Development and Violence: Some Clues?

How does one characterize the Indian state and understand its actions? In three posts (here, here and here) we have used the interaction of the Indian state with its tribal population to try and find some answers. None have been fully convincing and in this post we try a different vantage point to push the analysis further.

The facts at hand point to a situation of neglect at best, exploitation at worst. There has been undeniable injustice and the resulting problems are being addressed with force, not through politics. And yet, there are very few voices speaking up for a fair deal. How are these outcomes possible in a liberal, democratic state?

Our extended discussion has thrown up some tentative answers: the state is ignorant of the injustice inherent in its actions and needs to be made aware by civil society; it is captured by large corporations; it is characterized by crony capitalism; it is urban-centric; civil society is ignorant of Indian history; it is self-centered; etc., etc.

There is some element of truth in all these observations but they don’t come together in a manner that evokes conviction. Going through them one by one, it seems they are all characterized by a common element – a ‘lack’ of something or the other that one expects to be present. It is either a lack of knowledge or integrity or ethics or accountability or awareness or empathy or some other characteristic belonging to that set.

But can a state and a civil society be characterized entirely by something that is missing? Should we rather not seek what the state and the civil society stand for? Could there be a set of convictions in which what is happening makes sense and which can provide a more convincing explanation of the observed outcomes?

The extended discussion on this blog has pushed my search in that direction and I feel I have some results to report. This process has also strengthened my faith in the value of conversations that benefit from multiple inputs, each one partial and incomplete, to lead to a collective understanding that provides a platform for further analysis. I hope the thoughts presented in this post would be subjected to as rigorous a critique as was the case in the earlier ones.

My principal insight is due to a re-reading of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe to which I was sent back by one of the earlier comments. Very early in the first chapter of the book, Chakrabarty raises the issue of the undemocratic foundations of democracy: “What is effectively played down, however, in histories that either implicitly or explicitly celebrate the advent of the modern state and the idea of citizenship is the repression and violence that are as instrumental in the victory of the modern as is the persuasive power of its rhetorical strategies.”

Chakrabarty proceeds to cite an example of the violent and coercive foundations of development and it helps that the example is about the same tribal people we have been discussing. It illustrates the “coercion that continues in the name of the nation and modernity” and is related to the Indian campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. It comes from the description of two American doctors (one of them presumably of Indian origin) who participated in the campaign in a village of the Ho tribe in Bihar. The description is worth quoting in full because just by itself it points to the explanation we have been seeking:

In the middle of the gentle Indian night, an intruder burst through the bamboo door of the simple adobe hut. He was a government vaccinator, under orders to break resistance against smallpox vaccination. Lakshmi Singh awoke screaming and scrambled to hide herself. Her husband leaped out of bed, grabbed an axe, and chased the intruder into the courtyard. Outside a squad of doctors and policemen quickly overpowered Mohan Singh. The instant he was pinned to the ground, a second vaccinator jabbed smallpox vaccine into his arm. Mohan Singh, a wiry 40-year-old leader of the Ho tribe, squirmed away from the needle, causing the vaccination site to bleed. The government team held him until they had injected enough vaccine… While the two policemen rebuffed him, the rest of the team overpowered the entire family and vaccinated each in turn. Lakshmi Singh bit deep into one doctor’s hand, but to no avail.

Chakrabarty concludes: “There is no escaping the idealism that accompanies this violence. The subtitle of the article in question unselfconsciously reproduces both the military and the do-gooding instincts of the enterprise. It reads: “How an army of samaritans drove smallpox from the earth.”

It is this connection between violence and idealism that lies at the heart of the process of citizenship and modernity. And once one picks up the clue from Chakrabarty, doesn’t it begin to stare one in the face. Isn’t this the history of all modernizing elites (democratic or revolutionary) who are impatient to propel the ‘backward’ into the ‘modern’ age against the latter’s wishes but always in the latter’s interest (as defined by the former)? And isn’t this the history of all evangelical powers that wish to save the souls of the damned through inquisitions, if need be?

Tony Judt points to another example from the moral domain in his review of Eric Hobsbawam’s The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 (NYRB, May 25, 1995). Judt quotes Hobsbawm on the New Poor Law of 1834:

I daresay the Poor Law reformers honestly believed that paupers were morally improved by the separation of wives and husbands in the workhouse… So far as the victims of these views were concerned, the results were as bad as – perhaps worse than – if they had been achieved by deliberate cruelty: inhuman, impersonal, callous degradation of the spirit of men and women and the destruction of their dignity. Perhaps this was historically inevitable and even necessary. But the victim suffered – suffering is not a privilege of well-informed persons. And any historian who cannot appreciate this is not worth reading.

