A Review of Alf Gunvald Nilsen’s “Dispossession and Resistance in India”

Bhumika Chauhan

Alf Gunvald Nilsen, Dispossession and Resistance in India: The River and the Rage, Routledge, 2010

The book seeks to explore the processes of dispossession and the accompanying resistance within the context of post-colonial India, and more specifically that located in and around the NarmadaValley. Nilsen hopes to build this understanding on the basis of a perspective on social movements and struggles that is very different from those conventionally applied in the social sciences, and by most who have studied the movement around the Narmada, i.e. the Narmada Bachao Andolan (henceforth, NBA).


Developed out of his doctoral thesis, Nilsen’s book offers a vast and critical survey of much that has been said about the NBA along with ample information on the course of the two main and most controversial projects, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Project (MHP). Supplemented with his own field notes, Nilsen is able to provide a picture in which one does not see only the costs and benefits of the projects, but also the class nature of the distribution of these costs and benefits, or what he calls the distributional bias of the post-colonial development project. Nilsen’s attempt considerably helps place the NBA and similar movements within the new social movements of India as well as within neoliberal restructuring.


The main contribution of the book is perhaps the perspective it introduces into the social scientific discourse over social movements, particularly (and hopefully) into Indian social sciences. Nilsen rejects those perspectives that posit a social movement as a “fixed institutional entity” with a set of demands and means (p.4). Rather he looks at it as a collective action that gradually developed in “activist skills, practices, forms of consciousness and knowledge” (p.5). It is asserted that movements have internal processes of learning that are involved in initial mobilisation and further radicalisation. He also rejects the popular idea that social movements are organisations engaging in extra-parliamentary collective action within a more or less stable and given socio-economic background in favour of a broader and more dynamic view. For Nilsen:

“A social movement is the organisation of multiple forms of materially grounded and locally generated skilled activity around a rationality expressed and organized by (would-be) hegemonic actors, and against the hegemonic projects articulated by other such actors to change or maintain a dominant structure of entrenched needs and capacities and the social formation in which it inheres, in part or in whole.” (p.14)

It is asserted that sociality of praxis for the satisfaction of needs under the given level of capacity produces dynamic structures, which are reproduced over extended periods of time in accordance with extant relations of power between the “dominant and subaltern groups” within a social formation. Furthermore, praxis within this “structuration of need and capacities” (mode of production?) involves a constant contention between the dominant and subaltern social groups that embody the internal contradictions of the structures (classes?). These contentions may bring about changes in the dominant “structure of needs and capacities” and/or within the overarching social formation, therefore both groups are forever on the move, so to speak. This implies that social movements may happen from above or below. The author means to stress the fact that not only the subaltern groups but also the dominant groups engage in collective actions based on the dominant rationality to maintain or strengthen the dominant structure. It is the central argument of this book that the post-colonial development project and the ongoing accumulation by dispossession are part of a social movement from above, a result of collective action of the dominant social groups (p.13-14).

Significantly, the movement process is seen to start from the “common sense” of “concrete lifeworld in which people are situated”, the “particular as opposed to the universal” (p.193), and works outwards to the “good sense”, “local rationalities” and “militant particularisms” which transform the concrete lifeworld into a “locale or resistance”. The social movement project per se is said to emerge when a common ground is found between different militant particularisms through a “campaign”. This social movement project addresses the totality, the universal. Nilsen’s engagement then with the NBA starts from its constituent local mobilisations, their coming together and divergences, the formation of the NBA as a pan-state, anti-dam movement, its eventual questioning of the post-colonial development project. However, the project is not complete here (and here lies one of the key problems of the NBA according to Nilsen). Nilsen suggests that the few activists[1] who make the connection between the local conflicts and the universal structures that reproduce them – that is, they who have a political agenda against the totality – will have to convince others to come along. This can be accomplished only by grounding the social movement project again in militant particularism and local rationalities from whence it originated. This dialectic of the particular and universal that Nilsen tries to demonstrate in the, admittedly incomplete, trajectory of the NBA may provide some practical insights worth heeding.


An interesting, even brave, aspect of this work is its attempt to bring back concepts of class and class conflict in the analysis of the NBA, and other such movements in India. Nilsen takes note of the distributional bias of the SSP and MHP that constitutes accumulation by dispossession. It is precisely by situating this displacement within class relations that Nilsen demonstrates its nature as accumulation by dispossession and as a “social movement from above” (p.14). The distributional bias expresses a “dual transformation” where (a) property rights in water and electricity, as well as profitable investment opportunities are concentrated into the hands of regional, national and global propertied elite, and (b) the displacement of peasant producers from their land without adequate resettlement and rehabilitation generates pressures towards proletarianisation (p.20).

This thesis is substantiated in the case of SSP by first tracing the class formation of the agroindustrial capitalist patidar elites of south and central Gujarat, as well as the expropriation of the subsistence peasants (Bhil and Bhilal adivasis of Alirajpur) and petty commodity producers (caste Hindu peasants of Nimad) of Madhya Pradesh. While the former, after mobilising themselves to push the project (from Vallabhbhai Patel to the recent chief ministers of Gujarat have all had their support base in these patidars), accumulate the benefit of irrigation and electricity in the farms and factories, the latter are proletarianised and are expected to join the migrant labour force of south and central Gujarat.

In the case of the MHP, the petty commodity producers of Nimad bear the costs of the project, but the support for the project does not come from local elites but private corporations and national and transnational financial institutions that seek investment opportunities. The MHP, Nilsen argues, needs to be viewed in the context of the privatisation of the power sector and the liberalisation of the finance sector. The “structural inefficiencies” of the power sector led to the consensus on privatisation. But when S. Kumar, the private corporation took up the MHP, it had trouble acquiring foreign equity due to the resistance of the NBA. The solution came from the liberalising Indian finance institutions – LIC, SBI, IDBI, PFC, PNB and many others. Other than the MHP, it is a general trend that many transnational finance institutions are financing the restructuring of the power sector. Nilsen refers to David Harvey’s remarks about privatisation and about the management of fiscal crises, like the one that initiated the 1991 reform, being intimately linked to accumulation by dispossession as it creates opportunities both for devaluing public assets and for releasing them onto the market where capital may seize them.

Nilsen argues that the aforementioned distributional bias is not a glitch particular to big dams; it is part of India’s passive revolution (p.41). At Independence, capital was not singularly dominant, nor would universal suffrage allow forcible expropriation, and moreover, a counter-check was needed against the growing radicalisation and socialist tendencies. The Bombay Plan was to offer the solution: capitalist planning. Instead of a total assault, capitalist development was to, and did, progress gradually on the basis of the fragile coalition of “industrial bourgeoisie, the landed elites and rich farmers, and the politico-bureaucratic elites”.  And instead of forceful dispossession, developmental planning, with its big dams and the like, was instituted. The elite support for state intervention was strong, though only for state protection and not so much for regulation. This untenable position eventually led to the fiscal crisis of 1990s. Also, new business groups emerged to support the neoliberal reform that saw state controls as impediments to their growth. All in all, Nilsen argues following Harvey, that “Through the management and manipulation of a fiscal crisis, dominant proprietary classes have managed to push ahead reforms centered on privatisation, liberalisation and financialisation.” And with this accumulation by dispossession has also been facilitated.


The other way in which class enters his analysis is when Nilsen explores the “movement process” of resistance struggles. He asserts that subaltern groups experience constraints of their needs and capacities in their concrete, everyday lives. Collective experiences like in movements can combine and extend the individual “fragmented knowledges” to develop a better view of the underlying structures and relationships. Nilsen calls it a movement process when a social movement from below expands its collective oppositional action beyond specific, local, particular experience, scope and aim to a more “encompassing counter-hegemonic project” and a conception of a universal alternative to the social system (p.15).

In his study of the NBA, Nilsen exposes the appearance of homogeneity of the NBA as well as that of the local communities that constituted it, as is characteristic of all populist struggles. The discourses of the movement came to be hegemonised by the local elites, the rich farmers (p.161-8). Class, gender and caste, posed a challenge to the NBA mobilisation that the latter could not in the end surpass. “Oppositional populism”, Nilsen argues, has been responsible for obfuscating relations of oppression and exploitation within this and other such movements. For instance, the ‘farmer-worker’ organisation within the Nimad region that arose in response to the hike in electricity prices, were undeniably more for the farmer and less for the worker.

The stratified nature of seemingly homogenous identities and communities becomes evident, Nilsen notes, when we look at the various kinds of views of alternative development that emerge when one digs beneath surface discourses. Relatively marginalised groups within these communities are obviously unable to develop or express their position. The subaltern groups of women, dalits and landless labourers fail to expand their “fragmented knowledges” of the social structures. The cause, Nilsen points out, is firstly the “differential appropriation” of the discourse of resistance by the different groups, and secondly the “limited dissemination” of the discourse to the mass base of the movement.


