(Workers Vanguard (reprinting a leaflet by the French section of the ICL))
“In the presidential election last year, we called for people not to vote for Hollande. Among other things, we pointed to his vowing to wage an ‘implacable’ struggle against undocumented immigrants and to put the Roma in ‘encampments of our own choosing’ to stop them from moving around ‘over and over’ (Le Monde, 15 February 2012). His chief cop minister, Valls, was only following through on these campaign promises when on October 9 he sent the cops onto a school bus looking for Leonarda Dibrani and had her deported for good to Kosovo. She speaks neither Albanian nor Serbian—but she does speak French! Leonarda courageously denounced Hollande’s proposal to let her back into France... without her family.
“The lesson Valls draws from this incident is that the processing of asylum requests must be accelerated, for the explicit purpose of being able to deport people before they have the time to settle in the ‘country of the rights of man.’ Reactionaries and fascists of all sorts have seized the opportunity to urge revision of jus soli [the right of the soil], which under certain conditions grants citizenship to those who were born on French soil.
“Around the same time, the cops deported Khatchik Kachatryan to Armenia. He is the first Parisian high school student deported since 2006—when Sarkozy was in charge of the ministry of police. We demand the immediate return of Leonarda and all her family, as well as Khatchik, and we demand they be granted full legal status: Full citizenship rights for everyone who made it here! Down with the racist witchhunt against the Roma! [...]
“The outrageous treatment of Leonarda epitomizes the violent government campaign against the Roma, who are made scapegoats more than ever in this period of deep economic crisis in order to forestall workers struggle. In France, there are at most a few tens of thousands of Roma from the Balkans, and they are essentially excluded from the proletariat. But for the workers movement to accept attacks against the Roma would make it vulnerable to efforts to divide the working class itself along ethnic, racial and sexual lines, while reinforcing the arsenal of police repression directed against workers.
“Manuel Valls, forever in search of a new racist provocation, declared that the Roma were incapable of ‘integrating’ into a civilized society like France. During World War II, the Nazis characterized them as ‘subhuman,’ but here in France the laws invoked to lock up the Roma in camps under the Vichy government were in fact enacted by the Third Republic [1870-1940] before the Nazi occupation. Some Roma remained interned until 1946 under capitalist governments that included Gaullists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats of the Second International and Stalinists from the French Communist Party (PCF) [see ‘France: Down With Racist Anti-Roma Campaign!’ WV No. 965, 24 September 2010].
“The Roma have been persecuted for centuries, driven from one country to another. In a precapitalist economy, the Gypsies occupied a marginal economic niche as artisans, peddlers and artists. With the development of capitalism, they were pushed to the margins of society, enduring abuses that culminated in the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Gypsies by the Nazis. The truth is that decaying capitalism is incapable of “integrating” the Roma and all the more so in periods of crisis. The French state, including its PCF mayors, chases them from one shantytown to another and then uses the pretext that they are not official residents to refuse to enroll the children in school. When, in spite of these difficulties, children like Leonarda manage to attend school, the state deports them. It refuses the Roma the right to work and then accuses them of living by their wits! Down with restrictions on the right to work imposed by the European Union on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens!
“Only socialist revolution will make possible the full integration of Roma into society with equal rights, as shown by the example of the October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia that overthrew capitalist rule. The October Revolution destroyed the tsarist empire—that prison house of peoples—and laid the basis for freeing the oppressed nations and ethnic minorities, including the Roma, from the jackboot of Great Russian chauvinism.
“Romania, including under the grotesque Stalinist regime of Ceausescu, and Tito’s Yugoslavia (where Leonarda’s family came from) were bureaucratically deformed workers states. The capitalist ruling class had been driven from power and the resulting collectivized, nationalized economy guaranteed the Roma an improved standard of living and an unprecedented ethnic and national integration. Their level of education began to approach that of the rest of the population and they had not only jobs but also housing and health care. The Roma were recognized as a national minority with the right to be educated in their own language. They were settled and relatively integrated into the proletariat and into the military and state apparatus. When Yugoslavia existed, there were radio and TV programs in the Romany language in Kosovo.”
“With the country engulfed in a crisis over the war crimes trials, the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry shocked the country and the world. The Rana Plaza factory building collapse in April annihilated more than 1100 mainly women garment workers. This act of industrial murder showed the real workings of the capitalist market in one of the poorest countries in the world. Some 5000 factories in Bangladesh produce garments for major North American and European brands. The workers toiling in near-slavery in these deathtraps are paid the lowest wages in the world for that industry — as low as $37 (£24) a month, far below subsistence, often working 15-hour shifts.