So, is the Indian state a modernizing, evangelical state worshipping the god of progress? It is well intended, genuinely believes that the ecological and social costs are worth the price of global economic recognition, and that ‘backward’ communities can be ignored or propelled into the present for their own good as circumstances necessitate. If so, why would we expect it to doubt its mission, its convictions, and its methods? And why would it not be sympathetic to the voice of the industrialists who are the vehicle for the achievement of this vision?

This line of thought sent me back to Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India and to a chapter (“Temples of the Future”) I had glossed over in my earlier reading. Khilnani is talking about large dams and how “India in the 1950s fell in love with the idea of concrete.” To those who imagined them, these dams “embodied the vision of modernity to which India had committed itself. They were the spectacular facades, luxurious in their very austerity, upon which the nation watched expectantly as the image of its future was projected. It was a big, audacious image. India, it promised, would become an industrial giant.”

Writing in the late 1990s, Khilnani reflects back on this vision: “Nothing ages worse than images of the future, and half a century later that image, many agree, seems to have been mistaken: grandiose, irrelevant and even destructive… The great dams, sluicing through forests and villages, have come to be seen as the emanations of a developmental fantasy insensitive to ecological limits and careless of turning its citizens into refugees in their own land. Poverty in the countryside and city continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of millions.”

But the failure did not trigger any serious misgivings of the mission. The vision remained constant, only the means to attaining it changed. Khilnani captures this vividly in a seven-word characterization of Manmohan Singh – “A kind of Mahalanobis for the 1990s” – a reference to the legendary technocrat behind the planning of the 1950s. Once again, rapid progress at all costs was needed to make India great.

But, what of civil society? Where does it come out in this spectrum of convictions? Here, I picked up a clue from an article by Isaac Chotiner (Globish for Beginners) in the May 31, 2010 issue of the New Yorker.  Chotiner starts with Macualay’s well known words from the Minute on Indian Education: “We must at present do our best to form a class of persons, Indian and blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”

Chotiner’s conclusion: “The implication was obvious: Indians must learn the language of their occupiers.” In the context of our discussion, the word ‘language’ can be given a much broader connotation. Chotiner ends his article with the following observation: “Macaulay remains a much disputed figure in India, but he understood where his policies would lead. He knew that Indian independence could not be postponed forever, but he wanted to insure that what he considered the right class of people gained power when the British departed, and sought to leave behind “the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws.””

So, in this sense we can say the dominant segments of civil society inherited a colonial mindset. All the key stakeholders – with power, money, and voice – share the same modernizing vision, the same desire for global recognition, the same characterization of the modern and the backward, and the same impatience with consensual procedures. When we consider things in this perspective, none of the outcomes we see today – the actions of the state, the stance of capital, the sympathies of civil society, and even the accolades of outsiders – seem particularly difficult to understand. They all fit into a coherent worldview, a vision of the future, and a role for the modernizers.

We are back to the tension between the idealism and the violence, the desires of the modernizers and the struggles of those who have to pay the price of modernization. In a recent address Akbar Ganji, a representative of the Green Movement in Iran, characterized history thus: “Human history has been interpreted in many ways. I read this history as a sustained course of struggle for liberty—the struggle of slaves, women, people of color, the poor, the disenfranchised, of religious minorities and dissidents of various sorts, to rid themselves of the tyranny they have endured.”

In a history of the revolutions in Paris, I came across a provocative phrase: “The time of the oppressed is by nature discontinuous” – apparently the participants in the street battles of July 1830 set fire to the clocks on monuments. How will the struggles for liberty proceed in India and where will they lead? When another Sunil Khilnani reflects on the past how would the unfolding of the vision of the 1990s look different from that of the 1950s?


  • Vinod
    Posted at 02:18h, 31 May Reply

    SA, Related to this post, I have a book recommendation for you – ‘Why Ancient Wisdom Matters In The Modern World’ ~ Wade Davis

    In presenting this book at the long now foundation, the author made a statement that stuck in my head. I paraphrase him – Why is it that we have accepted unquestioningly that technological development, prolonging life spans and control over nature is the only way of giving meaning to community life in society? Why do we have a problem with the idea that different people can come up with different ideas about what a fulfilled life, as an individual and as a community, should be? Why do we go about pitying tribal populations for the choice of life they have made, as if somehow our (Western world’s) choice is implcitly superior to theirs?

  • Vinod
    Posted at 06:44h, 31 May Reply

    During one of the conversations I had with my law lecturer he spoke about the tendency of idealists, who theorize extensively individually, when given power, to think little of other competing viewpoints and become dictatorial in their rule. My take on this is that power has a way of corrupting character and intellectual supremacy does not guarantee strength in character.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 15:40h, 31 May

      Vinod: Situations inevitably become problematic when one group believes it knows better what another group needs instead of letting the latter define them. When the former group also has power over the latter, it is very difficult to prevent direct or indirect violence. Idealists and ideologues are particularly dangerous in such situations because they are so convinced they are right. It is more a matter of strength of conviction than weakness of character.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 07:08h, 31 May Reply
    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 15:42h, 31 May

      This is also one of my bookmarked blogs. The range of offerings is very impressive.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 20:36h, 01 June Reply

    SA, part of the problem we face today is that states that have inflicted tremendous violence on their constituents in the name of development, think of Communist China and the American state with respect to American Indians and African Americans, are seen as successful and powerful. Naturally the ruling elite try to ape their ‘models’.

