Critiquing the empire – The Jensen way

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Chennai,19 March 2010

 Robert Jensen introduces himself as a Professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas with a sarcastic remark, “Yeah, we are quite famous .You know!’ – but he is quick to add, “Though I live in Texas, I grew up in North Dakota.”

Jensen sternly criticises American imperialist ambitions and the self-interested ideologies that dominate politics in the United States. He said that capitalist ideas are so ingrained in American society that it is seen as a natural and intrinsically American economic system; ours is a society that unregretfully enjoys the privileges that come with whiteness and affluence.’

Robert jensen, Photo Courtesy:University of Texas,Austin

 

As Jensen puts it, “It is very tough to step back from one’s cultural affiliations and criticise the system in which we live.” He admits that he has not succeeded in shedding away all the negative influences that this culture has imparted on him.

This open mindedness – to look at his own mistakes and learn from it; to see the flaws and immoral practices inherent in the system to which he belongs; and to stand up boldly against them – makes Jensen’s writings and activities more than interesting. His writings and speeches signify his ability to laugh at his own mistakes, a fine way of refining one’s own personality.

He jests at his own identity.” I come from a very privileged part of the world. In the first place; I am a male in a predominantly male dominated world, I am a white man in a world which has been and still continues to be dominated by whites. And I belong to a well-off middle class family and finally; I am a citizen of the country that has always tried to and continues to dominate the world.”

Jensen opines that the emergence of United States was a turning point in history; it was a break away from the early European colonial ideologies and strategies. In fact, it re-fashioned the previous ideologies to suit the changing times. ”Oh boy! We are always there to help you out,” says Jenson, hinting at the imperialist strategies that US routinely adopts to gain control of any region that had kindled their interest. America has always been interfering in the political affairs of other countries in their attempt to acquire control of the valuable resources in those countries.

“We are great. We are always ready to admit our mistakes. We were very confused about the Iraq issue and that is why some mistakes happened on our side there.” This was Jenson’s comment on the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States on allegations of possession of weapons of mass destruction, which turned out eventually to be false. 

‘There is no sense of history among the people of the United States and this often takes them off-track.’ In his article ‘No Thanks to Thanksgiving’ Jensen says that the Americans think of themselves as adventurous rebels who left England and founded a new nation where they are free to do what they wanted to do. Jensen draws our attention to the massacre of American Indians that continued until around 98% of the American -Indians were exterminated; and the rest were left to be assimilated into the white society. He also quoted George Washington, the first President of the US who called the aborigines ‘wild beasts’.

Jensen writes,”Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures — such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq — as another benevolent action.” The article also points to the example of British historians who highlight the benefits that the British empire had brought to India, while the right wing political movements in India try to make the mythology of Hindutva a historical fact.

A strong campaigner of anti-war movement in the US, Jenson advocates an entirely new foreign policy based on opposition to the long US drive toward empire, in the context of the continuing US atrocities in Iraq. The wounds caused by US interventions in Vietnam, Laos Cambodia, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan still continue to bleed. According to Jensen, the only way to transcend this ugly history is through an honest national dialogue and the promise of a sea change in US policy.

Jensen urges the people of America:” Such empires are typically brought down from outside, with great violence. But we have another option, as citizens of that empire who understand how this pathology of power damages our country as well as the world. Imagine what would be possible if we — ordinary citizens of this latest empire — could build a movement that gave politicians no choice but to do the right thing.”

In his remarkable speech given at an anti-war rally in Austin (on 11 September 2005) he said, “There was nothing special about the pain of Americans on September 11, 2001. And there is no hope for this world until we in the United States — the most powerful and affluent country in the history of the world — understand that.”

At this point when the much celebrated Obama Administration has also failed to bring about any change in the aggressive policies of the United States; lone voices like Jensen’s remain the only hope of resistance against imperialist dominance.

 

Written for ACJNEWSLINE- the student E-Zine of Asian College of Journalism,http://acjnewsline.asianmedia.org.in/

Categories: Reports

Mother of the unheeded

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

K. Lakshmikutty, an activist and anganwadi worker, has been a pillar of support for the adivasis of Thirunelli and has stood by them in their fight for justice.

