“The overwhelming victor in India’s parliamentary elections that concluded on May 12 was the reactionary Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is responsible for one of the bloodiest anti-Muslim pogroms in the country’s recent history. The new prime minister, BJP head Narendra Modi, was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when his party spearheaded a communal massacre in that state that left over 2,000 dead, most of them Muslims. Now, having won 282 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament, Modi’s BJP has a decisive majority, the first time in 30 years that any party has had such a mandate. In the words of one party veteran, the BJP is set to tackle ‘corruption, inflation and Muslims.’
“Modi’s victory unseated the Congress party, which had governed India for all but 13 years since the country gained its independence from the British Empire in 1947. The Indian National Congress, commonly known as Congress, is the traditional organization of the Indian bourgeoisie that was led by ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, and since independence by the family dynasty that began with Jawaharlal Nehru. Trading on having led mass struggles against the British colonial overlords, Congress cultivated an image of India as ‘the world’s largest democracy’ and of itself as a secular party able to surmount the country’s bitter national, ethnic, religious and caste divisions. In reality, Congress has presided over the suppression of numerous regional-separatist and leftist insurgencies while offering up minorities as scapegoats for conditions in what is one of the most impoverished and oppressed areas of the world.
“By repeatedly playing the Hindu communalist card, Congress put wind in the sails of the vile chauvinism pushed by the BJP. Congress itself has incited communal massacres, most notoriously in 1984 when prominent Congress politicians led lynch mobs in Delhi against the Sikh minority, killing more than 3,000 people. Its role in instigating the massacre—and in covering up its guilt for 30 years—gives the lie to any notion that Congress provides an alternative to BJP communalism.
“Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organization whose founders were inspired by the fascist movements in Europe, believing that Nazi Germany had manifested ‘race pride at its highest.’ Madhav Golwalkar, an early leader of the RSS, expressed in a 1938 book the racist contempt for minorities in India that is inherent in Hindutva, the virulent nationalism based on Hindu fundamentalism:
“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.”
“Modi’s well-funded PR machine has worked overtime to prettify his ideology and sweep his dirty deeds under the rug. Based on his promises to develop industry and create jobs on the model of his home state of Gujarat, Modi’s campaign attracted in particular a considerable number of votes from youth in a country where the median age is 27 years. Even though his electoral support went beyond his right-wing Hindu constituency, the victory of an openly communalist party will mean intensified communalist terror, particularly against Muslims, who make up nearly 15 percent of the population. The BJP’s glorification of Hindutva will also fuel a reactionary backlash against women—both in the villages, where caste oppression legitimizes rape of dalit (‘untouchable’) women by higher-caste men, and in the cities, where women who work outside the home or wear Western clothes are considered fair game due to their lack of ‘modesty.’
“A people who have never fought each other in history are today bitterly estranged, fearful and angry. ‘Not even during the Partition riots of 1947 did a drop of blood flow in our villages’, they repeatedly told us. And today, some 50 lie dead, and 50,000 have fled their homes in terror.
“Cramped into makeshift camps in madrasas and mosques, many resolve never to return to the land of their ancestors. The Muzaffarnagar countryside in western Uttar Pradesh is reeling under the gravest communal clash the country has witnessed since the 2002 Gujarat carnage.
“People of diverse faiths who live together do not spontaneously turn against each other. There are three requisites for mass communal violence to occur.
“The first is the deliberate manufacture of hatred. The second is the manufacture of a ‘riot’. The third is a complicit State: no riot can continue beyond a few hours unless the state actively wishes that it does so. [...]
“In Muzaffarnagar, in the patriarchal Jat community, the issue chosen to foment hatred was women’s ‘honour’. The claim was that ‘love jihad’ was being waged, by which Muslim boys were equipped with smart clothes, deodorants and sweet talk to entice Jat girls into ‘love’ traps.
“An unfortunate incident on August 27 in Kawal, in which three young men, one Muslim and two Jat were killed in violent clashes, was deployed as evidence of ‘love jihad’. The claim was that the Muslim youth was killed by the brothers of a Jat girl who he was stalking, and these brothers in turn were killed by a violent Muslim mob.
“BJP MLA Sangeet Som uploaded a video of two boys being killed by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan, claiming that the footage was of the Jat boys being killed by a Muslim mob. This video was circulated widely through mobile phones, and fuelled mass rage against local Muslims. Later evidence suggests that the death of the three young men resulted instead from a hot-headed clash between the boys after a motorcycle accident.
“The second requirement for communal violence to occur is the manufacture of the riot itself. Building on the groundswell of local Hindu fury against their Muslim neighbours because of their alleged deliberate assaults on the ‘honour’ of Hindu girls, a mahapanchayat on September 7 was convened with the explosive theme ‘Save Your Daughters’.
“Fiery speeches were made against Muslims, and after the frenzied crowd dispersed, they attacked Muslim settlements. In the majority of villages, Muslims were labourers in the sugarcane fields of Jat landowners. Their small houses were set aflame and looted, some were killed, and terrified people fled to the safety of numbers in Muslim majority villages.
“The third prerequisite for a manufactured riot is a complicit State administration, which fails in prevention, control, rescue and relief. The administration took no steps to quell the rumours, arrest those stoking hatred, or prohibit the mahapanchayat. Once violence broke out, the police forces mostly stood watching as the crowds attacked Muslim settlements, without using force or firing to disperse the furious mobs.
“They did not rescue the escaping people; instead survivors depended on Muslim wealthy landowners to protect them as they fled. The administration did not establish relief camps; instead these were organised by the victimised community in Muslim majority villages. We found little presence of the State in these camps: it did not organise sanitation, healthcare, child care or police outposts to record people’s complaints.”
“The communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring areas is a warning of the days to come. Uttar Pradesh (UP) is crucial to the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if its prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi, has to have a plausible chance of coming to power. There has been a rise in incidents of communal violence since the Samajwadi Party (SP) government was elected to office last year, but the “riot” earlier this month – when close to 50 people were killed, a few hundred injured and tens of thousands fled from their homes – stands distinct in its scale and is clear evidence of what Paul Brass has termed the ‘institutionalised riot system’. The ‘Gujarat model’ of using the terror of communal violence to forge communal unity among ‘Hindus’ to build an invincible vote bank appears to be the strategy that has been employed [...].
