Towards a nuanced picture of human rights - 1
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Summary: Any analysis of human rights has to be located within the rapid changes being undergone in Indian polity and society today. There is a critical link between the nature and extent of human rights violation and the dramatic transformation being undergone under the aegis of rapid globalisation.
While there is a depth and breadth of activism around human rights issues in the country, there is not always an attempt to see the relationships between the different contexts of human rights violations.
To produce an analytical overview of the nature of human rights issues and activism as well as the kinds of strategies employed by human rights activists, the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, felt that it might be useful to paint a bigger picture of what is going on in contemporary India. This was attempted at 'Human Rights priorities in contemporary India: Strategic Responses', a consultation held on December 12 and 13, 2009 at Christ College, Bangalore. It was an attempt to arrive at a more nuanced and critical understanding of the state of human rights.
On day one, Prof. Utsa Patanaik, Bela Bhatia and Usha Ramanathan spoke on issues of land and displacement.
Christ College, Bangalore
Dr. Ramanathan: So what we have is the right that is supposed to exist but which increasingly we found is a right that exists only if you purchase that right. And where does this purchase ability come from? I'll give you one anecdote about what happened. We had a case going on in the Supreme Court about people who were staying in 'Jhuggis' in the city of Delhi. And the Supreme Court had passed an order, passed a judgement,... and this is a famous thing for law students, if you haven't heard of it you need to hear of it early in your careerAbout how giving land for resettlement to a jhuggi dweller whose house has been demolished is equal to rewarding a pickpocket. The Supreme Court's attitude in 2000 was that when people's houses are demolished because they were illegal in the first place, if you give them a resettlement site, it is like rewarding a person who has been a pickpocket. I mean someone comes to pick your pocket and you say, oh, poor thing, you know he's a pickpocket because he doesn't have money. So you give him something. According to the Court, this was the kind of kindness that should not be shown to the illegal poor. So after this judgement came out, there were a series of meetings that happened in various places. Many people fortunately, I mean it speaks well for us that most people who spoke about it were affronted that a court could actually treat the issue of poverty with such callousness.
Dr. Ramanathan: What of course made it even more profound - this is a decision that is the Almitra Patel decision, that came out in 2000 - there were two parts to the decision. This case actually came up because there was a problem of solid waste disposal in the metros. And the question in Delhi was about finding place to put the garbage. Where do you locate a landfill? While talking about finding place for a landfill and how to dispose of solid waste, the Court incidentally, and completely uncalled for, they commented on this business of how there seems to be not a slum clearance board but a slum creation board, and how there are so many people, you know... slums are being allowed to proliferate. They made a mix up between...They talk as if all the people who live in slums are slum lords. And so created an image of those who swell in slums as being illegal and therefore likened them to pickpockets. In the same judgement, when it came to the question of landfills, creating a landfill, the second part of the judgement goes on to talk about the dispute that had risen between the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority. Now, in Delhi, the way the city has developed, the Delhi Development Authority was given the power in 1957 to acquire lands and to keep it in their hold for the planned development of the city.
Dr. Ramanathan: The Municipal Corporation of Delhi had the responsibility of finding a way of disposing off the garbage. So when the Court intervened earlier, prior to this decision, and said that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has to find new landfill sites, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi went to the Delhi Development Authority and said, please give us some land, we need some land to create these sites. And the Delhi Development Authority said, Sure, we'll give you the land. But we'll give you the land subject to your paying for it.
Now here you have the situation where the poor come into the city and settle in public lands and they are treated as being not just illegal but close to criminality, because they are staying on land which legally belongs to someone else and to which they are not making any payment. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi goes to the Delhi Development Authority and says, give us land for free, because we need to do something that is public purpose, which is dump garbage.
And the same court, and the same set of judges, who liken giving land to jhuggi dwellers as rewarding a pick pocket, the same set of judges, in the same decision, just a few paragraphs down, say, there shouldn't be this fight between the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority. This is ridiculous. After all, disposing off garbage is a matter of public purpose. So you should be giving the land for free for garbage disposal.
Dr. Usha Ramanathan's talk deals with various aspects of urban poverty, impoverishment and the issues that arise when housing options for the poor are considered. The Supreme Court has ostensibly held the position that if demolition of slums takes place, then relocation and rehabilitation for the slum dwellers is a right. The Hindu has analysed a number of Supreme Court cases to that effect in "Pushed to the Margins"
to see if it's actually implemented. Veronique Dupont in "Slum Demolitions in Delhi since the Nineties: In Whose Interest"
, looks at the 'beautification' of the city and the relocation of slum dwellers in 'public interest', especially in the context of the Commonwealth Games, since the authorities now have an excuse to do with the slums as they please. She looks at some figures to show that demolition of the slums pushes away the poor and impoverishes them at the same time. Interestingly, she also notes how with the preparation of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a replica of the urban restructuring process that marked the preparation of the 1982 Asian Games is at work in the capital, including the construction of modern infrastructure and beautification campaigns with similar effects on slum demolitions.
Dr. Ramanathan: This, in short, captures the image of who has the right to be taken care of and who doesn't within our polity. How do you treat the poor? I mean the poor, in literal terms, were treated as worse than garbage, and therefore not entitled to any kind of resettlement.