“At the same time, the garment industry is a cornerstone of the country’s economy and the millions of workers in these factories have potential social power. To prevent such power from being unleashed, the local garment bosses, aided by the Awami League government, brutally suppress trade unions, to the point of targeting union activists with murderous violence (see Workers Vanguard no 1023, 3 May). Nevertheless, a number of strikes have swept the industry in recent years. And when news of the Rana Plaza disaster spread, hundreds of thousands of these workers walked out of work and marched on the headquarters of the garment manufacturers’ association demanding ‘we want execution of the garment factory owners!’
“The women who work in these factories are drawn from the villages, where illiteracy rates are high and the influence of religion and anti-woman prejudices are pervasive. For these women, a job in the garment industry opens up the possibility of escaping from the backwardness of village life. The ability of women to find employment in the cities breaks the taboo on mixing with men outside the home and enables women to become financially independent of their families. This fuels a backlash by the Islamists because it undermines the material basis for the traditional village and family hierarchy, within which women are blatantly traded as property. Dowry was prohibited by Bangladeshi law in 1980 but the legislation had little effect and the practice remains widespread. All aspects of personal and family law — regarding marriage, separation and divorce — are religion-based. Muslims are subjected to Islamic law, Christians to laws agreed by Christian churches and Hindus to Hindu codes. Numerous reports have documented an extremely high level of violence against women in Bangladesh. ‘Sulfuric acid — able to burn through skin, muscle and bone — is thrown on women for various reasons including “refusal of marriage offers, rejection of male advances, dowry disputes, domestic fights, property disputes, and even a delayed meal”’ (quoted in ‘Bangladesh: Violence against women’, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2004). In 2002 the government introduced special laws to stop acid attacks; in 2011 the state restricted the sale of certain kinds of acids in an effort to reduce the number of these gruesome attacks.
“Women have most to gain from the overthrow of capitalism in Bangladesh and, as indeed in all of South Asia, they will be a motor force for socialist revolution. The fight for the most basic needs of women — for literacy, education, contraception, an end to forced marriage and a way out of grinding poverty and oppression — requires a struggle to root out the very foundations of capitalist society. In 1994, when Jamaat launched a murderous anti-woman campaign against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, we wrote that ‘Nasrin’s case raises questions far beyond the important democratic issues of women’s rights, freedom of speech and the separation of religion and the state’, questions ‘that only a revolutionary socialist program can answer’.”
“Barely a week after the Texas explosion, the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries on the planet, collapsed on more than 3,000 garment workers toiling in five sweatshops. Mostly young women, they had resisted going to work after walls in the building began to show cracks the previous day. ‘Management forced us to go up and said there was no problem with the building,’ recounted one survivor. ‘Just after that, I sat at my table to work, and the building just collapsed’ (Democracy Now!, 25 April). Despite heroic efforts by firefighters and other rescue personnel to find survivors, nearly 400 dead bodies have been dug from the rubble in what is the worst disaster in the history of clothing manufacture. More than 1,200 other people were injured.
“Mass protests erupted as news of the disaster spread, with hundreds of thousands of outraged workers walking out of plants in and around the capital city, Dhaka. Highways were blockaded and two factories whose bosses refused to shut down production were set ablaze. Protesters marched on the headquarters of the garment manufacturers association, chanting: ‘We want execution of the garment factory owners!’ When police firing rubber bullets and tear gas could not quell the crowds, the industry announced on April 26 that all factories would be shut for the upcoming weekend. The Rana Plaza building owner was subsequently arrested trying to flee across the border into India.
“The giant retailers who subcontract production to the Savar sweatshops—e.g., J.C. Penney, the French retailer Carrefour and the British Primark—expressed “shock” about the collapse and denied any complicity. But the depraved indifference exhibited by the capitalist magnates to the lives of those they exploit plumbs new depths when it comes to the semicolonial world, where the U.S. and other imperialist powers have imposed the most wretched conditions. The 5,000 factories in Bangladesh that produce garments for major U.S. and European brands are a cornerstone of the country’s economy. The millions of workers toiling in near-slavery in these deathtraps are paid the lowest wages in the world for that industry—as low as $37 a month, far below subsistence, even after working 15-hour shifts.
“The long trail of capitalist industrial murder in Bangladesh includes an earlier building collapse in Savar that left 73 workers dead and a fire at Tazreen Fashions in nearby Ashulia last November that took more than 100 lives. At Tazreen, a source for Wal-Mart and Sears, managers blocked the stairs to keep workers at their sewing machines even as flames spread on floors below. The truth of the matter is that the multinational corporations are calling the shots and are well aware of what it takes to produce clothing at the prices they contract for, aiming to squeeze out the maximum profit. If orders go unfilled, they pick up stakes and move elsewhere. The local bosses are simply the whip hands, lining their own pockets in the process. (For more on conditions in Bangladesh, see ‘Women Garment Workers Fight Starvation Wages,’ WV No. 974, 18 February 2011.)