“That the ‘Hindus’ in this riot are largely Jats has been acknowledged. However, Muslims too have caste and class markers. Some reports talk about Muslims being farm labourers, carpenters and blacksmiths to the landowning Jats. That clearly indicates a subservient relation with the dominant caste. In fact, one report quotes a Hindu Jat villager, ‘There will be no peace until the balance of power is sorted out. One community in each village will remain dominant.’ This then raises the question of why the dominant agricultural caste would want to drive out farm labour at the very time when agricultural operations are at their peak and the harvest is only weeks away. Another newspaper reports that Muslims who have run away from their villages to relief camps claim that they have left behind acres of cultivated land with standing crops, but fearing for their lives they would not want to return. The report estimates that in total there would be thousands of acres of such land and most landholders fear that these will now be encroached by members of the dominant caste. Does this indicate that landless lower-caste Muslims are now becoming landed? Or does it mean that a section of the dominant Hindu agricultural caste is willing to forgo the services of its (Muslim) farm labourers, even when labour supply is a problem, only to be able to appropriate prime agricultural land of the landed Muslims?
“The shifting of communal violence to rural areas perhaps cannot be understood without understanding the major changes in agriculture over the last few decades [...]. But it is equally clear that after the Nellie and Bhagalpur killings of the 1980s, this is perhaps the first large-scale rural communal violence and a warning about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s new strategy of breaking out of its urban enclaves.
“This particular incident also built on the other trajectory of reactionary politics in the region – of trying to control the sexuality of women – which has expressed itself regularly in ‘honour’ killings and khap panchayat embargoes on lifestyle. That the present killings, which appear to have a land-labour angle, were planned at a mahapanchayat of Hindu Jat khaps calling for the protection of the ‘honour’ of their women illustrates the continuities between caste, class, patriarchy and property.”
“The threat to Gandhi posed by the prospect of Untouchables gaining the right to their own electorates thus went much deeper than fear of another British device to divide the national movement, like the separate rolls granted to Muslims, real though this was. More fundamental questions were at issue. If Untouchables were to be treated as external to the Hindu community, it would be confirmation that caste was indeed, as its critics had always maintained, a vile system of discrimination, relegating the lowest orders of society to a subhuman existence with which the smallest brush was pollution, and since Hinduism was founded on caste, it would stand condemned with caste. To reclaim the Untouchables for Hinduism was an ideological imperative for the reputation of the religion itself. But it was also politically vital, since if they were subtracted from the Hindu bloc in India, its predominance over the Muslim community would be weakened. There were ‘mathematical’ considerations to bear in mind, as Gandhi’s secretary delicately reported his leader’s thinking on the matter. Most menacing of all, Gandhi confided to a colleague, might not Untouchables, accorded separate identity, then gang up with ‘Muslim hooligans and kill caste Hindus’?
“To cut off these dangers, Gandhi – still in prison – announced that as ‘a man of religion’ and leader of ‘numberless men and women who have childlike faith in my wisdom’, he would fast to death until the award was rescinded and Untouchables were bundled back into the Hindu electorate. The sensation was enormous. Ambedkar was summoned post-haste to Gandhi’s jail in Poona to avert the passing of the Great Soul. His own view of the religion he was being told to embrace was unflinching: ‘No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity’ – words few Indian intellectuals would dare utter today. Gandhi, though he had long condemned Untouchability as odious, had never taken any drastic political action against it: sin it might be, but not sufficiently mortal to warrant a fast unto death. Granting Untouchables their own rolls was another matter. Against that he would put his life on the line. Under colossal public pressure, and physical threats to him and his community if he stood firm, Ambedkar yielded to Gandhi’s blackmail.”
READ THE FULL ACCOUNT: Gandhi Centre Stageby Perry Anderson (London Review of Books, July 5, 2012)
“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.”
“Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about things of urgent concern. Nothing about the farmer's suicides in his neighbourhood, or about Operation Green Hunt further away. Nothing about Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, nothing about Posco, about farmer's agitations or the blight of SEZs. He doesn't seem to have a view about the Government's plans to deploy the Indian Army in the forests of Central India.
“He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model’ of Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)
“Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story about Anna’s old relationship with the RSS. We have heard from Mukul Sharma who has studied Anna’s village community in Ralegan Siddhi, where there have been no Gram Panchayat or Co-operative society elections in the last 25 years. We know about Anna's attitude to ‘harijans’ [Gandhian term for untouchables]: ‘It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that every village should have one chamar, one sunar, one kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependent. This is what we are practicing in Ralegan Siddhi.’ Is it surprising that members of Team Anna have also been associated with Youth for Equality, the anti-reservation (pro-‘merit’) movement [that opposes affirmative action on the basis of caste]? The campaign is being handled by people who run a clutch of generously funded NGOs whose donors include Coca-Cola and Lehman Brothers. Kabir, run by Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, key figures in Team Anna, has received $400,000 from the Ford Foundation in the last three years. Among contributors to the India Against Corruption campaign there are Indian companies and foundations that own aluminum plants, build ports and SEZs, and run Real Estate businesses and are closely connected to politicians who run financial empires that run into thousands of crores of rupees. Some of them are currently being investigated for corruption and other crimes. Why are they all so enthusiastic? [...]
“At a time when the State is withdrawing from its traditional duties and Corporations and NGOs are taking over government functions (water supply, electricity, transport, telecommunication, mining, health, education); at a time when the terrifying power and reach of the corporate owned media is trying to control the public imagination, one would think that these institutions — the corporations, the media, and NGOs — would be included in the jurisdiction of a Lokpal bill. Instead, the proposed bill leaves them out completely.
“Now, by shouting louder than everyone else, by pushing a campaign that is hammering away at the theme of evil politicians and government corruption, they have very cleverly let themselves off the hook. Worse, by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India's natural resources. It may not be long before Corporate Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.”
“Questions were raised about the dangerously authoritarian character of the bill they were backing, with its creation of an unaccountable, unelected body that would have the power to tap phones, intercept emails, and remove every government functionary from the Prime Minister and Chief Justice to the lowest peon. Access to judicial review for those targeted by this all-powerful body would be meaningless, given its power to remove judges it did not like. By defining corruption as the disease rather than seeing it as merely a symptom of a deeper disease–power without accountability, power to commit crimes with impunity–the JLB was a formula to introduce a new source of corruption rather than eliminating it. It was also, potentially, an assault on India’s democratic institutions, one heightened by the demand that either the law should be passed by parliament by August 30, or the government should quit. [...]
“The enthusiastic participation of the RSS and other members of the Sangh Parivar also disturbed many.”
“The Jat Pat Todak Mandal, a social reformist organisation of Lahore, had, in 1936, invited Dr B.R. Ambedkar to deliver the presidential address of its annual conference on the topic of the caste system in India. Ambedkar sent the manuscript of his speech titled ‘The Annihilation of Caste.’ However, the organising committee found some of his views, particularly his critique of the Vedas and his inclination to leave the Hindu fold, unacceptable.