Thirunelli, January 8: Jochi was terrified and shattered. But she did not think twice before running towards Lakshmikutty teacher’s house for help. Lakshmikutty was her only ray of hope in times of distress just like she is for all other adivasis in Thirunelli.

Jochi, a young Adiya woman and a mother of two, had become a widow at 30. The owner of the house where she was working as a domestic help had tried to molest her. It was Lakshmikkuty who helped Jochi to find a new job at the Forest Department and stood by her in her legal battle against Raghavan, a teacher, who threatened her with dire consequences if she didn’t return to work at his home.

Lakshmi kutty,Photo – Nileena.M.S

Down a narrow rocky trail near the Thirunelli temple lies the Gunnigapparambu anganwadi facing the lush paddy fields. Lakshmikkutty in her early fifties, with graying hair, was briskly running around looking after a hundred things at a time. Often she would come out of the inner room to take a look at the kids who were being fed their breakfast by the helpers. She welcomed us with a warm smile into the small room with two benches, a table and a chair that served as the classroom for the kids.

K Lakshmikutty, social worker and a caretaker at the Gunnigapparambu Tribal Anganwadi under the government’s Integrated Child development Scheme, works among the poor in the tribal hamlets of Thirunelli. 

‘We grew up playing on their (adivasis’) lap and helping them in their fight for justice gives me satisfaction’, replies Lakshmikutty modestly when asked about her successful interventions into problems faced by the adivasis. 

Born in 1951 into a conservative and patriarchal Nambeesha family at a time when women were miserably oppressed, Lakshmikutty lived through a childhood of difficulties. Her father Shankaranarayan Kaloor was a Tulu Brahmin with roots in Karnataka. He was the main priest of the famous Thirunelli temple. Her mother Nangeli a.k.a. Saraswathi Amma had borne eight children. Her father, being an orthodox priest, was very concerned about what an astrologer had forecast about Lakshmikutty that she would be the cause of bad reputation to the family. ‘My father even made me promise that I would never go in the wrong path’, recollected Lakshmikutty. 

Being members of the upper caste, Lakshmikutty’s family owned land and the male members of the family had good jobs. Back then, education was not considered necessary, especially for girls. Lakshmikutty was determined to study and attended till Standard 5 in the nearby Lower Primary School. Later she continued her schooling in Thrishillery and Perambra in Calicut. After completing S.S.L.C in 1974, Lakshmikutty had to stay at home to look after her ailing father. Property disputes then darkened the family atmosphere. It only got worse with her father’s death in 1976 age 88. 

Lakshmikutty narrated how she landed the job as an anganwadi worker. She had accidentally seen the job advertisement in a piece of newspaper which was used to wrap chillies. Her uncle who was the District Medical Officer in Thirunelli, helped her to get the job. She began on a salary of Rs 75 per month. She took on the responsibility of looking after her family. 

There was a voice in her that spurred her to work to create awareness among adivasis and to help them to find solutions to their problems. A warm and loquacious person, Lakshmikutty’s interest to talk to people and listen to their grievances furthered her popularity amongst the adivasis. Her intervention in the adivasi issues invited the animosity of many people. They had even tried to stop marriage proposals from reaching her. But her uncle’s son came forward to marry her and from then on he has been the rock behind all her endeavors. 
From 1980, she started working for the Kasthurba Mahila Samajam, an organization under the Government scheme to look after the needs of adivasis. She studied more about the tribals during her field visits to the colonies. 

A major problem among adivasis in Thirunelli was the issue of ‘unwed’ mothers. According to her the number of unwed women in Thirunelli was played up to divert government funds meant to rehabilitate them. After the sensational coverage by the media in 1989 people came to believe that adivasis here were selling their bodies due to poverty. Lakshmikutty and her supporters have even nabbed and beaten up men who came to the colonies in search of women willing to sell their bodies. “After 1997 these shameless men started coming in jeeps and Tempos,” said Lakshmikutty quoting the registration number of those vehicles- still engraved in her sharp memory.  