Strangely, it is at this point, where Nilsen’s understanding of the internal segmentation of communities comes out most clearly, that we espy a possible problem in his argument. The solution that Nilsen proposes for the abovementioned issues of discourse dissemination and appropriation is the development of methods for collective and participatory learning, to “deepen processes of conscientization” (p.187). From his thorough analysis of the political economy of accumulation by dispossession, we now seem to have arrived at a vague statement that in this notion of “collective learning” once again ends up positing the “collective” that he just deconstructed. Evidently what he is suggesting is that such learning can allow the collective to overcome its internal divisions, so that it could begin its attack on totality. What Nilsen seems to have forgotten is precisely the materiality of this segmentation, that he brought out so well, and which is not suitably addressed by a concept like “collective learning”. What is this collective learning? Who learns? Do all segments of the collectivity learn from the same experiences, forgetting, one would assume all they have learnt from experiences that vary according to socio-economic positions?

When the traditional, the “orthodox” Marxist stresses the importance of a working class for-itself perspective, or the importance of the leading role that the working class must play in the attack on totality, the idea is to take cognisance of precisely this class-ified nature of experience, that subjectivises individuals and groups differently, in keeping with the unequal apportionment of value and power in society. To be clear, one is not saying that Nilsen ignores the social inequalities – that would contradict much of what was said in the preceding paragraphs – but only that he ignores the leading role that the downtrodden must necessarily play, owing precisely to their history of being downtrodden. While it is hard to miss the author’s clear attribution of post-colonial development project to the capitalist class, it is surprising to find that the working-class is completely absent from this narrative of resistance and change.

Another possible way of addressing the problems of addressing the limits of movements like NBA also emerges, though it never gets spelt out explicitly, from Nilsen’s own work. A movement against displacement can easily stagnate and take on a petty bourgeois character unless it generalises its proletarian moment and builds “alliances” with (in Nilsen’s terms) other movements that are articulating that same moment. Nilsen quotes an essay published in Radical Notes:

“Understanding all these diverse processes in the framework of primitive accumulation has several strategic implications. Perhaps, most urgently, this can provide a unified framework to locate the numerous struggles going on in the country…”(Chandra and Basu 2007 cited in p.201)

If we read beyond the segment he quotes, we could understand better what this “generalisation,” that could allow movements to transcend their own internal limits means:

“… right from the ‘new’ social movements, like landless workers movements, Narmada Bachao Andolan and other local mobilisations of ‘development-victims’, to anti-privatisation movements of public sector workers, all the way to the revolutionary movements led by the Maoists. This unified framework can then possibly facilitate dialogue among these movements, something that is more than essential at this juncture if the movement of labour against capital is to be strengthened.” (Chandra and Basu 2007)

Although an understanding of the contradiction between capital and labour is implicit in most of Nilsen’s analysis, in the end he either remains blind to, or sidesteps the implications of the centrality of this contradiction. In a famous review of Raymond Williams’s The Long Revolution, EP Thompson observed Williams’ unwillingness to use Marxian terms. He noted that though sometimes it is not entirely clear whether Williams is merely steering clear of using that language for the sake of wider intelligibility, or is he also trying to move in a non/anti-Marxist direction with his conclusions. The same can be said about Nilsen’s work. Though his analysis is usually spot on, the attempt to stay away from the register of a Marxian analysis has to be explained. Either he is out to, despite the validity (from a Marxian perspective) of his analysis, find non-Marxist answers to anti-Marxist questions, or his is an attempt to appease the vulgar anti-materialists who rule the academia today – a Gramsci like self-censoring to fool the fascist prison-guards.


[1] However, there is reason for concern about what it is that Nilsen means by “activist”. On several occasions he uses the term to refer to the external agents that provided a much needed perspective and impetus to the oppressed communities within the Narmada Valley. In fact, on most occasions, it seems Nilsen is addressing such external agents, and only on rare occasions does it seem possible that he might be referring to agents from the militant communities themselves as activists.

Global protests against Vedanta (January 11): A Report

People across the globe have registered their protests against Vedanta once again. On January 11, parallel demonstrations took place in Orissa, London and New York where activists in hundreds raised slogans and upheld placards to denounce the corporate annexations of  indigenous peoples’ lands.

From Niyamgiri hills, more than 500 people turned up at a rally which covered about two kilometers in the Bhawanipatna town. Resistance movements in Lanjigarh have also inspired tribal representatives of Karlapat region whose mountains are now being targeted by the mining companies. In this rally, several people who were cheated of their lands narrated the atrocities and tortures they faced from Vedanta highhandedness in Lanjigarh. They also gave an account of how the company goons and the local police routinely harass the women in the afflicted areas.


In solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Orissa, a loud group of protesters from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups mobbed the company’s Mayfair headquarters in London the same day. Holding a banner that read “FCA: de-list Vedanta”, the demonstrators called for the Financial Conduct Authority to remove Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange for poor corporate governance and human rights crimes.


Likewise, in New York City, protesters gathered outside the United Nations headquarters to highlight the company’s human rights crimes, displaying placards that read: “Our Mountain! Our Rights! Vedanta: Give Up!” and “Dongria Kond’s Niyamgiri: Hands Off!”

New York

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court of India has deferred its final verdict on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine until 21st January. If permission to mine is denied Vedanta is likely to close its Lanjigarh refinery due to lack of bauxite costing them billions. On Sunday the Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh plans to visit the threatened mountain to visit the Dongria Kond.

Various grassroots groups including Phulbari Solidarity Group, Japan Against Nuclear, Tamil Solidarity and London Mining Network, along with Foil Vedanta gathered at Vedanta’s London headquarters to add their voice to recent pressure for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations. They shouted ‘Vedanta out of London’ and blew horns and whistles. Several parliamentarians and the former CBI Director Richard LambertLondon have highlighted how Vedanta’s listing is used for legal immunity to hide their corporate crimes.

At the Supreme Court in Delhi today lawyers for Vedanta dwelled on the ongoing demonstrations in London, asking why people are protesting there, and claiming that India is suffering because of this. Judges noted that this is not relevant to the case and pointed out that people have a right to protest. Foil Vedanta’s spokesperson reacted:

“Vedanta is a London listed company and profits from this affiliation. It is typical of Vedanta to assume they are above the law and above public accountability. We will continue to draw attention to their corporate crimes here in London”.

Activists at the rally in Bhawanipatna chanted “Vedanta go back: water, land and forest ours. We are Supreme people of the supreme court” while dalit leader Surendra Nag spoke about the loss of land and livelihood for local people, some of whom have ended up as beggars. One man spoke of how his whole family had been tortured by company goons and they had lost 6 acres of land to the company without compensation.

The project has been racked with controversy from the start, as a spate of recent coverage points out: The Lanjigarh refinery built to process the bauxite from the hills was illegally constructed, the court case presided over by a judge with shares in the company, and the refinery should never have been given permission without including the associated mega mine in impact assessments. The Delhi High Court is also currently investigating the large donations from Vedanta to India’s two main political parties which could be deemed illegal as Vedanta is a foreign (British) company.

A cover story in major Indian glossy Open Magazine in December details evidence of corruption and collusion between Vedanta and the Orissa state government, local officials, judges and the police to force the project through. Meanwhile Vedanta’s chairman and 56.7% owner Anil Agarwal has launched a rare PR crusade claiming that Vedanta ‘have not cut one tree’ and respects and preserves the rights of the protesting indigenous tribe living on the threatened mountain. He sets out his extractive philosophy for India – suggesting that exploration should be drastically increased and regulation decreased to provide for the domestic market for metals and oil.

If Vedanta loses the case to allow state owned company Orissa Mining Corporation to mine the mountain on their behalf they may have to close the dependent Lanjigarh refinery costing them billions. Under enormous pressure from Vedanta the Orissa government has suggested alternative bauxite supplies from a deposit located in a major wildlife sanctuary and tribal area at Karlapat arousing anger and opposition from grassroots groups.

The court’s decision rests on whether the Green Bench of India’s Supreme Court rules the rights of forest dwellers to be ‘inalienable or compensatory’. In view of this, India’s Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has asked the Environment Minister to ensure the rights of forest dwellers is protected in the spirit of the Forest Dwellers Act.

Speaking about the verdict, Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states: “We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last month they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.”

Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:

“Vedanta is not the only mining company that should be de-listed for their corporate crimes. Infamous London listed offenders Lonmin in South Africa, Monterrico in Peru, GCM in Phulbari and Bumi in Indonesia should also be investigated for extensive human rights atrocities.”