I think it has become more and more important for us to understand what perceptions the law has of the poor. I heard in the beginning, when your Head of Department spoke, that many of you are people who are going into corporate law. And when you are corporate lawyers, our general experience is that your focus is so much on assisting the corporation and its profit making endeavours, that you may not have time to worry about what law does with other people.
But there is a whole mass of humanity which is being afflicted by the law: law is an affliction for them. It need not be. So I'll take a step back now, and now that everyone seems to have had their tea and settled down a bit, I'll start and spend the next 7-8 minutes explaining certain phenomena through which we try and understand this issue.
Dr. Ramanathan: The first phenomenon is of illegality. We have various constructions of legality, and when you study your law you realise that... as black letter lawyers, people who read the law and understand what it says, we have a vision of who is legal and who is illegal which is located in the law. But we also know that there is a thing called as the selective application of laws.
Laws don't get applied uniformly, they are not meant to be applied uniformly, it's meant to be used within the system in a way that will teach people how to respect the rule of law. So I'm just going to deal with two sets of issues on this in the context of illegality. The first is about the jhuggi dwellers themselves.
Dr. Ramanathan: Now one of the things that you find in the 10th Plan Document (you can also look at the 11th Plan but the 10th Plan really tells you where the problem is)... the State has an obligation to provide, to ensure, that everyone has certain basic things, including the right to housing. And the State has taken upon itself a certain role in providing, in creating that housing stock.
What we found when we came to the 10th plan document, in fact, of the shortfall, and there is a huge shortfall of the housing stock that there is in the country, 90% of the shortfall is for economically weaker sections of the people. Which means that in the large numbers of houses that have not been created so that people can find housing for themselves, almost all of the non-delivery by the State, in terms of housing obligations, almost all of it, has been where people cannot afford to make their own houses in places where they can be legally settled.
Dr. Ramanathan: On the other hand, we also have in practice, we find that people have to live somewhere. So they create their own housing stock. When we are talking of jhuggi demolition, we are not just talking of demolition of jhuggis. We are talking about demolition of housing stock that has been created by people for themselves where the State has not delivered. So we are not just talking about....you know, the Courts and the way the discourse has gone, it has tended to focus on how the jhuggis were illegal anyways and so they have to be demolished. What we are missing in the process is the illegality that has been perpetrated by the State and its agencies. And I'll just explain that briefly...
Dr. Ramanathan: In 1957, we had the Delhi Development Authority, and every city will have something like this, so you can find something to liken it to. In 1957, we had the Delhi Development Authority Act brought in, and that Delhi Development Authority Act was about the planned development of the city. And for the planned development of the city there was the Delhi Development Authority that was created, that was allowed to acquire land, and redistribute land, in a way that would help in effecting planned development.
By 1962, we had the first Master Plan for Delhi, and the master plan for Delhi provided for integrated housing, which meant that the rich and the poor and the middle classes and everyone would stay in zones together, not that you would have one zone where you would have...which is what you have now. When you have resettlement sites, you have them far away. So the poor are basically being excluded from where they are. At that time, the plan was that there should be the integration of various classes of populations. Which meant that the working classes, which also, incidentally, serviced the middle classes, it wasn't just an act of charity.
Dr. Ramanathan: After the Delhi Development Authority Act came in and they had acquired all this land, in the mid 70s, huge scams broke out. I think that's the one word that doesn't need any explaining today. I might have to explain the words legality and illegality, but I don't have to explain the word "scam". Because you have them all over the place. In the mid 70s we had a big scam where it was found that the Delhi Development Authority was actually building sub-standard housing. It came to a head when one of the sets of apartments that they had built, developed cracks and collapsed even before it could be handed over for occupancy. So the substandard materials that were used were horrendous. It was also found that it was very inefficient. It was not only corrupt it was also inefficient and so was not able to turn out the kind of housing stock that it was expected to turn out over a period of time.
So in the mid 70s they found that they had to change tracks and move to something else. So what did they do? So they decided that while they would carry on in small ways with constructing housing stock, they would instead focus on apportioning lands to people who could form co-operative housing societies. Which meant that a group of people got together, and they wanted to have a housing complex, they could come in, they would be given the land, and then they would have to build the high-rise themselves.
An interesting point that Ms. Ramanathan touches upon is the creation of the "other" with the onset of gated communities. Interestingly enough, it seems to be an issue not just restricted to a country like India, and the sociology of gating seems quite complex. Manuel Albers in "Double Function of the Gate: Social Inclusion and Exclusion in Gated Communities and Security Zones"
has touched upon this aspect in an informative manner. Robert Frost evocatively asks in Mending Wall, "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence."
Dr. Ramanathan: The terms would be agreed upon between the State agencies - Delhi Development Authority and the group to whom they would be giving the land. But people would then have to become societies themselves,- groups,- group themselves and then create their own housing stock. Who are the people who can afford to do this? For people who can commit to a certain kind of expense and to a certain kind of collaborative venture when it comes to constructing housing stock which rises towards the sky, it couldn't possibly have been the poor who could do it for themselves. Because getting together, forming co-operative housing societies, putting in that money, finding the people who will come in and construct it for you, getting the materials...people don't have that kind of time if you belong to the working classes.
