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Democratic Rights in India

14. June 2003

by Harsh Thakor

Democratic Rights

The Indian state projects itself to be a socialist secular one, but in reality it is most repressive on the toiling sections. Since gaining so called …‘independence´ the colonial British empire was replaced by a new set of rules who continued the colonial practices of the British rulers. From the Nehru regime to the eras of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and to Vajpayee, the basic character of the government has been oppressive. The parliamentary electoral system has been unable to function democratically and all the institutions of the Indian State have in the final analysis served the interests of the imperialist powers and the ruling class. Political parties which ruled simply, gained people´s votes by creating democratic illusions. From the factories to the fields the Indian masses are enslaved by the imperialist countries, ruling classes and political parties. When they rise up in struggle the state´s forces trample upon them with the iron feet of oppression. Through black laws the government uses the army and police to suppress the people´s democratic movements. The right to vote actually was not a fundamental right, as it was not a right won by a hard struggle but only by a tranfer of power from the British colonialists to the Indian National Congress rulers. India is infact a semi-colonial state and not a bourgeois democratic state. It does have semblances of western style democracy but in its actual functioning it is different. All the organs of the Indian state, the judiciary, legislature and the executive have ultimately served the imperialist powers, big industrialists and landlord classes.

In the period just after independence, Nehru brutally suppressed the Telengana armed struggle in Andhar Pradesh led by the Andhra Pradesh Unit of the Communist Party of India. A major peasant uprising was organized, opposing the Razakars (landlords) and thousands of acres of land was distributed. The Indian army brutally crushed the movement, killing thousands of activists and sympathizers. Activists were brutally tortured and were in jail barely given the status of political prisoners.

Similarly in West Bengal, workers strikes were crushed as well as peasants struggles. The Congess regime suppressed the Tebhaga peasant struggle.

In the late 60´s the ruling Congress came down heavily on the Naxalbari uprising. Naxalbari was a revolutionary mass peasant struggle which later took an individual terrorist form. One main disagree with Maoism was the solution to the nation´s economic grievances but any democrat would have opposed the barbaric methods used by the Congess regime. Thousands of activists were killed in falsely staged so called encounters. Activists were shot with their hands tied behind their backs. In jails colonial methods of torture were used and several sympathizers and activists were massacred. Earlier in West Bengal the ruling Congress regime came down heavily on the mass movement against hike in bus fares, food prices etc. The masses staged food riots, upon which the regime came down heavily. Not only in West Bengal but also in Bihar, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala did barbaric state repression take place. To suppress the movement the Congress regime suppressed the movement like an octopus entangling it´s prey. The socio-economic conditions in the country was the root cause of the movement. Even a non-maoist or ordinary democrat would agree that the Indian landless or poor peasants lived in economic misery under the oppression of landlord classes. The guilty policeman, responsible for the encounters have not been brought to the book. Even against democratic activists false cases were launched. A false conspiracy case was launched on communist revolutionary leader Tarimala Nagi Reddy.

In 1975 Indira Gandhi launched the state of emergency. Her reason was to protect the country from the threat of smuggles and to remove corruption. However actually she was afraid of losing power as her regime was losing credibility. To maintain the Nehru dynasty she had to unleash brutal terror. Thus for the first time India had for 19 months state of emergency. Black laws were introduced whereby workers and peasants would be arrested for staging day to day struggles. Innocent journalists would be jailed for exposing facts, lawyers jailed, judges forced to give decisions in the governments favour. The R.S.S banned. In Andhra Pradesh the government banned the Organization for the Protection of Democratic Rights. Opposition party members particularly of the Janata Party led by Morarji Desai were banned. Innocent activists of the peasant movement were assassinated in falsely staged encounters. In Andhra Pradesh in Srikakulam district over a thousand activists of the Girijan(Tribal Community of Andhra Pradesh) movement were killed in cold blood. A historic report was brought out by the Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights. This showed the history of oppression of the Giijan tribals by the state and landlords and their struggles against the oppressive forces. During state of emergency 2 activists of the revolutionary movement Kista Gowd amd Bhoomiah were hanged. All democratic forces protested the hanging.

In 1977 the Indian people outvoted the Indira Congress Regime and the Janata Party came to power. However, although officially the state of emergency ended, violation of democratic rights re-emerged. In Punjab the ruling government assassinated the popular student leader of Punjab Students Union Prithipal Singh Randhawa. The Punjab Students Union with the Naujavan Bharat Sabha had led a historic secular student´s movement in the 1970´s against the repressive Sikh communal Akali government in Punjab.

