On 5 February this year, in a village in Uttar Pradesh, a 16- year old Dalit girl was attacked by three upper caste youth. While she was returning from the fields, they dragged her away in an attempt to rape her. When she resisted and shouted for help, they fled. But before running away they chopped off her ears and part of her hand with an axe and badly injured her face. The inhumanity of this action would be unthinkable in any civilised society. But here, in India, it is hardly noticed. This is routine. In our highly patriarchal system, a girl’s life is cheap; a poor Dalit girl is less than a chattel in the prevailing upper caste /upper class social thinking.
This single incident brings out three factors. First: the intolerance to any form of Dalit assertion, even if it is an assertion to resist rape. Second: the impunity with which Dalits can be attacked even in a state ruled by a Dalit leader that comes from the knowledge that the establishment will not touch the culprits. Third: it brings out the arrogance of the upper caste youth, a superiority complex instilled since birth.
Rahul Pandita’s Hello, Bastar coincides with the third death anniversary of Anuradha Ghandy. It is an occasion to remember her monumental contribution to the understanding of the caste/Dalit question in India and the significance of its resolution for the democratization of the individuals, and with it, the society. In a society where a small percentage of people consider themselves superior to all others merely due to birth, there can be no democrat consciousness. Where major sections of society are seen as inferior (and nearly 20 percent treated as untouchable) merely due to their birth, what results is a society that is hierarchical and not democratic. Even nation building and national consciousness get sacrificed at the altar of the caste. Caste consciousness supersedes national consciousness, identity, loyalty – everything.
Anuradha’s pure simplicity, her total lack of any ego or arrogance and her innate attitude to see all others as her equal drew her to the issue of caste in her early college days itself. The outbreak of the Dalit panther movement in Mumbai(1974) further helped fuel thought on this question. She began studying the caste/ Dalit question at a time when the issue was anathema to most shades of communists. And by 1980 itself she had presented extensive analytical articles on the issue. The Dalit question and Ambedkar’s role in taking it up was not in fashion amongst the left then and Anuradha’s writings resulted in hostile reactions from many of these circles. But Anuradha stood her ground. Even as a lecturer later in Nagpur, she lived in a Dalit basti and worked among them thereby getting a practical experience of their lives – the horrific humiliation they face, and their struggles for self respect much before their desperate struggle for livelihood.
Anuradha was one of the few on the 1970’s to understand the negative impact of casteism on genuine democratization of society – a disease worse than the apartheid in South Africa. Anuradha’s creativity and intellect was a product of the fact that her mind was not fettered by hundreds of ego complexes. She was modesty personified . Her child like simplicity with no element of pretence, trickery or cunning allowed her to focus fully on whatever issue she took up. Her mind was not dissipated in varied futile directions to create impressions, appearances and images. As a result, her mental sharpness and intellectual capacity continued to flower and grow even towards the last years of her life, even after she was afflicted with the deadly disease, systemic sclerosis. In the 35 years that I knew her – from a simple student leader to a mass leader – she never lost her straightforwardness and pristine honesty. I never saw her struggle to achieve this; it all came very naturally to her. One tends to see these values amongst the simple tribal folk who live with nature and have not as yet been corrupted by the system and are also outside of the caste framework.
Through all our ups and downs we were often apart for months. But the times we were together are the most cherished periods of my life. Her fiercely independent thinking acted as a great help to rational understanding of events, people and issues. There was no other person with whom I have had as vehement debates. This normally brought a balance to my often one sided views.
Back to Hello Bastar. This book by Rahul Pandita is an authentic introduction to a subject that is being much debated in the media. There have been other books on this subject, but they have primarily been based on secondary sources. But Rahul has personally investigated the issue, traversing difficult and often risky terrain. Such investigative journalism is a refreshing breeze in the stagnant air of superficiality that dominates reporting today. Having personally studied the developments in Chhattisgarh and having interacted with many revolutionaries and their sympathisers, the author has no doubt added to the reliability of the information. One may agree or disagree with the views presented, but the facts of the Maoist movement seem well elucidated. So this book becomes an important source material for anyone seeking to study the particular model of development. For even if one does not agree, it is necessary to know the efforts and viewpoints going on in the country today. This is important in order to seek effective solutions to the problems – problems that are serious.