“It, therefore, suggested to Ambedkar that he delete these views, to which he replied that ‘he would not change a comma.’ The speech thus remained undelivered. Ambedkar subsequently published it in May 1936. [...]
“In The Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar, probably for the first time, raised many profound questions with respect to caste. First, he rejected the defence of caste on the basis of division of labour and argued that it was not merely a division of labour but a division of labourers. The former was voluntary and depended upon one's choice and aptitude and, therefore, rewarded efficiency. The latter was involuntary, forced, killed initiative and resulted in job aversion and inefficiency. He argued that caste could not be defended on the basis of purity of blood, though pollution is a hallmark of the caste system. [...]
“But most importantly, according to Ambedkar, caste destroyed the concept of ethics and morality. To quote him: ‘The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu's public is his caste. His responsibility is to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste. Virtue has become caste-ridden, and morality has become caste-bound.’ [...]
“Ambedkar did not spare the socialists or the communists either. He vehemently attacked the communists for their doctrinaire approach to caste in treating it as the superstructure and argued that unless they dealt with caste as a basic structural problem, no worthwhile social change, let alone a socialist revolution, was possible.”
“Other noble dreams of collective emancipation and glory, too, were
compromised by the many exigencies of postcolonial nation-building.
The colonial state, with its aloof bureaucracy and repressive
apparatus, was retained, and radical new institutions of universal
adult franchise and social welfare uneasily grafted on to it. Not
surprisingly, torture and extrajudicial execution remain as
commonplace a feature of contemporary India as free and largely fair
elections, and the red-taped state still struggles to provide
effective education and healthcare.
“The hierarchies underpinning India’s older cruelties of caste and
gender have also survived the egalitarian proclamations of the
constitution; universal franchise has yet to lead to a civil rights
revolution. Dalits are still being lynched and raped by upper-caste
feudal lords, and thousands of women burnt to death for bringing
insufficient dowries, even as Dalit and female politicians move into
the highest offices in the land. Indeed, Ambedkar’s battle against the
inequities of the caste system has had the strangest afterlife.
“Beneficiaries of en bloc voting by previously subordinate groups, a
generation of low-caste leaders has now enjoyed political power in
India’s most populous provinces. Accused of corruption and
incompetence, they have ended up advancing group claims and identities
rather than individual rights for all. The most conspicuous of the new
profiteers of caste is Mayawati, the Dalit chief minister of Uttar
Pradesh’s 180m citizens. She has amassed a great personal fortune; her
penchant for solitaire diamonds and huge statues of herself has
further undermined the state’s investment-starved economy.”
"The destruction of the Babri Masjid, far from being 'spontaneous,' as bigwigs of the Bharatiya Janata Party have claimed, was systematically planned, 'tailor-made'—as revealed by the mode of assault, the small number of kar sevaks (with faces hidden) assigned to the job of demolition, the easy availability of the instruments of destruction, and other preparations onsite. A whole range of sangh parivar organisations under the hegemony of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the Shiv Sena were involved. All this is well known and it is only the detail, the nuances, and the specifics of the evidence presented on the actual perpetrators and the enablers of the vile and barbaric act that will be of fresh interest. Several second-rung BJP leaders have reportedly been indicted by the Liberhan Commission. But what about the role of the top-rung BJP leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi? This part of the Commission's report probably has the most political punch. The judge has reportedly held them culpable in the matter of creating communal discord, for being party to the fateful decisions, and for lacking the capacity to stand up to the RSS, which used them as pliable 'tools.'"
"There is a phrase in Hindustani—khoda pahad, nikli chuhiya—to describe the underwhelming outcome of an exercise over which one has laboured long and hard.
"Justice M.S. Liberhan worked diligently for 17 years through more than 40 extensions of his initial three-month brief to produce a 1029-page report full of facts and details about the events and circumstances leading up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. His conclusion is unsurprising but unequivocal and bold: the demolition was part of a well-thought out plan—a 'joint common enterprise'—hatched by the top leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the last organisation correctly described as a 'front organisation' of the RSS.
"Unfortunately, the recommendations which emerge out of his daring excavations are so mousy that they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the forthright conclusions which precede them. After having indicted 68 individuals for bringing the country to the brink of communal disaster, Justice Liberhan doesn’t call for the filing of charges against those that have escaped being arraigned so far in the demolition case, nor does he speak of expedited criminal proceedings."
"Nearly 3,000 members of India's Sikh community were massacred after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984. Rahul Bedi, one of the first journalists to reach the affected areas in the capital, Delhi, recalls events.
"Soon after news of Mrs Gandhi's killing by her Sikh bodyguards spread, Hindu mobs swung into action—like they did elsewhere in the city armed with voters' lists—in Trilokpuri against the low-caste Sikhs inhabiting one-roomed tenements on either side of two narrow alleyways barely 150 yards long.
"With local police connivance they blocked entry to the neighbourhood with massive concrete water pipes and stationed guards armed with sticks atop them.
"For the next three days marauding groups armed with cleavers, scythes, kitchen knives and scissors took breaks to eat and regroup in between executing their bloodthirsty mission.
"When as a reporter then with the Indian Express newspaper I along with two other colleagues visited the area on the eve of Mrs Gandhi' funeral, both lanes were littered with bodies, body parts and hair brutally hacked off, forcing us to walk precariously on tip-toe.
"It was impossible to place one's foot flat on the ground for fear of stepping on either a severed limb or a body."
"In the last two phases of voting NCDHR’s National Dalit Election Watch (NDEW) has recorded 263 incidents of election violence against Dalits, formerly known as ‘untouchables’ in India. The violence manifests in several forms with Dalits being threatened, abused and prevented from voting and also violently attacked after the polls.
"According to NDEW the largest number of incidents was recorded in Bihar, which so far has been one of the areas worst affected by post election violence. In one horrific incident on 23 April, 74 houses in Musahar (Dalit) Tola in Ranti Panchayat (Madhubani District of Bihar), housing over 300 people, were burnt down. Another 70 houses were looted.
"In Andhra Pradesh in Guntur district on the same day a ‘social boycott’ was imposed on a village barring Dalits from shopping or accessing any village services.
"Before elections Dalit communities are threatened and ordered not to vote or vote for candidates against their choice. On some occasions they have found their names deleted from voting lists and/or their proof of identity has not been accepted at the polling station preventing them from voting.
"In Orissa, which saw a spate of attacks against Dalit Christians throughout 2008, politicians ‘threatened to cut off people’s hands, burn houses, and chase them out of the village, if they did not vote as instructed,’ NDEW reports."
