Archive | July, 2010

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Report 2009 – 2010

Report from the Chair – Mark Hoda

Before I set out my reflections on the past year and future plans, I first of all want to pay tribute to the tireless work and dedication of my predecessor, Susan Denton-Brown. Susan took over the chair of The Gandhi Foundation (GF) at a very challenging, transitional time for us. She not only kept things going but left the organisation stronger and more stable than she had found it. I cannot hope to match Susan’s energy and dynamism as Chair but her legacy has certainly made my job far easier than it would otherwise have been.

As well as running the Foundation, Susan also put together a wonderful Gandhi photographic exhibition for school children based at Kingsley Hall in memory of my father Surur who was one of the Founders of the GF. I hope that we will be able to inspire a new generation of local children around Kingsley Hall using the exhibition.

I also need to thank all my colleagues on the Executive and our Secretary, Sabera, for all their help and support. They all continue to take on responsibility for the Foundation’s running,activities and outputs and I rely entirely on their hard work and commitment.

This year we have already held a very successful multi-faith celebration, thanks to the work of Omar Hayat and Sabera, and our partnership with St Ethelburga’s Centre, and their Director Simon Keyes, who hosted the event and helped put together a very thought provoking programme.

As well St Ethelburga’s, the Foundation has continued to maintain strong relationships with existing partners, such as Kingsley Hall, the International Sufi School and Jeevika Trust (see separate reports) as well as forge new ones, including the Derby Multi Faith Centre. They made a very generous donation after borrowing the British Library Exhibition on Gandhi, for which we are very grateful to Dr Phil Henry.

You can read reports on the Multi Faith Celebration and our other highly successful, well attended annual events over the last year in this annual report. Plans are also well underway on the events for this year; the Summer Gathering, Annual Lecture and Peace Award. I look forward to seeing some of you at those events in the coming months.

Matthew and Diane at Rohita have built and maintained a very impressive, engaging website for the Foundation. I have a number of unsolicited compliments from friends and associates about our website, which is very encouraging. The Gandhi Way is the jewel in our crown as tool for both engaging with existing friends, and attracting new members. However, a strong web presence is crucial in showcasing Gandhi Way articles and promoting the work of the Foundation, as well as the message of Gandhi. I look forward to working with Rohita and our Executive Committee to develop the site and our broader web strategy further.

In the meantime, I would very much welcome the thoughts of GF friends about how we can broaden and deepen our reach, or any other matter, via the website or the Gandhi Way. If the GF is going to develop we must open up more dialogue between the Chair/Executive Committee and GF Friends and supporters both through traditional, as well as new channels of communication.

Full Annual Report 2009-2010

Searching for Justice and Peace in Eastern Central India – by Felix Padel

© copyright, Robert Wallis 2010

People outside India as well as inside it are becoming aware that there are thousands of local movements of people trying to save their land from being invaded and taken over by big corporations, and the contractors, subcontractors, NGOs, media firms, biofuel and seed companies, banks, hedge fund/private equity fund investors and others who serve and finance the mining companies. Living in India, Anthony Sampson’s title comes to mind from his Anatomy of Britain series: Who runs this place? The Governments or the Companies and Banks?

Village people (tribals and non-tribals alike) are trying not just to hold onto their land and homes, communities and age-old systems of cultivation, but also, as part of the same thing, to prevent ecocide: the long-term destruction of every aspect of the land and environment where they have lived for centuries (http://www.thisisecocide.com/hotspots/). If they accept displacement, even World Bank statistics show that displaced villagers’ standard of living drops drastically (in India, and as a worldwide pattern), and that they hardly ever regain their standard of living, let alone improve it (which by the Bank’s own standards, is meant to be a key requirement of any project). These movements are aimed at saving the people and their environment – “for what future will our grandchildren have if our mountains and streams are destroyed?” This is the land of their ancestors over thousands of years.

It is also the heartland of tigers, leopards, bears and elephants – the whole cast of Kipling’s Jungle Book. But the hunting mafia has taken a massive toll on all the cast, and these animals survive as best as they can, as far as they can get from Man. Even wildlife sanctuaries cause conflict, displacing yet more tribal villages from their forest. Tribal people and their forest are one: damage that bond and the culture and environment are slowly but surely killed, together: cultural genocide and ecocide.

British geologists in the 1900s named the base rock of south Orissa’s bauxite-capped mountains ‘Khondalite’, after “those fine Hill men the Khonds”. These mountains are classed as one of the world’s best deposits for making aluminium – prime strategic metal for the arms industry (‘Mining as a Fuel for War‘ at War Resisters International.