“To facilitate their many crimes, the garment bosses, aided by the government in Dhaka, brutally suppress unions, the only effective safeguard workers have against the rapaciousness of the capitalist profiteers. Trade unionists are banned from organizing in the factories and are frequent targets of arrest, torture and killing. A key organizer of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Aminul Islam, was murdered a year ago. As a result, labor unions are almost nonexistent in the garment plants; none of the Rana Plaza factories was unionized. Nevertheless, a number of strikes have swept the industry in recent years.
“The industrial murder at Rana Plaza, and Tazreen Fashions before it, is a searing indictment of the daily workings of capitalist-imperialism. The situation cries out for union organizing drives—backed in action by the labor movement internationally—demanding decent wages and working conditions. These sweatshops are the first links in a ‘just-in-time’ global cargo chain extending all the way to the retail stores in the imperialist countries, with key choke points at the ports and in the warehouses. Coordinated solidarity action could go a long way toward advancing the cause of labor in the semicolonial world and imperialist centers alike.”
For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Workers Vanguard No. 1017
“The heinous gang rape and mutilation of a 23-year-old paramedical student in Delhi on December 16, who later died of her injuries, sparked a momentous wave of protests against the oppression of women in India. Demonstrations erupted in many of India’s cities, including Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai, Bangalore, Panaji and beyond. Significantly, demonstrations were also held in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where women face conditions similar to those in India.
“The epicenter of the protests was Delhi, which prides itself on being part of the ‘new’ India, where shopping malls and night clubs exist side by side with massive slums. In fact, the capital has the highest recorded incidence of rape of any major city in India. Demonstrations by students and other youth continued for days, courageously defying repression by the police who attacked with water cannons, tear gas and lathi (bamboo sticks).
“Anger among women intensified with an outburst of grotesque anti-woman chauvinism that sought to blame the victim for the crime. M.L. Sharma, a lawyer for one of the five accused, stated that ‘respectable’ women do not get raped, while the Indian president’s son, Abhijeet Mukherjee, baited the demonstrators for being ‘painted’ and ‘dented,’ i.e., ‘Westernized’ and not young. A leader of the fascistic Hindu-chauvinist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) declared that sexual crimes ‘hardly take place in Bharat but occur frequently in India’ (Wall Street Journal, 8 January). The RSS is connected to the Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which openly espouses Hindutva (‘Hinduness’), a toxic mix of nationalism and religious obscurantism, to stoke violent pogroms, particularly against Muslims.
“The term ‘Bharat,’ the Hindi word for India, harks back to an imagined past of idyllic rural life—as opposed to urban India, which is supposedly blighted by decadent Western influence, especially on women. The reality of life for most people in Indian villages is extreme poverty and brutal caste oppression. In the countryside, rape of dalit (so-called ‘untouchable’) women is considered a matter of caste privilege by ‘upper’ caste men, who use rape as a weapon in the subjugation and humiliation of the woman and of her entire caste. A March 2006 study of violence against dalit women by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights reported that out of 500 women studied, 116 had been raped or gang-raped; among the perpetrators, ‘dominant caste landlords emerged as the most prominent group.’
“Police often assist vigilante groups which conduct raids on entire dalit villages, burning homes and raping women. The scope of such violence is captured in a November 2012 incident in Tamil Nadu, where 148 dalit houses were torched by a 2,500-strong mob because of a non-dalit woman who had married a dalit man in secret. Police also rape and murder with impunity as part of the military offensive in areas such as Chhattisgarh in eastern India, where it is directed against a Maoist insurgency based on the adivasi (tribal) people. In Kashmir, the occupying Indian Army uses murderous violence, including rape, to subjugate the Muslim population, with the perpetrators exempted from prosecution by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In 1991 in Kunan Poshpora, units of the Indian Army gang-raped nearly 100 Kashmiri women, aged 13 to 80, in a single night.”
“The British imperialists have maintained that the partition of India was aimed at creating a homeland for Muslims where they would be protected from Hindus, a claim belied by the fact that far more Muslims were left behind in India than those incorporated in the new entity of Pakistan. Besides, in the provinces that became Pakistan, the Muslims were dominant; they were neither threatened by post-independence Hindu domination nor were they interested in a separate Muslim state. In fact, the majority of Muslims were fearful of the economic and social impact of uprooting and relocation. They resented the fact that they would be confined to the two corners of the subcontinent and have to abandon the heartland of India, where Muslim rulers held sway for over 600 years before their defeat by the British, and in which lie some of the magnificent symbols of past Muslim power and glory such as the great forts of Delhi and Agra, the Taj Mahal and others. Muslim merchants and businessmen opposed the partition out of concern for the loss of a long developed market. The sizable Shi’ite Muslim population, dreading living in a Sunni-dominated Pakistan, was opposed to the partition scheme.