So these co-operative colonies, taken over completely by the middle classes, where the only place where the poor had some kind of a role, and some kind of a space therefore, was when they came in as labour, as construction labourers, to construct all these houses.
Dr. Ramanathan: Now when some demographic studies have been done on this, you find that in these housing communities - all of these are now gated communities; gated has many notions and gradations- you will find that there are some kind of people who don't exist within these communities. For instance, you will find that there are very few Dalits in these co-operatives in these co-operative housing societies. You go and do a study, you will see that the Dalits don't find a place in this, because you can choose, as a co-operative housing society, who you are going to induct and who you are going to keep out, at least in the beginning.
Today, even for a person to take a place like that on rent, has become a problem, because not only do you have to go through a tripartite agreement between the co-operative housing society, the owner and the tenant, but you also have to get police clearance. Even if I have got my cousins staying there, or I have a student who is going to be staying there,if the police hasn't cleared them, they cannot stay there. You are subject to prosecution.
So that's the kind of gating, and the kind of 'community creation' that this did.
Dr. Ramanathan: Now over this period of time, therefore, you find that the Delhi Development Authority itself relinquished its role as someone who is going to create housing stock. Yet they have retained control over all the public lands in the place. Now where are the jhuggis being demolished with the greatest ease? Now for people who are in law, you know the difference between the 'private' and the 'public' is important in many senses. One of the ways is that if someone settles on private land, you own land, and in your own backyard, somebody comes and sets up a jhuggi, for you to throw them out takes forever. You go to court, and then you gotta do a hundred things. But if it's on public land, public policy over time has developed in a way where essentially it says that if it is illegal, destroy it. And there is no procedure involved in this destruction. So it's become important over time...and I'm doing it at break-neck speed so I can't explain and I can't give you more illustrations, you find the illustrations in your lives, and if you look around you see it everywhere. It's just that as lawyers, we are trained to look inward and we don't look outward at all, so we don't know it exists unless we see it in a textbook.
Dr. Ramanathan: One of the things that is constantly recommended to lawyers is that- if you learn only how to read only legislations and then to read case law, then you are never going to see life at all, because then you are only going to see life that the judge understands and recognises, and many of them themselves are like you- law students who have gone through life without seeing outside their window.
What you have therefore is first of all, understanding the notion of legality and illegality. The second thing is the question of clean up. What is 'cleaning up' a city? I think all of us, whichever city we are in, are caught in this thing of cleaning up. 'Cleaning up' means two-three things.
One, it means that anything that gives you a bad feeling when you look at it has to be thrown out of the city. So if there are ugly things around, you want those ugly things out. The fact is that poverty is an ugly spectacle. I think looking at that will tell you. I couldn't sit there and keep looking at it and yet feel like I am a full human being. Poverty is an ugly spectacle. Poverty is also something that is capable of finding ill health amongst itself. If you go and live in a jhuggi area, you know that catching an illness is a very easy thing. So what do you want out of the city? You want something that is ugly out of the city, and you want something that is unhealthy going out of the city. So the clean-up operation has meant that the jhuggis not only have to be demolished but they all have to be thrown out of the city. That's one element of it.
Dr. Ramanathan: The second thing therefore, is that it is about beggars. At one level you don't want people who are nuisances within your city. The second thing is that you don't want people who are definitely in poverty and therefore will either be staying in the jhuggis or will be staying on the pavement or whatever. Thirdly you don't want someone who's likely to be a dangerous element. And as law people we know that one of the definitions of 'dangerous' is that anyone without a visible means of subsistence is treated as a dangerous person in law.
So ostensible poverty is about the more bigger criminal activity in the city, because a person who is poor is seen as a potential criminal. That's the primary thing.
Dr. Ramanathan: And the last thing I will tell you now, and I will leave the rest for you to decrypt, you know, whenever you do it, is this: what happens when you push people out of where they are? What happens to them? It's not like people can vanish, they don't disappear, so what happens? And we've been tracking some of these people. ....Well, not tracking in the Unique ID sense! But tracking them very much in the sense where we are trying to find out where do people go. What happens to people when you break their houses? The two things to remember; two notions in law which are affecting the way the administration is looking at this.
The first is the notion of adverse possession. You do have a notion of adverse possession that breaks down when it comes to people of poverty; even if a person has spent 30 years somewhere, and without challenge, they don't automatically get a right to where they are. That seems to happen only where it is someone who can assert what can then be treated as a legal right.
The poor, in other words, can never be legal, and cannot claim a right to adverse possession.
Dr. Ramanathan: And the second I'll keep aside, because of the time. But I would just ask you to watch out for certain phenomena- one phenomenon is that of the urban nomad.
The urban nomad is someone who is never allowed to settle down in any one place long enough for them to have a settled existence. So that's one. So you find that people are uprooted, the demolishing happens, they're picked up, they're placed somewhere else; they're not even put somewhere else. We found that if there are 100 people in a settlement, 10 are treated as if they have an entitlement to a settlement, whereas 90 already don't. So the 90 get excluded anyway. Of the 10, 4 or 5 might find themselves capable of asserting that right immediately,-to resettlement- and if you don't take it immediately, you lose it. So you have a large number of people who are afloat in the city, and who are not allowed to settle down.