KMSS Hunger Strike in Assam, Akhil Gogoi Arrested

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

After sending the below, we received information that Akhil Gogoi was arrested at around 3 am this morning from the site of the hunger strike and many KMSS supporters were lathi charged. He has been forcibly hospitalised but is resisting forcefeeding. Meanwhile when KMSS members protesting in Guwahati were lathi charged, and more than 20 people have been seriously injured. Road blockades and other protests are now taking place across the state.

Today, in Assam, the indefinite hunger strike of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi entered its fifth day. This marks a key moment in one of the largest mass struggles for people’s rights in the country today. Till date there is no reaction whatsoever from the government to the KMSS’ democratic demand for a halt to the construction of dams in the State and to atrocities on those protesting against them. Most of these dams are coming up in total violation of law, without compliance with the procedures for forest clearance, environmental clearance and without respecting people’s rights over forest land. The dams threaten the livelihoods of lakhs of people and pose a serious risk of future natural disasters that could claim the lives of tens of thousands more. When people have opposed the construction of these dams, they have faced beatings, tear gas and police firings. The KMSS’ decision to call the indefinite hunger strike was also driven by opposition to these atrocities.

The KMSS’ peaceful struggle for people’s resource rights has mobilised lakhs of people. In the last few years their protests have engulfed the entire State. But for our state machinery these things matter little. Indeed, in Maharashtra, the same system and the same forest officials who (among others) broke the law in Assam have now given themselves the power to kill people with impunity (in the name of “shoot on sight orders” against “poachers”). This blatantly unconstitutional order will lead to killings of local adivasis and forest dwellers, who will never even be given the basic right to a trial. Whether it is in the name of sham “development” or in the name of dictatorial “conservation”, the same bureaucracy and ruling class seizes power and resources, trampling roughshod over the rights of the people. The struggle is on for real democracy in this country.

Contact: forestcampaign@gmail.com, www.forestrightsact.com

Repeal ‘AFSPA, 1958’ for a Humane, Internationalist Future

Gilbert Sebastian

“Sharmila Irom … has not eaten for almost 10 [now, 12] years.
She is too angry to eat ….
She is hungry for justice, not for food.”

– Andrew Buncombe (The Independent, 5 May 2010)

Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (henceforth, AFSPA) in India provides total legal immunity to officers of the armed forces (down to the level of a havildar) in the “disturbed areas” to shoot and kill anyone without attracting punishment, to arrest using violence and without warrant and allows unhindered entry into any premise. There cannot even be a First Information Report (FIR) filed in case of such killings except through prior sanction of the Union government; only a simple complaint can be filed. AFSPA, is by far, the most draconian Act in the country because the Act contravenes the spirit (although it adheres to the letter) of the Fundamental Right to Life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which says, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.’ Notably, AFSPA is operational in the frontier regions where militant nationality movements go on against the Indian State, i.e., in Kashmir and parts of the north-east of India. The footages from real life on the reels of the documentary film, ‘AFSPA, 1958’ in the context of Manipur shocks the consciousness of any democratically-minded person. As Asit Das (2011) says, the Act is clearly used as an instrument of war and is, by no means, used for enhancing conviction rate. The operation of this single Act has led to thousands of murders, enforced disappearances (as in the case of the unmarked graves in Kashmir), tortures, rapes, etc.

AFSPA is an example of a ‘permanent’ law that was justified at the time of its enactment as merely shifting, under logistical compulsions, powers of ordinary policing to the army (Ujjwal Singh 2011). It may be borne in mind that police forces dealing with civilians are usually instructed to use the least amount of force whereas the military is trained to inflict the maximum lethal force. The term, ‘extraordinary law’ loses the meaning it denotes for a law that has been permanently operational in the country since 1958 except as a law which gives extraordinary powers to the armed forces. Initially enacted for use in the seven sister states of the north-east of India, the scope of the Act was extended to Jammu & Kashmir since 1990.

The empowering Supreme Court judgment in Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights vs. Union of India, 1998 defined a “disturbed area” wherein the Act would be applicable. However, the basic structure of the draconian Act remains unaltered as yet. The judgment held that AFSPA, 1958, Section 3, does not confer any arbitrary or misguided power for declaring an area as a “disturbed area” for which there must exist a grave or dangerous situation of law and order on the basis of which the Governor of the State or Administrator of the Union Territory can form an opinion as such.

It has also been pointed out that AFSPA constitutes a clear violation of international law and of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, ratified by India in 1979.

De-facto partial citizenship

The notion of universalism was somewhat absent under the caste-based feudal moral/legal order in India. The legal system was heavily at odds against the underprivileged castes and women. Even the formal – not substantive – notion of universalism in India was typically a contribution of the colonial rule. The Panchamas, the outcastes/untouchables (self-named as Dalits today) hardly enjoyed any of the benefits of citizenship. As part of the Hindu identity formation under the influence of colonial modernity, there has been a half-hearted attempt at their incorporation into the Hindu fold. The exclusionary process continues even today in a different manner whereby certain social sections are not permitted to enjoy full-fledged citizenship in the country. Today, AFSPA is used against the nationalities of Kashmir and parts of the north-east of India like Manipur, Nagaland and Assam. Especially with the rise of fascistic communalism, recurrent communal violence has taken place against Muslims and they find themselves overrepresented only in the Indian jails. Similarly, tribals have faced systematic eviction from their traditional habitats with the expansion of capitalist accumulation since colonial times. It may be argued that these social sections and others like migrant workers, fisher people, etc. enjoy only ‘partial citizenship de facto’ in our polity.

Distinction between Mainland and the Frontier

In order to understand the continued prevalence of AFSPA, 1958 in some parts of the country today, we need to draw a geo-political distinction between mainland and frontier. The frontier consists of whole geo-political regions, whose citizens are de-facto recognised as only incomplete citizens. There are ethnic/religious differences that mark them out from the mainland. What we refer to, in particular, are the national formations in Kashmir and large parts of the north-east of India. Both mainland and frontier are politically constructed geographical categories. The people of the mainland are considered as complete citizens of India in geo-political terms although there are gross aberrations which are not primarily of a geographical character in the case of social categories such as religious minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, migrant workers, etc. We also need to bear in mind that there is a possibility of interchange between parts of the mainland and parts of the frontier and so these are dynamic categories although stability rather than change is the primary characteristic of these geo-political categories.(1) To use the expression of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze (2002), India is a “bastion of disparity”. The disparity between mainland and the frontier is a crucial one among these disparities.

It is true that the construction of a dominant Hindi nationality has been an ongoing hegemonic project of the Indian State in north India where Indo-Aryan dialects like Bhojpuri, Maithili, Braj bhasha, Haryanvi, Rajasthani, etc. are spoken. However, the acute class division and the extremely low levels of human development, by far, the lowest in the country, in several of these states (particularly, BIMARU states – Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) remain significant barriers to this project.

An instructive example of the mainland-frontier distinction can be had in the case of the discussions in the media during 2009-10 whether the army and the air force should be deployed in the fight against the Maoists. Both the Chief of Army Staff, Mr. V. K. Singh and the Chief of Air Staff, Mr. P. V. Naik were against the idea of such a deployment on grounds that ‘they are our own citizens’. This draws a sharp contrast with the case of nationality movements in the frontier regions against whom army has been used and continues to be used. Moreover, AFSPA, the most draconian Act in the country and also the most hated Act in the frontiers, has been operational in these regions.

Over the decades after the transfer of power in 1947, untold atrocities have been committed by the armed forces of the Indian Union and State-sponsored militias on the peoples of the struggling nationalities on the frontiers of India. But opposition to such atrocities from the mainland India have been few and far between.(2) This is a far cry from Lenin’s advice to Communists and democrats from the dominant nationality (in this case, those from the mainland) that they should be categorical in their opposition to national oppression towards the subject nationalities. Even in India today, in fact, it is easy to distinguish democratic intellectuals from the others on the basis of their standpoint on the question of national oppression.

‘A Generalised State of Exception’

There is a substantial portion of the geographical/demographic terrain of India wherein there is, to use the concept used by Italian legal theorist, Georgio Agamben, ‘a generalised state of exception’ to the liberal democracy prevailing in the rest of the country. In government terminology, these are either the ‘backward regions’ (such as the central forest region) which are ‘Maoist-infested’, well within the mainland India or ‘frontier states’ meaning, states bordering the neighbouring countries where there are, often, insurgencies demanding self-determination. As the Maoist literature does, movements designate these as ‘struggle areas’ – arena of class struggles or nationality movements. The liberal democratic discourse of the ‘rule of law’ (nomos) is largely non-functional in these vast regions. The Fundamental Rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of India face blatant violation in these regions, where even the most basic one, the right to life, is violated with impunity on a large scale on a day to day basis. This “undemocratic exception” (Pothik Ghosh 2010) is not merely an exception or aberration but a generalised phenomenon. Crucially, anyone concerned about the future of democracy, human rights and the question of social transformation in this country, cannot overlook this phenomenon.

