered sufficient by their husbands or in-laws.
Domestic battery and rape are endemic and rarely punished by the notoriously venal, male-dominated police and courts. Women are kept out of many high-paying professions and jobs.
Kashmir and the Northeast states: Lastly, India is a prison house of nations. Nearly 2 million soldiers of the Indian Army occupy the northern, Muslim state of Kashmir where they battle commandos from Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir, and deny the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people. In the small states in the Northeast (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura), the Indian military has been carrying out counter-insurgency operations aimed at suppressing national liberation movements. Over 1/3 of the country is under military law and constitutional protections do not apply there.
As one critic put it, unlike the United States and other big power which have used their militaries in foreign imperialist ventures, “the Indian military has been used primarily against the Indian people: against Kashmiris, Nagas, Assamese, North-eastern peoples, Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, or … Maoists.”
Political Actors--not Victims
Another set of well propagated myths portray the people of India as victims who are not capable of standing up and fighting for their interests. India is presented in Western media as 5-star Delhi hotels and tourist sites, or as call center operators with names such as John and Susan—or as victims, images on fundraising posters for charity-dependency projects.
The Indian people have a long standing and proud history of struggle, including revolutionary struggle. In recent years, peasants, workers, dalits and adivasis have forged united communities, organizations and the necessary political ideas to stand up to the powerful Indian state, whose military is third in size only to China and the U.S.
These people’s communities and organizations need our political understanding and support, not our charity--or even worse, pity. For the unprecedented internal military offensive known as Operation Green Hunt, the Indian government has mobilized more than 100,000 soldiers, with helicopters, surveillance drones and combat-hardened units from Kashmir and Nagaland, to attack the areas in eastern and central India where the adivasis are best organized and the Maoists have their greatest strength.
The fighting has been increasing steadily since November, with most of the action concentrated in Chhattisgarh, but the military is having a hard time finding the Maoists, who are proving to be indistinguishable from the people and are launching periodic surprise attacks on the occupation forces.
This is where the International Campaign against the War on People in India comes in. The campaign was launched in January 2010 by activists from India, Europe and the US to support the struggle of the people in the adivasi regions to resist and stop Operation Green Hunt. We are undertaking work in several areas:
(1) Education: We are putting out a variety of educational materials about conditions in India, Operation Green Hunt and the people’s struggles in India. The ICAWPI website (www.icawpi.org) now has over 200 articles categorized by News, Resistance, Analysis/Opinion and the Campaign, is an invaluable resource for activists, educators and students. ICAWPI organizers in many countries will be getting the word out about speaking tours, educational forums, film showings, and solidarity actions.
(2) Political Mobilization: Activists in Delhi have organized marches, press conferences and forums against Operation Green Hunt. Activists spearheaded by Turkish and Kurdish immigrants in Europe organized half a dozen demonstrations condemning OGH at Indian embassies and consulates on February 5, 2010. More actions are being planned in key Indian cities this spring.
In late February, when the Indian government was making claims that the war (OGH) was only because the Maoists insisted on fighting, Kishenji, a visible (and elusive) leader of the CPI(Maoist), made a bold challenge to the Indian government: Declare a 72 day cease-fire, rip up the MoUs between the states and the capitalists, stop the mass killings of adivasis, and start up negotiations over issues such as ending “encounter killings” (assassinations of Maoists and suspected supporters), freeing tens of thousands of political prisoners being held in terrible conditions, and withdrawing military and paramilitary forces from the seven states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharastra and Andhra Pradesh where Operation Green Hunt is underway or being deployed.
Many intellectuals and rights activists and organizations have come out publicly in support of this offer and are attempting to break through the wall of silence in the bourgeois media about the actual terms of the Maoist offer. (See www.icawpi.org for news of these efforts.)
Union Minister PC Chidambaram, the main architect of OGH (and a former lawyer for Enron), has taken the only position he can given the reality that he is a political representative of the Indian ruling class and the US/EU imperialists behind them. Chidambaram is saying that there can be no peace talks unless the Maoists “give up violence”—that is disarm while the government is free to attack them and the adivasis and other sections of the people. And he does not say anything about the suspension of constitutional freedoms in 1/3 of the country and the widespread use of “encounter killings” (political assassinations) and torture in areas of conflict.
This is not acceptable to our campaign and to many political forces in India, who are instead willing to take up the Maoists on their offer. The campaign will be doing all that it can, particularly in India but in other countries as well, to force the Indian government to agree to a 2 ½ month cease-fire period, within which peace talks about the issues that have given rise to Operation Green Hunt can be discussed by both sides and by the public.
(3) Work in the Media: We need to break through the media white-out about Operation Green Hunt and the people’s struggles in India against it, and to combat the lies about the Maoist movement—that it is mindlessly violent and unreasonably opposed to participation in elections. This work may include letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, demonstrations to protest particularly misleading newspaper articles, and broad distribution of campaign materials in the progressive media, particularly on the net.
(4) Anti-Military Campaign: We hope to organize a campaign to cut off arms sales, joint military exercises, and training in counter-insurgency by US, Israeli and other imperialist militaries as long as the weapons of the Indian state are pointed at the poorest of India’s people.
Please join in the work of the campaign and spread the word about it to friends, family and co-workers--and around the world.