Preventing a whole series of mining projects are the movements. The war against the Maoists, ‘Operation Green Hunt’, acts as a filter that often draws attention and support away from these movements, as the situation escalates towards a classic resource war.

2,270 years ago, the “first recorded event of Indian history” was Ashoka’s massive attack on the Kalinga people in Orissa. By his own admission – was he really repentant, or was he just doing his own PR for history ? – he killed 100,000, and enslaved 150,000, while many more died of disease and hunger. The Kalinga did not have kings and they put up a terrible fight to try and keep their freedom. Ashoka’s two inscriptions in Orissa threaten the ‘forest tribes’: the Kalinga who could retreat to the mountains and forests to preserve their independence as best they could, and have lived there till today. The Konds’ name for themselves is Kuwinga, and there is no doubt they are essentially the same people. So the ongoing takeover of tribal land now conjures a structural memory of Ashoka’s terrible violence.

The PR now is gross. ‘Kalinganagar’ is the name of the steel complex with a dozen new plants in various stages of planning and operation, that has already displaced thousands of Adivasis of the Ho and Munda tribes (whose heartland is in Jharkhand), just beside the Sukinda chromite mines in Jajpur district of Orissa, characterised as “one of the ten most polluted places in the world” (by the Blacksmith Institute, USA).

Kalinganagar is where Adivasis who refuse to shift to make way for a huge new Tata steel plant have got together as the People’s Platform Against Displacement. They were fired on and 14 killed on 2nd January 2006, when police and contractors tried to start construction of the plant. Last November, Orissa’s Chief Minister conveyed his public thanks to the steel companies for constructing a new hi-tech Kalinganagar police station (making clear a collusion that was already clear, though rarely spelt out).

Police with goondas started an attack on the 20 or so protesting villages on 30th March, breaking houses, stealing possessions, wounding many with a new type of rubber bullet, and taking over people’s land and villages in the guise of building a big road across the area. The People’s Platform Against Displacement has made it clear throughout that they are not Maoists, and have kept their movement non-violent (e.g. http://orissamatters.com/2010/04/11/foul-play-exposed/) The events unfolding now in Kalinganagar and the lack of cover in the media is a national disgrace and a severe blot on Tata’s name.

Who made proper mention at the Copenhagen summit on Climate Change about Orissa’s 40 new steel plants and the carbon emissions from making 60 million tonnes of steel per year – Orissa’s stated target ? Or are these essential for ‘India’s development’? How can it be ‘development’ to destroy ecosystems and communities of people whose lives are based on long-term sustainability – who have sustained in the face of assaults from Ashoka to the EIC to now, and who are fighting these projects with everything they gave?

Knowing one’s Indian history, what we witness is a return of the East Indian Company. It took power here on the east side of India in Bengal and Madras in the 18th century, taking over Orissa from 1803 onwards. And the subsidiary company it formed was called the Government of India, based around collecting tribute, and implementing the laws being made to facilitate this all over the country. The senior administrator of a District in India is still called the Collector or District Magistrate.

Analysing the causes of the current conflict, and the reasons why many tribal people join the Maoists, the following are some of the main ones:

1. The system of endemic exploitation of tribal people, coupled with ingrained disrespect for tribal culture.

2. The escalating dispossession of tribal people from their land and resources – by numerous industrial projects but also by the war itself. No one disputes the figures of 644 tribal villages burnt by Salwa Judum and an estimated 200,000 tribal refugees from these burnt villages.

3. The atrocities perpetrated on tribal villages by the Salwa Judum (a tribal militia created by a section of the government) and security forces, and the impossibility of getting justice through the courts. The case of Sodhi (she was one of a dozen villagers lined up and shot by the police – she survived, but as witness to the case at India’s Supreme Court, has been kept under ‘police protection’) and the villagers killed at Gompad has highlighted this impossibility of bringing security men responsible for atrocities to account, and the appeal of Maoists arises directly out of this impunity to prosecution. Numerous human rights reports and courageous journalism have highlighted a definite pattern of attacks on tribal villages, in which most of the village flees, and the women, old and young who don’t get away are raped, killed, tortured or taken away. The best aspect of Arundhati Roy’s recent article Walking with the Comrades is that she brings out the voices of young Maoist women and men. These voices need to be heard. All of them witnessed close friends and family raped and killed, and were motivated to join the Maoists by these atrocities. Having suffered such loss and witnessed such horror, if there is no chance of bringing the perpetrators to account, and the Maoists are there, offering comradeship and guns – who wouldn’t go with them?