That takes me to the second phenomenon of impoverishment. Watch the process of impoverishment. What what happens when people have been building up their lives- and we found this happens time and again - where people have settled into the area, not only do the put their house and stock, they also learn how to access the facilities they have around. Which means schools, which means primary health centres, which means something that the middle classes are able to keep in a certain basic condition which they can demand - which you or I can demand- which the poor can't demand but which they can come and access later. So there are processes of impoverishment.
Dr. Ramanathan: I think I'll just stop with that. I know that we started with a shortage of time, I'm feeling really bad that I'm not able to say anything more than this now because I think this is an extremely important area which we need to think about differently. I've had people tell me, people who consider themselves to be human rights activists, "But you know, what you're saying is okay, but after all they are illegal where they are". Not even stopping to think what constitutes illegality. So as law people, I think, whether we understand human rights or we don't, we need at least to start understanding law and learning to make a distinction between legality and illegality...between impoverishment and criminality and starting to watch out for a continuum between impoverishment and criminality. On that cryptic note, thank you.
Arvind Narrain: Thank you Dr. Ramanathan, and we're very sorry for having rushed you. We hope to hear more about your work in the next 2 days. I don't think we have much time but I'd like a few quick responses to the fantastic panel we've had and we'll take one round of questions....
Lady in the audience: How do they resist? In terms of, when they're pushed out, and challenged, did you see any signs of resistance from them?
AN: We'll take a few quick questions and we'll take the responses all together.... So any other questions?
(on being asked to explain the question, same lady repeats it) My question was that there is all this structure and all this "illegality" and "criminality" imposed on you, but in terms of being pushed out from your jhuggi or wherever, isn't there some means of resistance? When you tracked the movement of the people, did you see signs of resistance and what form did the resistance take?
AN: So the question is what is the kind of resistance, to the forms of illegality being perpetrated on people in the urban context. That's what i understood it to be. Any other questions?
Girl in the audience: You kept on mentioning the Unique ID, I just wanted to know what are the implications of it.
AN: So the question is on the implications of the Unique ID...
NM: I really enjoyed the first presentation, ...I think the most coherent presentation that I have seen in a long time...but I'm not really familiar with the area so I can't really say much. But I do have a question for Dr. Usha Ramanathan, which is about the phenomenon where people agree to get displaced. Say, 80,000 people in Ahmedabad said that they would willingly leave their homes and move somewhere else. It was about getting compensation from the government, which was not adequate. How does one explain situations like that? One explanation was that they might be invested in the idea of becoming ideal citizens or being part of some kind of model project.
AN: So the question was about people agreeing to get displaced, for whatever reasons, which might facilitate displacement.- that's how I understood it.
Gentleman in the audience: ...Globalisation leads to the falling of prices of markets, so the farmers get affected. But isn't the falling of prices good for the common man, to access cheaper food where market forces actually play their role?
Gentleman in the audience: Dr. Bhatia. you had mentioned in the end of your talk the sign of returning normalcy which is not the impression that I had had about the whole thing. What is normalcy in the time and zone of war that the entire city is going through?
AN: The question ...Dr. Bhatia you mentioned at the end of your talk that there was an impending return to normalcy. And that's not the impression I have had. Can we elaborate a little more, on this notion of 'normalcy'?
....I think there is one last question that we will take.
Lady in audience: I must congratulate the panel because we've had three lovely speeches, and the common thread has been the abdication of responsibility by the State. My question, to all three panelists, is, what should be the response of the citizens to the increasing abdication by the State?
AN: The question was that all three speakers spoke about abdication of state responsbility, and what can be the response of the citizens to this abdication of responsibility?- I think I'll start with Prof. Patnaik, then move to Dr. Bhatia, and then Dr. Ramanathan.
Prof. Patnaik: Yes well, I basically had one question about falling prices being good for the common person.......(heavy feedback...fixing audio)
Prof Patnaik: So again, the point that was raised very clearly: the definition of the "common person"; who is the common person? When we say the common person, we usually say that "I am the common person" but the problem is that 60% of our population consists of peasants who suffer when the prices at which they sell out are allowed to fall so much that they cannot cover the cost of production. So, what I was trying to say in my presentation is that price stability is very important, both for the producer as well as the consumer. And price volatility is the problem. In fact, the system we had before all these economic reforms started was fairly sensible. Don't forget, that after all we have been a completely trade liberalized, open economy under the British for 200 years. We had no controls at all on trade. And what we find, is that our producers were completely exposed to rising and falling global prices. The experience we had- in the 50 years before Independence we have the data but it happened even before that - is that our lands were being used to supply the commodities that the industrializing world wanted, at the expense of the basic food security of our own people.
Prof. Patnaik's responses open the floor for the debate on the merits and demerits of the free market system in an economy like India. She argues discusses the dismal situation that agriculturists in India face and says that the government's policy of liberalization is to blame for it. There are others who support this view, and some facts and figures can be seen here: "Farmers Need Direct Income Support"
. But there are others who argue equally compellingly that market forces are the best way forward and sops to the agricultural sector are mere pandering to political pressure. G Srinavasan talks about this phenomenon in "Move to Decentralize Food Procurement"
, and greater analysis can be seen in the ICRIER presentation on "Agricultural Policy Reforms: Current Issues and Future Options"
. These theorists argue that governmental handling of food procurement and distribution is in fact inefficient, and that market forces would be the best determinant of what the best base price for crops should be.
