“India in Chronic Famine, Funded From London”
By John Rowley
The Gandhi International Peace Award was established by Lord Richard Attenborough, Surur Hoda, Diana Schumacher and Martin Polden in 1998 “to honour unsung heroes and heroines for their advocacy and practise of Non-Violence”. The Gandhi Foundation’s Vice-President, Lord Bhikhu Parekh presented the much delayed 2011 Award jointly to Dr Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam, the cultural activist, ‘for their humanitarian work’ amongst the tribal peoples of India, the Adivasis, on 12th June in The House of Lords.
Dr Binayak Sen is a highly respected expert on children’s health and has become a very effective human rights campaigner. He was made an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience in 2007 and is still on bail despite being released twice by the Indian Supreme Court. He is currently under charge for Sedition. One reason for his oppression by the Chhattisgarh State is his criticism of their health care system. In his speech, he argued from his Government’s own statistics that India has been, and remains, in a state of chronic famine and that the hardest hit are, yet again, the impoverished and the dispossessed. He showed how the Indian Government has enacted increasingly draconian laws designed to eliminate dissent and implemented them through the Courts, the police and the Army. He said that all of this is being done in collusion with multi-national corporations under the banner of neo-liberal capitalism and so they are jointly responsible for both the famine and the widespread abuses of human rights. Dr Felix Padel told us that global mining strategy and much of the funding for its implementation is decided in the City of London and that, therefore, the Coalition must demand the same transparency in the mining and construction industries as they are now demanding of the banks. Bulu Imam, joint Recipient of the Award, said that only a ‘New Consciousness’ would allow humankind to survive. This meant greater understanding and insight into what is really happening around us, learning from peoples like the Adivasis, who are directly in touch with the elements of life, and for us to behave less selfishly and more for the benefit of others.
Dr Sen’s speech was entitled “Hunger, Dispossession and the Legitimacy of Dissent”. He produced figures from The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau whose latest survey show that between 45% to 47% of children under 5, 37% of the whole adult population and an astonishing 60% of Minorities and Scheduled Castes are malnourished by weight-for-age criteria, that is, Body Mass Index. The World Health Organisation declares a famine when more than 40% of a nation’s peoples have a BMI less than 18.5.
The Adivasis, with whom he has worked for 30 years, have been able to survive the famine only because their traditions dictate that all have equal access to their common property – land, water, shelter and crops. Since Rajiv Gandhi opened India to foreign investment, the State has increasingly “acted as the Guarantor to the expropriation of common property resources, handing them over to corporate interests under the doctrine of Eminent Domain, through which the State is the ultimate owner of all the resources in the country”. And so, for decades, the vast resources of minerals, from bauxite to coal, under Adivasi land – never paid for at anything like the true ‘capitalist market rate’ – has been mined at an increasing rate, their valleys dammed for power, factories built and top flight transport systems to serve them. PM Manmohan Singh is celebrated as a key figure in India’s spectacular economic development but he and his Government brook no opposition. He called the Naxalite insurgency in the so-called Red Corridor [from Jharkand to Andra Pradesh] ‘the greatest threat to India’s security’ and in 2009 launched Operation Greenhunt deploying a huge array of the armed service to target the so-called Naxalites – actually The Communist Party of India [Maoist]. As usual, this is having its most devastating impact on the people caught in between – the Adivasis.
As more and more mines, factories, dams and roads are built on their land, 70 million Adivasis and many other Minorities have been purposively starved, dispossessed, impoverished, physically violated with impunity, falsely imprisoned and barred from fair judicial process or suffered all six. Dr Sen pointed out that, quite obviously, resistance had to be organised if they were to survive these onslaughts. “But they and others right across India are now faced with a panoply of laws, old and new, that severely restrict free speech and any form of protest. However peaceful and non-violent these protests are, they are branded as ‘sedition’, ‘rebelliousness’ or ‘insurgency’. Too often protests are met with violence by police, army and corporate goondas. There are thousands of people in jail right now, just like me, who have been convicted under false charges. I am one of the very few lucky ones. I have been granted bail twice by The Supreme Court who stated ‘that no evidence had been produced by the Chhattisgarh Government’, but I still await a final judgement.”