In the 1980´s Indira came back to the chair. In this time the event of the greatest political significance was that of the Khalistani problem. To win power for the Congress and to topple the Sikh fundamentalist ruling regime Mrs Gandhi created Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh fanatic. Bhindranwale was a fundamentalist who opposed a peaceful solution for the Sikh people propagated by Sant Logowal and supported the demand for Khalistan. This movement had been started by Jagjit Singh Chauhan in Canada in the late 60´s. Both ruling class parties used the communal terrorists against each other. Infact when arms were detected, the Congress government allowed vehicles carrying arms to pass. This was a proof that they were arming terrorist factions against the Akali Dal. The communal fascist Khalistan movement got the indirect patronage of the India state. However Bhindranwale later betrayed the congress and took refuge in the Golden Temple with the Akali priests. In June 1984 the Indian army came down heavily in …‘Operation Blue Star´ on the Golden Temple where the cowardly Sikh leaders gave refuge to Bhindranwale. The shrines were destroyed and 100 innocent Sikhs were shot with their hands tied behind their backs.

In 1983 in Maharashta an Adivasi Organisation …‘The Kashtkari Sanghatana´ went through brutal repression at the hands of the Communist Party of India marxist. Their activits were beaten to death in a village hamlet. This organization had it´s roots in the late 70´s when the Adivasis were encountering inhuman repression, being denied their lands etc. In Mumbai in 1984 riots took place at Bhiwandi. Indirectly the Congress patronized them by taking no action against the pro Hindu communal elements who killed and set fire on the houses of innocent Muslims in Bhiwandi. Earlier in 1970 similar riots occurred where the cadre of the left parties played a heroic role in preventing. However the people responsible for creating them were left untouched despite the setting up of the Justice Madon Commission. In October 1984 Indira Gandhi was assasinated and in the aftermath under the patronage of the Congress the worst post independence massacre took place. 5000 Sikhs were butchered by fanatic elements led by Jagdish Tytler and L.K. Bhagat of the Congress. The Raganath Mishra commission was appointed. Despite it´s formation the perpetrators of the crime were not brought to the book.

In Andhra Pradesh hundreds of revolutionary activists and sympathizers particularly of the Peoples War and Chandra Pulla Reddy Group fell victims to police bullets that the police falsely claimed to be police encounters. The majority of these killings were not on armed Squad members but on democratic activists. False cases were launched on Vekateswara Rao, the Secretary of the Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights in 1982. The organizing secretary of the same organization Kanchan Illiah was also arrested. The 2 activists were accused of promoting extremism when in truth they were democratic rights activists. Andhra Pradesh also encountered deaths due to starvation, drought and Police torture. The Police in a partisan manner sided with upper castes in suppressing the movements of rural poor.

Then came the Rajiv Gandhi era who simply continued his mother´s oppressive dynasty. In Punjab he contined to play the comunal game. In 1985 the Rajiv-Longowal Accord was signed for a solution but both ruling class parties, the Akali Dal and the Congress, played their religious power games against each other. The Khalistani movement became more militant in the Rajiv era and the Congress and the Akali Dal continued to sponsor different sections of terrorist factions to combat each other. Democratic movements in Punjab by peasants, led by organizations like the Kirti Kisan Union, the Punjab Dehati Mazdoor Union and the Bharatiya Kisan Union were put down in the name of curbing terrorism. Earlier in 1982 2 Activists Harjinder and Jaktar Singh were brutally tortured. Several Innocent people were killed in cold blood in the name of suppressing communal terrorism by the police and Army in …‘Operation Woodrose´. This was mainly against the Sikh youth. The ruling party challenged programmes of the Revolutionary Democratic …‘Front Against Repression and Communalism´.

It is of political significance that it was Rajiv Gandhi who unlocked the doors of the Babri Masjid in 1986. (The scene of the worst communal riots after the demolition by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1993) In Allahabad a high court Judge was forced to give a verdict giving permission for the doors to be unlocked.Rajiv´s Congress to win the Hindu votes unlocked the gates propogating …‘Ram Rajya´.This exposed how hypocritical the Congress Govt.was that claimed to be secular.The Congress to win elections used thousands of Ramshilas in villages.(Statues of Hindu God Ram)Rajiv´s Congress made no attempt tp curb or refute the Hindu fanatic Vishwa Hindu Parishad propogating a Hindu State and the building of a temple on the Babri Masjid site.(The V.H.P.claimed that Ayodhaya was Ram´s birthplace 5000 years before.There is lack of historical evidence to prove this.)