    It is almost as if this vaccination violence and the love for concrete stems almost from (the elite’s) shame at one’s current state and a sense of vulnerability. I would think that such an elite would reproduce the aforementioned violence regardless of the structure of the state. This is not to say that the structure of the security and administrative wing of the Indian state is not a reason for the violence we see in India today.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:48h, 02 June

      Vikram: I agree with you. The issue worth thinking about is the relationship between the citizens and the state. Why and how do citizens allow the state to do what they would not do themselves? This dilemma was the subject of a book by the theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr; the title was Moral Man and Immoral Society. These issues are very well summarized in the review of a new book (On Evil) by Terry Eagleton. I hope we can carry on the discussion after you have read the review. The debate essentially turns on our view of the nature of human beings and their relationship to institutions. It is institutions that channel individual motivations into collective outcomes but somewhere in the process individuals absolve themselves of responsibility for the actions of institutions.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 20:11h, 02 June

      I agree, I will be traveling for the next few days. But I will digest the review and write back on Monday or Tuesday.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 23:34h, 08 June

      Some lines stand out for me (in this review of a new book, On Evil, by Terry Eagleton) and we can base our discussion around them:

      “It is for this reason that conservatives lay great store on the role of institutions in governing the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. The flaw in their loyalty to tradition, however, is that they fail to apply the hermeneutics of corruption to the bodies they erect as barriers against chaos, and refuse to acknowledge that the very institutions they build to protect themselves against disorder frequently end up as instruments of the destruction they are seeking to avoid.”

      “He believes that most immoral behaviour is bound up with structures and institutions, so that it is not entirely the fault of the individuals who are implicated in it.”

      “We are binary creatures, capable of good and evil, yet prone to disguising from ourselves the impact on others of our actions, particularly in the structural or systemic realm.”

      The claim is that the structures and institutions of modern states can often disguise brutality. This is true in fact not only of modern states but also of how many of us view history. When westerners use the words “Alexander the Great” they are in an instant whitewashing the extreme violence Alexander brought to both his people and the people living near Greece. Indeed all great empires that are celebrated by their descendants today were either setup by or engaged in great violence.

      In any case, the major issue we have to address is whether it is the structure and nature of the Indian state itself that leads to violence, is this violence ‘necessary’ to remedy the existing violence of caste and ignorance prevalent across India and what we can do make the Indian state less violent.

      As far as the ‘backing’ that state violence has with regards to the middle class in India, it is not surprising given the colonial origins of the state, lack of respect for social sciences in the society and the fact that those who are subjected to violence often lack a voice. I think part of the problem is also how the middle class views Gandhi, he is seen essentially as a political representative who got rid of the British and his philosophies are mostly ignored. After all how many IITs offer majors or even courses in Gandhian studies ?

      Sorry if this reply was not coherent, this is a difficult issue to get a grip on.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:58h, 10 June

      Vikram: Eagleton is advocating a materialist understanding which is the belief that ‘most violence and injustice are the result of material forces, not of the vicious disposition of individuals’ and that ‘most immoral behaviour is bound up with structures and institutions, so that it is not entirely the fault of the individuals who are implicated in it.’ What he proposes is ‘a change or turnaround in our minds that enables us to see what is really going on.’

      The political structure of the Indian state is democratic which should not lead to violence unless democracy degenerates into majoritarianism. It is the economic structure – a capitalism, whose ethos of relentless growth at any price we have signed on to – that is at the heart of the Indian problem. The solution is not to dump capitalism but to realize that it must be a capitalism in which justice takes priority over growth. It is alright to grow at slower than the maximum possible rate if the progress is accompanied by a much lower level of violence in society. The other way of putting it is that just as GDP growth rates should be discounted for violence against nature (environmental degradation), they should be discounted for violence against society (human degradation).

      I don’t subscribe to the notion that more violence is necessary to remedy existing violence unless we are faced with something as vile as the Nazi system. In general, we have to find the democratic path to reducing violence in society.

      There is a good essay by Tony Judt on these themes: Recasting Public Conversation.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 15:57h, 10 June

      SA, Sen in ‘The Idea of Justice’ advocates the capability approach to measure growth instead of the GDP. The capability approach takes into account the functionings and capabilities of individuals considering their income and individual disadvantages such as dependent members, family sizes, nature of rights over property, physical handicaps etc. There is enough research to make this approach rigorous anbd objective. The adoption of this method is delayed due to institutionalized nervousness towards quatifying capabilities and freedoms

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 22:24h, 10 June

      Vinod: It is incredible how we have been locked into such a flawed indicator of welfare as GDP and how we have allowed it to dominate our world view so that we think there is nothing wrong in inflicting violence on nature or human beings for the sake of ‘progress.’ There is an article that appeared a couple of years ago that explains in simple terms the problems with how we measure human welfare: Our Phony Economy by Jonathan Rowe.