"As the BJP activists warmed to the discussion, one young leader told me that the scale of the violence had been exaggerated and that many Christians had burnt their own 'toota-phoota,' or dilapidated, homes in order to get government compensation. 'You have to understand that they are lazy,' he said. 'If they stay in camp instead of going home, they get free food and relief. They don’t have to work. And then they know the money they are getting from America will stop the minute they leave the camps.'
"Ashok Sahu, a young RSS activist (not to be confused with the BJP candidate currently in jail for hate speech) then listed out a number of sins that he said the Christians were guilty of. These included falsely accusing Hindus of committing crimes, abducting Hindu girls, grabbing adivasi land and reservation quotas, and, of course, engaging in religious conversion."
"Recently the Archbishop Cheenath of the state said that the elections in the Kandhmamal district should be postponed as the refugees living in the camps are not able to return. The reason is that many of them who returned were threatened by the local Bajrang Dal workers and associates. They were told to renounce Christianity, convert to Hinduism, pay the fine, withdraw the cases and vote for the candidate who they will be told to, obviously BJP candidate. Many of those who tried to return with such hostile conditions awaiting them if they return, came back, some to the camps others to unknown destinations."
"Jarnail Singh, a veteran Delhi reporter, tossed his shoe—a solid Reebok trainer—at Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. Jarnail works for the Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran (The Daily Awakening). For the Home Minister, it was a rude awakening. Jarnail Singh was miffed with the Congress Party for fielding two tainted candidates from parliamentary constituencies in Delhi in our ongoing national elections.
"The two, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, are tainted by allegations of having participated in the anti-Sikh violence that followed the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984. That violence remains one of the ugliest chapters in independent India’s history. As many as 3,000 people were slaughtered in a few days, with some being burnt alive by mobs who also looted Sikh properties and homes of billions of rupees."
"If India Inc had its way, Narendra Modi might well be the country's next prime minister. A day after Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata hugged the Gujarat chief minister and showered praise on his leadership, holding Modi and his state up as an example for the rest of the country, corporate bigwigs Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal added their voice to the growing chorus."
"By the time Tata was through, the industrialist found himself locked in a hug with Modi who strode across the podium with open arms.
"'I have to say that today there is no state like Gujarat. Under Modi’s leadership, Gujarat is head and shoulders above any state,' Tata, who last year moved his small-car project from Bengal to Gujarat, told the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit in Ahmedabad."
As Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat and a leader of the fascistic Hindu-right BJP party, Modi presided over the 2002 Gujarat massacre, a state-sponsored paramilitary assault on the Muslim population of Ahmedabad led by Hindu-right organizations. Two thousand were killed, tens of thousands maimed, hundreds raped or sexually tortured, and as many as 100,000 made homeless.
"Parliament - meeting under the shadow of the November 26-29 attacks on India’s commercial hub resulting in close to 200 deaths - approved the legislations on Thursday with no considered debate and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pushing them past amendments tabled by several parliamentarians.
"One law, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, seeks to establish a new police organisation to investigate acts of terrorism and other statutory offences.
"The other, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Act, radically changes procedures for trying those accused of terrorism, extends the periods of police custody and of detention without charges, denies bail to foreigners, and the reverses the burden of proof in many instances.
"'The UAPA Act is particularly vile, and will have the effect of turning India into a virtual police state,' says Colin Gonsalves, executive director of the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network. 'It basically brings back a discredited law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA), except for admitting confessions made to a police officer as legal evidence.'
"POTA was an extremely unpopular law, which the UPA government abrogated upon coming to power in 2004 in response to innumerable complaints of its selective and discriminatory use against India's Muslim minority, and its cavalier and irresponsible application to offences not even remotely connected with terrorism.
"In its desperation to be seen to be taking a tough stand against terrorism, the Manmohan Singh government also tabled the NIA Bill earlier this week. The new agency will specifically investigate offences related to atomic energy, aviation and maritime transport, weapons of mass destruction, and Left-wing extremism, besides terrorism.
"Significantly, it excludes Right-wing terrorism, which has become a greater menace in India.
"POTA and its predecessor, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), were extensively abused. They typically targeted the religious minorities, specifically Muslims, and allowed for their harassment and persecution.
"The TADA story is especially horrifying. Some 67,000 people were arrested under it, but only 8,000 put on trial, and a mere 725 convicted.
"Official TADA Review Committees themselves found the law’s application untenable in all but 5,000 cases. In 1993, Gujarat witnessed no terrorism, but more than 19,000 people were still arrested under TADA.
"Religious minorities were selectively targeted under both Acts. For instance, in Rajasthan, of 115 TADA detainees, 112 were Muslims and three Sikhs.
"Gujarat had a worse pattern under POTA, when all but one of the 200-plus detainees were Muslims, the remaining one a Sikh.
"The passing of the two new laws is certain to increase the alienation of India's Muslims from the state. They have been the principal victims of India's anti-terrorism strategy and activities in recent years.
"Muslims are first to be arrested and interrogated after any terrorist incident, even when the victims are Muslims, and although strong evidence has recently emerged of a well-ramified pro-Hindu terrorist network, in which serving and retired army officers were found to be key players."
"A survey of TADA cases reveals many instances of false arrests, police excesses, and extortion. People were imprisoned under the act for matters entirely unconnected with violent political acts. In 1987, six workers of Reliance Industries Limited in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, were arrested under TADA for legitimate trade union activity."
We're told that this atrocious assault on several sites in the city was the work of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba. Vijay Prashad ("The Fires in South Asia," Counterpunch) points out:
"The Lashkar is one of those organizations that emerged in 1991 out of the detritus of the Afghan jihad (it was formed in Kunar province). Carter’s Brzezinski vowed to 'sow shit in the Soviet backyard.' His Afghan toilet overflowed into South Asia."
But was it them? Ayesha Ijaz Khan ("Mumbai Terror Attacks," Counterpunch) writes:
"The fact that the Indian government is accusing Pakistan is taken with a grain of salt as this is not the first time the Indian government has blamed Pakistan, only to find later that Pakistan had nothing to do with the violence it was being accused of. Interestingly, four times previously the Indian government falsely accused Lashkare Taiba directly as the organization sponsoring violent incidents in India, and Pakistan indirectly for harbouring the militant group, although Pakistan officially banned the outfit in 2002.
"In each of the incidents, namely, the Chattisinghpura massacre, the attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, the Malagaon blasts and the Samjhota Express incident, investigations were either refused or revealed that neither Lashkare Taiba nor Pakistan but groups from within India were responsible."
