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March 22, 2017

‘Progress’ in India hurts the people

The Indian sub-continent over the past few years has seen some bloody battles – not the type of battles seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, where foreign military is engaged in a country. The battles in the sub-continent are between its own people, whether it’s Sri Lankan government and military fighting the Tamil Tigers, or Pakistan and its military fighting the Tehreek-e-Taliban or the Indian government fighting the Naxalites or so called Maoists.

In recent times, both the problems in Sri Lanka and Pakistan have gotten a lot international media coverage. Deservedly so, because of the gravity of situation there. But India’s fight against the Maoist is a completely different situation.

In evaluating the history of this conflict, one has to go back to Vedic period (2nd century B.C.) when society was divided into caste based on profession. After years and years of exploitation by top castes, the lower castes of India (commonly called Dalits or Harijans), presently grouped in one of three categories: as a scheduled caste, a scheduled tribe or Other Backward Classes (OBCs), finally revolted. From this the Naxalite Movement was started in 1967 in Naxalbari, West Bengal. Naxalites, or the Maoists as they are commonly referred, fight for the rights of these poor backward caste people against the government and landlords who have exploited them for years.

The situation over past few years has escalated. Regions in north and central India are now called “The Red Corridor” or “The Maoist Corridor” have a vast population of backward caste and are home to vast reserves of minerals and resources worth trillions of dollars. With India’s economy booming and the need for more resources, India has started pushing its boundaries for foreign and local investment and the government has been signing Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with many multinational corporations.

Arundhati Roy, a prominent social activist in a recent newspaper column said the region called the Red Corridor should rather be called “The MoUist Corridor” because of the number of memoranda of understanding signed by government.

The problem is that almost half of India’s population is recognized as belonging to these backward castes and is mostly concentrated in the region described above. Now that the government is signing MoU, these poor people are being displaced and are not compensated for their loss.

For example, in the state of Orissa, the government signed a MoU to sell a hill in Dongria Kondh, which is believed to contain bauxite to a British multinational company Vedanta. This affected the lives of people of Dongria Kondh, who relied on the hill for various purposes. Close to 400 people have been killed in one small village. The Maoists have taken arms to fight the Indian government to save these hills and other lands that are to be butchered by the big corporation for billion-dollar profits.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, talking about the Maoists, said they are the “single largest internal security threat to India,” not so much because of their violence resistance against government uprooting of the tribal people but because they pose a threat to slow down India’s developing economy.

The government recently announced that it will launch an all-out battle against the Maoists because of their violent means and their objection to the development work done in the area. The government has been setting up mobile towers, powerhouses, railway tracks and bridges in these areas, calling it the development of tribal people. What good will these developments do to tribal people who live life barely on one meal a day?

Everyone knows that this so-called development is actually for big companies to setup their factories, mines and to extract other resources from the region. The Indian government gets to call India developed because of its “growing economy.” But, this economic growth comes at the cost of the lives of more than half of the Indian population.

This problem is not common in India alone. All developed nations in the world have witnessed this before. The injustices done to Native Americans are common knowledge. India is now emerging as one of the most powerful economies in the world. Along with China and the U.S., India is likely to be a key player in financial dominance in the world. This gives the Indian government a reason to fight anything that would hinder such economic development. The Maoist resistance for their people sure gives the government an excuse, but the government’s actions can never be justified.

It’s about time for the government and urban population, which supports government’s actions, to realize the need for a change in their attitudes. The poor cannot be left to suffer for the greater good of the country. Development is a necessary evil, but not at the cost of the climate change it brings and definitely not at the cost of the lives of the millions of poor people it affects.

Syed Akhtar is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at sakhtar@student.umass.edu.

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