“Up until World War II the British depended on the strategically situated India as a military base to safeguard their interests—in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and their colonies across the Indian Ocean in east Africa. As India’s independence dawned, the British, fearing that the Hindu nationalists who would rule post-independence India would deny them military cooperation, settled for creating a weak, truncated entity that would serve their imperialist interests, would depend on Britain for its defence and would be ruled by their pliable lackeys of the Muslim League of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Through their divide-and-rule policy and using religion as a tool, the British drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, built close ties with Jinnah, in whom they nourished separatist aspirations, and recognised him as the sole spokesman of the Muslims of India.
“In his well-documented book, The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition (2005), Narendra Singh Sarila laid bare the true intentions of the British behind the partition: a meticulously calculated scheme to detach Pakistan from India, create a militarily strategic foothold aimed at the Soviet Union and maintain control over the oil fields of the Middle East.”
“The imperialist-backed Sri Lankan regime has waged a decades-long bloody war against the large Tamil minority. In its final murderous offensive in 2009, government forces destroyed the remnants of the Tamil mini-state in the North and East of the island, slaughtering tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. Hundreds of thousands more were interned in horrific prison camps and interrogation centres. We uphold the right to self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people and stood for the military defence of the LTTE against the army assault. At the same time we give no political support to these bourgeois nationalists. Carrying out the logic of nationalism, the LTTE has staged attacks on Sinhalese villagers and driven Muslims from the historic Tamil city of Jaffna, while employing murderous violence against other Tamil nationalist groups.
“Four years after the crushing defeat of LTTE forces, many Tamils still remain confined in camps and the military is an ongoing, large and menacing presence in Tamil regions. The Rajapaksa government continues to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act to repress Tamil civil rights and the population in general. Disappearances, abductions, arrests, torture and rape by the police and military are widely reported along with deaths in custody and extrajudicial killings. A recent Amnesty International report detailed pervasive government-sanctioned repression against journalists, political opponents and human-rights activists. As Sinhala racism escalates, there have also been increasing attacks by Buddhist fundamentalist groups on the small Muslim community.
“There are numerous reports of Tamils being deported back to Sri Lanka only to be arrested, some before they even get out of the airport. This hasn’t deterred the Gillard government from deporting more than 1,000 Sri Lankans since August last year. Echoing Sri Lankan government lies, the Australian government deems them ‘economic migrants.’ Catherine Renshaw, a Sydney University PhD candidate, noted: ‘There is an easily discernible quid pro quo operating here. Australia refrains from seriously criticising the government of Sri Lanka for abuses of power, human rights violations and the failure to fully investigate war crimes committed during the years of conflict. For its part, Sri Lanka’s government does everything in its power to stop Sri Lankans setting sail for Australia.’ (theconversation.com, 3 May).”
“The humiliating rout of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) in the West Bengal elections last May puts a harsh spotlight on the political bankruptcy of Indian Stalinism and its Maoist variants. The dominant force in the Left Front, the CPI(M) had ruled continuously since 1977, wielding the repressive powers of the capitalist state against the deeply impoverished and oppressed masses of West Bengal. The CPI(M) has committed many crimes against the toilers, but its bloody repression in Singur and Nandigram virtually assured its defeat at the hands of the right-wing Trinamool Congress (TMC).[...]
For a Workers India in a Socialist Federation of South Asia!
“For the CPI(M), the workers are voting cattle, buttered up with promises and fake Marxist phrases while their struggles are contained and betrayed. To the CPI (Maoist), the workers are—at best—just another urban support group for their rural struggles. In practice, the Maoists end up supporting a section of the bourgeoisie, as with Trinamool in West Bengal.
“Yet it is the proletariat—in the car factories, mines, steel mills and railways—whose labour produces the massive profits that enrich the Indian ruling class. This vibrant working class holds the key to the future. The Indian capitalists and the imperialists to whom they answer are sharply aware of the potential power of this sleeping giant, and continually work to obstruct or prevent the growth of unions, especially in new enterprises. A new labour bill would exempt operations with fewer than 40 workers from almost all basic laws governing minimum wages, payment of wages, working hours and contract work. This would give legal sanction to virtual slave conditions for millions of workers.
“Indian workers have been on the defensive in the face of unremitting capitalist attacks, and strike levels are at record lows. Nevertheless, labour battles in some vital and highly profitable industries have rattled the Indian bourgeoisie. In Gurgaon, a massive industrial area near Delhi, workers have repeatedly struck against the giant car producer Maruti Suzuki. Hundreds of thousands of auto and other industrial workers in the area suffer brutal superexploitation, as their labour creates fabulous profits for Indian, Japanese, American and other capitalist magnates.