‘Rule of law’, Impunity and a Selectively Repressive State

Speaking of the system at large, unlike in most of the liberal democracies of the west, there is a vast terrain of exception to the rule of law in India. As Hannah Arendt (1951) says, the sought after goal here is ‘order’, rather than ‘law’. A patent example is the case of hundreds of extra-judicial killings of detenues that happen in the police lock-ups in India every year. In the heavily militarized regions of the country i.e., in regions where there are nationality movements or Maoist insurgency, ‘fake encounters’ by the Indian security forces are a rather common phenomenon. Counter-insurgency operations by the State, such as the Salwa Judum, have been carried out in blatant violation of all Constitutional and legal norms.

Despite the legal universalism formally prevailing, the rich and the powerful continue to enjoy impunity. The instances have been far too many: The high profile perpetrators of Gujarat carnage of 2002; the leader who opened up the pandora’s box of communal polarization in contemporary India and has been instrumental in the post-rath yatra riots in 1990; the leaders accused in the demolition of the Babri Masjid; the architects of the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh; those responsible for clandestine killing and cremating hundreds of young persons at Tarn Taran in the Punjab during the early 1990s; those responsible for the violent suppression Adivasi landless at Muthanga in Wayanad district in Kerala state, and of those who resisted corporate land grabs at Kalinga Nagar, Nandigram, Singur, etc.; those responsible for the trafficking of vulnerable sections of people which is a rising trend today; those employing children in hazardous occupations; etc.

It also needs mention that the Indian State has been selectively repressive against its adversaries who violate its canons. While being heavily repressive against Islamist extremists, nationality movements, and the Maoist movement, the Indian State has been quite lenient towards the criminal activities of the Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar.

Frontier Peoples in an Intersectional Analysis of the Indian State

Given the experience of AFSPA, how do we understand the Indian State under neo-liberal globalisation? Liberals of diverse shades have argued that with globalisation, the State had ‘retreated’ and the world had become ‘borderless’. However, it is apparent that the role of the State has heightened in India under neo-liberal globalisation in terms of its functions as an agency that is regulatory, repressive and a facilitator of unhindered accumulation (T.J. Byres 1997).

Marxists usually speak about the Class character of the State but it should be borne in mind that Class formations are not merely about class in the narrow sense of the term. There is need to reveal the broader Social character of the State in India. In the Indian context, Class needs to be viewed substantively in relation mainly to space, caste and gender. In this respect, intersectional analysis could be a very valuable analytical tool. Intersectional analysis as expounded by Nancy Fraser, et al has its origins in gender studies in the West since late 1960s that sought to understand experiences beyond gender alone. This approach has to do with how forms of oppression interrelate or intersect in multiple ways to create a system of oppression manifesting itself as exploitation, discrimination, violence, marginalisation, etc. It links various kinds of oppression which have to do with interrelated/overlapping/intersecting social categories. Speaking of the class/social character of the State, from the angle of intersectional analysis, could we not as well speak of the Indian State not only as pro-corporates and pro-landlords but also as [pro-mainlanders], pro-men, pro-upper castes, pro-non-tribals, pro-Hindus, etc.? (3) The deployment of military and the operation of AFSPA reveals the bias of the Indian State against frontier peoples.

Erosion of State Legitimacy and Repressive Legislations

How do we understand an apparently contradictory character of the legislative process in India whereby there is a co-existence of empowering and disempowering legislations? There have been a number of apparently pro-people legislations during the very period of neo-liberal reforms: National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005; Forest Rights Act, 2006; the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996; the Right to Information Act 2005; the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005; Unorganised Sector Workers’ Social Security Act, 2005; The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 which seeks to grant 33 per cent reservation to women in parliament and elected assemblies; etc. These may be viewed as having been necessitated by the need for the neo-liberal State to generate popular consent or secure legitimacy, particularly from deprived classes and social identities and thereby maintain the hegemony of the ruling classes. Maintaining ‘hegemony’ in the Gramscian sense involves sustaining the moral and intellectual leadership of the dominant classes through generating consent rather than through coercion or force. As Bob Jessop (1982) says, it involves taking systematic account of popular interests and demands, making compromises on secondary issues, without sacrificing the fundamental long-run interests of the dominant group.

On the other hand, ‘the limited nature of consent’ leads to a weak basis for a political order, which comes to rely increasingly on force (A. S. Sassoon 1991). The gearing up of the repressive apparatus of the State under neo-liberalism through draconian legislations like Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, 2005 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2008 is worth mentioning in this context. Notably, however, AFSPA has continued to be the most draconian legislation among all these and has been prevailing in the country from the first decade of the existence of the Republic as a testimony of the distinction between the mainland and the frontiers. These draconian Acts have been operational especially in areas of militant struggles against the Indian State. The increasing ascendancy of the Hindutva fascist movement in India also should be seen in conjunction with the deepening crisis of legitimacy of the Indian State under neo-liberalism.

An insightful statement from the film, The Spiderman says, ‘The cunning warrior attacks neither the body, nor the mind but the heart.’ But how about the peoples living under the terror of AFSPA? If they are citizens, why are they treated this way? Apparently, the cynical and hawkish strategic analysts in the corridors of power in the Indian State have no long-term perspective for the integration of the frontier regions.

Self-determination and People’s Rights

A clarification on the notion of ‘People’s Rights’ by Manoranjan Mohanty (2011) can be useful in this context. The conventional discourse of ‘human rights’ has laid exclusive emphasis on civil liberties of individuals in particular, mostly as recognized by the State. The notion of ‘people’s rights’, on the other hand, entails a comprehensive notion of rights. It includes both civil liberties on the one hand and political, social, economic and cultural rights on the other. Rights are understood as “political affirmations in course of struggle”, irrespective of whether or not they have gained recognition from the State. Moreover, besides individual rights, people’s rights include the rights of collectivities and regions. [Regions, here, refers to the question of spatial equity and could include the notion of centre and periphery on the worldscale and also the nationalities question. One might recall Mao’s slogan, ‘Countries want independence, nations want liberation, people want revolution.’ It refers to independence from imperialism, liberation from national oppression and revolution by the broad masses of people and not certain deprived classes.]

On the contrary, the State in India, apparently, has no long-term policy vis-à-vis the frontier: It is basically a policy of ‘catch ‘em and hold ‘em’ as long as possible, for geo-political gains, for markets and resources. If, however, we want a lasting integration of the nationalities in India, South Asia and the world at large, it cannot be a vertical integration but a horizontal integration. An enduring unity cannot be a forced unity at the point of the gun but a voluntary union of states. As a Malayalam saying goes: ‘If you have a nose that would fly away when you sneeze, you should rather let it go!’

The right to self-determination of nationalities, including secession, was upheld by Marxist-Leninists since 1914 and ‘a person’s right to nationality’ by most liberals soon after the Second World War. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations in 1948 had upheld the individual’s ‘right to a nationality’ and the ‘right to change his nationality’. In India, the mainstream Marxists have given up on the right of nations to self-determination. Most liberals all across the world have given up on it, except in cases where they were granted under genocidal situations in little nationalities as in East Timor and South Sudan. Moreover, it is the experience of the 20th century that most nationalities that waged successful anti-colonial struggles succumbed to the indirect exploitation by neo-colonialism and thus the substantive content of self-determination was hollowed out. In spite of all these, rightly do the democrats uphold the right to self-determination, through means of a referendum, as the most democratic right on the question of the nationalities.

By distinction, ‘Repeal AFSPA’ is no revolutionary demand, no secessionist demand but a demand for basic human rights, a legitimate democratic demand against the undue privileges enjoyed by the Indian armed forces in the frontier regions, a demand for a democratic integration of the country, if it all, it could be made possible. But no doubt, it is a little step, but a significant one, for a long-lasting, durable unity, for the internationalist future of humanity. We salute the iron will of Ms. Irom Sharmila, the Manipuri poet in the 12th year of her hunger strike against AFSPA, the most draconian Act in the country and bow our heads in our respect for the struggling peoples in the frontiers of India.

Gilbert Sebastian (gilbertseb@gmail.com) is a post-doctoral researcher based at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.


(1) Remember that Tamil Nadu and Punjab, which were parts of the mainland had secessionist movements whereas Mizoram, which used to be part of the frontier, has been somewhat incorporated into the mainland.
(2) One important reason for this is the retraction of the mainstream left parties, CPI and CPI-M from the Leninist principle of self-determination of nationalities.
(3) Manoranjan Mohanty (personal communication). I have added what is in square brackets.