Prof Patnaik: We had a decline from 200 kg per capita food production in the year 1900, it had gone down by 1946 to 136 kg per capita. In a completely open economy where market forces are allowed fully, where there is no State intervention with market forces. Except that of course the State did intervene very strongly to tax producers and reduce their purchasing power so that they could not express their demand in the market.
So we have that historical experience. And we have the experience of the Great Bengal Famine of 1940-'44. So the system that was put in place at the start of Independence was fairly simple and straightforward. People like Prasanta Mahalanobis and political leaders like Pandit Nehru said- we must not ever have the situation where market forces can be allowed full play to the detriment of the income and food security of the mass of our population. And therefore food security has to be privileged. Therefore you protect producers and consumers through a system of licensing and regulation; that is of course attacked day in and day out by the trade liberalizers and has been more or less dismantled; and you privilege producing more foodgrains for your own population. The whole system of controls and licensing had this objective of stabilizing prices. For example, the whole idea that the Food Corporation of India purchasing from the farmers, in a good year purchasing more, storing, keeping stocks, in order to release it in a bad year, because in a bad year prices will tend to go up.
food procurement and distribution
Prof. Patnaik: So if you release stocks on to the market, then you make sure that prices don't go up too much for the consumer. But at the same time, you are buying from the producer, you make sure you are paying a fair price at which the producer can cover his costs of production. So all that has been given up from the early 1990s. The results are plain to see in front of us. So when you give up this policy of stabilizing prices, the people who have been particularly badly hit, and that was my argument supported by the data that I was showing you, is the vast majority of our rural producers who in fact have been forced into a situation where they are not able to cover their cost of production, the minimal cost of production. Or make a living from the prices they were facing.
Because one of the objectives of the new liberal policy is also to wind up the food procurement and distribution system. I remember when Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia came to my University, in the early 1990s, I think it was probably '93 or '94 he said - and at that time people were much less critical of the economic liberalization policies- why do we need a Food Corporation of India? Why do we need State intervention in the food economy at all? It should be left to the private market. So the objective of the government was to actually wind up the food procurement and distribution system completely.
Prof Patnaik: And that was the objective still being followed as late as 2002 where they said, oh, the farmers are getting prices that are too high. That is why stocks are building up. That is why we have 40 million tonnes of excess stocks. And therefore, don't raise the procurement price to the farmers, keep it frozen. Kept it frozen for 3 years. Virtually frozen. If you look at the Economic Survey, you see that the rise per year is Rs 5-10 per quintal, which is nothing at a time when production costs were rising. So what does that mean? It means that it is a very stupid policy; the most ridiculous and asinine policy that any government could have followed when you are, as it were, hitting at the production base of your economy. All you succeeded in doing, was to make sure that for 5 years Punjab and Haryana had absolutely flat output; 26-27 million tonnes in Punjab, no increase whatsoever. That is, you attacked your own productive base.
I wish I had intelligent adversaries to argue against, but how to do you argue against people who are so foolish? And now you have a food crisis! What were you doing for 10 years? You have engineered the food crisis that you have today. For ten whole years people closed their eyes to the fact that the only reason you did not have food price inflation, even though your output per head was falling, was simply because you were passing the burden on to those who could least afford to bear it. That is, 60-70% of our population was suffering declining nutritional standards. So my basic point is that this new liberal policies involve a dual attack. It involves an attack on material production, and that is very serious in a poor country.
Prof Patnaik: And simultaneously they involve an attack on the purchasing power and livelihoods of the people. Don't forget, that most of our producers, especially in agriculture, are not entrepreneurs and wage paid workers. What is their income? He's not getting wages, he is not getting profit, so what is the category of income he is getting? His income is his net output- what he produces minus the cost of production. So if the value of his net output is falling, it means his income is falling, his purchasing power is falling. He's able to eat less, not able to educate his children, withdraws the girl child from school (if she was going there), puts her to work. So these are the consequences that we are seeing before us. I don't know whether I answered your question or not. So please, when you are talking about the ordinary man, do not think of it as you or me. We benefited for 15 years from the fact that the burden of adjustment was being passed on to those who are already poor. How much more do you want to squeeze the peasantry? How many more suicides do you want to see? That is the question we should ask ourselves. Thank you.
I need to answer the second part of your question... I'll come back.
Dr. Bhatia: Well, when I mention the word 'normalcy', I didn't mean normalcy in the general sense, at all. In fact the situation there is so serious and so critical that I don't think it's going to be normal again for a long long time. What has happened there has created permanent cleavages in the society. The people have been divided, on not just a village level but even in family situations. So even if all these operations are withdrawn: Operation Salwa Judoom, Operation Green Hunt, even if the situation comes where all the military, police presence is all toned down... but the problem there, for society, and the State has been so irresponsible to create such a permanent problematic situation in society. So my apologies if this word did not communicate.