      This NYT article summarizes the new thinking on finding an alternate measure. Sen is a member of a Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Welfare that has been charged with this assignment. As you may know Bhutan is the only country that has switched to a Gross National Happiness indicator. I have not seen any evaluation of it yet.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 03:27h, 02 June Reply

    How should the whole picture be seen?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:11h, 02 June

      Arun: I will go though all the links before making a comment. But in the meanwhile I would like to post here what Arundhati Roy had to say in her defense re the charges leveled against her:

      I feel the confusion is being exacerbated by Roy’s use of a literary style of writing. This is a very sensitive issue and it might help if she kept the language without literary flourishes and the meaning as clear as possible.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:04h, 02 June

      Arun: I have read the article and have a response to discuss further. I feel we should not see this as the “whole picture”. Instead, there are two distinct pictures and we would benefit from seeing them separately. There is the issue of Adivasi rights and welfare and there is the Naxal movement. The fact that they are occurring in the same geography does not make them one. If we agree that there has been a denial of justice to the Adivasis we can address that independently of our position on the Naxal movement. It is source of puzzlement why the state has not tried to prise them apart.

      In addition to this benign perspective there is the danger that some people might actually want to conflate the two in order to legitimize the use of violence and thereby kill two birds with one stone. One can think of the neocons linking the actions of the Saddam regime to the terror network of Al Qaeda – this contrived “whole picture” contributed to the popular momentum behind the invasion of Iraq. In either case, the real motivation would be a grab for the mineral wealth not the redressing of injustice.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 05:28h, 03 June

      I think what Roy says is very apt in this line of her retort to the Outlook column-

      Perhaps the confusion arises because the Indian elite would love to prescribe the opposite: conspicuous consumption for the rich and non-violent satyagraha for the poor.

      This is exactly the vibe I get when I talk to urban Indians who have reduced the struggle of the adivasis to the Naxalite movement.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 21:56h, 02 June Reply

    South Asian: I see one picture in which there are five entities operating: the adivasis, the Naxals, the state, the mining corporations, and the public. The adivasis themselves belong to two groups: those converted to Naxalism and those not yet converted. So there are in fact six groups. The public is a passive player that acts only through public opinion i.e. through the media.

    We need a picture of this whole situation to better understand why the state is behaving as it is. Your post is illuminating in that it gives a broad view of why states behave as they do in developmental situations.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:25h, 03 June

      Arun: I feel we will benefit by splitting this into two pictures, if only analytically, and then seeing how they come together. One picture includes the state, the adivasis, the mining corporations, and the public. In the post I have presented one hypothesis about how they interact – the adivasis are the ‘backward’ group that has to be ‘modernized’; the other three comprise the ‘modernizers’.

      The other picture includes the state, the Naxals, and the public. Here we can consider a scenario in which the Naxals are revolutionaries arrayed against the other two as defenders of law and order.

      How do these two pictures overlap? What do they have to do with each other? Are we saying that if the Naxals had not been present, there would have no adivasi problem? Or, if there had been no adivasi problem, there would have been no Naxals? I think both propositions are false. The Naxals emerged quite independent of the adivasi issue and the adivasi issue would have existed even without the Naxals.

      My own sense is that the adivasis are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Without the Naxals, they would have lost out to the ‘evangelical modernizers’ without much notice by anyone; with the Naxals, they are tarred by the very association with ‘anti-state revolutionaries’.

      We must add the media as an independent entity in the picture. Public opinion is almost entirely determined by the slant given to events by the media. And the media is quite significantly aligned with the state and the corporate interests. Whoever controls the flow of information has the upper hand and in the situation under discussion the balance is very one-sided. It almost looks like Arundhati Roy vs the Rest.

      My suggestion is to focus on discussing what is the right thing to do in two independent situations: (1) An adivasi issue without the Naxal overlay; and (2) a Naxal issue without the adivasi underlay. Where would we come out if these had been independent of each other?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 21:10h, 03 June Reply

    South Asian: I don’t mind splitting the picture into two pictures for the sake of analysis. But I think this might make one lose sight of an important thing: the link between many adivasis and the Naxals. If we want to understand the state’s behavior, I think this link is very important, because I believe that not only the state but also large elements of the public rightly or wrongly see them together. This is not to say the adivasi problem and the Naxal are not to a certain degree independent but to the extent that they have evolved in a certain way they have now become inextricable from each other. I think it is the perception of their linkage that is in part responsible for the state’s armed violence. I am not trying to justify the perception; I am just pointing out that it is a reality.