She said that the actual number of unwed mothers in Thriunelli would be 69 while the media reported it to be over 500. She said that all of them were not rape victims. The marriage rites and rituals of adivasis have also contributed to added numbers and many women had also fallen prey to false promises of non-tribal men and migrant workers.
Laksmikutty explained that many of these helpless women had to resort to brutal abortion methods. But the situation, she said, was changing; till 1952 these tribals were bonded labourers and had to abide by the landlord’s wishes, but now they were becoming strong enough to stand on their own. 

Fighting for adivasis’ rights meant inviting the discontent and hatred of many, including officials and politicians. She was subjected to torture and harassment many times. But Lakshmikutty said that she has never faced problems from political parties or organization but only from individuals. She helped poor tribal women to find jobs in Sughandhagiri Tribal Rehabilitation project and in schemes for pickle and curry powder making. The dissenters meanwhile spread it around that that Lakshmikutty was taking adivasi women to brothels.  

Once they influenced an anganwadi helper and trapped Lakshmikutty in a case for hoarding rice allotted for the anganwadi. But later she was proved innocent in the SC/ST Court. The accused had tried to kill her when she helped an adivasi woman called Mara who was sexually exploited and cheated. After a long legal battle, he agreed to look after her three kids.

Lakshmikutty says that in many of the cases people know who the culprits are. “It is all the game of money and power. “ In Jochi’s case, the local politicians and the officials had tried to influence Jochi and Lakshmikutty, but the corrupt Circle Inspector was suspended later. She said that she had got the support of the Collector, R.D.O (Revenue District Officer), Tribal Department and some police officials in her activities. Earlier the adivasis had remained totally ignorant and were timid and oppressed. Today the women are coming forward and their situation has improved much, financially and socially. 

Political parties have tried to exploit the popularity and support that Lakshmikutty enjoys by offering her seats in elections. “But who wants money and power that they offer?” asked Lakshmikutty. She smiles assuring about her determination to fight for the adivasis’ rights and efforts to support and uplift them. Lakshmikutty, always eager to bring the real facts behind shady stories about her village into light, is now busy with her efforts to draw the attention of the administrators to the negligent state of the tribal students’ hostel and the sexual exploitation happening there.

 

Written for the ‘Covering Deprivation’ section of ACJNewsline.(http://acjnewsline.asianmedia.org.in/index.html)

Categories: Reports

Adivasi struggle at Cheengeri

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The moopans (tribal heads) of Cheengeri Ambalakkunne Paniya Colony, Prabhakaran and K. Lakshmanan speak out on the discrepancies in land distribution in the Cheengeri Tribal Rehabilitation Project.

Cheengeri, Jan 7: About 53 km away from Kalpetta town lies the Cheengeri Ambalavayal Paniya colony. The adivasis here have been on a continuing struggle to get the land promised to them by the government. The colony comprising of small huts lacking the basic facilities stand testimony to the discrimination against the adivasis and the hollow promises given to them by the government.

The colony has around 100 paniya families. There was a time when they were bonded laborers of the feudal lords. ”There is only one difference in our condition. Earlier we were slaves of the janmis (landlords), but now we are slaves of the government (authorities),” said Prabhakaran. Paniyas are found in the districts of Wayand, Kannur and Malappuram of Kerala.

Prabhakaran Moopan Photo:Nileena.M.S

“There is hierarchy even among adivasis. Paniyas and Adiyas are at the lower strata. Kattunaikkars and Kurumars are comparatively better off. They have hold in higher places. So, they get the better share of all the benefits given to adivasis”, Prabhakaran complained. “See what happened with the land distribution scheme for the adivasis here. The lands are allotted by taking lots and with their influence in the bureaucracy,they bribe the officers to get better lands.” “We often get rocky useless land”, added Lakshmanan.

Cheengeri project is one of the many projects in Wayanad for the rehabilitation of adivasis, but most of the promises still remain in paper and the benefits never reach those in need. Wayanad was under the Madras Presidency till 1957 and the first communist government of E.M.S.Namboodirippad bought 526 acres of land from Madras state using tribal funds for the Cheengeri project to rehabilitate the tribals. According to the project, each tribal family is entitled to 5 acres of land. ‘Adivasis who are living here for the past 50 years are still not given pattayams (original record of the ownership of land). But there were attempts to give the land to non- tribals. Pattayam mela to distribute pattayams was a big farce”, Prabhakaran pointed out.