Delhi University Women Students’ Struggle: An Appeal


Since January of 2012, residents of Delhi University’s largest postgraduate women’s hostel, University Hostel for Women (UHW) have been waging a battle against outright suppression of their democratic rights by, both, their hostel authorities and the University’s Proctorial Committee. Since the hostel’s Chairperson is also the Proctor of the University, the Proctorial Committee has been intervening in the matter, not as a neutral party, but in complete connivance with the hostel authorities. There are two issues which are central to the ongoing struggle of the women students, namely, the imposition of a union constitution by the authorities, and the existence of archaic and conservative rules in the hostel. In the process of their struggle, the women hostellers have been individually victimized to a ridiculous extent by the hostel Provost, Professor Ashum Gupta and the Warden, Dr. Tanuja Agarwala. The Warden and Provost have been sending letters to departments, making misleading phone calls to parents, denying extension of stay to M.Phil researchers in the hostel, verbally threatening their MA students that they will be given less marks for projects and assignments if they continue to support the struggle, etc. As a result, the campaign of the women hostellers has also been geared towards fighting rampant victimization.

Our struggle began when on 22 January, 2012 a six page document was pasted on various notice boards inside the hostel. The document was a copy of the Hostel Union Constitution drafted by the authorities in consultation with the hostel’s Managing Committee. While such a crucial piece of document can only be put into force after being passed by a two third majority of the hostel residents, who are the actual constituents of the union, no such procedure was followed in our hostel. To make matters worse, the hostel authorities tried to hold this year’s hostel union election on the basis of this imposed Constitution. While the authorities claim that they are implementing procedures followed during other student elections of Delhi University (such as DUSU, etc.), the structure of the Hostel Union Constitution reveals something very different. For example, the Constitution drafted by the authorities allows for the outgoing union president to continue on the new hostel union as an ex-officio member! Similarly, before the residents began challenging the authorities, the newly announced election criteria consisted of stipulations which seriously prevented the formation of a strong, independent students’ union. The new election criteria were an unhealthy combination of the stringent Lyngdoh committee stipulations, as well as certain disqualification criteria formulated by the authorities themselves.

A “valid” candidature was, hence, ascertained according to the Lyngdoh recommendations on age and attendance to a course, as well as the system of memos (i.e. the issuing of warning letters for the smallest breach of hostel rules—most of these rules being highly unpopular and contested). The receipt of 5 such memos was arbitrarily made a criterion for disqualification. It is only because the women students united to fight this imposition of a hostel union constitution that certain non-Lyngdoh election stipulations (like disqualification on the basis of memos issued and number of years of residence in the hostel, etc.) were taken back by the authorities. Unsatisfied with this partial victory, the women students have pursued their struggle because apart from the arbitrary introduction of Lyngdoh recommendations, the Constitution imposed by the authorities allows for extensive control of the hostel authorities on the union. Since the attempts of the authorities has been to minimize the autonomy and strength of the students’ union, the hostel residents collectively decided to submit a signature petition to the hostel Warden and Chairperson.

The second issue on which UHW residents have been campaigning is existing hostel rules. Most of the rules in force are those formulated way back when the hostel was started in 1970. The current residents in the hostel are challenging rules such as ‘no exit after 8:00pm’, submission of leave applications approved by Head of Departments for more than one week’s absence from the hostel, the tedious procedure of gate pass and double-locking of rooms which does not exist in the men’s hostels, the limited number of late nights and nights out, closing off the canteen to visitors, etc. Many of these rules such as not being able to exit after 8pm are illogical, especially when we consider how the same authorities allow the residents entry up till 11:00pm under the late night provision. An archaic rule such as ‘no exit after 8pm’ prevents women students from stepping out for urgent work, or even something as simple as getting photocopies from the nearby market, Patel Chest.

However, apart from this, certain the rules (such as closing off the canteen to Miranda House and other college students and staff) have also worked towards making Chhatra Marg (where the hostel is situated) a more isolated place, and hence, unsafe. Certain other rules which are implemented solely in the women’s hostels, like the submission of leave applications approved by Head of Departments for more than one week’s absence from the hostel, are being misused to such an extent that the women hostellers and department heads are unnecessarily burdened with additional paperwork. It is, in fact, shameful that adult women are being made to seek approval from their departments even for personal matters such their travel/vacation plans.

Of course, under the pressure of the ongoing struggle, the University has decided to implement, from the new academic session, certain changes in the rules prevalent in women’s hostels. However, since these adjustments were discussed and formalized without any consultation with women students, they continue to create hassles for the women hostellers. Indeed, apart from a few proposed changes, most of the rules stand the same. In fact, not only will tedious procedures like gate-pass, double locking of rooms and issuing of memos for the smallest breach of hostel rules persist, the University’s new administrative order also proposes a hostel fee hike. Understandably, the women hostellers continue to agitate and raise their democratic concerns.

Typically, the collective struggle of the students has been trivialized and demeaned in several ways. Students’ democratic methods like calling meetings, circulating signature petitions, etc. are constantly projected by the authorities as “illegal” activities that spread “disturbance” and “disharmony”. Basically, when we take the initiative to raise our opinions and discontent, our authorities only see “untoward” activity…OUR VOICE IS NOISE FOR THEM!

Furthermore, ever since the women hostellers have been voicing their democratic aspirations, the authorities have viciously gone after individual students in the bid to transform UHW residents into a captive mass which has no democratic voice. The logic behind the multiple techniques of victimization is the need for the hostel authorities to break the collective will of the students and to project their collective struggle as that of a few individuals. In order to break the collective will and efforts of the residents, the authorities have been threatening individual students to withdraw from the struggle, and have tried to project the students’ legitimate struggle as a smear campaign pursued by one or two students who have some mysterious “agenda”. The techniques of victimization used unhesitatingly so far, include: (i) vicious character assassination, (ii) phone calls to parents and departments, (iii) accosting individuals on the stand they have taken and refusing to cooperate with them regarding the smallest of procedural work within the hostel, (iv) denying extension of stay to M.Phil researchers, (v) bombarding the more active students with show cause notices on every alternate day, etc.

For many of us these victimization techniques are equivalent to the techniques embraced by the management of private companies seeking to break the collective voice of their employees. Considering our hostel Warden is a faculty member of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), it comes as no surprise to us that typical labour management formulas are being applied on us students. Haranguing individuals, involving the families of the protesters, threatening individuals with a series of show cause notices, applying multiple pressure on individuals by involving a not-so-neutral third party (in our case, the Proctor’s office, and in the case of workers, the Labour Office), etc. are very similar to the methods used by factory managers who seek to crush the collective voice of their employees. Using such labour management methods, the hostel authorities went out of their way to expose their unethical and undemocratic nature on two particular occasions. One such occasion was on 14th February when a large number of women hostellers boycotted dinner in protest. Rather than being concerned about the condition of the residents boycotting dinner, the hostel authorities ‘rewarded’ those who refused to support the campaign with an extra lavish dinner, and spent the entire day calling individual students to the office in order to force them to withdraw their support for the boycott.

The second occasion on which typical labour management techniques were unleashed on the hostel residents was on the 13th of March. On this day, members of the hostel’s Managing Committee, two Deputy Proctors, the Warden, Provost and Resident Tutor huddled into office to hold a Managing Committee meeting, as promised in writing. Ironically, rather than allowing the students to select and send their representatives to the meeting, the hostel Warden handpicked two students to represent the students’ point of view in the meeting called to ‘resolve’ the issues raised by the residents. As expected these students’ ‘representatives’ were not the more vocal of students, and were forced to compromise as they were outnumbered in the Managing Committee meeting, and were, in fact, locked into the office area during the course of the meeting. Disrespect for amicable dialogue and the strong desire to create a docile mass of women students are clearly reflected in such cases.

As the situation stands, individual victimization continues on a daily basis. For example, despite verbal assurances given by the Dean of Colleges, Prof. Pachauri, on the 16th of March, the hostel Provost has continued to contact supervisors and Head of Departments. The hostel authorities also released a list on the 19th of March of M.Phil researchers who will not be provided an extension of stay, despite the precedent being that the hostel provides such extension in strongly recommended cases. The hostel authorities continue to run UHW as if it were their personal fiefdom. There really seems to be no way to check their authoritarian, undemocratic and unethical practices, unless the larger Delhi University community extends support to the women students.

WE, HENCE, APPEAL TO ALL CONCERNED UNIVERSITY MEMBERS AND ALUMNI OF UNIVERSITY HOSTEL FOR WOMEN (UHW) TO STAND WITH THE DEMOCRATIC ASPIRATIONS OF THE WOMEN STUDENTS, AND TO HELP PREVENT DELHI UNIVERSITY’S AUTHORITIES FROM REDUCING STUDENTS TO A VOICELESS, DOCILE MASS. In the larger context of the backlash against all democratic voices in this University, the ongoing struggle of women’s students emerges as a litmus test for democracy— do we as a University community want to create docile University youth, or right-bearing, politically conscious University youth?