    Also, there are other actors in this problem. As you pointed out, the media need to be included as separate from the public. There are also other non-Naxal activists who do not espouse violence. They should also be included.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 01:59h, 04 June

      Arun, is this linkage similar to that between terrorists among muslims and marginalized muslims? Do you see Islamic terrorism corresponding to naxalism?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 11:47h, 05 June

      Arun: This is what comes across as important to me: If a misperception is indeed responsible for the state’s armed violence then there is a great need to rectify that misperception.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 03:37h, 04 June Reply

    Vinod: The only similarity I see is that both Naxalites and Islamic terrorists espouse violence and outmoded ideologies to achieve their state-oriented goals – either to establish a Maoist state or to establish an Islamic Caliphate. These are similarities of form not of content. I have no sympathy for either group. Many people like Arundhati Roy tend to romanticize the violence of Naxalites. As South Asian rightly says, the Naxalites would have existed even if there had not been any adivasi problem. For the Naxalites, the adivasis are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. For me, it is very important to treat the adivasis as an end in themselves. Only then can just solutions emerge.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 07:50h, 04 June

      the Naxalites would have existed even if there had not been any adivasi problem

      Arun, even if they had existed without the adivasis, they would not have been the out of control vine that they are today. They probably would have just been an irritating weed in the corner. The Naxalite movement and the Caliphate idealogues need disgruntled poor people as fodder for their movement. Don’t you think so?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 15:06h, 04 June Reply

    Vinod: I would personally not describe the adivasis or marginalized Muslims as “disgruntled poor people.” I find the word “disgruntled” uncaring because it appears to imply that they are complainers. In reality, their condition is horrendous. Because capitalist development takes place in uneven ways, it leaves behind many people. On top of this, states and corporations often act in unjust ways. Both these things create groups of people who remain poor despite the growing wealth of others in their society. For example, the number of poor people has grown since the 1990s in India despite the growth in the economy. About 70% of India is poor. Of these, the tribals are about 8% of the total population. It is perhaps true that if growth had been just, then the Naxalites and the Islamic terrorists would not have had access to a base from which to recruit followers. But, as I said, there are many differences between the two movements because the latter problem is international in scope and their methods involve suicide attacks and are different. Also, one movement is from the extreme left and is directly concerned about poverty, the other is from the extreme right and is concerned about somewhat different things. So I would be cautious about drawing too many easy parallels just because both are extreme forms.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 17:59h, 04 June

      Thanks Arun. That helped.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 03:10h, 06 June

      Arun, those points educated me by crystallizing in my mind the differences between the movements, especially the last point on the reasons for which the movements get going.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 06:25h, 08 June

      Arun, after thinking about the differences between Islamic extremism and the Maoist movement, I am inclined to think that in the case of the taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are no substantial differences with the Maoist movement. The Taliban too are a movement that has resulted not just from the failure of nation building but from the antipathetic use of the poor who have different lifestyles to feed the consumerist urban elites. This similarity is also pointed out by Roy.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:22h, 10 June

      Vinod: Let me provide the most commonly believed genesis of the Taliban and see if that changes your view. The Taliban phenomenon was created entirely from the top – masterminded by the US, funded by the Saudis, and hosted by the Pakistanis. It was a mercenary force used as part of the Cold War and motivated by appeals to an Islamic jihad against godless communism. It had nothing to do with the poor or their suffering.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 07:58h, 11 June

      SA, rhetoric alone does not create enemies in the minds of men. Ideological rhetoric has to resonate with the conditions of the people. It has to give them a hope of succour from the wretchedness of their conditions. It is always the poor who makes the masses of any army, whether it be the taliban or the US forces. In the origins of the Taliban, fighting against the “godless communists” must have motivated many to see a better future to their lives with a more just government in place to replace them. Some will derive their motivation from the hope of a better after-life. The creation of the Taliban is a story of the use of the poor as a means to fight off enemies by the rich and powerful. The poor are -always manipulated – make them fight a war or use their resources for the comforts of the urban petty bourgeois and the rich or simply ignore them or placate them with left over bones of development.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 19:40h, 12 June

      Vinod: I still feel we need to make a distinction – just the common ingredient of poor people is not enough to treat all movements alike. A nationalist movement to get rid of foreign occupiers is very different from a revolutionary one intended to combat injustice within society. To take an example from India itself – should one equate the 1857 movement against the British with the Naxal movement? Or from Pakistan: Should one equate the movement for Bangladesh with the Taliban?

    • Vinod
      Posted at 06:17h, 14 June

      The differences lie in who the rich are and what the methods or options the poor have in battling them.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 23:44h, 04 June Reply

    Vinod: Could you explain how it helped? What doubts did it dispel?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 15:49h, 05 June Reply

    South Asian: The latest edition of the Economist magazine has this short paragraph:

    “A train crash in India was thought to have been caused by Maoist sabotage, though the group denied it. At least 148 people were killed, taking the toll from Maoist attacks over the past two months to more than 300. The government laid out what it called “a detailed road map” for peace talks with the rebels. It is also considering a controversial proposal to give the army a backup role in fighting the counter-insurgency, a task handled by national police forces.”