Generally, to the ordinary reader of the mainstream media, the issue is just that of violence. This book brings out that the question of violence is secondary; the key question is how to develop the country and its people. The Maoists have one method as reflected in their policies as elaborated in this book while the established government has another, seen in their economic and political policies over the past years.
Let us now address the larger question of India’s real growth. The government’s Economic Survey 2009 – 10 has rightly commented: ‘A nation interested in inclusive growth views the same growth indifferently depending on whether the gains of the growth are heaped primarily on a small segment or shared widely by the population. The latter is cause for celebration but not the former. In other words, growth must not be treated as an end in itself, but as an instrument of spreading prosperity to all.’ Then it goes on to show how inclusive growth has taken place in the country, by showing a growth in the percapita GDP and the percapita consumption expenditure of the country. But these figures, I am afraid, do not give an accurate picture as it averages out the billionaire’s income and wealthy with that of a pauper and puts them in a common category. This is particularly skewed in India where just a few families have a wealth equivalent to 25% of our GDP. All official indicators in fact show a terrifying situation within the country that is quite contrary to the rosy picture painted by the government. In the Global Hunger Index 2010, India ranks 67th among 88 countries – it was 65 in 2009. And if we turn to the recently developed UNDP Multidimensional Poverty Index(MPI), which more accurately measures income on the basis of income, health, education etc., we find the situation even worse. India, it says, has 65 crore people who are poor on this index. It amounts to 55 % percent population. Eight states of India (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) account for more people than those present in the 26 poorest countries of Africa.
According to the United Nations children’s fund(UNICEF), India ranks better only than Ethiopia in the number of malnourished children (under 5). In 2008, the percentage of malnourished children was 51percent in Ethiopia, 48 in India, 46 in Congo, 44 in Tanzania, 43 in Bangladesh, 42 in Pakistan, 41 in Nigeria and 37 in Indonesia. The right to food campaign says that two – thirds of our women are anaemic. India is also at the very bottom of the recently compiles ‘Quality of Death’ index. This new study, on the provision of end of life care, takes a look at the quality of life and care made available to the old and the dying in developed and ‘emerging’ economies of 40 countries. In a scale of ten, the US was at 6.2 while India figured last at 1.9. So pathetic is the situation that even a country like South Africa that got independence after India has an index that is double that of India’s.
The water in our country is so badly polluted that it has turned into one of the major killers. According to the United Nations, one lakh people die each year of waterborne diseases in India. A planning commission report adds that out of over 600 districts, one third (203) have high fluoride content in drinking water that causes flourisis among 6.5 crore people. Thirty five districts have high arsenic content that results in 50 lakh people suffering from poisoning; 206 districts have high iron content and 109 districts have high nitrate content. Then, according to a study led by the Registrar General of India, 14 lakh infants die every year of five major preventable diseases. This includes eight lakh children who die within one month of their birth. The study said 23 lakh children died before completing five years of age in 2005 alone, and of these 14 lakh children died from preventable causes like pneumonia, diarrhoea etc. Even as one can clearly see that India is a ‘sick’ nation, national expenditure on healthcare is amongst the lowest in the world. State governments now barely spend 0.5 percent of their GDP on healthcare and hygiene as compared to one percent in the 1970s. Only 34 percent of India’s population has access to government hospitals.
If one looks at the issue of food, the situation appears equally grim. Per capita food grain consumption has fallen from 177 kilos per year in 1991 to 151 kilos in 1998(it has dropped even further now). Compare this to 182 kilos recorded by the LDCs (Least developed Countries) and 196 kilos in Africa.
Such then is the horrific condition of the people of our country – that too after six decades of independence. This surely is a matter of grave concern. And, add to this the massive destruction of our land, forest and water resources, together with the total degradation of the moral fabric (corruption, greed, nepotism), is it not time to discuss various alternate models to better the policies of governance?
For those serious about our country and its future, there is an urgent need for discussion of various models and policies being put forward – like those of the National Advisory Council (NAC), various commission reports, Maoist views and from civil society. As far as the Maoist viewpoint goes, this book could be useful for any future dialogue between the government and the Maoists which is an urgent necessary.
Overall, this book will be a very useful read for varied sections of people to understand the root causes of the four decade old Maoist movement in India and their alternatives in the spheres of economy and social life. Rahul has put in enormous effort to produce a work based on an important phenomena in today’s India. This will only help any discourse to evolve a better future.
April 2011 KOBAD GHANDY
Tihar Jail, New Delhi