Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Tears for Our Brave Jawans” ?

Star Ananda, the television face of West Bengal’s most powerful bourgeois media group, had a panel discussion on the killing of Kishenji, the CPI (Maoist) leader. The intention was put CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta on the mat, for having dared to express some sympathy for the slain Kishenji.

Guruas Dasgupta’s stance is not new. Within reformist politics, he has always shown exemplary courage. Back in the 1970s, when he was a CPI youth leader, he was well-known as one of the people defending tortured Naxalites during the notorious Sidhhartha Sankar Ray regime. But back then, even Indira Gandhi was hiding her politics under the mask of socialism. Today, when unabashed nationalism and economic liberalism rule, when India is seeking to position itself as not merely a regional power but as an emerging global powerhouse, Dasgupta, who also happens to be a leading trade unionist, the General Secretary of the AITUC, and an MP from Ghatal, is the most important mainstream left leader to have questioned the entire story behind Kishenji’s death. Like Varvara Rao, he has questioned whether there was truly an encounter or whether Kishenji had been arrested and then killed in cold blood.

Among the various modes of attack on Dasgupta, one came from police and ex-army people, including the left’s one time darling, General Shankar Roychowdhury. The point was, people shed copious tears when someone like Kishenji is killed, but when our brave jawans lay down their lives, whether in Kargil or elsewhere, whether they are soldiers, the paramilitary if the police, people ignore their heroic deaths in defence of the country.

We should consider a few brief points here, which can be developed at later times, but which do need at least a summary articulation.

First, what is or should be the revolutionary attitude to the armed forces, to the police, etc? Is it not obvious, someone might ask, that even if a revolution does take place, for law and order maintenance, for peace-keeping, for myriad reasons we will continue to need the police? And is it not even more obvious that as long as we have threats from across the border we must have an alert army? And finally, even today, whatever your criticism of governments, should you not salute the heroic jawans for doing their duty?

Any revolutionary, who answers these simply by quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin, or from any other chosen canonical figure, is engaging in sterile politics. If we arrive at conclusions similar to what thy said, it has to be on the basis of our reflections on the current reality.

Why will we need the army, and why do we need it now? The Indian army is not a merely silent actor carrying out the will of the people expressed through their elected members of parliament wehose majority determines the composition of the government and the shape of policy, as official theory would have us believe. As the recent debate over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act showed, the army is an active and vocal shaper of policies. The chief Minister of a province, an elected representative, wanted the AFSPA lifted from some parts of the province. The army replied that this was not acceptable to it. Any talk of modifications of the AFSPA has been met with strident opposition from the army. It is therefore necessary to mention briefly what the AFSPA is about. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is one of the more draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order". It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the "seven sisters". The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel. This legislation is sought to be justified by the Government of India, on the plea that it is required to stop the North East states from seceeding from the Indian Union. The 1972 amendments to the AFSPA extended the power to declare an area disturbed to the Central Government. In the 1958 version of the AFSPA only the state governments had this power. In the 1972 Lok Sabha debates it was argued that extending this power to the Central Government would take away the State's authority. In the 1958 debates the authority and power of the states in applying the AFSPA was a key issue. The Home Minister had argued that the AFSPA broadened states' power because they could call in the military whenever they chose. The 1972 amendment shows that the Central Government is no longer concerned with the state's power. Rather, the Central Government now has the ability to overrule the opinion of a state governor and declare an area disturbed. The army can shoot to kill, under the powers of section 4(a), for the commission or suspicion of the commission of the following offenses: acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons, carrying weapons, or carrying anything which is capable of being used as a fire-arm or ammunition. To justify the invocation of this provision, the officer need only be "of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order" and only give "such due warning as he may consider necessary".

The army can arrest anyone without a warrant under section 4(c) who has committed, is suspected of having committed or of being about to commit, a cognisable offense and use any amount of force "necessary to effect the arrest".

Section 5 says that the army has to hand over arrested persons to the police with the "least possible delay". There is no definition in the act of what constitutes the least possible delay. As a result, arbitrary arrests are regular.

Section 6 gives full immunity to the army for any action, since no legal proceeding can be brought against any member of the armed forces acting under the AFSPA, without the permission of the Central Government.

According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, some 8000 persons who have “disappeared” cannot be traced because of laws like the AFSPA which frees the Indian army from any accountability in Kashmir. Our brave jawans, in other words, are busier killing Kashmiri youth than in fighting in Kargil.

This raises another, even more basic question – what is the Indian army doing in Kashmir? Answer – trying to hold on to valuable real estate. If Kashmir is an integral part of India, why does India spend so much time killing civilians of that part of India? Why does the army and the paramilitary forces beat up journalists for covering incidents of protest in Kashmir, to say nothing of the Kashmiris who are routinely killed, tortured, sexually assaulted? Despite all media hype to the contrary, when has anyone proved in a court of law that Maoists assaulted or raped women the way the army and the paramilitary do with impunity in Kashmir, in Manipur, and anywhere else?