“In some of the very areas where the Maoists are leading peasant insurgencies, large numbers of workers in coal and other mines have been waging hard-fought battles from protests to strikes and blockades. In October, a one-day general strike of some 300,000 workers against Kolkata-based Coal India Ltd. (CIL), the world’s largest coal producer, swept the country. With record commodity prices, mining conglomerates worldwide are raking in the profits, and workers from Chile to South Africa have struck for higher wages. Just how massive these profits are may be gauged by the fact that the one-day strike against CIL cost the company 1.2 billion rupees ($25 million).
“A small spark could light this enormous social tinder, but a revolutionary Marxist leadership that fights for proletarian unity and class independence is essential. The fighting power of the proletariat is greatly undercut by the fact that the unions are divided politically. Congress, the Hindu-communalist BJP and various of the Stalinist-derived parties, among others, each run their own unions and there are some 13 separate labour centrals. A working class divided by caste, religion and ethnicity is further fractured by these competing party-linked unions. An authentic proletarian leadership would fight for industrial unions which include all workers in an industry as an elementary defense of the working class.”
“Our relations with the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP) of Edmund Samarakkody in the 1970s constitute a significant chapter in that difficult, long and uneven struggle. By the time of his death in January 1992, Samarakkody’s revolutionary days were well behind him. But at one time, this founding member of the Ceylonese Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) represented a rare breed: a militant won to Trotskyism in the late 1930s who had not been utterly compromised and corrupted by homegrown popular-frontism or by the revisionist current of Michel Pablo, which had destroyed the Fourth International in 1951-53. In outlining the prospects for revolutionary regroupment, the 1974 declaration of the international Spartacist tendency, now the International Communist League, took particular note of Samarakkody’s RWP as having ‘emerged with integrity from the welter of betrayals perpetrated by the old LSSP’ and abetted by the Pabloite United Secretariat (USec) of Ernest Mandel and the craven ‘International Committee’ (IC) of Gerry Healy (ibid.).”
“Dear Comrades, I am addressing you on the matter of our party’s public silence concerning the recent and continuing betrayal of the Ceylonese working class and of the world Trotskyist movement by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. I refer, of course, to that party’s entry into a ‘Popular Front’ electoral pact with the Stalinist party and with the left bourgeois nationalist party represented by the widow Bandaranaike.”
“Ervin’s treatment of this pseudo-Marxist adventurer, who figured prominently in the Bukharinite Right Opposition from its inception in 1928, is a piece of philistine idolatry fully in line with bourgeois academic studies of Indian Communism, in which Roy is far from neglected. What distinguishes Roy, and makes him attractive to such types, is that he embodied the revisionist endeavour of trying to blend Communism and nationalism. In pursuit of this effort, Roy became a vulgar democrat who pushed the bourgeois ideology of nationalism, albeit with some Communist colouration, making him an opponent of the fight for a Leninist vanguard party based on proletarian internationalism.”
“On June 5, in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 33-year-old Rumana Monzur was permanently blinded and disfigured by her husband.[...]
“[S]ome feminists insisted that the attack had nothing to do with religion and was purely a ‘domestic violence’ issue, claiming that to say otherwise would be racist. It is true that violence against women occurs in all societies, crossing class, religious and national bounds, but what happened to Rumana had all the markings of an attempted ‘honour killing.’ There have been countless such murders in the Near East, in South and Central Asia as well as in many imperialist countries. These brutal crimes grow out of the clash between a woman’s desire for independence from ‘traditional’ culture and the legacy of pre-capitalist social and economic norms that persist in large swathes of the world.[...]
“We sharply oppose this racist ruling-class drive against Muslims and other minorities. At the same time we strongly solidarize with women who seek to throw off the strictures of religious traditionalism. Bangladesh, like the rest of the Indian subcontinent, bears the imprint of pre-capitalist social and economic norms. This neocolonial country is dominated by the dictates of the imperialist order while also subject to the tyranny of religious obscurantism; capitalist exploitation manipulates and deepens the ancient traditions and taboos.
“The concept of ‘family honour’—control of a woman’s sexuality by her family—is not the exclusive purview of Islam but occurs in a number of religions, including Christianity. It is the reflection of the treatment of women as the property of their husbands or fathers. This was powerfully captured by Friedrich Engels in his classic work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884): “In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore of the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.” [...]
“Christianity and Judaism, in their many variants, also preach stifling moral codes to uphold the patriarchal family, the main social institution oppressing women. But these religions, though they had roots in pre-capitalist society, adapted to conform with rising industrial capitalism and the bourgeois democratic nation-states where they existed. The radical democratic principles of the Enlightenment were the ideological reflection of historical material advances over a backward, feudal society. As a religion Islam has not had to adapt, largely because it is rooted in those parts of the world where the imperialists have reinforced social backwardness as a prop to their domination.
“The emancipation of women as part of the liberation of all the downtrodden of Bangladesh and the entire subcontinent requires a struggle for permanent revolution—the working class seizing power at the head of the peasantry and oppressed masses through socialist revolution, reorganizing society on the basis of collectivized property and fighting to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the imperialist centres.”