What I was trying to say was that after 2005, when all this chaos started happening, due to the conflict in the society, by 2008, things were slowly getting back to 'normal'. This whole situation where your home...where is your village, if you asked a person, they would... sometimes you would get an answer, 'ki ab yeh humaare gaanv nahin hai, humaara gaanv jal gaya hai'. (This is not our village anymore; our village has burned down). Literally. There is no where to go back to.
India's Naxalite problem, as is discussed by Dr. Bhatia, is a complex one, with no easy answers. The right of Salwa Judoom to take to arms, the legitimacy of the movement and the effect on the life of the tribals are all contentious ones. But there is an increasing feeling that the situation has to be fought politically, and that the threat and demands of the Naxals cannot just be ignored. See, for example, D.Raja's views in 'Fight Naxals Politically, Don't Ignore Salwa Judoom Threat'
or J. Rana's article, 'Negotiate with Naxals: They are Humans'
. There is a realization that these groups feel alienated, and unless these underlying issues are tackled, there can be no lasting peace in the region. Negotiating with Naxals is the first step in overcoming the problems. In 'Coping With Naxals'
, Rajni Bakshi discusses some methods of giving the tribals their due dignity and assuring them of their rights, thereby removing the need for a violent resolution of the dispute.
Dr. Bhatia: And even if you go back, there is no ...kuchh nahin hai (there is nothing). Jo bhi dhan store mein rakhte the, rice rakhte the (whatever grain was in store, whatever rice was kept), the basic things that you require for everyday survival, utensils, everything...nothing is there. Every adivasi has 20-25 bakri (goat), you know, so many cattle heads. In fact, there people proudly say that "humko gareeb boltein hain, par hum gareeb nahin hain. Hum gareeb nahin the. Hum log apne gaanv mein bahaut ameer hain. Humaare ghar mein 25 log bhi aa jaate the". ( People call us poor, but we are not poor. We weren't poor. In our village, we were rich. We could entertain 25 people at a go). Meaning that, surprisingly, even if 25 people came to our houses, we would be able to feed them, we were able to, we had enough.
But in the government statistics, as I said, they were the poorest of the poor, rendered completely non-citizens. In fact, the present response of the State...by more militarization...in fact this is the mystery, for when things have started coming to an end, somehow the Central Government...what happened at the Central level that they decided to do this whole big operation again? And then to start it again from Bastar? When Bastar had already suffered for the last 4 years. Bastar had already seen all this but they have again started from Bastar. You see, so this is a mystery...that kind of deeper politics I don't have an understanding.
Dr. Bhatia: But this is question that we really need to address...what is that kind of politics? ...I was the member of a Planning Commission group and here again you can see the character of the Indian state - they spend so much money on these Planning Commission groups but whatever these so called expert groups say - like in our report we very clearly say that the policy that the Indian state has been following in response to agrarian unrest that happens in different parts of the country, particularly the Naxalite movement, through encounter killings etc is a wrong policy, and that it should not be a security centric policy but it should be a people centred policy.
In Chhatisgarh, we have very clearly seen that the policy the government has followed since 2005 has led to the expansion of the Naxalite movement. This kind of polarization has happened; people have nobody else, there is no other democratic space for any other kind of politics. So it has led to the expansion of the Maoist politics. And as far as violence itself is concerned, it has led to more, not less violence. If you look at old crime records, if you go back, its a manifold increase. 2005 onwards, just Naxalite related violence I'm talking about. Between 1980-2005 you see, and before 1980s you see. I'm reminded of Verrier Elwin's book, Murder and Suicide Among the Marias. There he took 100 case studies and pointed out that literally, murder and suicide is all very rare, and happens once in a while. Even in the local police station, people said, "murder to yahaan ek saal mein ek baar hota tha". (there used to be a case of murder just once a year here). Abhi wahaan par itne ho rahein hain ki kisi ko pata nahin kis ka kahaan grave hai. (Now there are so many happening that noone knows whose grave is where).
Dr. Bhatia: This is the kind of situation. So the response that the government has taken is deeply worrying for all of us as citizens. In fact I am reminded of this anonymous United States officer's quote, who served in Vietnam, who said "We have to destroy it in order to save it". This is the kind of situation that is happening there. And as far as what should be the response of us as citizens... there I think we are all in the same boat...this is something we all have to think about as individuals and as people who have had the chance of education in our society. I feel that the sad truth is that in this society and the kind of culture that the State has created- that kind of feudal cutlture- which permeates, especially when you go to the police thaana, the local officer..the poor, the aam admi (common man) is just not treated with any respect... all of us know that. In Gujarat I saw one person, wearing a pagdi (turban)- he was a Banjara- he took his pagdi off, he took his shoes off in front of a 'tehsildaar' (revenue administration officer). I was taking him to the tehsildaar to claim the pension, which in those days was just Rs 30 per month - and he kept his 'joota' (shoes) outside!
Dr. Bhatia: They approach the government as though they are going to bhagwaan (god). While, at every level there is such contempt for these people, noone will ask them to sit also. If we go, we are asked if we want to have coffee or tea (coffee is considered to be better) But those people, no one asks for...This itself is an indicator of the heavy responsibility on our shoulders, those of us who have had an education. Unfortunately those of us who can speak in English - and English of course is the imperial legacy- I think one important thing, in one sentence, we have to somehow build accountability into the system. We have to make the State accountable, and we have to make the non - State, that is, the State-to-be also. For example, the Maoists about to be a state. We have to hold them accountable. Because today the truth is this, that if there is anyone who the Maoists are accountable to, it is only in court to the so-called 'intellectuals'. They are not accountable to anybody. That is the sad truth. So you can hold a public hearing against the sarkar (government) but you cannot hold a public hearing against a Maoist working at a local level, or ask him what his plans are. So basically it is very important to build that kind of accountability and demand that kind of accountability from both sides.
