- Category: Imperialism & War
- Created on Sunday, 25 October 2009 10:00
- Written by Monthly Review
This report first appeared in Monthly Review
The Impending Indian Government Offensive against the Adivasi Inhabited Hilly Regions:
Statement of Concern and Protest by Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky and Others
On Monday, October 12th, it was reported that Manmohan Singh -- despite the request of air chief marshal P. V. Naik to permit IAF personnel in helicopters to attack inhabitants of the hilly regions -- had announced that the armed forces would not be deployed against the domestic left-wing opponents of the regime. On October 8th the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had authorised the home ministry-driven coordinated offensive that will see, along with state police deployment, some 75,000 central security personnel -- who are trained alongside the army -- and IAF choppers that will "assist in movement of forces." We shall soon see what the Prime Minister's reservation means in practice.
We should no doubt be thankful for any such slight sign of restraint in the mounting militarisation of our internal politics, but the evidence is clear that this is at best a short respite. The interest behind the demands voiced by air chief marshal Naik has dominated this government from its inception, and will not likely be denied for long.
That interest is U.S. imperialism and its agents in the Indian armed forces and security departments. As Manmohan Singh spoke on October 12th, a major Indo-U.S. war game in U.P. commenced focused "on mechanized infantry operations for counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain." This is the latest of "joint combat exercises -- around 50 in the last seven years -- between the two nations" (Times of India, October 8).
The impending government offensive against the adivasi inhabitants of the hilly regions is a major turn toward civil war. Behind the curtain are U.S. "counter-insurgency" experts and "advisers" fresh from the torture camps of Iraq and the death squads of Colombia. At this critical moment we add our voice in support of the statement circulated by our friends of the Sanhati collective and set out below, and commend to your attention the "background note" appended to the statement.
October 12, 2009
To Dr. Manmohan Singh Prime Minister, Government of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India-110 011.
We are deeply concerned by the Indian government's plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to "liberate" these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.
Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India's adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other "development" projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The geographical terrain, where the government's military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government's offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.
We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.
Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, India Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Center for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, India Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, N.A.P.M., India Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social Development, Council for Social Development, India Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, India Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India Colin Gonzalves, Supreme Court Advocate, India Arvind Kejriwal, Social Activist, India Arundhati Dhuru, Activist, N.A.P.M., India Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Department of Geography, University of Mumbai, India Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, India Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, India Bernard D'Mello, Associate Editor, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), India Sumit Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Delhi University, India Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, J.N.U., India Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, India Madhu Bhaduri, Ex-ambassador Sumanta Banerjee, Writer, India Dr. Vandana Shiva, Philosopher, Writer, Environmental Activist, India M.V. Ramana, Visiting Research Scholar, Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy; Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, USA Dipanjan Rai Chaudhari, Retired Professor, Presidency College, India Amit Bhattacharyya, Professor, Department of History. Jadavpur University, Kolkata D.N. Jha, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Delhi, India Paromita Vohra, Devi Pictures Sunil Shanbag, Theater Director Saroj Giri, Lecturer in Political Science, Delhi University, India Hilal Ahmed, Associate Fellow, Center for the Studies of Development of Societies, India Reetha Balsavar Sriparna Bandopadhyay, India Sudeshna Banerjee, Department of History, Jadavpur University, India Chinmoy Banerjee Kaushik Banyopadhyay, Student, IIT KGP, India Pranab Kanti Basu, Department of Economics and Politics, Vishwa Bharati University, India Harsh Bora, Student, Delhi Law Faculty, India Kaushik Bose, Reader, Vidyasagar University, India Anjan Chakrabarti, Professor of Economics, Calcutta University, India Shitansu Shekhar Chakraborty, Student, IIT Kharagpur, India Achin Chakraborty, Professor of Economics, Institute of Development Studies, Calcutta University Alipore, India Rabin Chakraborty Anand Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India Uma Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India Indira Chakravarthi, Public Health Researcher, India Nandini Chandra, Member of Faculty, Delhi University, India Navin Chandra, Visiting Senior Fellow, Institude of Human Development, India Jagadish Chandra, New Socialist Alternative, CWI, India Pratyush Chandra, Activist, Freelance Journalist, and Researcher, India Kunal Chattopadhyay, Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, India Debarshi Das, IIT Guwahati, India Probal Dasgupta, Linguistic Research Unit, I.S.I., India Subha Chakraborty Dasgupta, Professor, Jadavpur University, India Surya Shankar Dash, Independent Filmmaker, India Ashokankur Datta, Graduate Student, I.S.I. (Planning Unit), India Amiya Dev, Emiritus Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, India Soumik Dutta S. Dutta, Delhi Platform, India Madhumita Dutta, Green Youth Movement, India, Based in Chennai Durga Prasad