4. However, the Maoist ideology and leadership believes in war, exactly as many do in the mainstream and military. War has an attraction, and we all need to fight internal as well as external battles to resist this attraction. What is happening is a polarisation into two sides who both believe in war, leaving no space for neutrality, truth and peace. The recent attack is a deliberate escalation of war. We should not blame the individual Maoist fighters, any more than the individual CRPF men: both are pawns in a game where leaders actually believe in sacrificing people’s lives, on a huge scale. Mao himself was one of the worst tyrants: during his rise to power as well as his ‘great leap forward’ (upping steel production, causing a massive famine) and cultural revolution, he was responsible for millions of deaths of innocent people and even loyal party supporters. He was a superb propagandist though, and in that, very similar to mining companies’ PR machine, turning truth on its head. The ideology he created promotes war, and promotes an escalation of war. We must not let this happen. Maoist attacks instigate huge-scale counterinsurgency attacks on villages. This pattern must stop.

5. In other words, the attack on tribal communities as a strategy to wipe out Maoists is paradoxically a principal cause of the growing strength of the Maoists. This mirrors the worldwide ‘war on terror’ (in Afghanistan, Iraq etc), where everyone can see that attacks on ‘terrorists’– and the ‘collateral damage’ on countless civilians whose outrage has no outlet through judicial process – have increased the number of ‘terrorists’ exponentially. In Dantewara, the systematic attacks on tribal villages are a campaign of terror. In other words, the primary perpetrators of terror are the security forces rather than the Maoists. In the recent attack, the Central Reserve Police Force people killed are human beings too and their death is very sad. Police in the area live in fear of attack. The difference is – armed policemen have signed up for a job that involves high risk of killing or being killed. Tribal villagers have signed up for no such thing. Current news portrays this Maoist attack as an outrage, and the CRPF armed policemen killed by the Maoists as ‘martyrs’. What of the countless villagers who have been killed and terrorised by the CRPF and other ‘security forces’? The tribal villagers living in the eye of the conflict are essentially innocent. If they often support the Maoists, they do so because they experience an invasion and atrocities in which they lose their land, food, families, culture – everything. We get to hear of only a tiny percentage of the atrocities committed by security forces in villages, while every killing by Maoists gets high publicity. (See some excellent examples of such journalism published in the New Indian Express, at http//:moonchasing.files.wordpress.com – e.g. ‘Operation Tribal Hunt?’ 11 November 2009)

Arundhati Roy’s writings have come under fierce criticism, but she is not uncritical of the Maoists. While contrasting democratic features about how Maoists operate in terms of people’s councils and meetings where anyone can and does speak, she also comments that the present phase may well be a honeymoon period in which Maoists are wooing the people, and history shows this honeymoon doesn’t last. The voices of tribal Maoists and accounts of atrocities need to be heard a lot more widely if a Sri Lanka situation of all-out war and genocide is to be avoided, and Roy’s article has done an excellent job of bringing them out.

If there is a genuine move for peace, one essential step will be repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – this has often been called for, especially from the Northeast and Kashmir. This has become essential for the war in Dantewara. If it can be seen that security personnel who commit atrocities are punished this will automatically take wind out of the Maoist sails.

Human rights work is a prerequisite for peace. Tribal culture places a high value on Justice and Truth. Some kind of Truth and Reconciliation process will have to take place if the escalation towards war is to be halted. Responsibility lies on both sides. Where it does not lie is with the tribal communities, and when they know they can get Justice, Peace will prevail.

Dr Felix Padel is an anthropologist who has lived in India for 30 years. His latest book ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das has just been published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672

Book Review – ‘Sketches from Memory’ by Margaret Chatterjee

Vol I A Journey to Gandhi
Vol II Remembering Gandhi
Margaret Chatterjee
Promilla & Co 2009
pp194 +76
ISBN 978 81 85002 95 8 Rs. 300
www.biblioasia.com

Margaret Chatterjee is a philosopher and a Gandhi scholar, as well as a long-time Friend of the Gandhi Foundation. English by birth but now living, in her senior years, once more, in Delhi, these two volumes are reflections on some of the experiences in her life and the people she has met who left a mark on her.

This is not an autobiography and there is thus much not revealed here including her marriage to an Indian professor of English, her move to India, and her children. Instead there are about 100 short sketches, some about relatively well known figures such as Mulk Raj Anand, Krishna Kripalani, Ninian Smart and Nirmal Kumar Bose, others about ‘unknowns’, even sometimes unnamed by the author, but not forgotten by her.

Her philosophical inclination showed itself early, around three years old, when she concluded that although a crumb of bread could be divided until it could not be seen that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. Unusually, her parents attended services in many different churches and different denominations exposing their daughter to different preachers and liturgies but also to the music performed there. Music is one of Margaret’s great interests which also extends to skillful performance of the piano and voice.