Your contribution to this democratic struggle could consist of the following:
(i) Writing letters to the University’s Vice Chancellor that press for the prevention of individual victimization in its myriad forms, and for an amicable resolution to the issues raised by the students;
(ii) Writing letters to the University’s Vice Chancellor and Dean of Colleges that press for the removal of the hostel Provost and Warden since the two continue to derail a healthy dialogue process by victimizing individual students;
(iii) Writing letters to the media which highlight the sheer lack of tolerance for the democratic issues raised by the women students like the right to draft, amend and ratify their union constitution;
(iv) Discussion with colleagues and other faculty members so as to create a public opinion against how women’s hostels are being run according to the diktats of an authoritarian and conservative set of DU faculty members;
(v) Build students’ resistance against de-unionization and conservative rules, as in UHW, in other DU hostels as well.

Issued by Residents of University Hostel for Women (UHW)
Contact: 9350272637, 9818900179

Delhi University Women Students’ Struggle: Open letter in response to the show-cause notice issued by hostel authorities

The Warden
University Hostel for Women (UHW)
University of Delhi

Dear Dr. Tanuja Agarwala,

I am in receipt of a number of letters in which I have been asked to explain/clarify my “conduct” over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, none of these letters issued by you reflect a willingness to understand the issues raised by the hostel residents, and to see them as a democratic expression of the residents’ collective will. Your last letter (dated 12.03.2012) has asked me to clarify why action should not be taken against me, based on the alleged complaint that a few students were “misled” and misinformed into signing the Memorandum calling for a boycott of dinner on 14.02.2012. Your letter categorically refuses to consider the 14th February Memorandum as an expression of the students’ collective will. The very evidence of this fact is that I have been identified as a “culprit” who needs to explain her position, lest action will be taken. I do not wish to be identified as a “hero” of the hostel campaign or a person who can be identified as the “potential victim”. It is high time the authorities of the hostel restrain themselves in identifying individual “culprits” and in scuttling the collective democratic voice of the residents.

The entire campaign and the number of memorandums submitted to the authorities are a collective endeavour where no individual can be identified as the person behind the campaign. Of course, in all campaigns and movements there are some people who take the initiative, and are assertive in expressing the collective will of the others concerned. However, such persons cannot be identified as “instigators” because they are merely expressing in a consistent manner what majority of the people think is right.

Of course, there is always a general possibility that in campaigns/movements there are some individuals who are inconsistent in their position on the issues raised, and therefore, change their position during the course of time. This may explain why some individual residents retracted from their position on the boycott of dinner. However, a change in the position such individuals hold does not mean their earlier position was wrong, or that they were misled into the earlier position they took.

Having said this, in the case of our hostel there is a specific possibility that the authorities resorted to individual intimidation to get some residents to change their position on issues raised. We have indeed come across versions of this intimidation wherein individual residents were called to the hostel office and categorically threatened to withdraw from the campaign otherwise they would not be given extension, their parents would be contacted, their departments intimated, etc. In fact, few parents were called and asked to restrain their daughters. Such draconian, coercive and high-handed practices of the authorities have led to widespread fear amongst a section of the students. It is under such conditions of fear and actual acts of victimization that individual residents were asked to give in writing that they consent to withdraw from the campaign. What else can explain the simple fact that few individual residents began to retract from the boycott call after a lengthy visit to the hostel office? It is another thing that despite all the efforts of the authorities, we are still confident of the support of the majority of students, and therefore, will continue to assert the democratic rights of the residents.

To your allegation that some residents were misinformed into signing the concerned Memorandum, I and several other residents who have studied your letter, have only one thing to say, which is that we find such views unacceptable. This is because residents of this hostel are educated adults who never go around signing documents and memorandums in a fit of absent-mindedness. The Memorandum explaining why a dinner boycott was being called, was properly attached to the signature petition. There were regular announcements made inside the hostel mess, as well as individual dissemination of the boycott’s details during breakfast on the 14th of February. Subsequently, postering on the boycott was also carried out in the hostel on the 14th, which shows that rather than being misinformed and misled into boycotting dinner, individual residents were coerced by you to give up their decision to boycott dinner.

Most importantly, it is wrong to claim that because some students changed their opinion due to victimization or due to certain personal calculations, I and other students are causing “disturbance” in the hostel, and should hence, be punished. It should be recalled that on the 20th of February when the authorities and a section of the students exchanged undertakings in writing, there was a tacit acceptance of the fact that there were two parties of opinion on the issues at stake. It goes against the notion of jurisprudence where a party in conflict of opinion bestows upon itself the power to punish the other party for raising their opinion. Such an approach is neither impartial nor democratic.

It is high time the authorities concede the point that genuine issues are at stake and that there is a collective of women residents who are raising these issues. Elections at the earliest, adoption of the Constitution submitted on 03.02.2012, and the change in hostel rules (such as no exit after 8pm, gate-pass system, issuing of memos, mess rebate, etc.) must be addressed, and should not be trivialized any further. We will not let the hostel authorities victimize individuals or sideline the issues raised by the residents. The authorities have already broken their promise of not indulging in such victimization, as well as their assurance of calling a Managing Committee meeting where a proper discussion can happen with the residents.

Of course, if the authorities still feel certain residents have been misinformed into taking a stand in support of the hostel campaign, then they should ascertain this by holding a secret ballot referendum on the issues raised by the campaign. Perhaps, this is the only way in which UHW residents can prove to all that they are indeed thinking individuals.

Lastly, I am directed by concerned residents to inform you that if any action is taken against me, your office must be prepared to see the struggle continue as well as escalate. This is because when the collective spirit and democratic aspirations have embodied themselves in all the residents, the physical removal of one person makes little difference to the struggle. The authorities should, hence, be under no illusion that by subduing one individual the quest of the residents on their democratic demands will terminate. At the most, it is only for some time that your office will be able to scuttle the democratic voice of the students. Your actions against individuals will always remain a moral defeat in permanence. Hope a better sense prevails.

Yours truly,

Maya John

Delhi University’s women students struggle for the democratisation of campus and self-determination

Concerned Residents of University Hostel of Women (UHW)

Since January of this year, students of Delhi University’s (DU) largest postgraduate women’s hostel, University Hostel of Women (UHW) have been involved in a militant struggle involving several fundamental democratic demands. One of their particular demands carries larger significance on the issue of democracy in the university campuses. This demand pertains to the right of the students to decide the contours of their student union constitution. As constituents of the union, the students have been contesting the fact that their hostel authorities have imposed a union constitution which the students’ have not ratified themselves. They have contested the union constitution on the grounds that it allows the authorities’ extensive control on the students’ union, thereby overriding the chances of a strong and independent students’ union coming into power.

In the process they have also questioned the enforcement of Lyngdoh recommendations in the hostel. After scrutinizing the Lyngdoh recommendations as well as Supreme Court judgments on the implementation of these recommendations, the students believe that they amount to a breach of the fundamental right to form an association [Article 19(1) a and c, Constitution of India]. According to the Constitution of India [Part III], the state can only infringe upon fundamental rights in certain exceptional and concrete conditions, none of which exist in the context of the hostel. Following from the specifications mentioned in the Constitution of India, the students have reached the conclusion that Supreme Court judgments are being unnecessarily taken out of context so as to curb democratic aspirations, independence of student unions as well as the power of resistance.

Apart from the issue of the union constitution, the women students have also been raising the demand to change age-old, conservative rules of the hostel. Currently, the residents cannot step out of the hostel after 8pm. Ironically, such a rule is enforced to ensure the safety of the women students. However, the same authorities persistently fail to curb the filthy and offensive rally taken out by men hostellers on the day of Holi. Under the University’s Ordinance XV-D, such an act by the men hostellers outside the women’s hostel amounts to sexual harassment.

As of now the students have been told that new rules are being brought into force across women’s hostels. However, in the high powered committee constituted by DU to formalize such common rules, no women students were called for discussion. One can only expect that in such an exclusive meeting, the DU authorities have come up with a series of rules which are not pro-students.

Lastly, in the bid to stem the tide of rampant victimization by the authorities, the women students have escalated their struggle, and taken their struggle outside the walls of their hostel. They have been protesting against the unwillingness of the authorities to see the campaign as a collective struggle, and, to subsequently, pick out individuals whom they can victimize. On the 16th of March, they also protested outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. Now they are in the process of involving and uniting students of other women’s hostels of DU.


14th Jan: First Notification of the Hostel Union elections for 2011-12.

20th Jan: Clarification Notification put up by authorities specifying that residents with 5 memos or more cannot stand for elections.

20th Jan: First Meeting of residents on the issue of the election criteria specified by the authorities. Decision taken by residents to draft a memorandum & collect signatures in support of reverting back to the election criteria that prevailed earlier in UHW.