Duvvuri, Independent Management Consultant, India Ajit Eapen, Mumbai, India Sampath G, Mumbai, India Lena Ganesh M.S. Ganesh Subhash Gatade, Writer and Social Activisit, India Pothik Ghosh, Editor, Radical Notes, India Rajeev Godara, General Secretary, Sampooran Kranti Manch, Haryana (associated with Lok Rajniti Manch), India (Also an Advocatein Punjab and Haryana High Courts) Abhijit Guha, Vidyasagar University, India Jacob, South Asia Study Center Manish Jain, Assistant Professor, Center for Studies of Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India Shishir K. Jha, IIT Mumbai, India Avinash K. Jha, Assistant Professor of Economics, Shri Ram College of Commerce, India Bodhisattva Kar, Fellow in History, Center for Studies in Social Science, India Harish Karnick, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India Sumbul Jawed Khan, Biological Sciences and Bio. Eng. Department, IIT Kanpur, India Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA, India Ravi Kumar, Editor of Radical Notes and Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, India Abhijit Kundu, Faculty, Sociology, University of Delhi Gauri Lankesh, Editor, Lankesh Patrike, India Soumik Majumder Dishery Malakar Julie Koppel Maldonado Dr Nandini Manjrekar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai Soma Marik Erika Marquez Satyabrata Mitra Siddhartha Mitra Tista Mitra, Journalist, India Najeeb Mubarki, Assistant Editor, Editorial page, Economic Times, India Dipankar Mukherjee, PDF, Delhi, India Subhasis Mukhopadhyay, Frontier Pulin B. Nayak, Professor of Economics, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, India Nalini Nayak, Reader in Economics, PGDAV College, Delhi University, India Soheb ur Rahman Niazi, Student, Jamia Milia Islamia, India Rahul Pandey Jai Pushp, Activist, Naujawan Bharat Sabha, India Imrana Qadeer, Retired Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, J.N.U., India Neshant Quaiser, Associate Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, Department of Sociology, India Divya Rajagopal Ramendra, Delhi Shramik Sangathan, India Ramdas Rao, President, People's Union for Civil Liberties, Bangalore Unit, India V. Nagendra Rao, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad, India Shereen Ratnagar, Retired Professor, Center for Historical Studies, JNU, India Sankar Ray, Columnist Kirity Roy, MASUM and PACTI, India Atanu Roy Anindyo Roy Dunu Roy, Social Activist, India Sanjoy Kumar Saha, Reader, CSE department, Jadavpur University, India Sandeep, Freelance Journalist Dr. K. Saradamoni, Retired Academic Madhu Sarin, Social Activist Satyam, Rahul Foundation and Dayitvbodh, India Jhuma Sen, Delhi Samita Sen, Professor, Women's Studies, Jadavpur University, India Santanu Sengupta, UDML College of Engineering, India Ajay Kishor Shaw, Mumbai, India Dr. Mira Shiva Jagmohan Singh, Voices for Freedom Punjab, India Sandeep Singh, Mumbai, India Harindar Pal Singh Ishar, Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, India Preeti Sinha, Editor of Philhal, Patna, India Oishik Sircar, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, India K. Sriram Viviek Sundara, Mumbai, India Saswati Swetlena, Programme Officer, Governance and Advocacy Unit, National Center for Advocacy Studies, India Damayanti Talukdar, Kolkata Divya Trivedi, The Hindu Business Line, India Satyam Varma, Rahul Foundation Rahul Varman, Professor, Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India Padma Velaskar, Professor, Center for Studies in the Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India G. Vijay, Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Hyderabad, India R.M. Vikas, IIT Kanpur, India
Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, M.I.T., USA David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The C.U.N.Y. Graduate Center, USA Michael Lebowitz, Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development, Centro Internacional Miranda, Venezuela John Bellamy Foster, Editor of Monthly Review and Professor of Sociology,University of Oregon Eugene, USA Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor and Director of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University, USA James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University, USA Michael Watts, Professor of Geography and Development Studies, University of California Berkeley, USA Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Departments of Anthropoogy and Political Science, Columbia University, USA Mira Nair, Filmmaker, Mirabai Films, USA Howard Zinn, Historian, Playwright, and Social Activisit, USA Abha Sur, Women's Studies, M.I.T., USA Richard Peet, Professor of Geography, Clark University, USA Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, U.K Massimo De Angelis, Professor of Political Economy, University of East London, UK Gyanendra Pandey, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History, Emory University, USA Brian Stross, Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas Austin, USA J. Mohan Rao, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA Vinay Lal, Professor of History & Asian American Studies, University of California Los Angeles, USA James Crotty, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Haluk Gerger, Political Scientist, Activist, Political Prisoner, Turkey Justin Podur, Journalist, Canada Hari Kunzru, Novelist, U.K. Louis Proyect, Columbia University Biju Mathew, Associate Professor, Rider University, USA Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web Nicholas De Genova, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latino Studies, Columbia University, USA Peter Custers, Academic researcher on militarisation, Netherlands Radha D'Souza, School of Law, University of Westminster , UK Gary Aboud, Secretary, Fisherman and Friends of the Sea, Trinidad and Tobago Mysara Abu-Hashem, Ph.D. Student, American University, USA Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Professor of English, Montclair University, USA Nadim Asrar, Ph.D. student, University of Minnesota, USA Margaret E Sheehan, Attorney at Law, USA Arpita Banerjee, Lecturer, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire, USA Deepankar Basu, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Sharmadip Basu, Syracuse University, USA Joseph A Belisle Kim Berry, Professor of Women's Studies, Humboldt State University, USA Varuni Bhatia, Assistant Professor, Religous Studies Program, N.Y.U., USA Anindya Bhattacharya, Faculty, University of York, UK Sourav Bhattacharya, University