Alexander Cockburn, writing in The Nation, raises the question of perspective:
"No Western journalist chose to bewail a huge human catastrophe when that same chief minister of Maharashtra, Deshmukh [who resigned last week, accepting 'moral responsibility' for the attacks], supervised the destruction of 84,000 homes in Mumbai back in 2004-2005, nearly three times the number rendered homeless in Nagapattinam by the tsunami. 'Many people will be inconvenienced and will have to make sacrifices if the city has to develop,' Deshmukh said then. Once again, the lowly were making sacrifices in the interests of the mighty, many of them real estate gangsters in league with Deshmukh and the ruling Congress party."
Finally, in "Hotel Taj: Icon of Whose India?" the Tamil writer Gnani Sankaran questions where the cameras were pointed, and why. Which is the true icon of Bombay, the Hotel Taj, "where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe congregate," "the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India," or the first site attacked, the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station [better known by its old name, Victoria Terminus, or VT]? It's through the latter that
"Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and building the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis.
"But the [TV] channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No Barkha Dutt [NDTV English news editor] went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards. And the TV cameras did not go to the government-run JJ Hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.
"In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60 hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in detail what transpired there."
"Maqbool Fida Husain, India’s most famous painter, is afraid to go home.
"Mr. Husain is a Muslim who is fond of painting Hindu goddesses, sometimes portraying them nude. That obsession has earned him the ire of a small but organized cadre of Hindu nationalists. They have attacked galleries that exhibit his work, accused him in court of 'promoting enmity' among faiths and, on one occasion, offered an $11 million reward for his head.
"In September, the country’s highest court offered him an unexpected reprieve, dismissing one of the cases against him with the blunt reminder that Hindu iconography, including ancient temples, is replete with nudity. Still, the artist, 93 and increasingly frail, is not taking any chances."
A Muslim Artist and Hindu Images: It's a Volatile Mix (New York Times (June 16, 1998)): "Early last month, members of the far-right Bajrang Dal, upset at a stylized portrait of a Hindu goddess, slipped into Mr. Husain's Bombay apartment, destroyed one painting and mauled several canvases before being arrested by the police."
It's time to stop harassing M F Husain by Shashi Tharoor (Times of India (July 29, 2007)): "The question of why Husain doesn't paint Muslim figures in the nude is a red herring. The Islamic tradition is a different one from either the Hindu or the Western; what causes offence in one is different from what causes offence in another. Islam, after all, prohibits any visual depiction of the Prophet, whereas visualising our gods and goddesses is central to the practice of Hinduism."
"Calling it a 'social vice' and 'a reflection of a perverse mind', the Central government on Friday opposed scrapping of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code even as it came under fire from Delhi high court for its affidavit which contains divergent stands as stated by the home ministry and health ministry.
"CITU is the national trade union front of the Communist Party of India (Marxists) (CPI-M) which leads the ruling Left Front coalition in the state.
"CITU is also one of the largest trade union of workers in the country.
"The call for the August 20 county-wide strike has been given by the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions comprising All India Trade Union Centre (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Labour Progressive Force (LPF), All-India Central Council of Trade Union (AICCTU), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), and All-India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) apart from CITU.
"The six-point charter of demand of the trade unions calls for containment of unprecedented price rise, widening economic disparities, falling real wages and mass-scale violation of labour laws, rising unemployment and increasing atrocities on labourers."
"The main reason for this situation is the rain failure for the last five years resulting in loss of crops and wages for the agriculture labourers who are predominantly Dalits of Kol and Sahriya castes. Not only higher caste farmers but even dalit farmers are committing suicides due to crop failure and indebtedness. The agriculture labourers are dying of hunger, malnutrion and unemployment. This region has been identified with Vidharba region of Maharashtra where as many as 4,453 farmers have committed suicides during 2006. It is reported that as many 200 farmers had committed suicides and an other 250 had died of hunger deaths in Bundelkhand during the last five years. Out of this dalits' share is about 30 % among suicides and 70 % among hunger deaths. 80 % Dalits are on the verge of hunger deaths. As many as 12 dalits in Bundelkhand and 11 dalits in other districts of U.P. committed suicide and as many 25 dalits died of hunger deaths during the year 2007 only.
"In the face of this horrifying calamity the so called dalit Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati had the temerity to claim that not a single man had died neither of hunger death nor had committed suicide in U.P. She also declared that she will scrap the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme which aims at providing 100 days' assured employment to rural labour families."
"In a virtual snub to the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes on Thursday said the state had the 'worst track record' across the country in terms of atrocities on Dalits.
"'Uttar Pradesh continues to be at the top in terms of the number of cases of atrocities against Dalits reported in states across the country. The latest data available with us is for 2006 when the state recorded a whopping 52,827 such cases,' chairman of the Commission Buta Singh told reporters here.
"The statues, along with the portraits and images of Mayawati that stare out from hoarding boards and newspapers across UP, are just one clue as to the extraordinary cult of personality that has grown up around the 'Dalit Queen', a woman whose remarkable rise to power has seen her overcome widespread prejudice against so-called untouchables to lead India's most populous state.
"Diminutive in stature but mighty in her influence, she is currently serving her fourth stint as UP's Chief Minister. Many believe Mayawati, who courts controversy, now has her eyes fixed firmly on the position of Indian prime minister. Crucially, her party holds a simple majority in the state legislature that means she can stay in office unchallenged for a full five-year term, giving her time to project herself further on to the national stage and an opportunity to raise money to fund such a move. All of India is watching."
"The exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin has announced that she will leave India, claiming the conditions she has been living under in Delhi amount to 'virtual house arrest' and that she has been denied urgent medical attention."
"I was born in a Muslim family, but I became an atheist. In course of my training in science, I developed the powers of observation, experiment, analysis, and reasoning. Without reasoning, I found, nothing should be accepted as fact. I have been fighting against injustice, unreason, and prejudice. I exposed the crimes of religion, particularly the injustice and oppression against women."
"The Democratic Party primaries have been putting me in mind of politics in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
"The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is an untouchable woman. Aside from being the first of her caste and sex to have reached this office anywhere in the country, she is perhaps best known for putting up statues of herself and throwing ludicrously extravagant parties for her birthday at public expense.
"The ever-worsening conditions of untouchables in the state, which is one of the poorest and most socially backward in India, have not diminished her popularity among them. It’s as though, despairing of general upliftment, they’ve settled on the obscene aggrandizement of one among them. The statues, the billboards, the diamonds and feasts and rare bouquets for her birthday only enhance the chief minister’s appeal in their eyes. Having long given up on anyone using power on their behalf, much less their partaking of it themselves, their highest wish is merely to see one of their own enjoy it to the fullest.
