India: Narmada and Bhopal movements protest
by 05.04.2006 22:38-
April 05, 2006
Jai Sen: The scream
At the present juncture, and since around March 17, two independent popular movements in India, the Bhopal movement and the Narmada movement, are encamped in New Delhi, which it bears underlining is the capital of country, holding dharnas (sit-in demonstrations) to voice their respective protests and demands. The movements are of labouring women and men, peasants and Adivasis ("tribals", or indigenous peoples). Both, and this is not a coincidence, are from the state of central India called Madhya Pradesh, "central province".
The first is from Bhopal, the city in where the Union Carbide gas leak and massacre took place in December 1984 and where thousands lost their lives and many thousands more were crippled by the poisoning, then and in the years after by the poisoned groundwater available to them.
http://www.bhopal.org and http://www.bhopal.net .
The second from the Narmada valley, in this case from that part of the valley that is being submerged by the Sardar Sarovar Project (a giant dam and reservoir), and where hundreds of thousands of people are being "displaced" to make way for Development. The Narmada river as a whole already has several dams on it, and in all is threatened by something called the Narmada Valley Development Project, which is made up of something like 3,300 dams of various sizes. The Sardar Sarovar dam is one of the two mega dams being built on the river.
Each of the two movements has been struggling for over twenty years now, against the manner in which the people of the two areas have been treated, and for justice. Now, in further protest against the manner in which their demands and proposals are being ignored by the political leadership of the country, the two movements have independently decided to come to the capital of the country, to place their demands. Both have declared that they will not leave without having their demands met; and beyond this, they are now also in protest against the brutish manner in which they, including victims of the gas leak, have been handled by the police - like so much rubbish where they were swept up from where they had first camped and dumped onto another footpath of the city.
There is something historic that is going on in the Jantar Mantar area of Delhi these days, with the simultaneous dharnas by the Bhopal and Narmada movements. There are also some problematic things about the way in which things are happening. I think we need to unpack and understand both. But here, I want to look briefly at the historic.
The historic is contained in the fact that these two major movements arguably, two of the most important and emblematic independent "social" movements in India in the past quarter century have felt forced, on the surface absolutely independently, to both rally to and demonstrate in the heart of the country's capital at the same time; and that they are now doing so in what in Delhi is called the "Jantar Mantar" area, on footpaths on opposite sides of the street just outside the railing of the Jantar Mantar monument.
The fact they were briefly joined, on March 21, by those taking part in a major rally of organisations representing people working in the city's "informal sector" - daily and domestic workers, self-employed artisans and vendors, waste pickers and managers, construction and transport workers; all the people who constitute the backbone of the city's economy made it even more historic. The rally was to remind the government of its promises of a massive programme of social housing and no forced evictions, both of which it is heavily violating. As Dunu Roy, one of the organisers of the rally, then wrote, "the area around Jantar Mantar [was] converted into a literal battlefield for human and democratic rights".
But the reality of course is that they have not done so „independently¹; they have both been forced to do so by the sharpening contradictions of the „development¹ of the country by its political and economic leadership. It is also historic that they happened to have hit this point at precisely the same point in time. But they are not alone; for the protests and then police firings and killings that have taken place so very recently in Kalinga Nagar in Orissa, and in Gangavaram Port, Vishakhapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh, come out of the same force. They are all part of the present moment in the country.
But the historic goes beyond this. It is also contained in the fact that both movements have chosen this time to come to the capital on a non-negotiable basis that they will not leave until their demands are met. And where now, after being kicked around the city and being dragged from they had camped to where they are now, despite the tragedy of the stories that they brought and the simple justice of their demands, they have both decided, independently, to undertake indefinite hunger fasts. The Narmada strike started on March 29; and the Bhopal strike is due to strike within this next week unless they feel they are being heard.
Movements do not take such a step easily, just as Gandhi did not; they really have to have their backs up against a wall before they move to this last resort. To starve oneself to near-death, let alone to die for a cause, is not a casual decision. Their deciding to do so tells us that there is something profoundly wrong in the country today.
As the writer Arundhati Roy said at a meeting held at the Narmada dharna this past Sunday, April 2, the manner in which the government - and especially the Prime Minister, who everyone likes to believe is a reasonable man, a fine man, a civilised man are ignoring the demands and appeals of the people of the Narmada valley, who have been struggling peacefully for so long now, at all time non-violently and asking only for their rights as provided for in law and constitution, is sending a dangerous message to the people of the country. And as someone else said more pointedly, the non-response is saying clearly - to them, and to anyone who is listening that the government will talk only to armed, violent movements.
The historic also relates to the fact that both movements come from the heart of the country. The fact that both of them are here, at the same time, also tells that there is something profoundly wrong with the country's heart.
I am not going to discuss here the content of their demands in this message, nor report on immediately current developments. That will follow. I want here to focus on the most elemental question : That I think what we are hearing in Delhi today is John Holloway's scream not a scream of agony, or of death, but faced by the mutilation of life by capitalism that we are witnessing in his words "a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal : NO."
"It is a two-dimensional scream: a scream not just of rage, but of hope. And the hope is not a hope for salvation in the form of divine intervention. It is an active hope, a hope that we can change things, a scream of active refusal, a scream that points to doing."
"The struggle of the scream is the struggle to liberate power-to from power-over, the struggle to liberate doing from labour, to liberate subjectivity from its objectification. In this struggle, it is crucial to see that it is not a matter of power against power, of like against like. It is not a symmetrical struggle. The struggle to liberate power-to from power-over is the struggle for the reassertion of the social flow of doing, against its fragmentation and denial. - The struggle to liberate power-to is not the struggle to construct a counterpower, but rather an anti-power, something that is radically different from power-over."
What we are hearing here in Delhi today is significant because this scream, by these two movements, is a scream not only on their own behalves but on behalf of hundreds, perhaps thousands of movements and communities in the country that are equally struggling and screaming against what they are suffering. But it is these two movements that have whatever it takes to be able to come to from the heart of the country to the heart of the capital and to raise their voice. To scream so that the capital, and through the capital not only the leadership of the country, not only its elected representatives, but also the world, can hear the defiance of life against all odds.
(All quotes from John Holloway, 2002 How to Change the World Without Taking Power. London : Pluto Press. I also acknowledge my debt to Michael Löwy for his review of this book in his essay "The meaning of revolution today",
Jai Sen, CACIM, April 4 2006
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