of Pittsburgh, USA Peter J. Bloom, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California Santa Barbara, USA Sister Maureen Catabian, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Philippines Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, Department of Communications, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Shefali Chandra, Professor of South Asian History, Washington University at St Louis, USA Ipsita Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, Austin, USA Piya Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Women's Studies, University of California Riverside, USA Angana Chatterji, Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, USA Ruchi Chaturvedi, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Hunter College, City University of New York, USA Chitrabhanu Chaudhuri, Ph.D. Student, Department of Mathematics, Northwestern University, USA Len Cooper,Victorian Branch,Communication Workers Union Australia Priti Gulati Cox, Artist, USA Stan Cox, Senior Scientist, The Land Institute, USA Linda Cullen, Canada Huma Dar, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia, Canada Koel Das, UCSB, USA Atreyi Dasgupta, MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA Grace de Haro, APDH Human Rights Organization, Argentina Nandini Dhar, Ph.D. student, University of Texas Austin, U.S.A. Martin Doornbos, Professor Emeritus, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, Netherlands Emily Durham-Shapiro, Student, University of Minnesotta, USA Arindam Dutta, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, MIT, USA Anne Dwyer, University of Washington, USA T. Robert Fetter, USA Kade Finnoff, Doctoral Candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Kaushik Ghosh, University of Texas, Austin, USA Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor of English, University of California Santa Barbara, USA Vinay Gidwani, Professor of Geography, Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA Wendy Glauser, MA candidate, Political Science. York University. Toronto, Canada Ted Glick, Climate Crisis Coalition, Climate Crisis Coalition and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, USA Inderpal Grewal, Yale University, USA Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor of Anthropology, York University, Canada Anna L. Gust, University College London, UK Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South Arne Harns, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Free University of Berlin, Germany Amrit Singh Heer, Graduate student, Social and Political Thought, York University, Canada Helen Hintjens, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands Robert A Hueckstedt, Professor, University of Virginia, USA Zeba Imam, Ph.D. student, Texas A&M University, USA Kajri Jain, University of Toronto, Canada Dhruv Jain, Graduate student, York University, Canada Mohamad Junaid, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, City University of New York, USA Louis Kampf, Professor of Literature Emeritus, MIT, USA Jyotsna Kapur, Associate Professor, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA Emily Kawano, Director, Center for Popular Economics, USA Nada Khader , Executive Director, WESPAC Foundation Jesse Knutson, University of Chicago, USA Peter Lackowski, Writer/Activist, USA Maire Leadbeater (human rights activist Auckland New Zealand) Joseph Levine, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA George Levinger, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA David W. Lewit, Alliance for Democracy, USA Jinee Lokaneeta, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Drew University, USA Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania, USA Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA Sanjeev Mahajan Sunaina Maira, Associate Professor, University of California Davis, USA Panayiotis "Taki" Manolakos, Writer/Activist, USA Carlos Marentes, Farmworkers.org, USA Bill Martin, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University, USA Thomas Masterson, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, USA Jim McCorry, Belfast, N. Ireland Victor Menotti, Executive Director, International Forum on Globalization, USA James Miehls, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Stephen Miesher, Associate Professor, University of California Santa Barbara, USA Ali Mir, Professor, William Paterson University, USA Raza Mir, Professor of Management, William Paterson University, USA Katherine Miranda, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, Oakland Institute, USA Roger Moody, Association for Progressive Communication, UK Agrotosh Mookerji, Statistician and student, UK Joshua Moufawad-Paul, Ph.D. student, York University, Canada Sudipto Muhuri Alan Muller, Executive Director, Green Delaware, USA Sirisha Naidu, Assistant Professor of Economics, Wright State University, USA Sakuntala Narsimhan Sriram Natrajan, Independent Researcher, Thailand Nandini Nayak, SOAS, University of London, UK Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Longman Professor of English, Oberlin College, USA Ipsita Pal Bhaumik, NIH, USA Shailja Patel, USA Saswat Pattanayak, Editor, Radical Notes, USA Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Kavita Philip, Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine, USA Mike Alexander Pozo, Political Affairs Magazine Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California Irvine, USA Kaveri Rajaraman, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, USA K. Ravi Raman, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Manchester, UK Leena Ranade, AID India, USA Nagesh Rao, Assistant Professor, The College of New Jersey, USA Ravi Ravishankar, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, USA Chandan Reddy, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, USA Bruce Rich, Attorney, USA Dr. Andrew Robinson, UK Rachel Rosen, International Workers of the World and OSSTF, USA Seth Sandronsky, Journalist, USA Amit Sarkar, Visiting Fellow, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID/NIH, USA Bhaskar Sarkar, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California Santa Barbara, USA Helen Scharber, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Anna Schultz, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, School of Music, University of Minnesota, USA Svati Shah, Assistant Professor of Women's Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA Shaheen Shasa, USA Snehal