There is another important difference that one feels should be highlighted. It is true, that of late, surrendered Maoists (or are they captured Maoists or locals cxompelled to play roles taught by the state?) have said things about how the CPI (Maoist) tortures people, and forces them to do certain things. It is also known that if you hold so-called courts where armed guerrillas are all over the place, verdicts contrary to the ones sought by the guerrillas might not be delivered. Nevertheless, the bulk of people joining the CPI (Maoists) have done so out of certain ideological-political commitments. One can debate the precise nature of that ideology, as we in Radical socialist have repeatedly done. For that, the present author was once attacked as a degenerate by a Maoist supporter. But one has to make a distinction between an institution like the state, which prints Gandhi all voer the place, including in every note, which claims it is there to upholds the constitution, and then uses massive violence. The “brave jawans” are cannon fodder of the state. At the same time, in order to make them feel important, in order to keep them happy while they do the dirty work of the state, the state has various sops – ranging from alcohol at low rates to, in “disturbed areas”, the right to rape and kill with impunity.

It is true, that deaths of young men, even in uniform, are sad losses to the country and to their families most certainly. But these deaths are very often unnecessary deaths, created by contending states and their struggles for power and their conflicting ambitions. When we re asled why we do not shed tears for jawans who died fighting the Maoists, we need to ask, exactly why are those jawans being sent to fight? In vast tracts of India, tribals are repressed. Had the state spent half the money it does for Green Hunt and similar operations, on real development for the people, supplying them with education, health care, providing them with opportunities to earn more , would the CPI(Maoist) have found such strong support in those areas? But the state cannot do it. The Indian elite can enrich itself, can amass vast amount of capital, by superexploiting adivasis, by repeatedly evicting them whenever mineral wealth is to be extracted, and so forth. So the jawans who are dying in Green Hunt or in Manipur or in Kashmir, even if they have been led to believe, through repeated propaganda drives that they are serving the country, are in precise fact serving the country’s rulers.

Before shedding tears for them, will General Roychowdjhury shed tears for the unnamed and unnumbered adivasis who across india lose land, way of life, and are tortured for ever standing up and protesting (I am leaving aside those killed, for of course, General Roychowdhury and all his cothinkers will yell that everyone killed must be a Maoist)?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

West Bengal: The Class Struggle is Not Over

For a long time, the CPI(M) had been mistakenly identified with class struggle. As a result, there was much elation on the Right after 13 May 2011, when it was evident that Mamata Banerjee would head a rightwing government in the province of West Bengal, earlier ruled for 34 years by the CPI(M). A totally stunned CPI(M) has been in no position to wage any kind of struggle, since this party and its cadres all the way to the village panchayat level had become accustomed to police protection and government support whenever it wanted to wage a “struggle”.

But the working class found new channels to express itself. Unorganised sector workers have sarted organizing themselves. An 'Asangothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha' (Militant Forum of Unorganised Sector Workers) was formed by June 2011. For three months, the organizers campaigned among different sections of the unorganized workers. An early deputation to the new government, which had promised Parivartan (change) had elicited a simple response: we have just now come to power, so we need some time. Incidentally, the labour minister in the new government is a renegade ex-Naxalite.

From 6th to 8th September, for three days, close to 11,000 workers gathered at the Metro Channel, Calcutta’s usual place for open air meetings and gatherings. The principal demands were:

# Recognition and issuing of identity cards to all unorganised sector workers (including sex workers) ;

# Fixation of minimum wage for all unorganised sector workers as per the norms of the 15th Indian Labour Conference , along with strict implementation of the Minimum Wages Act;

# Provision of cheap food for all, starting with 7 kgs of rice per adult at Rs. 2 per kg;

# Strict implementation of all provisions, especially 100 days of work, in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, with expansion to a guarantee of 270 days of work for all rural and urban workers;

#Inclusion of all unorganised sector workers, including workers of closed factories, as priority group or BPL in the 2011 Socioeconomic Survey

# Effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act);

#Permanent status for all contract workers employed in perennial jobs in the organised sector;

#Recognition and extension of facilities available to all socially backward castes and tribes.

On the 8th, a deputation went to meet ministers. The response was blunt b—the government has a shortage of funds, so nothing can be done now. Few things have revealed the class character of the government so clearly. The workers too have thrown down the gauntlet, telling the government that unless their demands are met they will step up the level of agitation.

In India, at the moment, 37 per cent of the people have a body-mass index of less than 18.5, indicating they are suffering from malnutrition. The demand for making the PDS a stronger one is a rock-bottom minimum. The callous reaction of the government to this, while it discusses means of keeping the middle class and upper class voters happy, is something that will have more repercussions in days to come.

As callous as the government have been the major media. The Bengal Post alone carried a positive news. On the 9th, The Telegraph printed a photo with a caption that said it all:

Return of rally raj

- CITY CENTRE CHOKES, citizens suffer


Processions by two unorganised workers' associations converge on Metro Channel on Thursday and (above) traffic stalls on the Park Street flyover.

What better a way of telling the working class that they are not citizens? Their sufferings merit at best an end of year tax savings donation to a charity. Unless they mobilize and fight, the working class will have no alternative. And the struggle has been joined, under new leaderships.


A Moment of Silence, Before I Start this Poem

[Written 2002]

Before I start this poem,
I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence
in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence
for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem: two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
where homeland security made them aliens
in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
where death rained down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Viet Nam -
a people, not a war - for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives' bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war ... ssssshhhhh .... Say nothing ...
we don't want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
whose names, like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence for El Salvador ... An afternoon
of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guetmaltecos ... None of whom
ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves far deeper in the ocean
than any building could poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung
from the heights of sycamore trees
in the south, the north, the east, and the west...
100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of
right here, Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous
magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness ...
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been
Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written And if
this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New
York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of
Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
the Playboys. If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered

You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand
In the space
between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all
Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.

Emmanuel Ortiz, 9.11.02