Another state where barbaric state repression began to take place was in Bihar. In April 1986 a firing took place in Arwal town in Jehanabad district whereby 18 innocent peasants fighting for land under the leadership of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti were fired upon. Bihar had a long history of feudal landlord repression and the ruling landlord Senas (landlord Armies) brutally repressed the poor and landless peasant´s attempts to struggle for their just right over land. In recent years it were the Communist Revolutionary Groups who organized peasant organizations like the Mazdoor Kisan Sangrmi Samiti, Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha, Krantikari Kisan Samiti etc. Despite the Mazdoor Kisan Sangram´s valiant attempt to restore rights of the landless peasantry the state government banned the organization. They went on to ban the Maoist Communist Center. The Arwal assassins were not brought to the book. Thousands of democratic peasant activists were arrested. The revolutionary peasant movement in Jehanabad District was crushed. Earlier in 1984 comrade Krishna Singh, leader of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangram Samiti was assainated by landlord Goons. The State never arrested the murderers. Earlier massacres had taken place in Dalmia and Belchi districts. Biharhad, a major revolutionary peasant movement, challenged landlord oppression of upper casteds like the Bhumihars, Rajputs etc. 59.7 percent of families held 5 percent of arble land while 2.8% held 44.2%. 77.4% of those who owned more than 10 acres were upper caste.

In Andhra Pradesh terror continued against marxist leninist groups, particularly on the People´s War Group and the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee. 2 prominent Civil Liberties activists, Dr Ramanadham and Jappa Laxma Reddy, were assassinated. Mass activists were arrested or tortured and hundred of activists and sympathizers were killed in cold blood in what the police falsely noted as …‘encounter killings´. The guilty policemen were not brought to the book.

In the Rajiv era another significant event was the building of a missile base in Baliapal in Orissa District. Here several villagers were displaced from their homes. The democratic organisations exposed how the then Indian State served the interests of Soviet social imperialism who was trying to strengthen itself. India´s expansionist policy was exposed as well as it´s intensions to become a superpower.

In 1989 the Janata Dal, led by V.P Singh, grabbed the Chair. The Bhagalpur communal riots took place when he was in power. He simply made no effort to combat the communal Vihwa Hindu Parishad. He made no attempts to stop their communal brick layoing ceremony in Ayodhya and even allowed them to carry on their rallies. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad advocated the construction of a temple in the Babri Masjid site and propogated Hindutva. This communal movent had it´s origin in the Rashtriya Swamek Sangh formed in the Early 1940´s. It advocated that India should be a Hindu state and it was the Hindu´s right to demand construction of temples in sites were historical claims were made. That temples had been demolished and mosques built. In the Janata Dal ruled state even during the 1990 Rath Yatra the government took no course in curbing the V.H.P. rallies. The Janata Dal govt also did not lift the ban on the M.K.S.S. and the M.C.C. in Bihar nor released the political prisoners languishing in jail. Amarjeet Sohi, a democratic activist of the Punjabi Revolutionary Center, who was on a short visit to study the conditions, was arrested in 1988 under the false charges of being a Khalistani terrorist. The secretary of the M.K.S.S Arvind Kumar was also arrested under false charges. Another significant happening in the V.P. Singh regime was the Indian armed forces military onslaught on the Kashmiri people. A reign of terror was started on the Jammu and Kasmir National liberation Front activists and sympathizers. Many Kashmiri women and children were victims of torture. Historically the Kashmiri people had the right to their own self determination as Nehru had signed a plebiscite in 1947 with Sheikh Abdullah promising independent autonomy to the Kashmiri people and that the Indian Army occupied Kashmir only to protect it from foreign North Western Pathan Invaders. However, Nehru´s govt broke the declaration of the plebiscite and, led by Vallabhai Patel, sent the Indian army to invade Kashmir.