“We are on strike since 1973 and will continue it till we get justice. We need pattyam for at least the land that we live on”, explained Prabhakaran. The adivasis had organized a massive agitation campaign in 1995 and had forcefully occupied 180 acres of the project land by building huts over there. About 226 people were arrested. But the land still remains in the hands of the government. He continued, “Crores are being spent on these plans but the bureaucrats and the middle men consume it. There were starvation deaths among the tribals under the Sughandhagiri and Priyadarshini rehabilitation projects and we don’t want it to happen here. Political parties keep jiggling with these projects and schemes.”

According to Lakshmanan, in many cases even if the adivasis get land, they couldn’t make a living out of it. Even to start agriculture in that land money is required. There are even restrictions on taking the forest products from the land given. “Since we do not have pattayams, we are denied the benefits of various government agriculture schemes”, he added.

In 1966, 100 acres were allotted for coffee plantation under the Agricultural Department and later another 50 acres was added to cultivate food under the tribal department for the project ‘Model Food Products Farm’. Again, thirty two acres were allotted for a Vanilla Development Scheme in 1992.But irrigation was not done properly and it failed. A co-operative society with government nominees were appointed to manage the Cheengeri project. The Minority Rights Group International Report on ‘The Adivasis of India’ (1999) said that from 1957 to 1995, Rs 5,700,000 have been spent on this project.

“The General in charge at that time was a rascal, who got the documents acknowledging the receipt of tree saplings signed by the adivasis, and made them plant it in his land. He destroyed the files”, said Prabhakaran fuming with rage. According to him the corrupt bureaucracy and the middle men who take advantage of the adivasis are the real beneficiaries of all the funds and schemes. Now the farm has just two permanent staff while earlier it was 110. The employees here got the benefits of All Kerala Government Scheme for Farm Workers and pensions up to Rs.4000.

‘We are poor illiterate people unaware of government policies and laws.’ Adivasis are ignorant of the laws and legislatures to protect them. Education is necessary to create awareness and uplift them from their oppressed and miserable condition. A few of the adivasis manage to get government jobs in Forest departments and as ‘tribal volunteers’ known as ‘ST promoters’ who act as a intermediaries between the government and the tribals in health, education, housing and other issues. Lakshmanan opined that tribals areeither unable to send their children to school or are unasssware of the importance of education. So, compulsory education programs should be implemented by the government.

Lakshmanan and Prabhakaran emphasised that the government should give pattayams to all the adivasis and should maintain the farm to employ them. New schemes should be introduced. “If it is not possible to give us land here, let the government give it some where else”, said Lakshmanan .

 

Written for the ‘Covering Deprivation’ section of ACJNewsline.(http://acjnewsline.asianmedia.org.in/index.html)

Categories: Reports

By the farmers, for the farmers

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment
The farmer’s leader: A.C.Varkey

Farmers Relief Forum remains the only ray of hope for poor farmers who are threatened by money lenders and recovery prodecures from banks.

Pulpally, Jan 7 : Subhadra would have had to leave her house and the 85 cents in which it stood, if not for the intervention of the Farmers Relief Forum (FRF).Seven years back her family had taken an agriculture loan of Rs.75,000 from the Urban Co-Operative Society in Pulpally. Now the debt had added up to about Rs.3 Lakh – an amount they can not even figure out. They had taken the loan to cultivate pepper and ginger. Errant monsoon and resultant crop failure has driven them into severe poverty. “Earlier we could make enough money from farming. But the crops failed repeatedly”, explained Subhadra. 

 Her husband suffers from acute asthma and diabetes. All he can do is to sit and sell lottery tickets. Subhadra’s health does not allow her to go to work either. Her only daughter has been married off to a farmer. Subhadra had got her daughter to study till B.Com and Health Inspector Course, but she could not find a job. With tears in her eyes Subhadra said, “This house and the land is the dowry of my daughter and if the bank recovered it her husband would abandon her.”

Tales such as hers are common in Pulpally. Jose Pazhukkal of Padichira and Mini of Seethamunde couldn’t repay their loans as the turn over from farming had touched rock bottom. It was the FRF’s efforts that saved them from their house and land being recovered by banks and money lenders.