How can peace be achieved when both sides resort to violence? Dr Felix Padel suggested that India needs its own model of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The UK Coalition and The City would have to appear. The Foreign Office and the Departments for Business and International Development all share a current duty of care to show us the effects of their actions with our money and also to demand that all corporate communications and financial transactions in the UK are made transparent. For here in The City, Dr Padel pointed out, is: “The global centre for coordinating corporate investment in mining and now hosts the vast majority of the corporate headquarters, their Banks and their financiers. It is imperative that we can all see the link between decisions made here and the actual impact they have on real people and environments. There should be an Independent Commission into the Mining Industry, stronger even than the Vickers Commission on Banking, as equivalent scandals wait to be revealed there too”.
Dr Padel said that there is colossal ignorance here in the UK about what many call India’s Civil or Hidden War. Too often this can be labelled ‘wilful ignorance’, that is, not knowing what you should know. One professor in statistics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Statistics in Kolkata estimated that the professionals involved in designing, building and managing an Aluminium factory or dam were aware of only 2% of the effects their projects have on local communities and ecosystems. But there is what could be called ‘purposeful ignorance’ – hiding facts intentionally, not telling the Whole Truth, lying by omission. There has also been a noticeable lack of press coverage in the UK of the War and its causes. This has ensured that few people have any understanding of the violence and corruption which we, as a people, are indirectly causing – ‘innocent ignorance’? “Many, including Arundhati Roy, have unpicked and exposed the links between the elites of corporate elites, politicians, armed services, bankers, big philanthropists and media owners and are not surprised at our collective ignorance. She and many others contradicting the image of India as a model of democracy and economic success have been vilified, spied upon, attacked and falsely accused. ”
Joint Recipient Bulu Imam called for “A New Consciousness”. We need Satyagrahas for the 21st Century, in other words, Citizens who take responsibility for understanding their society, act solely for the welfare of others and who are prepared to offer their lives in the pursuit of justice. He said that “industrial civilization is an aberrant civilization. It has strayed from the path of Nature. It has made war, brutality and profit a path without compassion or hope. It heralds planetary catastrophe from causing global warming. India with its older order of ancient spiritual values, non-violence toward man and nature, tolerance and psychological fulfillment still stands ready, even now, to show the way. The culture of the Adivasis, developed centuries before we arrived, offers us that very model. From them we can all learn, we can each learn how to become non-violent within, towards each other and to the planet. All of us here must act now to stop all these self-centred forces destroying these fragile and exemplary communities and their priceless eco-systems. Once you see the links between your life and theirs, you will understand that their struggle is our struggle and you will foresee that only profound mutual aid between all the planet’s communities can save some of us from the apocalypse rushing towards us.”
An hour’s lively debate ensued. From the 90 distinguished guests packed into Committee Room 4a, the Panel could respond to only a few of the comments and questions clamouring to be heard. Those chosen were Martin Horwood MP [LibDem & Chair, The All Party Parliamentary Group on Tribal Peoples], Bianca Jagger, Aruna Roy, Professors John Gilbert and Narinder Kapur, C B Patel, Colin Bex, Antony Copley, Martin Polden and Jennifer Wallace. Whilst all admired our two Recipients, there was little consensus on the way forward. The Gandhi Foundation would like to facilitate discussion and so will shortly publish here on our website, an edited transcription of the key points raised.
The question now facing The Gandhi Foundation is “What are we going to do about this?”
If you are still unconvinced that Non-violent Direct Action against the violence being perpetrated by the Indian Government is required urgently, read Cathy Scott-Clark’s article about Kashmir. She heads it with a quote “We Need Protection” [www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/09/mass-graves-of-kashmir]. She reveals the atrocities – extra-judicial murder, torture and other illegal human rights abuses – that the Indian Army has committed in Kashmir. We now know that they behave no differently under “Operation Greenhunt”.
If you would like to see one example of how The Gandhi Foundation can be effective, albeit indirectly and in a very small way, then read Decca Aitkenhead’s article on Clive Stafford Smith which she also heads with a quote: “The jury system in this country is utter insanity” [www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/jul/08/clive-stafford-smith-jury-system-insanity]. You will notice that Clive has included “The Gandhi International Peace Award 2005” as the only other point worth mentioning in his CV.
Finally, why don’t you compare the laws against Terrorism and other forms of Dissent in India with our own?
John Rowley is a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation and Project Manager for The Gandhi International Peace Award 2011.
To view Bulu Imam’s speech: The Need For A New Consciousness by Bulu Imam
To view Dr Binayak Sen’s speech: Click Here