    I have not read about this road map for peace talks. Does anyone know anything about it?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 21:28h, 05 June

      Arun: I would also like more information on this detailed road map.

      What I did not like about the Economist report was the jump from the Maoist denial in the first sentence to the attribution of the deaths to them in the second. This is inexcusable. The PUDR has called for an inquiry before responsibility can be attributed and I feel that is the right position to take.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 19:20h, 05 June Reply

    South Asian: Videos from Outlook magazine:

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 22:47h, 05 June Reply

    South Asian: I agree with you. Their jump to simply assuming it was the Maoists without the information was inexcusable.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 22:51h, 05 June Reply

    South Asian: I saw the entire set of videos from Outlook magazine. While I disagreed with many of the points made by Navlakha and Roy, I felt they were nevertheless both very persuasive in their arguments. The very last question about development is precisely what this blog has been discussing.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:07h, 05 June

      Arun: I watched it three-fourths of the way through so missed the last question you mention. I was disappointed that with such a powerful case both speakers took such a disjointed, rambling and ranting approach to the issue.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 23:28h, 05 June Reply

    South Asian: Well, that is Arundhati’s style but for the first time I found her quite eloquent and not as shrill as she usually sounds in her written material. I have always found her writing impossible to accept. Navlakha I had never heard of but he, too, I found quite sound in what he said if you accept his ideological starting point – a standard Marxist/Leninist/Maoist kind of position. But they would not succeed in convincing anyone who did not already feel a basic sympathy for the plight of the tribals. That is what one person asked but his question was not posed sharply enough. The last question was about whether Arundhati’s strategy would ultimately deny the tribals the fruits of development that she and all of us have access to.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 05:16h, 06 June

      I think Arundhati’s question – can the bauxite be left in the mountains – is a poignant question that merits an answer from Indian middle intelligentsia.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 20:24h, 06 June

      Arun: The key question here is why do so few people feel a basic sympathy for the plight of the tribals? Don’t you find that perplexing?

      On the last question: Isn’t there a premise in the question that without the Naxals/Arundhati the tribals would have received the fruits of development? Is that premise well-founded?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 01:58h, 06 June Reply

    Thinking more about the videos, the difficulty seems to be this: India, like many other countries, is a capitalist democracy. In addition, it has a horrendously large and complex population. And it is quite poor. This makes it very hard for just growth to occur. This leads people like Arundhati and Navlakha to feel the system itself cannot ever deliver the goods. So they seek solutions with alternative forms of government. But they never spell out what these alternative forms are in detail or how such forms could deliver the complex goods and services that modern capitalist democracies deliver. And so their solutions seem even less promising than the present system because everything is left undefined and is just a form of vague romanticism. This comes back full circle where we are left with capitalist democracies full of unjust growth. What is to be done?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 20:29h, 06 June

      Arun: I agree with you but I feel we are placing too great a burden on Arundhati if we expect her to point out the problems AND also provide the solution. I feel she has made a tremendous contribution by raising her hand to be counted. What puzzles me is why there no others suggesting feasible solutions/reforms/improvements? Where are the argumentative Indians? Where is Sen himself?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 02:34h, 07 June Reply

    South Asian: I think people feel little sympathy for the tribals because the majority identify with some group identity rather than with just their humanity. So people who are religious identify with their religious group; people who are secular identify with their class; sometimes people adopt multiple identities. But they do not think simply as human beings or even just as part of nature. One rich person from India I spoke to recently said that a family of beggars he passes every day on his way to work lived in such filth and squalor that they were like animals. I was struck by this remark because it showed a complete lack of identification with the beggars. Even Che Guevara once said he felt an “abstract love for humanity”. I think the real challenge for everyone is to be able to feel a concrete love for humanity.

    On the last question, there is such a premise but it strikes me as reasonable because capitalism, more than any other system in history, has reduced poverty globally. I disagreed with Arundhati when she countered Manmohan Singh’s statement about 85% of the population living in urban areas by saying that this will lead to even bigger slums. On the contrary, this kind of urbanization is a well-documented trend globally and countries everywhere are trying to prepare for it. I think our attention is too focused on what the state is not doing rather than on what the state is doing. I just cannot agree that it is completely callous.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 04:50h, 07 June

      On the contrary, this kind of urbanization is a well-documented trend globally and countries everywhere are trying to prepare for it

      Arun, is the prevalence of the trend a justification for that policy of urbanization? Has urbanization really helped populations? I believe ‘Haussmanization’ is the name by which that social engineering exercise goes by and it is not without its critiques. First and foremost, it is the foisting of a way of life – the city life – on people.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:35h, 09 June

      Arun: I still find it difficult to understand why people would feel little sympathy for tribals simply because of the identification factor. Charity is big in our societies – people are giving a lot on an individual basis for the welfare of the less well off. I think your second reason has more explanatory power – when a group is seen as backward or ‘less than human’ or as a hindrance in the path of a desired objective the psychology changes. And this is reinforced if the state projects the same stance.