It was the Frontline Magazine report (March 15- 28, 2008 issue) that estimated that: ‘Between mid-2004 and May 2007, amid crop damage, falling prices and mounting debt, Kerala reported nearly 2,000 peasant suicides, the majority of them in the hill districts of Wayanad and Idukki’. According to media reports, 130 farmers and agricultural workers have committed suicide in 2004 alone.

A.C.Varkey, Chariman of FRF, said that the banks tricked illiterate people into signing documents and converted agriculture loans in to housing loans so that loan waivers could be avoided and more interest could be extracted. Poor illiterate farmers who are unaware of all these procedures fell easily into this trap.

Birth of FRF

There was a time the farmers in Wayanad had dedicatedly followed the political parties in the hope that they would help the farmers solve their problems and support them when in distress. The election manifestos with loan waiver schemes and farmers relief measures gave them high hopes and assured them solutions to all their problems. But the changing Left and right governments forgot them as soon as they came to power. In 1986, they had participated in the hunger strike organised by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) asking to write-off agricultural loans, but when E.K.Nayanar came to power this issue was not considered. The United Democratic Front (UDF) also remained unconcerned when it came to power. That is when these farmers decided to leave the mainstream organizations and form a group of their own to find solutions to their problems.

It was A.C.Varkey, a revolutionary leader who had been fighting for farmer’s rights in association with Congress(S) who believed that to work realise farmer’s rights, the farmers will have to break away from big political parties. In 1989 he organized the farmers ,with the help of Thengil Ibrayi, to form the ‘Karshika Kadashwasa Samithi’ which had a membership of 1500 farmers. The implementation of the V.P.Singh Government’s agriculture loan waiver scheme of Rs.10,000 was much delayed in Kerala. Despite the loan waiver scheme, the banks sent recovery notices to farmers and even tricked the illiterate farmers into renewing the loans. The Samiti got a stay order for six months from the High Court in 1992. But the farmers had to get Collector’s approval for getting the loan waiver. Those farmers who met at the Collector’s office formed the ‘Farmer’s Relief Forum’(FRF). Varkey, the Chairman of FRF, became the heart and soul of this organization.

Local loan fund – an initiative of the FRF was also the brain child of Varkey. The members paid Rs.200 each and this money was used to repay the loans of poor farmers. It became a huge success with 44 units in Wayanad. FRF then turned to small production initiatives like umbrella making (Farm Umbrellas) and note book production which were distributed through ‘family schemes’. A stationary shop was started at Nadavayal by collecting shares of Rs.1000, with an aim to sell quality products at reasonable prices. A public distribution chain was started in Koodarenji and people’s trade centres at Anakkampoyil and Punnakkal.

 As the FRF stated to extend its activities outside Wayand, a State Co-ordination committee was formed to organize and regulate its activities. FRF garnered the support of other organizations, social workers, writers and artistes. With Varkey’s untiring efforts the FRF organized agricultural seminars to understand new and evolving issues in agriculture. FRF leaders were also invited for the Inter Continental Caravan ’99 which was an effort to organize protests and uprisings in 35 countries across the world against the globalization of economy. They raised their voice for justice, equality and liberty for farmers all over the world.

It was the FRF’s timely intervention which resulted in the ‘Neera samaram’ (Neera Strike) in 2001 that rescued many coconut farmers from being bankrupt.. The price of coconut had declined sharply and there was widespread attack of a disease called ‘Mandari’. FRF held demonstrations for the right to tap ‘neera’ (a drink of less alcoholic content) from their coconut trees which was otherwise controlled by the State government.

 When the doors of justice closed on them, the FRF members resorted to innovative methods to fight against banks and authorities. In protest against the recovery of property by the banks, farmers under the leadership of FRF took crops, farm animals and household goods to banks and income tax offices. They marched to banks beating drums, mocking the insensitive bank recovery procedures. FRF members even tied up bank employees and demanding release of poor farmers who were jailed for their failure to repay loans.