22nd Jan: Second Meeting of residents. Drafted memorandum is discussed, and additional points added in response to the Constitution put up by the authorities on 22nd Jan. Residents express concern on how: (i) this hostel union constitution was amended by the authorities without gathering the consent of the residents through a GBM; and (ii) that a change in the election criteria was arbitrarily introduced without ratifying it first in a GBM which had a proper quorum, i.e. a sizeable number of hostel residents present and voting.

23rd Jan: A delegation of 5 residents submits the memorandum to the hostel authorities. The memorandum carried 193 signatures of hostel residents. Authorities decide to go ahead with the election on a provisional basis, and give verbal assurance that the residents’ objections will be forwarded to DU’s legal advisor.

25th Jan: Third Meeting of students to discuss next course of action as well as other pressing concerns as strict implementation of hostel rules. More than half the residents attend the meeting and resolve to put up posters on Republic Day expressing their dissent, as well as sit on protest on 27th January, 2012. An organizing committee is constituted to manage the preparations for Saraswati Puja as the residents resolve not to involve the outgoing union members whose tenures have lapsed and who no longer reside in the hostel.

26th Jan: In response to the posters some of the hostel authorities make aggressive speeches after the flag hoisting. Angered residents assemble in the badminton court in large numbers, and decide to again approach the hostel authorities on the issue of hostel elections, the union constitution imposed by them, and the need for the authorities to attend a meeting addressing concerns of the residents with respect to hostel rules, etc. The authorities agree to: (i) postpone elections till the issue of the election criteria is resolved; (ii) forward the residents’ written objections as well as the constitution drafted by residents, to the Legal Advisor; and (iii) meet ALL the residents together via a meeting within a week.

27th Jan: Drafting Committee chosen by the residents starts drafting the hostel union constitution keeping the democratic interests of the residents in mind. The committee also drafts the constitution in a manner which allows for a strong and independent union to be elected into office.

31st Jan: The authorities put up a notice withdrawing certain elections criteria previously announced, but continue to uphold the Constitution that was introduced by them without gathering the consent of UHW residents.

1st Feb: Residents in large numbers attend the Meeting called to ratify the Constitution drafted by the Drafting Committee. In the Meeting residents also voice the need to amend certain hostel rules. In the process of this discussion it was decided that further suggestions and feedback should be collected.

3rd Feb: The Constitution drafted and ratified by residents is submitted to the hostel authorities. 221 signatures, which constitutes an Absolute Majority of the present hostel population, are collected in support of the Constitution. In the covering letter the residents request for a speedy response, i.e. a response within one week.

6th-10th Feb: A survey to collect the residents’ opinions on hostel rules is circulated in all the blocks. Nearly 160 residents fill out the survey. Almost all the residents opt for some kind of change in hostel rules.

13th Feb: Due to the delayed response of the authorities, and lack of any communication from them, another Meeting of the residents is called. All those present and voting agree to boycott dinner on 14th February.

14th Feb: After collecting more signatures of the residents in support of the boycott call, the memorandum intimating the authorities of the boycott is submitted to avoid wastage of food. Almost half of the hostel residents agree to boycott dinner on 14th. Rather than being concerned about the condition of the residents boycotting dinner, the authorities spent the whole day individually intimidating those who support the boycott call. The students were compelled to write application saying they withdraw from the boycott. Even after submitting such applications, many such students continued to boycott dinner. This clearly reflects the moral victory of the residents.

16th Feb: A secret poll is held during dinner time by the residents to ask the residents whether they want to carry on with the protest or not. Residents in full strength supported the continuance of the campaign. The polling is intervened by the Warden trying to take pictures and intimidate the girls. Then, around 9.30 pm Asst.Proctor Mr. Kasim walks in with the Warden and the Resident tutor. He invites the residents to talk. A discussion takes place where he is intimated of all the issues of the campaign and the individual victimization of the residents who had signed the memorandum for boycotting dinner on the 14th. He invites a few residents to the Proctor’s Office the next day, to talk to the Proctor, with their memorandums. The residents were unable to understand the reason for the intervention of Proctor’s Office as it was not a law and order situation, yet they agreed.

17th Feb: A delegation of residents goes to submit the memorandum at around 1.30 pm. They are called again by the Asst. Proctor at around 3.30 pm to talk. They talk to him in detail about the issues covered in the memorandum. The Proctor was not available and so the residents were not able to meet her then. At around 4.35 pm the Proctor herself called the residents to meet her at the Proctor’s Office. The residents went and started to brief her about the issues, but the Proctor was in a haste to leave for a meeting at 5.00 pm and left this meeting mid-way. Thus no conclusion was reached on this day. Bu the Proctor’s Office did assure that individual victimization of the resident will certainly stop.

18th Feb: Despite the given assurance that no victimization will take place, the Warden called up the parents of a number of students. In this conversation the picture painted was such that the residents were portrayed as ruckus makers. The residents of the hostel come from different sections of the society and such a false picture may be taken apprehensively by some households.

20th Feb: Since the authorities did not stand by their own words and the victimization continued, the residents agreed to hold a Mass Meeting outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office on the 21st February. In the evening of the 20th, the Provost comes to the hostel and called for a meeting with all the residents immediately. The only conclusion that could be reached was that the authorities gave it in writing that a managing committee Meeting will be held between 8th March and 15th March to resolve the issue. In return, the residents gave in writing that they will not hold the protest outside the VC’s office because they were assured that no victimization shall take place and that the meeting would be held within the given dates. The residents mentioned that they reserve the right to intimate the Vice Chancellor about the situation in the Hostel.

29th Feb to 12th March: Despite the assurance that no resident would be asked to explain her stand on the campaign, Maya John, a C-block resident is given letter after letter, asking her to explain her stand and to give clarifications for different allegations put on her.

13th March: Without informing the residents, the promised Managing Committee Meeting is held on this date in a very hushed up manner without any student’s representative, without the knowledge of the residents. This meeting continued for an hour and no notice was put up about the results of the meeting.

Contact: Maya John (91-9350272637)

UN will deny Tamils justice

Ron Ridenour

Brace yourselves Tamils in and from Sri Lanka! The UN Human Rights Council will not grant you justice at its 19th session, February 27-March 23, 2012 or, perhaps, in any foreseeable future.

Until the past few weeks it looked as though the “international community” (US, UK-Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan), the east (Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran), the Middle East-Libya/Africa) and the progressive South (Cuba-ALBA+, South Africa)were content with ignoring Sri Lanka’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This tragedy was not even placed on the agenda despite the UN’s “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, March 31, 2011. The panel determined that both the Sri Lankan government-military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/Tigers) had most likely committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. It called for an independent international investigation into credible allegations leveled at the state. The LTTE was crushed by May 18, 2009 and no longer exists.

On the agenda for the upcoming 19th session are 80 reports and missions with 40 addendums concerning about 50 countries. None deal with Sri Lanka, not even under section E, “Combating impunity and strengthening accountability, the rule of law and democratic society.” The 18th HRC session (May-June 2011) had also avoided placing the matter on the table despite the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Navi Pillay) request while the Secretary-General was/is silent.

While there would be no accountability, the “Human Rights Game” requires a façade of concern. At the end of last January, US State Department officials Thomas Melia and Lesley Taylor met with a Tamil citizen group in Jaffna to tell them what to expect at the 19th session. Eighteen notes of the meeting were taken by participants and sent to Tamilnet.

The key points were: “There is no possibility of a resolution” [concerning the UN expert panel and war crimes issue]. This is due, partially, to the lack of “sufficient pressure” from the affected people. What can be expected is a positive reference to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report conducted by appointees of the Sri Lankan government. While the US may ask the Rajapaksa family government to implement the recommendations the Commission made, which it has done nothing about in the three months since its delivery, the US will do nothing to “antagonize the GOSL” (Government of Sri Lanka) nor is it interested in “instituting an accountability mechanism”.

It may be that high ranking members of the Sinhalese government were not so keen even with this minor pressure to adopt its own commission’s report.

Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

Led by former Attorney General C.R. de Silva, the eight Rajapaksa appointees on the LLRC did not address possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the government. The commission of inquiry into the time of ceasefire (2002) and the end of the war found no government or military entities culpable that required any process of accountability. It did, however, poke a hole in the government’s constant litany that “no civilians were killed” by it, and implied that some security forces might have caused some deaths and injuries of civilians although there had been no intent to cause harm. It stated that numerous citizens’ testimonies related to disappearances. It admitted that there may have been some “bad apples” but no systematic atrocities took place.

The LLRC report’s major significance is its recommendations that the north and east be demilitarized, that paramilitary groups be dismantled, that a degree of devolution of local power to Tamils take place, and that the police departments be made a separate institution from the military.