      On the second question I feel we have to look at the record of capitalism separately at the national and global levels. In developed countries capitalism has indeed raised living standards across the aboard. But this has often been at the expense of the periphery – the banana republics were a particularly stark example of this. So, I am not sure how we evaluate the outcomes on a net basis.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 02:42h, 07 June Reply

    South Asian: I agree that Arundhati’s contribution is huge. However, she is shooting herself in the foot, as it were, by adopting the strategies she has chosen. Without any more effort she could have been like a Martin Luther King or at least made concrete demands and offered feasible options. Otherwise everyone will and does dismiss her. Did you read the comments of the viewers below the videos? They are also worth reading.

    Ramachandra Guha has written a very sensitive and sensible article in EPW about the tribals and he has even written a biography of Verrier Elwin. And there are others discussing this all over India and also on TV. It is just that Arundhati’s prominence and extremism gets her noticed more. I would like to know more about the road map for peace talks mentioned by the Economist. I can’t find news of it anywhere.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:39h, 09 June

      Arun: Here we have circled back to a point we started with. An opening position of the MLK type in all likelihood would not have yielded any gains for the tribals. Only armed resistance has put this issue on the table. Now we need a compromise solution which has to have a champion other than Arundhati Roy. Do you have a link to Guha’s EPW article?

      There is a relevant comment by Tony Judt re the conflict between Israel and Hamas:

      Terrorism is the weapon of the weak — bombing civilian targets was not invented by Arabs (nor by the Jews who engaged in it before 1948). Morally indefensible, it has characterized resistance movements of all colors for at least a century. Israelis are right to insist that any talks or settlements will depend upon Hamas’s foreswearing it.

      But Palestinians face the same conundrum as every other oppressed people: all they have with which to oppose an established state with a monopoly of power is rejection and protest. If they pre-concede every Israeli demand — abjurance of violence, acceptance of Israel, acknowledgment of all their losses — what do they bring to the negotiating table? Israel has the initiative: it should exercise it.

      Along the same lines, the ethical aim in India should be not to force the weak to give up their leverage (no matter how morally offensive it may seem to us); it should be to force the strong to engage with a legitimate non-violent initiative. Otherwise the only response to the violence of oppression will be the violence of resistance – as Tony Judt has mentioned this has been the pattern for over a century and there is no basis, except wishful thinking, to expect it to be different in this case.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 18:43h, 07 June Reply

    Vinod: It is people who are choosing to go to cities, this is not being foisted on them. In general, there are two reasons for migration – push and pull. Push migration occurs when people from rural areas find it difficult to manage there and so are forced to move to urban areas. Pull migration occurs when people are attracted to urban areas. The two factors are not mutually exclusive. For example, the agricultural sector in the US was once over 90%, today it is less than 3%, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, if conditions become unbearable in rural areas and there is a push, this is not entirely something chosen by people.

    My personal view is that overall people are better off with urbanization and that there has been progress in history. While I do believe that many different forms of life are possible and should ideally coexist, I also believe that on the whole people are better off in the advanced economies. I cannot defend this view here. I think people who talk about letting tribals retain their tribal ways are romanticizing the issue. Also, it is too precious an argument to make when people like the tribals live in grinding poverty.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 03:31h, 10 June

      Arun: I have a lot of misgivings about this line of argument. This really begs the question of why the tribals are living in grinding poverty in the first place? Can we first leave people in grinding poverty; then argue that letting them retain their tribal ways would be romanticizing the issue? Therefore they cannot be allowed to retain their ways even if they want to which implies they have no rights to decide their own future. Isn’t this violating their democratic rights? If they are allowed to vote on their future, would that vote be respected if it goes against the ‘wisdom’ of the Indian middle class?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 03:43h, 10 June

      Arun: On urbanization, the big question is whether the migration in India is dominated by push or pull factors?

      While developed countries are indeed urbanized, there cannot be urbanization in a vacuum. If we move all the people of Rwanda into the cities, it would not transform Rwanda into a developed country.

