Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real New India by Arundhati Roy

It's not a coincidence that the political party that carried out the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire was called the Committee for Union and Progress. "Union" (racial/ethnic/religious/national) and "Progress" ( economic determinism) have long been the twin coordinates of genocide.

Armed with this reading of history, is it reasonable to worry about whether a country that is poised on the threshold of "progress" is also poised on the threshold of genocide? Could the India being celebrated all over the world as a miracle of progress and democracy possibly be poised on the verge of genocide? The mere suggestion might sound outlandish and at this point in time, the use of the word genocide surely unwarranted. However, if we look to the future, and if the Tsars of Development believe in their own publicity, if they believe that There Is No Alternative to their chosen model for Progress, then they will inevitably have to kill, and kill in large numbers, in order to get their way.

In bits and pieces, as the news trickles in, it seems clear that the killing and dying has already begun.

It was in 1989, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the government of India turned in its membership in the Nonaligned Movement and signed up for membership in the Completely Aligned, often referring itself as the "natural ally" of Israel and the United States. (They have at least this one thing in common, all three are engaged in overt, neo-colonial military occupations: India in Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Almost like clockwork, the two major national political parties, the BJP and the Congress, embarked on a joint program to advance India's version of Union and Progress, whose modern-day euphemisms are Nationalism and Development. Every now and then, particularly during elections, they stage some noisy familial squabbles, but have managed to gather into their fold even grumbling relatives, like the Communist Party of India.

The Union project offers Hindu nationalism (which seeks to unite the Hindu vote, vital, you will admit, for a great democracy like India). The Union project has been largely entrusted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological heart, the holding company of the BJP and its militias, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

The RSS was founded in 1925. By the 1930s, its founder, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, a fan of Benito Mussolini's, had begun to model it overtly along the lines of Italian fascism. Hitler, too, was and is an inspirational figure. Here are some excerpts from the RSS bible, We, or, Our Nationhood Defined by M.S. Godwalker, who succeeded Dr. Hedgewar as head of the RSS in 1940:

Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindustan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting on to take on these despoilers. The Race Spirit has been awakening.


In Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation...

All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots...The foreign races in Hindustan...may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment- not even citizen's rights.

Then again:

To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of the country of the Semitic races- the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.,.. a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.

(How do you combat this kind of organized hatred? Certainly not with goofy preachings of secular love.)

By the year 2000, the RSS had more than sixty thousand shakhas (branches)and an army of more than four million swayamsevaks (volunteers) preaching its doctrine across India . They include India's former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former home minister and current leader of the opposition L.K. Advani, and, of course, the three-time Gujarat chief minister Narendra Moi. It also includes senior people in the media, the police, the army, the intelligence agencies, the judiciary, and the administrative services who are informal devotees of Hindutva- the RSS ideology. These people, unlike politicians who come and go, are permanent members of government machinery.

But the RSS's real power lies in the fact that it has put in decades of hard work and has created a network of organizations at every level of society. The BJP is its political front. It has a trade union wing, a women's wing, student wing and economic wing. Its front organization Vidya Bharati is the largest educational organization in the nongovernmental sector. It has thirteen thousand educational institutions with seventy thousand teachers and more than 1.7 million students.

On June 11, 1989, prime minster Rajiv Gandhi gave the RSS a gift. He was obliging enough to open the locks of the disputed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, which the RSS claimed was the birthplace of Lord Ram. At the national executive of the BJP, the party passed a resolution to demolish the mosque and build a temple in Ayodyha. "I'm sure the resolution will translate into votes," said L.K. Advani. In 1990, he crisscrossed the country on his Rath Yatra, his Chariot of Fire, demanding the demolition of the Babri Masjid, leaving riots and bloodshed in his wake. In 1991, the party won one hundred and twenty seats in Parliament. (It had won two in 1984). The hysteria orchestrated by Advani peaked in 1992, when the mosque was brought down by a mob. By 1998, the BJP was in power at the center.

Its first act in office was to conduct a series of nuclear tests. Cross the country, fascists and corporates, princes and paupers alike, celebrated India's Hindu bomb. In 2002, Narendra Modi's government planned and executed the Gujarat genocide (two thousand Moslem men, women and children massacred-many burned alive- 150,000 driven from their homes). In the election that took place a few months after the genocide, he was returned to power with an over-whelming majority, ensuring complete immunity for those who had participated in the killings... India has a great tradition of granting immunity to mass killers. I could fill volumes with the details.

While the "people" were engaged with the Union project and its doctrine of hatred, India's Progress project was proceeding apace. A new regime of privatization and liberalization resulted in the sale of the country's natural resources and public infrastructure to private corporations. It has created an unimaginatively wealthy upper class and growing middle class who have naturally become militant evangelists for the new dispensation.

The Progress project has its own tradition of impunity and subterfuge, no less horrific than the elaborate machinery of the Union project. At the heart of it lies the Supreme Court, which is rapidly become a pillar of Corporate Power, issuing order after order allowing for the building of dams, the interlinking of rivers, indiscriminate mining, the destruction of forests and water systems. All of this could be described as ecocide- a prelude perhaps to genocide. And to criticize the court is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment.

With the possible exception of China, India today has the largest population of internally displaced people in the world. Dams alone have displaced thirty million people. The displacement is being enforced with court decrees or at gunpoint by policemen, government-controlled militias or corporate thugs. The displaced are being herded into tenements, camps, resettlement colonies where, cut off from the means of earning a living, they spiral into poverty.

It's not surprising that very little of this account of events makes it into the version of the New India currently on the market...


  1. "Field Notes On Democracy; Listening to Grasshoppers" Essays by Arundhati Roy; Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2009

  2. They Are Not News

    In the south of India, at the Nallamada hospital, a failed suicide revives.

    Around his bed, smiles from the ones who brought him back to life.

    The survivor eyes them and says:

    "What are you expecting, a thank-you? I owed a hundred thousand rupees. Now I am also going to owe for four days in the hospital. Some favor you imbeciles did me."

    We hear a lot about suicide bombers. The media blathers on about them every day. But we hear nothing about suicide farmers.

    According to the official figures, India's farmers have been killing themselves steadily, at a rate of a thousand a month since the end of the twentieth century.

    Many suicide farmers die from drinking the pesticides for which they cannot pay.

    The market drives them into debt, then unpayable debt drives them into the grave. They spend more and more, earn less and less. They buy are penthouse prices and sell at bargain-basement markdowns. They are held hostage by the foreign chemical industry, by imported seeds, by genetically modified crops. Once upon a time, India worked to eat. Now India works to be eaten.

    -Eduardo Galeano in "Mirrors"-