 Soon the Local Loan Fund and the family funds had to be closed as many failed to repay the money. The membership fee was returned. ‘Farm Umbrellas’ and the shops couldn’t function further because of lack of funds.The banks were hesitant to give loan to the Forum since it comes under the Charitable Society Act. The FRF’s political wing is known as ‘Karshaka Janakeeya Munnani’. Though they were defeated in the elections (2004) ,they got a good number of votes against leading political parties and in some places even more than them. In the next panchayat elections three FRF candidates won in Pulpally. Despite the financial difficulties, arrests and court procedures against its members, FRF still continues its fight for justice for the farmers and lends its helping hand whenever the need arises.

 

Written for the ‘Covering Deprivation’ section of ACJNewsline.(http://acjnewsline.asianmedia.org.in/index.html)

Caught in between

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

As the government’s anti-Naxal operations are in progress in the states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, Naxals are re-structuring their war tactics using techniques like laying pressure bombs in the jungles and constructing new pits with wooden spikes in order to sabotage the operations. Defence Minister A.K.Antony has granted permission for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to open fire during anti-Naxal operations. The IAF has deployed copters to assist the State forces in their operations against the Naxalites-Maoists but the anti-Naxal operations were delayed due to the polls in Maharastra and Jharkhand.

 Caught in the middle of this conflict are the tribals from these states, who are tortured and abused by the officials, terrorised by the rebels and neglected by the government for years.

 In Chattisgarh,it is reported that  alarmed tribals are trying to get hold of makeshift identity cards, so that they could show ‘they are neither Maoists nor anti-Maoists’. The local governments have failed to provide any protection or assistance to these people who grow vegetables, collect forest products, make hand-rolled cigarettes and distill liquor to make a living.

Since the anti-Naxal operations started, the influx of tribals from Dantewada and Bijapur districts in Chattisgarh to the plains and the forest regions of Bhadrachalam in Khammam district have increased. Indian Express reported that over 16,000 Gotti Koyas have migrated from Chhattisgarh between 2005 and July 2009 to escape harassment by police officials and Salwa Judum members. Hundreds of Naxal sympathisers from among the migrant Gotti Koyas have been arrested and the Forest and Police Departments have sought permission from the State government to send the migrants back to their native places. According to Forest Department officials, the tribals may resort to ‘massive deforestation by settling in the forests and hence they should be evacuated immediately.

 When Salwa Judum unleashed violence in the name of anti-Naxal operations by the Chattisgarh government in June 2005, thousands of adivasis fled their villages. Helpless after having lost their seeds and cattle, they were living in constant fear for their lives. Though the Supreme Court had directed the State government to rehabilitate the tribals, the government has made little efforts jn this direction.

 Himanshu Kumar, the Gandhian activist who has been working among tribals in Bastar for more than 17 years, had set up an ashram in Dantewada and rehabilitated adivasis from 30 districts. But the ashram was demolished by the police forces on May 17, 2009.He said, “If the government is not willing, let me do it. I can bring peace in a week. You withdraw your forces and provide the amenities that were stopped after Salwa Judum started: doctors, schools, aanganwadis. Naxalites have said they will not interfere with my rehabilitation work because I have no political ambitions. “

 Salwa Judum resulted in a 22-fold increase in the ranks of Maoist rebels.Himanshu warns that “Operation Green Hunt will result in genocide of Adivasis. Those who survive will become Naxalites.”

Out of their desperation and frustration, the tribals have taken weapons in their hands in a last attempt to sustain their lives. Maoists have trained thousands of tribals including women and children to fight as foot soldiers, teaching them to lay landmines and to make remote-control detonators for explosives. They are indoctrinated in the ideology of fight against government rule and landlords. Those who pledge allegiance to the Maoists are rewarded. But the tribals are also subjected to intimidation and  coercive obligations by the Maoists.

The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) use repressive measures against the tribals. They even beat up doctors who go into jungle to treat the patients. The tribals live in abysmal conditions, subjected to constant harassment and torture. They are shot dead by the police on suspicions of Naxalite links; and such police atrocities remain unquestioned. Himanshu complains that they have tried to file 1,000 FIRs against the police but not even one has been registered.

 So when justice in any form is denied to them, how can we blame the tribals for anti-government uprisings? The authorities who are responsible to protect them are taking away their rights and forcing them out of their lands to satisfy corporate interests. On the other side are the Naxals who promise them what the government has failed to provide for years.