"So it is with supporters of the low-caste candidates in the Democratic race. No one really expects that the actual policies of a President Obama would do anything to lighten the oppression of black people in this country, or that a second Clinton presidency would do any more for women than the first one did.
"The pathetic hope is that simply having one or the other of them raised to such an office will in itself give his or her respective section a little more dignity."
"In the case of Taslima Nasreen it was the CPI(M) and not any religious or sectarian group who first tried to ban her book Dwikhondito some years ago. The ban was lifted by the Calcutta High Court and the book was in the market and on best-seller lists in West Bengal for several years. During those years Taslima Nasreen lived and worked as a free person in Kolkata without any threat to her person, without being the cause of public disorder, protests or demonstrations.
"Ironically, Taslima Nasreen’s troubles in India began immediately after the Nandigram uprising when the people of Nandigram, mostly Dalits and Muslims, rose to resist the West Bengal government’s attempt to take over their land and tens of thousands of people marched in Kolkata to protest the government’s actions. Within days a little known group claiming to speak for the Muslim community asked for a ban on Dwikhondito and demanded that Taslima Nasreen be deported. The CPI(M)-led government of West Bengal immediately caved in to the demand, informed her that it could not offer her security and lost no time in deporting her from West Bengal against her will. The Congress-led UPA government has condoned this act by holding her in custody in Delhi and refusing, thus far, to extend her visa and relieve her of her public humiliation. They have once again played the suicidal card of pitting minority communalism against majority communalism, a game that can only end in disaster.
"Inevitably, hoping to make political capital out of the situation, the BJP is publicly shedding crocodile tears over Taslima Nasreen, going to the extent of offering her asylum in Gujarat. It seems to expect people to forget that the BJP, VHP and RSS cadres have been at the forefront of harassing, persecuting, threatening and vandalising newspaper offices, television studios, galleries, cinema halls, filmmakers, artists and writers. Or that they have forced MF Husain, one of India’s best known painters, into exile.
"Meanwhile, in states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, away from the public glare of press conferences and television cameras, journalists are being threatened and even imprisoned. Prashant Rahi from Uttarakhand, Praful Jha from Chhattisgarh, Srisailum from Andhra Pradesh, P. Govind Kutty from Kerala, are a few examples. As we speak, Govind Kutty, who is on a hunger strike in prison, is being force-fed, bound hand and foot. Scores of ordinary people, including people like civil rights activist Binayak Sen, have been arrested and held illegally under false charges."
"I am a Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali. I find it hard to believe that I am no longer wanted in Bengal.
"I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on in Bengal. But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses? A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power, who do exactly what they think fit. An insignificant individual, I must now live life on my own terms and write about what I believe in and hold dear. It is not my desire to harm, malign, or deceive. I do not lie. I try not to be offensive. I am but a simple writer who neither knows nor understands the dynamics of politics. The way in which I was turned into a political pawn, however, and treated at the hands of base politicians, beggars belief. For what end, you may well ask. A few measly votes. The force of fundamentalism, which I have opposed and fought for many years, has only been strengthened by my defeat."
writers and activists defend Nasrin:
"'I oppose the [Left-Front] West Bengal government despite being a Leftist. I oppose it because I am a Leftist,' said veteran playwright and activist Habib Tanvir. His word summed up the spirit of a forum of writers and intellectuals that came together to protest the clamping of 'free speech and expression', in the aftermath of the Taslima Nasreen episode.
"Author-activists Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Ashis Nandy and Girish Karnad were also part of the forum.
"The Congress didn't mount a half-way credible challenge to Modi. It did its utmost to duck issues pertaining to the violence of 2002, whose victims continue to be excluded, discriminated against and re-victimised. It carefully avoided any reference to the pogrom, to the state's culpability in planning and executing it, and to the BJP's failure to deliver justice to the victims.
"Right since it came into power nationally, the Congress hasn't lifted its little finger to secure justice for the victims. In Gujarat too, it refused to take a clear stand against Modi's brazenly communal political mobilisation strategy. It adopted a 'soft Hindutva' posture, and competed with Modi on his own terrain. Each time Modi cited Godhra, the Congress would talk about the Akshardham temple attack.
"Even worse, the Congress recruited anti-Modi BJP rebels, many of whom deeply implicated in the 2002 carnage, such as former junior home minister Goverdhan Zadaphia. It gave tickets to many, thus damaging its own credibility and undermining the possibility of projecting itself as secular."
"In a violent protest on Wednesday in Kolkata [Calcutta] of umbrella organization of several small Islamic outfits All-India Minority Forum set up roadblocks in the city and demanded cancellation of 45-year-old Nasreen's visa, which expires on February 17, 2008.
"Protestors torched cars, at least 43 people were hurt, more than 100 arrests were made, and soldiers of the Indian army patrolled the streets to control the protest.
"'The Kolkata police have advised me to leave the city on grounds of my security, which is why I have come to Jaipur,' Nasreen told The Hindu, adding: 'I have no place to go. India is my home, and I would like to keep living in this country till I die.'
"The state secretary Biman Bose of West Bengal's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) had said on Wednesday that the author's visa should be cancelled if her presence was causing problems, a statement he backtracked on Thursday saying that only the federal government had the power to deny a visa extension."
On what the new exile means for Nasrin personally and as a writer:
Nasrin: "East [Bengal] has already closed the doors to me... so I want to stay in West Bengal where I feel at home."
fellow writer Shib Narain Ray: "Like us, she is a Bengali, and she only writes in Bengali. She cannot enter Bangladesh, so her only option is to live amongst Bengalis in Calcutta if she has to exist as a writer of some consequence."
On the role of the Left-Front government of West Bengal:
Fall & fall of Buddha [Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee] by Sugata Roy (Times of India, November 25, 2007):
"The role reversal didn't come in a day. It began the day when the CM banned Nasreen's novel Dwikhandita on grounds that some of its passages (pg 49-50) contained some 'deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any group by insulting its religion or religious belief.' What's worse is Buddha banned its printing at the behest of some city 'intellectuals' close to him. This was the first assault on a writer's freedom in the post-Emergency period. Later, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court lifted the ban.
"But the court order was not enough to repair the damage. [...] And when fundamentalists took the Taslima to the streets, they were at a loss. Or else, why should Left Front chairman Biman Bose lose his senses and say that Taslima should leave the state for the sake of peace? Or, senior CPM leaders like West Bengal Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim say that Taslima was becoming a threat to peace? Even worse, former police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee — now in the dog house for his alleged role in the Rizwanur death — went to Taslima's Kolkata residence and put pressure on her to leave the state. This was before last week's violence in Kolkata."