In 1991 Narasimha Rao re-won power for the Congress. In 1992 a new economic policy was drawn out by the Congress govt. A historic era now took place in Indian history. It was now the era of India inviting globalisation. India signed the G.A.T.T. treaty. A call was given for nationwide liberalization. Privatision now entered almost all sectors like banks etc. India accepted an I.M.F. loan. This caused havoc on the Indian economy. Huge retrenchments took place in factories. The hard won struggles of workers for permanency were shattered as in many industries permanent workers were retrenched. Mills were closed as mill owners could hardly compete with their foreign competitors globally. Thousands of workers were thus thrown out of jobs. The mill owners in Mumbai sold of their lands and thus the mill workers even had to vacate their homes! Workers struggles were ruthlessly suppressed in this period. In Dallha a strike of the cement workers was fired upon. In Kanoria jute mill in 1993, in West Bengal, workers were beaten for protesting retenchment, and in Chattisgarh Trade Union Leader Niyugi was murdered who won rights for contract mine workers in Chattisgarh in Madhya Pradesh. His killers have not been brought to the book. In Andhra Pradesh weavers commited suicide who were forced out of work while in West Bengal mill workers repeated history. Several small scale industries had to close down unable to compete with the large industrial houses. Lakhs of workers were retrenched in both, public sector and private sector, firms. Unemployment and the system of subcontracting led to a downfall in wages. In January 1992 the People´s War Group was banned as well as 7 mass organizations. This was most undemocratic, as even if a person disagreed with the P.W.G. method of work or terrorist actions, they still were a revolutionary democratic force representing the democratic aspirations of the peasantry. Through people´s courts they distributed thousands of acres of land which the state govt failed to implement. The state police terrorized homes of sympathizers of the movement, razing houses to the ground. In March 1992 3 activists of the revolutionary movement, Pankaj and Anuj of Bharat Naujavan Sabha and Manju of Nari Mukti Sangharsh Samiti, fell victims to landlords gangs in Jehanabad District. Their assassins were not brought to the book. On November 4th 1992 the Bihar govt gave a death sentence to 8 landless peasants for perpetrating a massacre in Dalechauk Baghera region against the Rajput landlord´s army base and killing 44 members belonging to Rajput families. The exploitative socio-economic background was not taken into account and the landless peasants were given the status of criminals not political prisoners. Earlier the same peasant´s families had been attacked by the uppercaste Rajput landlord armies. In December 6th 1992 with the collusion of the Congress forces the Vishwa Hindu Parishad destroyed the Babri Masjid and for some weeks the nation experienced the most barbaric communal fury since partition. The Congress could simply not prevent the V.H.P. from carrying out the demolition. During the post demolition period during the bomb blasts perpetrated by fundamentalists and the subsequent massacre of innocent Muslims, the Congress mainly stood like a spectator taking no initiative in giving democratic resistance. This was ample proof of the communal Hindu nature of the Congress which hypocritically championed itself as secular.

In 1995 the Bharatiya Janata govt gained power at the centre for the first time. This marked an era of a Congess decline in ruling class politics. Communal Hindutva politics was strengthened. In Bihar and Andhra Pradesh the peasant movements were brutally suppressed. Offices of democratic organizations like the Bharat Naujavan Sabha and Mazdoor Kisan Sangrami Parishad were raided and destroyed. In Laxmanpur Bathe in 1998 and in Shankar Bigha in 1999 major massacres took place on the scheduled caste peasants. These attacks were organized by the Ranbir Sena (landlord army of the big landlords belonging to the Bhumihar cate) who brutally massacred the Dalit peasantry. (Landless peasantry) Women and childred were burnt alive and villagers houses burnt to the Ground. The State took no action in curbing the landlord armies.In 1996 Bihar had 100 landlords who owned more than 500 acres of land and 6000 landlords who owned more than 100 acres of land each. Between 1995 to 1998 the police assainated over 100 activits of marxist leninist groups in cold blood. In Andhra Pradesh activists sympathetic to the revolutionary peasant and civil liberties movement were brutally killed and tortured which included an activist of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee. The People´s War Group continues to be banned. Historically previously the Andhra Pradesh police was responsible for killing Civil Liberties activists Gopi Rajanna, Dr Ramanadham Laxma Reddy and Prabhakar Reddy. These people were simply democrats who struggled to fight for the Civil Liberties of the masses. Further retrenchments have taken place in factories and other industries during the Bharatiya Janata Party era. The B.J.P. govt capitulated to the Enron deal which it earlier pretended to oppose. Hypocritically, it tried to project an anti-imperialist patriotic image through launching the Jan Jagran Swadeshi movement against foreign consumer goods, but in the states where they ruled they openly collaborated with and welcomed multinationals. In the heavy industries like steel and mining the B.J.P. endorsed foreign investment and collaborated with foreign countries. No action had been taken against the criminals of the 1993 riots who mercilessly killed innocent Muslims and demolished the Babi Masjid. In the last year in Godhra the state B.J.P government connived the goonda elements of the Bajrang Dal in causing the riots and burning the homes of Muslims under the pretext of curbing terrorism. In 1996 in Orissa the state govt arrested the leaders of the Malkangiri Adivasi Sangh which was leading a historic struggle of the Adivasis (Tribals). The B.J.P govt did nothing to arrest the criminals of the 1992-92 communal riots and implement the Sri Krishna Commission. In January 1999 a new communal phenomenan took a turn on the Indian political scene. This time the Christians were the target of Attack. Graham Staines and his 2 sons were charred to death by activists of the Sangh Parivar (Bharatiya Janata Party Wing) in Keonjhar District in Orissa. This was after a series of attacks on Christians in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In 2002 in Godhra, in Gujarat itself, it instigated the train bomb blasts through it´s wing, the Bajrang Dal was responsible for the worst possible riots and massacre of innocent Muslims. The Narendra Modi B.J.P govt in the state allowed the persecution and burning of homes of Indian Muslims. To win votes in the state the Bharatiya Janata Party used the anti Muslim communal feelings. All democratic Movements of workers in factories were simply diverted and broken down because of riots. The bomb blasts by fundamentalists were used as a pretext to terrorise people´s movement and launch a bout of unprecedented terror reminiscent of Hitler´s Nazi regime.

