The current pissing match between India and Pakistan speaks volumes about our times. While we all know that the ‘war on terrorism’ has further criminalised resistance, the bilious current affairs from the sub-continent have submerged both the sad and continuing history of repression there, and a thoughtful critique of it from the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements of India.
It’s often forgotten by celebrants of the world’s largest democracy that the Indira Gandhi dynasty has always been way ahead of the curve of governments adopting tyranny in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’. The first colourful violation of people’s rights happened with Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a State of Emergency in June 1975, following her conviction for electoral fraud.
There followed nineteen months of propaganda, suppression of dissent and studied heroine-worship; “Indira is India, India is Indira” was a mantra in the bourgeois press. Perhaps believing her own lies, Gandhi relaxed her laws and called for elections which she lost, disastrously.
In 1985, following her assassination by Sikh body-guards, Indira Gandhi’s son, Rajiv, introduced the Terrorist and Disruptive Acts Prevention Law (TADA for short).
Mhonlumo Kikon, a Nagaland analyst, has listed the menu of totalitarian powers vested in the government as a result: “confessions are admissible before the police, release on bail is near impossible, punishments are enhanced and the trial procedure is prejudiced against the accused”.
In a country where the majority believe in rebirth, it is perhaps unsurprising to find similar legislation in a new incarnation. Following the September 11 attacks, the Indian government has been pressing for a new law POTO the Prevention of Terrorism Ordnance.
A more destructive ordnance would be hard to imagine. It contains most of the provisions of its predecessor, though journalists have, following a recent redraft of the legislation, been permitted not to disclose their sources, even if the government suspects that it might help in the ‘war on terror’.
Let no-one say that India is free of contradiction. Among the initial resistors of Indira Gandhi’s initial savageries are politicians who are now calling for enhanced state power, including the Hindu nationalist BJP and, in particular, the scandal-embroiled defence minister George Fernandes.
In the words of Father Thomas Kocherry, who has been fighting this repression for decades, “they have turned the entire concept of jurisprudence upside down. Rather than the principle that, even if ninety nine guilty people go free, not one innocent should be falsely convicted, now we have a situation where ninety nine people have their rights violated on the off-chance that one guilty person is caught.”
This is no exaggeration. Of the 76,000 odd people detained under TADA in its ten year history, fewer than 1% were ever convicted of anything. And in the process, the ‘Special Task Force’ on terrorism set up to enforce order, has battered, invaded, raped, confined, kidnapped and killed. All in the name of freedom.
Not, of course, that the anti-terrorism laws were any good at their stated aim. The _’terrorist’ attacks on the Indian parliament while anti-terrorism laws were in place, show not that the laws need to be strengthened, but both that they are an abject failure at preventing attacks on the government, and that they serve an ulterior motive the suppression of dissent.
A key feature of the Indian anti-terrorist legislation, and its clones in the North America, Europe and the Australasia, is the prostitution of the judiciary. The anti-terror laws enable the government both to decide who the trouble-makers are, and to pronounce sentence against them. No-one wants to pretend that the judiciary is ever apolitical.
But what this legislation does, in India as elsewhere, is to second the police force to the whims of the ruling party bosses. In other words, the government puts itself in the position of deciding whether, in the name of the nation, it has been threatened.
The judiciary is there effectively to rubber stamp the process. Should the judiciary find itself unable to do so, the government then steps in with general declarations of amnesty are made the police (as in the Genoa protests, as in the detention of activists and peasant farmers in Tamil Nadu, as in the oppression of those fighting for land redistribution in the North West).
In this precarious process, the invocation of Nation, and national honour, is central to the political success of the law. Predictably, then, the state and its cultural organs find themselves goose-stepping together towards tyranny.
The new legal climate of oppression in India has been accompanied by new levels of zealotry and chauvinism. Last week, a columnist for the pro-government The Hindu, found himself able declare, without irony, that “It’s not Islam that’s the problem; it’s the Muslims.”
In the vanguard of the resistance to this tyranny is the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements. The NAPM consists of over 150 people’s movements all over the country among whom some of the most prominent are Narmada Bachao Andolan the Narmada Dam Campaign group, National Fish workers Forum, Sarwa Sewa Sangh, and many others.
At their meeting between 21st and 23rd December, they diagnosed the new anti-terror war in two ways. First as a symptom of economic imperialism. Key to their demands is India’s emphatic refusal to participate in the WTO. “The WTO is the world’s greatest terrorist’, shouts Father Kocherry.
The second, related, strand is a culturalist one. The National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements have this to say: “”The ruling Hindutva Fundamentalists have ganged up with American Christian Fundamentalism to antagonize the Islamic Countries. Whatever India had gained during the non-alignment period by way of friendship with a few Islamic Countries as now been lost.
American Diplomacy has entrapped the Indian government in such a way that there is an apprehension now of being alienated from the Islamic world as a whole. India should appreciate the deep-seated anger of the Islamic people all over the world against the American exploitation of Muslim countries, both economically and politically. It is this deep-seated anger that has found expression in misguided and terrible activities like what happened on September 11th.”
So what’s the solution? Father Kocherry again: “there’s only so much we can do. The Indian and Pakistani governments are given licence by the North. We’re fighting our fight down here, but the people of Europe and America have to rise up against their own terrorists.
It’s only by overthrowing their governments that we can all be free. Terrorism is fed by different kinds of fundamentalism particularly Religious Fundamentalism. We should learn from history that majority fundamentalism will lead to fascism. And that will be the end of India, and so much else.”