"The violence was rooted in the CPM's decision to 'capture' two of Nandigram's three blocks, over which it lost control. Their people had got disenchanted with it because it tried to impose a Special Economic Zone on them. The 25,000-acre SEZ was to be created by forcibly acquiring land for Indonesia's Salim group—a front for the super-corrupt dictator Gen Suharto.
"A particularly disgraceful part of the operation was sexual violence. Another was the treatment of political adversaries as an alien enemy population. Most egregious was the state machinery's complete subordination to party interests."
"In November, CPI-M supporters and armed thugs forcibly ended the blockade. In retribution for the protest, they attacked villagers supporting the BUPC, burned down their homes, threatened further violence if villagers went to the authorities, and humiliated them by compelling them to join CPI-M rallies. The state administration removed police posts before CPI-M supporters advanced into the area, strongly suggesting governmental complicity in the abuses."
"By November there had been a clear gathering of CPI(M) cadres and militia in the area, as well as stockpiling of arms. In early November 2007, the armed Harmad Bahini struck back with the full support of the state. They violently 'reclaimed' the 'lost' villages in Nandigram that had come under the control of the BUPC. The police was conspicuous by its inaction even as frightened villagers, caught in the violent crossfire between the two main contending political parties, fled their homes for fear of death or injury.
"On November 12, when the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force—India's national guard] finally entered Nandigram, the CRPF director S.I.S. Ahmed said, 'The private armies, comprised CPI(M) cadres, have already captured the area. It was only after that the CRPF personnel were allowed in. Now there is not much that the CRPF can do, except the maintain status quo and protect the private armies.' Finally, ‘peace’ reigned in Nandigram, hooded, bloodied and mauled, witness to the terror writ large on people’s faces.
"The CPI(M) has resorted to rampant sexual violence, using it as a weapon of power and intimidation to browbeat all the women of Nandigram who participated in large numbers in the movement against land acquisition."
"'The only good thing with regard to Muslims is that in the last 30 years of Left rule in West Bengal, they were safe. What happened in Nandigram now puts question mark on that, too.'—Manzoor Alam, general secretary, All India Milli Council
"This is, perhaps, the worst-kept secret of the Nandigram violence that’s now being talked about openly. And is reason for embarrassment to the CPM which swears by its secular credentials: a majority of those targeted by its party cadres as they reclaim their turf are Muslim."
"Train passengers were stranded, several flights cancelled and buses torched in various places on Monday as West Bengal shut down over the ongoing bloodbath in Nandigram that has allegedly been sponsored by the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
"The 48-hour 'immobilisation' programme of the Trinamool Congress and a 24-hour general strike called by Congress and Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) saw life in the state coming to a virtual standstill."
"A West Bengal court awarded life imprisonment to two Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) activists Wednesday for the 2006 murder of Singur girl Tapasi Malik.
"The court had convicted the two Tuesday for the murder of 18-year-old Tapasi, who was among those protesting land acquisition for the Tata Motor's Nano car project in Singur."
Tapasi Malik, the daughter of a landless laborer, had been active in the protests against the forced eviction of 6000 families from her locality by the CPI(M)-led state government of West Bengal to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for use by Tata Motors, India's largest automaker. The Telegraph (Calcutta) reported on December 20, 2006 that "[e]ighteen-year-old Tapasi had become a hero of sorts for the small section of Singur still resisting Tata Motors’ small-car project. She was throttled, dragged to the Tata plot, dumped into a pit and set on fire."
Tapasi Malik's mother looking at her daughter's photograph
"If and when ordinary mortals like you and me buy land, we have to search high and low for an affordable piece, hire brokers, make several trips to different sites, and borrow bank loans, which we must repay through our nose over 10 or 15 years. Besides these high transaction costs in time and money, we must pay stamp duty to the government, which is usually a good eight percent of the land’s value.
"None of this applies to India’s biggest business house (and one of its oldest industrial families), namely, the Tatas—at least as far as the Singur car project is concerned. The Tatas are no ordinary mortals. In fact so special are they that West Bengal’s Left Front government woos them with the choice of six different sites, besides the Uttarakhand and Orissa governments. They choose one at Singur, next to an expressway, in one of Bengal’s most fertile tracts, just 45 km from Kolkata. But they do so after stipulating a series of conditions.
"The government must procure the land for them. This will cost Rs 140 crores. But the Tatas will pay only Rs 20 crores for it.
"They will pay no stamp duty.
"They must have a contiguous plot of 997 acres (almost 400 hectares, or 40 lakh square metres), although no Indian car factory has anything approaching this area. (Even Tata Motors’s giant Pune factory has only 188 acres.)
"The factory proper, say the Tatas, will have a built-up area of only 1.5 lakh sq m, or 4 percent of the land acquired.
"The land must be fenced off and Sec 144 must be imposed to suppress protests by the 12,000 affected people.
"That’s not all. The Tatas say the government must 'compensate' them for 'sacrificing' the 16 percent excise duty exemption offered by Uttarakhand if they locate the car factory there. This means 'upfront infrastructural assistance' worth Rs 160 crore.
"The Tatas claim the Rs 10,000 crore investment will directly generate 2,000 jobs. But noted economist Amit Bhadhuri estimates it will produce just about 300, besides indirect employment for 900. In the process, Singur’s flourishing economy, where two-thirds of land is multi-cropped with vegetables and paddy, will be devastated, along with the livelihoods not just of landowners and sharecroppers (bargadars), but of landless workers and rural artisans.
"Singur will witness counter-reform, a reversal of the most successful land reform ever undertaken in West Bengal. Even the bargadars’ share in the land (75 percent to the absentee landlord’s 25 percent) will be upturned in the land compensation formula. No wonder, the West Bengal government has used repressive methods, including mass arrests, Sec 144 and physical attacks to enforce the sweetheart deal."
"The population is predominantly a mix of Muslim and lower caste Hindus, who have lived harmoniously together for a long time. The area has been till recently a political stronghold of the CPI and the CPI (M).
"More than anything else the area is famous for its historical role in the struggle against British colonial rule and during the Tebagha movement in the mid-forties when peasants in many parts of pre-Partition Bengal captured vast quantities of land demanding it their right as tillers of the soil.
"How the Police Firing Started
"On 14 March 2007 around 9.30 a.m. hundreds of policemen gathered at two entry points into Nandigram—one from the Tekhali Bridge, Gokulnagar, Adhikaripara and the other from the side of Bhangabera Bridge, near Sonachura. Apart from policemen local leaders and cadres of Communist Party of India (Marxist) were also present.
"The deponents claim that the people were peaceful. Only one deponent said there was stone throwing by boys and girls. There is no evidence of the carriage of any arms by the villagers.