“Last week, the French government began the roundup of more than 700 Romany immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, and ordered special flights chartered to send them back to their home countries. The deportations will begin on Thursday. Over the past month, the French government began dismantling Romany camps; at present, more than 50 camps all over France have been destroyed by the state.
“At the same time, France has announced two other policies directed at Roma, Travellers and other immigrants: the criminalisation of entire families rather than just individuals and the stripping of citizenship from immigrants with criminal convictions.
“These measures are part of a wider law-and-order push by President Nicolas Sarkozy following a weekend of rioting in two cities in July. In a poor suburb of Grenoble, southeast France, young people torched cars and fired on police following an incident in which a suspect in a casino robbery was shot dead. In Saint-Aignan, in central France, police shot dead a 22-year-old Romany man for failing to stop at a roadblock. Roma armed with hatchets and iron bars felled trees and traffic lights, torched cars and attacked a bakery and a police station.
“This is the first time France has seen protests by Roma youth taking the form of violent disturbances; the current rioting was similar in substance, though smaller in scale, to the immigrant-led 2005 riots that broke out across France’s suburbs. Rather than sympathy for the families who lost their sons, or an apology for the police killings, the protests and riots were met with immediate state violence, expulsion and criminalisation.
“The Sarkozy government's attacks on Roma are nothing more than cynical politics, state-sponsored racism and xenophobia aimed primarily at Roma citizens and, by extension, all immigrants. They have arisen as window-dressing on the unfolding corruption scandal surrounding Sarkozy.
“This happened despite the fact that the young Romany killed was French and those expelled were citizens of EU member states, who have a right to enter France without passports, staying if they find employment within three months. One wonders how closely paperwork was checked with regard to residency and employment as the camps were being dismantled and EU citizens expelled on chartered flights.
“France is not alone in its attack against its own Romany citizens and those of other EU member states. Leaders all over Europe have found it expedient to attack Roma as recessions have hit, political scandals have loomed or other kinds of threats to state power have emerged. Indeed, Sarkozy seems to have been taking lessons from his conservative counterpart in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi whose government has increasingly focused on Roma as targets of state violence and everyday xenophobia. Similar things are happening in places ranging from Slovakia to Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.”
AOL News spoke to Yaron Matras, an expert on the Roma and a linguistics professor at the University of Manchester in England, where he coordinates the Romani Project.
Where are the Roma from?
From what we’ve been able to find out, the Roma probably came from central India and moved to northern India around the fifth century. The Romani language is one of the Indo-Aryan languages, like Hindi or ancient Sanskrit. We think the Roma people moved westward around the 10th century and into what is now Turkey. From the late 14th century on, they moved into Europe.
Why is everyone so vague about the origins of the Roma and why they left India?
First of all, there are absolutely no historical records. Nobody really knows. People have come up with all sorts of theories and wild speculation. There's no evidence of a catastrophic event causing them to leave. They were part of an economically specialized caste; some of them, for example, were metal workers and continued that trade for centuries.
Do you mean they were part of a lower caste in India?
Well, there’s a generation of [Roma] activists that don’t want to talk about that now, as if that’s an insult to their ancestors. There’s a fashion among activists to say the Roma were upper-caste, proud warriors who were taken as slaves and forced to come to Europe. There’s no evidence to support that. There’s no written attestation.
Many people think the word “Roma” means Romanian, especially as the French are expelling many Roma back to Romania.
“Rom” comes from the caste name “Dom” in the Indian languages. The country of Romania has nothing to do with the Roma or the word “Romani,” which is an adjective for them. It’s a complete coincidence. There is a large population of Roma who live in Romania, but they are all over the Balkans, in Bulgaria and Slovakia and Turkey as well.
Roma are said to have been persecuted for centuries; they also have a reputation for being petty criminals and con artists. Did one lead to the other?
The Roma have a long history of persecution, of living in poverty, being marginalized, and have a high rate of illiteracy. There’s been a lot of social prejudice and isolation. It’s a vicious cycle than can lead to self-despair and a boycotting of mainstream culture. But you’re seeing the Roma who are out there begging; you aren't seeing the ones working in offices and other good jobs. There are thousands of those too.
How does the persecution of the Roma compare to that of the Jews?
To an extent, they’ve been persecuted more than the Jews. Jews had more urban integration. The Roma never had a cohesive body. They’ve never had a territory or a tradition of literacy, which is what the Jews had. Often they were allowed to work in Europe only in certain trades and on the condition they not mix with the local population. The Roma in Romania and Bulgaria were the first to lose their jobs after the fall of communism.
"In what may be the final chapters of one of the world's longest-running civil wars, Sri Lankan troops say they are close to crushing the remnants of the once-potent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Yet the military operation comes at a high price for civilians.