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The Burmese struggle for democracy

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

International pressure on Burmese junta to give up anti-democratic rule and  open political dialogue with the opposition is mounting.The military regime has shown signs of acceptance of democratic policies in the country. The Burmese Democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi had called for direct talks with the military regime following the visit of two senior US diplomats as part of the US’s new diplomatic policies towards Burma.

 On November 19, United Nations, the 192-nation world body, approved a resolution condemning Burma for its systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Burmese people .The resolution urged for the immediate and unconditional release of more than 2,000 political prisoners in the country including Suu Kyi. The resolution also advocates the freedom of assembly, association, movement and freedom of expression.

 The Burmese Permanent Representative to the UN condemned the resolution as “anachronistic and flawed.” He defended the junta’s position by saying that Burma had already approved a new constitution and is preparing for a general election in 2010 which would be free and fair. The junta has recently released 1000 political prisoners. However China, Russia, India and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have a different take on the issue. They maintain that constructive dialogue and cooperation are the only way to promote human rights and a resolution pinpointing the flaws would be counter productive.

 During the recent US-ASEAN summit, US President Barack Obama called for the unconditional release of Suu Kyi and to open genuine dialogue between the government, democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups.

 Burma is under military dictatorship since 1962 and the junta’s repressive and abusive policies have dragged the country into civil war forcing the ethnic groups of remote areas to engage in armed struggle. The military campaigns of the Burmese junta have left thousands of people internally displaced, especially the ethnic minority groups.

 Thanks to the military junta, Burma ranks as the third most corrupt country in the world according to the ‘2009 Corruption Perceptions Index’ by Transparency International, a Berlin-based global civil society organization. Forced labour, human trafficking and child labour are rampant in the country; and according to the human rights organizations, there is no independent judiciary in Burma. The women’s pro-democracy movements in exile and international movements to defend women’s rights are formed to protest against sexual violence against women by the military regime as an instrument of control.

 The totalitarian regime seized power in a coup in 1988 and the opposition was brutally suppressed .Suu Kyi who was under house arrest won the general elections held by the regime in 1990 but the regime refused to hand over power. Ne Win, a believer  in Stalinist ideologies, led the country along the ‘Burmese Road to Socialism’ by implementing ideas like  nationalization, isolationism, ethnic cleansing, and a police state. The oppressive rule of the regime, now known as the ‘State Peace and Development Council’, continues even today.

 Aung San Suu Kyi

 Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democratic campaigner and leader of opposition National League (NLD) has been fighting against the unjust and suppressive rule of the military junta since 1988.She has spent the last 14 years of the past 20 years in detention under the junta regime. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her tireless efforts to bring in democracy in Burma.

Suu Kyi, born on 19 June 1945 , is the daughter of Burma’s democratic hero, Aung San, who was assassinated during the transition period of Burma in July 1947. Suu kyi came to India in 1960 accompanying her mother Khin Kyi, who  was appointed as Burma’s ambassador to India. She was inspired by the non-violent methods of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and campaigned for peaceful democratic reforms in Burma. She went back to Burma in 1988 and led the revolt against General Ne Win. Suu Kyi who was under house arrest won 82% votes in the general elections held by the regime in 1990 but the regime refused to hand over power .

 Suu Kyi was released after six years but was again arrested in 2000 when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay defying travel restrictions. She was released in 2002, but was again arrested in a year following a clash between her supporters and the government. Government rejected NLD’s pleas to release her as she was suffering from low blood pressure and dehydration. Her detention was due to expire on May 2009 but she was convicted and sentenced for another 18 months of detention  for breaching the conditions of her house arrest as a US person broke into her compound to meet her. There are criticisms that the whole episode was designed by the junta to keep her away from the general elections that are to be held in 2010. But in a surprising move, on 9 November 2009, the military government has indicated that Suu Kyi may be released soon and also that she’ll be allowed to take part in the general elections. But the Burma’s constitution has provisions that bar her from holding office.

 Aung San Suu Kyi’s non-violent campaigns have won support from Western nations in Europe, Australia and North and South America, India, Israel Japan and South Korea. Suu Kyi, referred to as ‘Daw’ by the Burmese people, a term that denotes respect for older women, has become one of the international icons of democracy and fight against injustice.