Her career took her to many countries – USA, Russia, Israel and various European states and there are stories from many of them. It was through Nirmal Kumar Bose, the Bengali colleague of Gandhi, above all that she became convinced that Gandhi was the “key to understanding India”.

In contrast to the author’s quite demanding writings on Gandhi and religion these sketches are a delightful easy read especially as she brings out the positive characteristics in the friends that she has met on her journey through life.

George Paxton

Book Review – Biography of Aldo Capitini

Aldo Capitani

The Nonviolent Revolution: An Intellectual Biography of Aldo Capitini
by Rocco Altieri
trans. by Gerry Blaylock
IGINP 2008, pp182
$10

Aldo Capitini (1895-1968) was probably the most important advocate of nonviolence in 20th century Italy. He was born in modest circumstances in Perugia and went to a technical school although his passion was literature. His health was poor but he drove himself to study and won a scholarship to study philosophy and literature in Pisa.

Capitini took up active politics when he observed the Concordat between the Roman Catholic Church and the state in 1929. He believed that the Church could have brought down the fascist regime by noncooperation but disgracefully compromised. From then on he made a sharp distinction between religious institutions and a free religious faith exemplified by Jesus, St Francis and the Buddha.

He was dismissed from his teaching post in Pisa because he would not join the Fascist Party and returned to Perugia where he began writing and got his first book published in 1937. In it he wrote: “Pain, remorse, the thought of death are always real; and it is here that religion springs up”.

Gandhi’s autobiography had been published in Italy in 1929 and he had visited Europe including Italy in 1931 and this had an impact. Altieri writes:

“Nonviolence seems the highest spiritual teaching, a religious idea of absolute purity, to love for its own sake, the only power able to defeat fascism. If Mussolini in order to assert himself resorted to sinister means – deceit, lies, murder – Capitini counterposes the highest values of truth, non-mendacity, nonkilling”.

Capitini believed that nonviolence should embrace all creation and he consequently became a vegetarian.

Capitini developed a political ideology called liberal-socialism which did not develop into a political party but was a very decentralised movement which attracted many young people. He was imprisoned three times in 1943-4 as were other activists. A Party of Action now developed in the movement but Capitini kept apart from it as he saw the movement as an ‘orientation of conscience’ not a political party. In danger of arrest and deportation by the Germans when they occupied northern Italy he hid in the countryside.

In the post-war period Capitini refused to support any party, declaring himself a free religious and left-wing independent. He started to set up Social Orientation Centres around the country to counterbalance central power and encourage democracy. He also turned his attention to education for a renewal of culture and he taught in universities. The recent tragic history of Italy, he believed, was due to cultural and religious backwardness and the absence of collective moral conscience. He was nominated Rector in Perugia but was moved due to pressure from the Catholic Church.

In 1952 he set up a Centre for Nonviolence in Perugia and also promoted conscientious objection to conscription. He regarded Gandhi’s approach as a third way between communism and capitalism. Crucial is the primacy of means in social change. Gandhi’s way was revolutionary but it did not just change the structures as Marxism intended, but also a person’s being.

Capitini became aware of Danilo Dolci, who settled in Sicily to help the poor in their struggle against the Mafia, and gave him his full support. Dolci’s outlook and actions were essentially Gandhian.

Capitini held up Gandhi and Jesus as examples of those who detach themselves from the world, though remaining in the midst of humanity in order to transform society. Conflict cannot be avoided but responding with nonviolent action can create new positive relationships.

A march for Peace and the Brotherhood of People was organised by Capitini in 1961; walking from Perugia to Assisi it attracted large numbers. Capitini’s programme is a radical one indeed: abolition of armies, of borders, of property. A few days before his death in 1968 he wrote: “… Today’s utopia can be tomorrow’s reality”. He recommended a green and nonviolent society with a rejection of consumerism and admired the Community of the Ark which was set up by Lanza del Vasto in France after he met Gandhi in India.

Altieri’s study is called “An Intellectual Biography” and there is much more philosophy here than this review might indicate. Capitini was a deeply religious or mystical person although he rejected religious institutions. We should be grateful to the International Gandhian Institute for Nonviolence and Peace (IGINP) which has published this English version and brought to non-Italian readers the life and thought of a person who ought to be much better known than he is.

George Paxton, Editor of The Gandhi Way

The Address of IGINP is CESCI, Majagram, Kadavur, Madurai – 625 014, TN, India
They also publish a journal in English called Ahimsa Nonviolence.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 795 other followers