"Aid groups and officials say that dozens of civilians trapped in the war zone are being killed and wounded every day. Determined to press ahead with its operation against a guerrilla force that has in the past ruthlessly attacked both military and civilian targets, the Sri Lankan government refuses to effect a ceasefire that would allow the evacuation of wounded people. It has also shut off the area from the outside world."
"Yet as frightening as the disappearances, and perhaps more likely to cause further conflict over time, is the government's unabashed campaign of 'Sinhalization.' Historic sites commemorating ancient Tamil kingdoms have, in the months since the government took control of the area, suddenly become memorials to Sinhalese kingdoms. Some Tamils stopped at checkpoints can no longer give the names of their home villages, because those places have new Sinhala names, local and international human-rights monitors say."
In late December public notice was given that 25,000 acres of farmland in the Nandigram area of West Bengal was to be forcibly appropriated by a development authority linked to the state, which has been ruled for the past three decades by the Stalinist Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), to allow an Indonesian firm to build a huge chemical manufacturing center there (along with hotels, a golf course, etc.). The local residents immediately began to organize to defend their homes and livelihood. On the morning of March 14, several thousand of them gathered in protest of the seizure and were met by half as many police and CPI(M) cadre disguised as police, whose planned attack on the unarmed crowd—with women and children stationed at the front precisely to deter such an act—is described in the report excerpted below. The government admits to killing fourteen people and injuring over 200 more; residents and others put the actual death toll at over 100.
"People were aware that there would be an attempt by the police and party goons to re-enter the area as a first step towards taking over their land. They decided to offer peaceful resistance by organising a Gouranga Puja [Hindu worship ceremony] (incidentally Gouranga is the God believed to be protector of the people nearby). They also planned a Koran recitation ceremony. Once this programme was known, people flocked to the spots where the Puja and Koran recitals were being held. At Bhangabera the Puja was in a trench that had been cut in the road earlier. About 5,000-6,000 people were present, of which 3000 were women and about 400-500 were children. The people were unarmed as they were in religious ceremonies. The women and children decided to stand in front as the people assumed that the police would not be that much violent with women and children.
"A large police force with firearms and tear gas arrived in vehicles and buses on the Khejuri side of the Talpatti Khal in the morning. They were accompanied by many armed CPM goons. They were also carrying truckloads of road repair equipments and materials. At Bhangabera Bridge, they first filled up a large trench near the bridge. None opposed this. They then began advancing across the bridge. There seems to have been no prior warning. It eas reported that, Anup Mondal of the CPM was using a hand mike, but most barring a few nearby heard nothing and were not forewarned about the police action. Without any proper warning the police-CPI(M) combine began throwing bombs and tear gas shells. This blinded the crowd and created confusion and panic. At this juncture, the the police-CPI(M) combine began firing from various firearms and advancing further while firing. Operations, including the firing and the filling up of the trench seemed to have been planned earlier. While the firing continued for about 15 minutes, other forms of violence followed for the next hour and a half or so.
"There are many complaints of horrific and deliberate acts of violence during this phase and afterwards. [...] Women were taken away and raped. Women who tried to hide or wash their burning eyes in ponds were forced to come out and then beaten up again. Houses and shops were looted. Instead of using minimum force necessary to disperse the unarmed people gathered there, maximum possible force appear to have been applied to instil fear and terror in people, to break their morale and teach them a lesson. The large presence of armed CPI(M) men, many also in police fatigue injected the element of vengeance and revenge in the operation.
"According to all the 200 or more villagers we met and the patients admitted in Tamluk Hospital and Nandigram Hospital, more than 100 persons have died in the firing. They alleged that most of the bodies were taken away by the Police-CPI (M) combine by truck towards Khejuri or buried under the newly repaired road at Bhangabera."
"The plan to push in police into the trouble-torn and tense area was chalked out by the CPI(M) top brass last Saturday. They were under pressure from the East Midnapur unit of the party led by MP Lakshman Seth who felt that the CPI(M) would permanently lose ground in the area unless barricades were removed and ‘normalcy’ was restored in Nandigram. A large section of the CPI(M) secretariat was also of the same view and felt that the manner villagers were keeping the administration paralyzed for over two months was creating a bad precedent.
"According to the strategy, the police was asked to remove resistance, enter the villages and ‘restore law of the land’. They were to be followed by CPI(M) activists, who would 'reinstall civil society' in Nandigram."
"In Singur [where despite resistance local people had their land seized to set up an SEZ for Tata Motors (later abandoned by the company); see anti-caste: SINGUR, WEST BENGAL: CPI(M) CADRES RAPED AND KILLED FOR TATA (November 12, 2007)] while a section of absentee landowners had agreed to sell their land to the state, a bulk of farmers and sharecroppers in the area refused to acquiesce. In response, the state government occupied and fenced the Singur land, imposing section 144 of the Indian penal code to prohibit public protests—in other words using brute force to oust farmers from their own land.