      Where is the agricultural transformation in India that would release people from the sector while maintaining output? Where are the education and health investments that would equip the potential migrants to operate in an urban economy? Where is the industrial policy that would provide employment for all the people India has left illiterate and malnutritioned? Where is the housing policy that would provide affordable accommodation for the migrants? Where is the policy that would determine the optimal spatial distribution of the urban population in India? Is the comparative advantage of India, given its population distribution, human and physical capital endowments, and infrastructure, going to favor an urbanization pattern dominated by a few mega cities or by many middle sized ones? Urbanization without addressing all these issues and creating a coherent and controlled pull could be a recipe for disaster especially given India’s extreme heterogeneity – think of Shiv Sena multiplied.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 14:01h, 08 June Reply

    Vinod: I don’t know enough about the formation of the Taliban to say. I do know their ideology is very different from the Maoists. Maybe their strategies are similar. Whereas Roy may be in favor of both groups, I find myself opposed to them.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 16:40h, 10 June Reply

    South Asian: You have raised several difficult and legitimate questions and they span a wide range of issues. I am afraid I just do not have the stamina to respond. I hope others do.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 22:56h, 10 June

      Arun: Many thanks for your extended participation at a very high level of competence. Our discussions became very lively and informed as a result. I hope you would continue to alert us to interesting material you come across in your readings like the Arundhati Roy videos. I also hope other readers will pick up on the questions that were part of our exchange.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 17:41h, 01 July Reply

    A news report from the BBC on Chattisgarh – India at war with itself in Chattisgarh – provides an update on the issue of development and violence. Should the nature of development depend on what people want or on what the state determines is best? If the latter, what are the implications for democratic governance?

    • Vinod
      Posted at 01:45h, 02 July

      But the government still believes the right kind of development is the answer.

      “The Maoists don’t want development to take place, because keeping the people illiterate and underdeveloped suits them,” argues India’s Home Secretary GK Pillai.

      He admits that for years officials in Delhi have been guilty of under-estimating the threat the Maoists pose.

      Not any more, he declares.

      “They don’t believe in parliamentary democracy,” he says, “and they want to overthrow the state by force. We have to stand up to that.”

      So it is a clash of ideologies, in some of this country’s poorest places

      This part of the news article disturbs me. The government is not being open minded here. Have they had open discussions with the Maoists and villagers who support the Maoists? Why do the testimonies of the villagers seem unsympathetic to the government? It is obvious to me, that the government has an ideological stand on what development is. In that ideology the cost of alienating populations by forcing and brow beating identity changes on people (by arbitrary seizure of land and grants to industries), is not recognized.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 11:44h, 02 July

      Vinod: To me the Home Secretary’s statement was quiet contradictory. He is accusing the Maoists of wanting to keep the people illiterate and underdeveloped. But the government has been doing the same for many years. So what is the difference between the two? What is the relevance of parliamentary democracy to the tribals if they end up being exploited anyway? Isn’t this a clear and simple case of resistance to exploitation? The reference to parliamentary democracy is just a diversion. It’s like the Taliban saying they will stand up to anyone who does not believe in their God.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 13:18h, 06 July

      SouthAsian, I’m not sure that characterizing the issue with the elite-masses narrative is useful. Who are the elites and who are masses depends on what the issue or whose issue is being discussed, no?

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 05:07h, 07 July

      Vinod: I failed to pick up where I have characterized the issue in terms of an elite-masses narrative. Could you identify the reference.

      In general, while every analysis should be situation specific, the elite-mass framework helps to distinguish between the players who have power in that situation and those who don’t. This often provides a useful starting point to understand what might be going on in that situation.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 00:59h, 03 July Reply

    It seems that the administrator of Dantewada does understand the problem better than the home secretary and the Home Minister. Pages 9 and 10 of this document from the Hindu indicate to me that constituents of the state do understand the problem and the state does have the means to alleviate people’s sense of alienation.

    What the DM says is of salience for India’s entire development paradigm. I wonder how many in the bureaucracy think like her though.

    The District Magistrate of Dantewada, Reena Kangale, agrees that the people are in distress and need the active support of the state. “The tribal population has a deep and ingrained sense of injustice here. What they need is state support to their traditional livelihood and not roads and electricity or for that matter of education. They ask for food, medical care and drinking water. The definition of development needs a relook in the context of Bastar. The local elites should be prevented from exploiting the tribal people. We are trying to address their untouched issues.”

    But the naxalite presence has made at least 108 villages in 23 panchayats inaccessible, according to her. She explained: “No contractor is willing to take up development projects in these areas. A health worker or a teacher who is not from the area refuses to go into the jungle. We need to recruit people who are from these areas. However, we realise that indiscriminate mainstreaming of Adivasis will only result in the situation worsening. My experience shows that projects like the NREGA or Pradhan Mantri Sadak Yojna or the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan are seen as alien in these parts of the country. We need to give the people here some control as we do in the Integrated Tribal Development Project under the Tribal Sub Plan where funds go through the gram sabhas.”

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 00:33h, 06 July

      Vikram: Thanks for providing this very useful link. I agree that the DM is much more perceptive than either the Home Secretary or the Home Minister. It would be interesting to discuss why the world views of the HS and HM are so different from that of the DM and why general opinion takes its lead from the former and not the latter. Personally, I agree that the entire development paradigm in India needs to be questioned. I would add the governance paradigm as well since the former is influenced by the latter.

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