Shinghavi, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, Austin, USA Tyler Shipley, Department of Political Science, York University, Canada Samira Shirdel, Community Advocate, Chaya: a Resource for South Asian Women, USA Jon Short, Department of Communications Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada Kuver Sinha, Texas A&M University, USA Subir Sinha, SOAS, University of London, U.K Julietta Singh, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA Preethy Sivakumar, York University, Canada Ajay Skaria, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, USA Stephen C Snyder Nidhi Srinivas, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, The New School, USA Chukka Srinivas Poonam Srivastav, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Minnesota, USA Rachel Steiger-Meister, Graduate Student, Wright State University, USA Raja Swamy, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, USA Usha Titikshu, Photojournalist, Nepal Wendel Trio, Former Chair, European Alliance with Indigenous Peoples Shivali Tukdeo, University of Illinois, USA Sandeep Vaidya, India Support Group, Ireland Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick, U.K Nalini Visvanathan, Lecturer in Asian American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA Daphna Whitmore, Secretary, Workers' Party, New Zealand T. Wignesan, Editor, Asianists' Asia, Centre de Recherches, CERPICO and CREA, France Daphne Wysham, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, USA
It has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India. Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US counter-insurgency agencies. To put the Indian government's proposed military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular, there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized, because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meager resource base of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of "development". Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel; they are well known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study "development challenges in extremist affected areas".
The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care, education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises. To recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77 percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and the US dollar and about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census, even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering 800 million people lacking access to potable water.
What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India, are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called "informal workers"; these workers lack any employment security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous, leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the "poor and vulnerable" increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05. Since majority of the working people still work in the agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people. Since the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense, the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and 2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of the current conflict.
But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population: poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural violence.
There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression, humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and (b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian population. This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of course very faithfully reflected in the behavior of the police and other law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population, who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest pretext. For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social background of the current conflict.
This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources. Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence has been the State's recent attempt to usurp the meager resource base of the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside the ambit of the market. The neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other "development" projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. Despite numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to "attract" foreign and domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date; but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth, will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost livelihoods due to the assault on land.
The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar projects have another dimension to it. Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25 million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there is every reason for people not to believe the government's claims that those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense, resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to displacement and dispossession.
But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts, prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India have increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20 a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.
It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take our processions, they sit on demonstrations, they submit petitions. The response of the State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the peaceful protestors, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts to police firing and violence to terrorize the people. We only need to remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government's proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive.
It is also worth remembering that the geographical terrain, where the government's military offensive is planned, is very well-endowed with natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources, and has of late been the target of systematic usurpation by several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard to ecological and social concerns. We fear that the government's offensive is also an attempt to crush such democratic and popular resistance against dispossession and impoverishment; the whole move seems to be geared towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and people of these regions.