"So when towards the end of 2006 state ministers and CPI(M) leaders started talking publicly of setting up a huge chemical hub in Nandigram under the Salim group, an Indonesian multinational, the local folk here started getting agitated.
"At a public meeting in Nandigram market on December 29, 2006, the CPI(M) member of Parliament, Lakshman Seth, urged farmers to pave the way for development and industrialisation in Nandigram by giving up their lands in return for monetary compensation. Seth, who is also the chairman of the Haldia Development Authority, in his speech, named the villages that would have to make way for the chemical hub. The total area to be acquired was a whopping 14,500 acres to set up the SEZ that would include a mega chemical and petrochemical hub and a shipyard.
"Though, according to CPI(M) leaders, no final decision has yet been taken about the exact location of the projects, an informal notice for public information regarding likely location of this project was circulated by the Haldia Development Authority to all blocks and Gram Panchayat offices of the area.
"This announcement, however, was enough to aggravate tension in the area as resentment grew among villagers at not being consulted on the issue and at the thought of being kicked out of their ancestral lands. 'If we leave our land we will become beggars in the cities,' says Jayanti, another resident of Sonchura, explaining the strong sentiments behind the local resistance.
"On January 3, 2007, villagers clashed with a police patrol that was surveying the Nandigram area. According to the CPI(M), the police had to be called in after members of the opposition Trinamool Congress ransacked the office of the local panchayat pradhan. Four people were injured in the police lathicharge and gunfire that ensued while one police jeep was set on fire by an angry mob.
"On January 5, 2007, several opposition party groups that had already been working in the area—ranging from the Trinamool Congress to the Socialist Unity Centre of India and the Santosh Rana faction of the CPI(Marxist-Leninist Liberation) decided to join hands to form the Bhumi Uchchhed Protirodh Committee (BUPC) loosely translated as ‘committee for resistance to eviction from homeland’.
"According to locals, the response to this political consolidation of opposition forces got a swift response from the ruling CPI(M). In the early morning on January 7, villagers alleged, CPI(M) cadres, armed with sticks, knives and guns attacked Nandigram, crossing the Bangabhera bridge from Khejuri. The official CPI(M) version is that it is the BUPC members who started the fight by attacking their people camped in Khejuri.
"Whoever started the fight, in the process three people from Nandigram—Bharat Mandal, Shekh Salim and Biswajit Maiti (just 12 years old)—died of bullet injuries. In retaliation, enraged villagers lynched Shankar Samanta, a local landlord accused of giving shelter to what they called CPI(M) goons and also taking part in the firings after which they ransacked and burnt down his palatial house close to the bridge.
"It was following this incident that the locals decided to dig a trench on the road connecting the Bangabhera bridge to Nandigram and block the road further with tree-trunks, boulders and bricks.
"In the weeks and months after the violence of early January, the Bangabhera bridge and adjoining areas became a war zone with almost daily attacks by CPI(M) cadre who had gathered in Khejuri, villagers said. These cadres included some of those who had left the Nandigram area, along with their families, due to threats from those opposed to the acquisition of land for the chemical hub project.
"In response, Nandigram villagers blockaded all entry points into their area making it a no-go zone for the state officials, particularly police. There are reports that some arms and ammunition also found its way into the hands of locals to be used against what has been termed as the superior firepower of the CPI(M) cadre, who, after all, also had the backing of state authorities."
And see also:
Nandigram, an atrocity on dalits by Tanveer Kazi, national secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and member of a fact-finding team in Nandigram on March 16-17 and later from April 20-25 (India Today, May 5, 2007):
"It is clear that the majority of victims did come from the Scheduled Castes – not surprising as in the area and most parts of India the most economically vulnerable are the dalits. Lip service is all that these vulnerable communities receive in place of rehabilitation and compensation, and the same has happened in the case of land seizures too. As villager Santosh Patro reiterated to our team of the former residents of Haldia '...all those who left their land are selling cucumber and cleaning shit.'
"The decision to act with such force and brutality must be seen as pre-meditated and could also be related to caste or the perceived status or lack of, of those living in the area. Effectively the local residents were claiming political autonomy of the area, ridding it of party cadres and asserting themselves. This can be seen to reflect a deeper tension that the SEZ issue finally inflamed. The response was a decidedly brutal one, in order to put residents 'back in their place'. Terror is one of the most effective tools to manufacture submission and in this instance has already been effective; the mere sight of police was enough to disperse a crowd that had gathered after the discovery of charred remains in the area."
Muslims are also heavily represented among the peasants of Nandigram. As noted in the report quoted above, the mass protest that came under attack, though religiously oriented, was explicitly intercommunal (featuring both puja and recital of the Koran).