 

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Operation Green Hunt fuelled by corporate interests

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Operation Green Hunt is the name assigned to the concerted efforts by the government against the Maoist rebels in the states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

In the first phase of the operation in November in the Kanker district of Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, the objective was to cover the 6,000 sq km swathe of forest called the Abuj Marh, hold the territory and to help and assist the government agencies to initiate developmental work. The seven-phase operations are expected to last for two years. The Central Paramilitary Forces along with special action group (SAG), anti-Naxal special action squads (C-60) of the state security agency and Commando Battalion `for Resolute Action (CoBRA), specially trained in jungle warfare, were deployed for the operation.

According to Home Minister Chidambaram, Operation Green Hunt is purely an invention of the media. The Central Government is just providing assistance by way of central paramilitary forces, intelligence-sharing and technical help.

But what made the government to take such extreme measures against its own citizens? And what has forced these people to take weapons and fight against the state? The unanswered question is whether this problem could be solved by military operations?’

 Maoists are the members of the banned CPI (Maoist), a descendent of the CPI (Marxist –Leninist) that led the Naxalite uprising in 1969 and was liquidated by the government. ‘ They believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the State.’ The Maoists’ guerilla army mostly consists of desperately poor tribal people who are denied the benefits of development and have been mercilessly subjected to exploitation for decades.

The problem of Maoist Naxalism is to be addressed immediately and their destructive activities brought to an end. The Naxalite activities have spread to 90 districts across 10 States in the country. But a military solution to suppress and eliminate the Naxalites and their supporters will never succeed. The root cause for the resistant movements and the people’s agitation should be sorted out which requires genuine efforts on part of the state and central governments.

Studies show that 85 of the country’s 100 poorest districts are in seven of those 10 states. In these ‘disturbed areas’, 32% of the population is below the poverty line. The state governments have a terrible record of delivering public goods and services in these districts. Only 68% of homes in these districts get safe drinking water while in other areas the number is 74%.

The people living in these areas are mostly tribals who never receive the special rights and privileges they are entitled to but are instead subjected to exploitation and caste discrimination.

Even after 60 years of independence they don’t have access to education, healthcare or even drinking water facilities. It is in their desperation and frustration that these people resort to violent protests. For them it is a fight to sustain their life because the government had failed to provide them the basic necessities.

Instead of trying to find a solution to these issues, government has decided to take military action against them. “Chidambaram is not alone in this decision; he represents the interests of the entire ruling class of the country, which constitutes not just the cabinet or the parliament or corporate,” Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada who has been working in the area for the past 17 years said at a convention in Banglore on November 7.

The mineral wealth of these ‘disturbed zones’ explains the sudden spurge in the military action against Naxalite movements. A  number of multinational mining and steel companies are waiting to get hold of mineral rich land in these areas. It is quite interesting to know that Chidambaram was a non-executive director of ’Vedanta’, one of the biggest players in this game which has a track record of human rights violations and gross environmental damage.

As Arundhathi Roy had pointed out there are bauxite deposits worth 4 trillion dollars in Orissa alone. There are millions of tons of high quality iron ore in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh and 28 other precious minerals like uranium, limestone, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite,corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and granite. The power plants, dams, highways, steel and cement factories and other infrastructure projects that would be built include hundreds of MoU’s that have been signed already.

Salwa Judum- the people’s militia in Dantewada to fight against the Maoists was formed soon after an MoU was signed by the Tata Group, and was followed by the setting up of a Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar. The government is alleged to have sanctioned 1,40,0000 hectares of prime land to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones and was forcibly acquiring lands in the name of public purpose to give it to private corporations.

In the name of counter-insurgency operations, other resistance movements against the state will also be named as Naxalism and swept off. For example in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodi Janasadharaner Committee (People’s Committee against Police Atrocities), a people’s forum separate from Maoists but sympathetic to them is constantly referred to as another wing of CPI(Maoists). All these are clear indications of the nexus between the government and the corporates and their well-planned strategy to silence protests by the people.

 See Also:-

Mr.Chidambharam’s war– Arundhati Roy

On war footing 

Naxalbari to Nalgonda

The road from Naxalbari

Naxalbari(1967) : The Naxalite movement in India

 

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