Dr. Bhatia: Especially as far as the Indian state is concerned,... In the Salwa Judoom scene we can literally see how the State almost becomes like a vigilante group. When Salwa Judoom is called a vigilante...and this is just the last remark I am going to make...a bit of a provocative remark...when something, a group from the society when it emerges, working for its own interests, against an armed group..because in Salwa Judoom a number of people told me, why are you surprised if we take up arms? Or when we go to the police asking for arms? Don't forget, we are also trying to question an armed group. That is there. It is a kind of circle that happens. All of us may feel that the oppressed have the right to pick up the arms for their own self defence. But this is a kind of cycle that happens. That is the cycle which I am trying to explain. And look at what the State does? Because the State, in the first place, was there right at the beginning. The gun of the state - none of us thinks of non violence when we see the police man with the gun- because in a democracy, we know that the policeman and the army man have a role play. And if the role is legitimate, if it is equal for all citizens, then that gun is a legitimate gun.
Dr. Bhatia: But what I'm trying to say is that when that gun is not for everybody equally, then there are all these cases where different people in society, and certianly the poor, have more of a reason to pick up a gun. And then the State, on the first place it started it, and in the second place, then it works as a kind of, and this was the point I was trying to make, that in the Salwa Judoom and the South Bastar case, almost becomes a vigilante group in the service of certain players. In this case we know that the private players, the money lenders, the company wallahs who rig elections, the multi-national companies...the State is bypassing all existing laws, it is breaking every law in the book in these adivasi areas.
As I said, it is a 5th Schedule area. A poor Adivasi from one Fifth Schedule Area to another Fifth Schedule area...when the poor adivasi crosses over from Gantewaada or Bijapur to Thammam or over to Maltangiri, these are all Fifth Schedule areas. But that poor man's poor little hut is burned 14 times, 15 times. But all these non-adivaasis who have gone there and taken land, inspite of all these laws which prohibit the taking over of adivasi land by non-adivasis, this is the situation. They are not only there, they have their houses, their property, and today they are employing these adivasis, as poor labourers. When it is a Fifth Schedule Area. Woh unka hak hai! (-It is their right to be there.)
Dr. Bhatia: So this is the kind of accountability that we have to demand. We have to demand that the constitutional Fifth Schedule rights be protected. All these Acts be implemented in the area. And all these Memorandums of Understanding that are being signed left right and centre, and all these companies that are being bought, all these Memorandums of Understanding should be made transparent. In fact I'm surprised that the Maoists are not making that a condition.
There's so much talk about guns, and whether we keep our guns down or not...these are also the kind of questions that have to be made a part of the condition. Make all the Memorandums of Understanding transparent. Respect the people.
Dr. Ramanathan: Now I am standing between you and something else. So I will just take a couple of minutes- that's it. I have forgotton the question so I'm going to say what I want to say...
-On what the citizens can do, I think what the citizens have been doing, what all of us can do, what the middle class has been doing effectively, is to take public interest petitions to the courts and ask that slums be demolished. I think if we cease and desist it will be a huge service. Secondly, I think that as law people, we need to understand the use of institutions like the courts has to be done extremely responsibly and that they cannot, I mean, however much judges are not familiar with human rights, its not our job to go there and train them further in understanding HR and fundamental rights. I think that's not a task we should take on ourselves.
The question on Unique ID I'm going to pass because that requires not just another session but another conference. But I'm happy it was asked because all of us need to quickly apply ourselves to what this granting means. Just to give you my opinion on it, without getting into what it is about, I think it is a very dangerous exercise that is being undertaken, and we really need to quickly apply ourselves to it. It is an extremely exciting technological feat that is going to be accomplished and all our civil liberties will just drown. So just watch out for what it means. And here its not so much about us, because we are tagged anyways, but there are large numbers of the poor who are going to get implicated in this.
Dr. Ramanathan has also extensively spoken on the ramifications of the UID project in "The Personal is the Personal"
and notes that the phenomena of convergence and tracking make the UID project almost sinister and gives it the capability of taking away our privacy. While discussed only in the question answers, it does raise several important issues that we should think about.
Dr. Ramanathan: The resistance- what kind of resistance has..actually, one of the great things about this notion of illegality and studying it, which I would have told you if I had a little more time, is that in fact what I found is that when people are in precarious positions in terms of their legality in relation to the State, that's the time they are as legal as they have the capacity to be. It is a complete myth, that if you are poor you are illegal. There are situations within that, where, for instance, many of them, to brave the cold, they use many forms of intoxicating substances to fend off the cold. As a consequence some of them are involved in petty crime to get themselves a certain amount of money, whatever. But its completely linked up with bare, basic existence. It's not like no criminality exists. But being poor doesn't make them any more criminal. In fact the idea of having something a little more settled, is one way of increasing their capacity and their desire to stay within legal bounds, because that is the only way they can perpetuate their present condition and try to keep improving it.