Even in the state, where the left front C.P.M. govt is in power, there has been brutal repression. In West Begal the Communist Party of India Marxist has launched a reign of terror on the democratic movements, both amongst the peasantry and the working class. It ruthlessly tried to suppress a jute mill struggle in Kanoria jute mill where the workers after being retrenched by the owner began to run the mill themselves. Infact in West Bengal the maximum retrenchments and closures in industries has taken place! The party has collaborated with big industrialists and multi nationals and democratic workers organizations have been brutally attacked. The centre of trade union of India, the party trade union wing has brutally suppressed the movements of workers in forming democratic unions. Peasant organization leaders have been tortured, particularly in Debrah, Silguri and Howrah districts and arrested in the name of curbing´ Naxalite terror´.

India has entered an era where the ruling classes and imperialist powers have strengthened their tentacles in suppressing the people´s struggles for democratic rights. The current globalisation policies have hit the Indian people like an elephant trampling on ants. In India struggling organizations are showing death defying courage in the struggle for the Indian people´s liberation. Organisations are or have been in the forefront of those struggles amongst both, the working class and the peasantry. What was of most signigicant nature was the formation of the All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights in 1982. What distinguished this federation from other civil liberties organisations was their ideology that democratic rights meant the hard won struggles of the working and toiling people and not just the Civil Liberties existing in the constitution. The fundamental right in their view was the right to struggle against exploitation. From that fundamental right stemmed the other rights like free speech, expression etc. In India the workers are enslaved by the barbaric explotiation of the capitalist class while the peasants are trapped by the yoke of landlordism. The federation has brought out historical reports like that of the Baliapal people´s movement against the building of a missile base, the Punjab Problem (where it was explained that only the people´s revolutionary democratic movement can fight the nefarious ruling class politics) causes oo drought and on the attacks on Christians in Orissa and Gujarat in 1999. Three of the most significant organizations formed in the 1970´s were the Association for Democratic Rights, the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana, the Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakahsha Sanghatana and the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights. Other organizations of revolutionary democratic significance in India include the Lok Morcha in Punjab, the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha of Madhya Pradesh the Malkangiri Adivasi Sangh in Orissa, the Bharat Naujavan Sabha and Mazdor Kisan Sangrami Parishad in Bihar and the Rytu Coolie Sangham in Andhra Pradesh who are writing a historic chapter in the history of Indian peoples liberation. Their struggles are like a flame burning in the hearts of the Indian people to emnancipate themselves from the iron feet of opression. Such forces are extinguishing the darkness from our land. Long live the democratic revolutionary struggle of the Indian masses!

By Harsh Thakor

With Reference to …‘In defence of Democratic Rights´-bulletin of the All India federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights´