Thursday, 21 January 2010

Rotten Games We Play

We were talking....about the plight of the tribals displaced from Chattisgarh, and there was an idea to visit the camps of those displaced, assess needs and follow up with a relief campaign in the cities. Fair enough, yes? This would serve to help the needs of the displaced and also raise awareness amongst the urban, educated, privileged.

It was then that she said,

(Such) acts of charity just serve to buy off human guilt"

The words hit me with a shattering force and splintered away fragile, precious, nurtured notions of kindness and compassion, sympathy and empathy, of sharing and caring - the very carefully structured notion of humaneness that we adopt towards the poor, less able, and non privileged.

For...are we guilty? For what are we guilty? Towards who are we guilty and how do we bear this guilt?

Without going off into generalities, lets talk specifically about what is happening in Bastar, Chattisgarh.

In a nutshell, this is the story of Bastar. Bastar is part of highly forested, highly mineral rich tribal region of Chattisgarh. Naxals and/or Maoists presence within the region, has a history that is several decades old. In 2005 the state of Chattisgarh mounted an offensive against the naxal presence in the area by creating Salwa Judum, State funded and armed operatives consisting of local tribals. A recent expose in Outlook highlights some of the key features driving this recent, large scale offensive on the pretext of driving out naxal presence from these regions. Drawing largely from the ‘State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms’, report which claims

"Indeed, while the report focuses on the entire country (including a section on the Northeast), the part relating to the tribals and Dalits has special resonance today, as government forces engage in a bloody war with the Maoists in central India. The report is devastatingly frank about the collusion between government and big business, even accusing the two of funding and fueling the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. “This open, declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever.... Tata Steel and Essar Steel...wanted seven villages or mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India. (After) initial resistance from the tribals...the state withdrew its plans. A new approach was necessary.... (It) came about with the Salwa Judum...headed by the Murias, some of them erstwhile (Maoist) cadres. Behind them are traders, contractors and miners.... The first financiers of the Salwa Judum were Tata and Essar...640 villages...were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. (Some) 3,50,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district, are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa Judum...640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.”

Now to return to the refugees, and our role in the story. When corporations become big - bigger than people whom they can loot, kill, destroy, bigger than their governments or judiciary, whom they buy, bigger than the security agencies of a country, who instead of protecting lives and rights of their unprotected millions, protect the right of these mighty corporations, to remain mighty and profiteer, at all costs - then one must look at the fundamental support systems for these large agencies - like TATA or Essar. Who creates and keeps these companies so very large, that they may do anything? And when all the governance participates in this puppetry, who, who is there to hold them back - pull in the reigns, give that whack, that thump, that sharp admonishment. It is the large people base, their share holders, the consumers of their products, goods, the ones who benefit, and the ones who shop with the ill fruits of their partnerships, yes, US, we the privileged, educated, wealthy, burgeoning middle class that are the strength behind their wickedness - the same we
who trample, crush, pulverise our fellow brothers and sisters and want to, in spirit of generosity, compassion, share some crumbs of our dastard wealth with the very ones we have robbed to live, and live very well visiting malls and fancy restaurants, over wine and cheese...we are the true culprits and it is high time we owned up to our culpability and not just "buy off this guilt with acts of charities"