"There was an announcement by the police party asking the villagers to allow them to repair the 'bund' [embankment, into which the villagers had dug a trench to defend themselves against developers and the state]. People replied that they would undertake this work themselves. There was very little dialogue over this issue and very soon the police went into the offensive. Police fired tear gas and immediately followed with bullets & rubber bullets, chased the people, mostly women & children, hitting out with lathis and iron rods, and firing. They were chased, and many were caught and mercilessly beaten, with sexual assault, including rape.
"The lack of parleying seems to suggest that the carnage caused by police firing on the retreating mass, mainly of women & children, was pre-planned.
"The depositions before the Tribunal also clearly bring out that police went on firing after the people started to flee and that they were not firing towards the legs.
"The police behaviour was brutal. According to one deposition Uttam Pal, after being shot down, was asking for water. Policemen spat on his face and beat up those trying to give him water.
"Several depositions before the Tribunal accused policemen of rape. Apart from rape, many women have deposed about being stripped, molestation (the breasts being frequent targets), indecent exposure, and filthy language. One deponent accuses policemen of having slashed her breasts. Several accuse policemen of forcing rod/lathi/gunbarrel into sex organs and turning the insert in some cases.
"The evidence definitely points towards serious sexual assault, including rape, by policemen.
"CPI (M) Cadre Allegedly In Police Uniform
"The deponents before the Tribunal spoke of the presence among policemen of others in police dress but wearing slippers (chappals [sandals]), black masks and red arm/wrist bands. There is also reference to others in white dress (sari) and 'ghomta' (veil) pointing out people. These persons were also firing guns and assaulting people with iron rods. They were even more vicious than the policemen.
"A large number of deponents agree that they were cadres of the CPI (M) and some of them identify and name the cadres too."
"The charismatic leader was born into a 'Chamar' or leatherworkers'
family — at the bottom of India's rigid caste hierarchy — on the
outskirts of New Delhi.
"She first became chief minister of the sprawling state in 1995 and was
India's first woman Dalit or 'untouchable' chief minister.
"Although her first term lasted less than six months, 'behenji' or
'sister' as she is respectfully called, became an instant icon for
millions of India's oppressed and marginalised.
"And Mayawati has maintained her popularity despite numerous
allegations of corruption — she dismissed them as an upper-caste
conspiracy — and her unabashed display of wealth.
"Two years ago she described herself as a 'living goddess' and said
that she had never married in order to 'to improve the lot' of Dalits.
Mayawati, as she is called, is leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Bahujan samaj means "the majority section," a reference to the oppressed majority of untouchables, other lower castes, tribals, and religious minorities including Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. This coalition is theoretical; in practice, the party is based among untouchables, who make up an unusually high proportion of the population in the backward, populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The BSP, though it occasionally pretends to some form of socialism, is a pro-capitalist, caste-based party with no significant ties to the workers' movement. Three times in the past the BSP has taken power in Uttar Pradesh in alliance with the fascistic, Hindu-right BJP (in 1995, 1997, and 2002), with Mayawati at its head all three times. This time it has won a narrow majority in its own right.
"The Chief Minister [Mayawati], who would accompany Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for electioneering on Monday in Gujarat, said it was her party's 'moral responsibility' to support the BJP in Gujarat as it was supporting the BSP in UP.
"Mayawati said the decision would not have any 'adverse' effect on BSP's Muslim vote bank in Uttar Pradesh.
"Rejecting the Congress charge on Modi's role in the communal violence that rocked Gujarat following Godhra massacre, Mayawati said 'a Chief Minister will never do anything which will bring bad name to his own government.'
"'The charges against Modi are baseless,' she said."
"Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may be trying to take West Bengal into the new age with the Tata Motors’ small-car project at Singur but Left Front partner CPI has revived the ghost of a fractious past by forcing the management of Hindustan Motors to declare suspension of work at India’s oldest automobile facility.
"Hindustan Motors today announced suspension of work at its Uttarpara plant near Kolkata after a month-long agitation by a section of workers backed by the CPI. With the Government keeping itself out, operations at the 70-year-old plant, which employs around 4,500 workers grouped under five registered unions, had been severely hit.
"Incidentally, CITU, the CPM’s labour arm, had opposed the agitation from the very beginning and its supporters clashed violently with those blocking access to the plant yesterday. But its union, which secured only 36% of the votes in the last election, lacks bargaining power which rests with the HM & Hyderabad Industries Ltd Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union (SSKU).
"Kali Ghosh, state CITU secretary, said: 'The unilateral decision of the SSKU to call a strike and the hooliganism that followed cannot be supported.'"
"A scuffle broke out between agitating workers and police at the factory gate of Hindustan Motors' Uttarpara plant in West Bengal's Hooghly district on Tuesday, police sources said.
"Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Sreerampore Ajay Thakur said that a scuffle broke out between the agitating workers of the Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union (SSKU) and the police as the SSKU was preventing 'willing' workers to join work.
"Thakur said police has dispersed agitating workers.
"However, Amitabha Bhattacharya, president of SSKU claimed that eight SSKU workers were injured in the police lathicharge. He alleged that rival CITU was bringing temporary outside workers to work in the factory, which SSKU workers objected and tried to stop their entry."
"Work resumed at the Hindustan Motors' Uttarpara unit, Thursday with some unions withdrawing support to the ongoing strike and the management taking back the 'suspension of operation' notice.
"Unions like Centre for Indian Trade Union - and two other unions - SSU and IFTU - withdrew their support to the strike to demand regularisation of salary and resumption of payment of dearness allowance that has remained frozen since 2001.
"However, workers affiliated to the Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union - and INTUC, which are spearheading the strike - had stayed away and continued with their movement at the factory gate demanding Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's intervention to resolve the stalemate."
"[...t]he strike in March-April by the majority workers' union to protest against the suspension of 15 employees and alleged non-payment of salary for two months, took a heavy toll on its production as well as renewal programme. 'We were producing 1,000 units of Ambassador before March and during the strike the production came down to zero. But now about 92 percent of the workforce has signed the settlement and things are coming back into normalcy,' said Santhanam."
union member attacked by police for defending strike
(image via SSKU website)
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).
"About 100 people were arrested in various parts of West Bengal on Friday as bandh [strike] supporters beat up government officials, torched a bus and disrupted rail and road traffic during an opposition-sponsored general strike to protest the police firing at Nandigram.
"Roads wore a deserted look as vehicles kept off roads while train services on both Howrah and Sealdah divisions were disrupted.
"The strike was called by Trinamool Congress, Congress, BJP and Socialist Unity Centre of India in protest against the police action on the villagers of Nandigram that claimed at least 14 lives on Wednesday."