Dr. Ramanathan: So I think that's....in terms of resistance I found that there was very little resistance. Many of the poor have been trained to think that they are in fact illegal. Therefore if they are in fact asked to go, it's going to be difficult, but it is not something they can fight saying they have a right. Which is why I think the discourse between legality and rights and legitimacy has to shift. If we don't shift it, then there is a certain amount of passive acceptance of their own secondary status and that's something that all of us who can change it are imposing on them and making sure it's there.
Dr. Ramanathan: The second thing that happens is that people who do get into organized..they try and organize themselves to the best extent possible, there are homeless who make organisations...I'm not just talking about the edu-ization of this but about people who get together, because sometimes these situations of demolition or of getting rounded up like beggars do, creates a climate where, and creates an opportunity, for grouping together, and that has been happening. They may not achieve very much. But, for example, in winter, in Delhi, there is a policy by which they give tents so that people get shelter from the cold. These groups, these collectives, manage to find places where this needs to be done, so you have a minimizing of the number of cold wave deaths in the city.
So it's that kind of...it's not an assertion of great power, but it is literally a matter of life and death for many people. So that's the kind of response there is. I again will not say anything on the people willingly handing over and going because there we are talking about people who have legal rights.
And since today my focus is on people who don't have legal rights and if I say anything more, I suspect I might lose Arvind as a friend, so I'll stop with this. Thank you.
Prof. Patnaik: I'll just take a couple of minutes because I left out the question of what we can do. Now, I think that in any discipline or any profession; whether it is in my discipline, which is economics, or yours' which is the law..there is a certain received body of so-called knowledge and theory, that you are supposed to imbibe. The point is, since we live in societies which are actually highly inegalitarian societies in terms of distribution of resources and since these disciplines are built up by the elites of the society, by and large, the material of the discipline reflects elite concerns and elite attitudes. Of every discipline, I would say. Whether it is law, whether it is economics ... So as students, I think, you would be doing a great service, both to yourself and to the country if you approach the material of your on profession with an open and critical mind. Now, I'm not saying you should be disrespectful to your teachers and lecturers at all. I'm simply saying that deliberately cultivate an attitude of disbelief and criticism. Because I know that in my discipline, there are an enormous farago of lies which are taught to the students. Theories that are simply not correct, are logically incorrect. There is enormous amount of fudging of data to give you estimates which are not correct.
Prof. Patnaik: I was trying to explain how the poverty estimates are completely fudged, there is no decline, there is actually increase in poverty. So, as people who are basically intellectual workers.. you know, we are not workers in the sense of doing the work of a peasant, or workers in a factory..we are intellectual workers. But we definitely have a role, and a duty, as citizens, to approach everything critically. And one of the major things is to question definitions, as the previous speaker pointed out. In my own discipline, I teach my students to be critical, not to take anything for granted, to ask questions, including to me, if they don't agree with what I am saying. Because so much of the discipline is loaded down with so much rubbish, which is untrue.
So this is something you can definitely do. And then as far as people who are truly deprived are concerned, to which class you and I do not belong, I think frankly, my opinion is, the kind of immiserisation and pushing down to even lower levels that we are seeing before our eyes as far as 60%-70% of the population is concerned, is dangerous, even from the point of view of the stability of the rule of the elite to which you and I belong.
Dr. Patnaik: Now that's not why I'm opposing it. I'm saying even a sensible member of the elite should realise that it is politically very dangerous because every such movement downwards of the mass of the working population will lead to extremism, because if you do not open up any avenues of advancement, in that case there is only one direction in which this can go. It can go towards the extremism of the right- towards fascist movements, as we indeed find in, for example, Mumbai; or it goes towards extremisms of the left, and both are dead ends. You cannot solve any problem by saying- I disagree with you, and so I shoot you. I mean that is not the way of solving any problem of which we need a solution.
So what is the solution? In my opinion, the only solution, the only thing that works, is mass mobilization on the basis of the very clearly articulated set of demands. That's more easily said than done. But we have the example of mass mobilization, recently in Delhi, month and a half ago, where there were several thousand farmers who had gathered together and marched in the Capital and they got what they wanted. They got the repeal of a very unjust ordinance, which the government had passed in a very backhanded and underhand sort of manner. Even before the Parliament session had begun, without discussing any matter in the Parliament. Do you think that government would have reversed the ordinance?
Dr. Patnaik: If there had not been mass mobilization and if it had not been confronted by 50 to 60,000 people on their doorstep, they would not do it. And they can easily deal with right wing extremism; they can deal with left wing extremism, because they control the repressive apparatus of the state. Every movement which has taken up a gun in the name of a minority - and not necessarily in our own country...look at the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, whether you look at the Khalistan movement in Punjab, whether you look at other kinds of armed movements that believed in individual killings and individual terrorisms- very easy for the State apparatus to ultimately repress it, suppress it and all that happens is that lot of people get killed in between.
So I am very firmly opposed, and let me say this very clearly, to every form of extremism which believes in individual terrorism. I think that's a dead end. And I believe that the only way forward, is mass mobilization on the basis of a very clearly worked out charter of demands. Thank you.