On Sunday, with 500 others, I attended a meeting on ‘India’s war on the poor’ at Friends House in London. The headline speaker was the novelist Arundhati Roy. She spoke eloquently and movingly about the war by the Indian state on the tribal peoples (adivasis) on behalf of companies like Vedanta that want to exploit the natural resources of these lands. She also spoke about the state’s attacks on poor farmers on behalf of rich landowners.
She read a passage from her new book ‘Walking with the Comrades’, which described how she met the Maoist rebels who are resisting government and paramilitary incursions into tribal lands. In many areas villagers have to hide in the forest, only venturing out to harvest their crops under the protection of militias. Roy was quite clear that the state’s attempts to destroy a way of life – by means of murder, rape, intimidation, disruption of economic activity – amounted to genocide. Yet an unusually candid police chief suggested to her that perhaps the best means of overcoming the Maoists would be to put a TV in every home: ‘unless they become greedy, there’s no hope for us’.
There were so many things that she and the other speakers said that resonated.
First of all, the idea that India’s vaunted democracy is hollowed out, just for parts of Delhi, for the elite. There is no appeal to local or national courts, since they are corrupt. Why wouldn’t the people resort to armed resistance?
Jan Myrdal, a Swedish writer, talked of ‘the biggest land grab since Columbus’. I was reminded of what Hugo Blanco said during his European tour last year – that the indigenous are at the forefront of resistance because they suffer the heaviest attacks of a system which must exploit the planet in order to survive. The indigenous in India number 100 million. But there are 400 million others whom the state must drive from the land if it is to fulfil the stated target of 70% of the population living in cities. To do that, it has to resort to military means.
Roy spoke of the cold sense of purpose that animates the elite. Europeans ‘have a history’ they say, ‘why shouldn’t we?’ They mean the European history of genocide, ethnic cleansing, systematic exploitation of territories and peoples. The Indian elite assert their right to emulate this history.
To me, this means that anyone who abstractly defends the ‘right of developing nations’ to pursue a ‘Western model’ of growth should be confronted with the following questions: which ‘nation’ are you speaking of? Which classes in that nation? Whose interests do you actually support?
She talked of ‘the opening of two locks’ – Hindu fascism and market fascism. They are absolutely intertwined, in her view. Murderous Islamophobia in Kashmir and Gujarat, anti-tribal violence in the forest area that the police call ‘Pakistan’ – all promoted by a state that is in thrall to the free market.
She pointed out that while this huge grab for territory goes on, under the military umbrella of ‘Operation Greenhunt’, the Indian upper and middle classes have engineered their own ‘secession into outer space’. I took this to be a reference to the Indian space programme – but probably also to cyberspace, the home of a global, supposedly deterritorialised, cyber-elite.
Very informative website at www.icawpi.org.
Watch an interview with Arundhati Roy here.