Regarding the last point, there are more military and police today—300,000 —than during the war and all are under the command of the Minister of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, one of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brothers. G. Rajapaksa uses one-fifth of the state budget, $2 billion. About 40 members of the Rajapaksa family hold government, parliamentary and key institution posts.

Following the Jaffna meeting with a Tamil civilian group, the US initiated meetings with Sri Lanka government officials with the aim of having them step in line. Three leading US officials—Marie Otero, under secretary of state for democracy and human rights; Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs and former ambassador to Sri Lanka; and Stephen Rapp, ambassador-at-large for international war crimes—traveled to Sri Lanka to let the GOSL know what was expected. Its arrogance was becoming an embarrassment to the Human Rights Game.

The Tamil coalition of political parties, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), must also pay attention. While it has long demanded that accountability of war crimes committed be addressed, some members also call for the LLRC recommendations to take precedence. One significant instance is the confusion caused by two Alliance leading MPs, R. Sampanthan and M.A. Sumanthiran, who told US’s man, Stephan J. Rapp, on February 7, that the TNA wanted an independent inquiry, accountability and “meaningful” devolution of power. One week later, Sumanthiran stated to BBC that the “TNA backs a domestic process to implement the LLRC recommendations. We ask for an international probe only after a failure at that.” (Tamilnet and thesundayleader.lk)

At the same time, a natural ally with the Tamils, South Africa’s government, signaled approval of the LLRC report and recommended the government implement the recommendations. It did say that the LLRC should have delved into accountability. Just the year before, the African National Congress called upon the UN to implement an investigation recommended by the panel of experts.(See lankanewsweb.com)

Perhaps the Rajapaksa brothers were still balking because the media reported, February 10, that Secretary of State Hiliary Clinton sent a letter explaining what the Sri Lanka government must do:

1. Submit an action plan with time frames to establish impleamentation of the LLRC;
2. Consent agreement to be signed between the government and the TNA;
3. Release General Sarath Fonseka, the key general victor over the LTTE, from prison, where Rajapaksa sent him over differences and because Fonseka challenged him in elections, something that the US might want to see happen again.

For emphasis the US threatened to reveal voice recordings of Defence Secretary G. Rajapaksa and field commanders in which he instructed them to kill all senior members of the LTTE even if they carried a white flag of surrender. (See lankanewsweb)

Under secretary Otero told Colombo journalists that the US will support a resolution calling for the government to implement its report. She spoke favorably of Sri Lanka’s government saying the US had over the years supplied it with $2 billion, much of it in military assistance to fight the Tigers and prevent a separate Tamil nation.

”The United States has long been a friend of Sri Lanka; we were one of the first countries to recognize the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in 1997,” she said.

Human Rights Game and the Players

1. The western US-EU-Israel-India axis
2. The eastern Russia-China-Pakistan-Iran semi-alliance
3. The Middle East/Africa parts of the Non-Aligned Movement
4. The progressive Latin American NAM area

Many of these governments, especially the western and eastern ones, have directly supported the various Sinhalese chauvinist governments with money and credits, military equipment, intelligence, military training and mercenaries. (1)

In the writing mentioned above (1), of the states materially and military supporting Sri Lanka I inadvertently left out Russia, which has sold weapons and military aircraft to Sri Lanka governments over the years. Even after the war in 2010, during which hundreds of thousands of Tamils were suffering in concentration camps, Russia offered Sri Lanka $300 million in credit to buy military aircraft and armaments, among other items. Only $500,000 was allocated for “relief”.

There has not been much or any economic or military aid from Group 3 but these governments support Sri Lanka and oppose not only the guerrilla warfare but the very demand for an independent nation within the state of Sri Lanka. That is what Tamil Eelam means and what, until the end of the war, almost all Tamils in Sri Lanka wanted, including political parties that did not take up arms. Most people in Tamil Nadu, India, and the rest of the Diaspora sought the same.

Group 4 is caught in an ideological bind—between solidarity with oppressed peoples and solidarity with third world sovereign states—but concludes in condemning the Tigers for terrorism, ignoring the victimized civilian Tamils, and politically supporting the Sri Lanka government. In the May 26, 2009 HRC resolution, the Cuba-led majority praised S.L. for its “commitment” “to the promotion and protection of all human rights”; congratulated it for freeing Tamil civilians from the terrorist Tigers; reaffirmed “respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”.

The Western group opposed this resolution for its geo-political reasons. It asked Sri Lanka to conduct its own investigation and the LLRC is the result.

So, what I think will happen at the 19th session is that there will be no talk about the UN expert panel report or independent investigations into accountability. Some NGOs disagree with me and think that the US will press for accountability.

In my view, the Rajapaksa’s government will present a “National action plan for the protection and promotion of human rights” in conjunction with the LLRC. This will please the US-EU-India axis. Israel may not take any position believing, perhaps, that the Rajapaksan absolute arrogance and unwillingness to do anything was the best course. This course is its’ own against the Palestinians.

If for some odd reason, Sri Lanka does not add implementations into its action plan, there will then be a Group 1 resolution demanding it to do so. The session will end either with the passage of such a resolution or, if Sri Lanka still balks then its ALBA-NAM allies, being the majority on the HRC, will vote down any western approved ploy.

Either way, the Human Rights Game will conclude (for now) thusly:

Group 2 will look gray in its lack of critique of Sri Lanka, its do-nothing approach. Group 3 can contend simply that it supports all 113 NAM governments. Group 4, the socialist-communist and progressive-led governments of Latin America, and especially Cuba-ALBA, will have egg on their faces for having only praised the brutal Sinhalese chauvinist government and not played any Human Rights role in favor of the civilian Tamils. They have only played the Geo-Political Game and done so in a staid manner: the enemy of my enemy is my friend type.

However the play unfolds, I predict that the western group will come out looking like the good guys in the Human Rights Game. The eastern and southern groups will especially look like the bad guys.

This will be the view most westerners, including many progressives, will take. For many voters in the US, Obama will look like the hero on the white horse in the White House.

Sri Lanka-Tamil conflict can also be viewed in the context of the Arab Spring and the role that Group 1 plays in diverting the uprisings to suit its imperial needs. Knowing little of the reality, most liberal-progressive-left westerners think Group 1’s role in Libya was best for the Human Rights Game, and also with the tragedy in Syria where complications are similar to those in Libya.

What should be clear to thinking people, to people who seek real human rights and justice, is that almost no government wants authentic accountability judged upon a friendly government because it could be its turn next.

If there were true accountability spread around how would Group 1 look led by the US with its long history of invading weaker countries for their resources and for political control, committing war crimes including systematic torture? What about accountability for the two-three million Iraqis killed since US attacks on that sovereign nation from 1991 to the present? What about accountability of the “coalition of the willing” for mass murder and seizure of Afghanistan? What about Obama accountability for seven wars for oil-$ and global domination (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Uganda); and Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people? What about genocide in Rwanda where the “peacekeeping” mission of the US-UK-France played a major role? Then there is giant China and minority Tibet being overrun with Chinese just as Zionists overrun Palestine and Sinhalese do the same in Tamil’s traditional homeland in the north and east.

This appears to be the view also of at least one of the three international organizations representing Tamils rights and seeking a Tamil Eelam. The Transnational Government for Tamil Eelam issued its news release concerning the upcoming HRC session, February 17:

“This dismal failure in the position taken by the US and several other governments to address the crucial issue of justice is a source of grave disappointment to the Tamils”…”Today, again, the world’s governments are disregarding their moral and legal obligations by focusing exclusively on Sri Lanka’s own LLRC Report, which has been rejected outright not only by the Tamil people…”

“It would be a fallacy to imagine that the very power structure which stands accused of these heinous crimes will now begin a process to bring its own members to justice. Therefore, we perceive the leading governments’ choice to focus exclusively on the LLRC Report amounting to an attempt to derail the mounting international clamor for formal international investigations on Sri Lanka.”

Less clear in my eyes is what Cuba-ALBA thinks it achieves from the Human Rights Game by entirely denying Tamils’ suffering. These governments do not mistreat their own nationalities, ethnic groups or religious peoples and, unlike many governments in Groups 1-3, they are not terrorist states. It is also understandable that they are critical of any interference by Group 1, with all its hypocrisy and its subversion against almost all of Latin America. One might think that Bolivia and Venezuela could be skittish about Tamil Eelam because there are groups there that want to create their own separate nation. But these are small groups that are orchestrated by comprador capital aligned with the US and have nothing to do with discrimination against any nationality, ethnic group or religion.

I think that Che Guevara would understand the need for solidarity with the Tamil people. He would be on their side today!

In reality, Rajapaksa’s stonewalling criticism of his regime’s war crimes and his systematic denial of truth is working. Groups 1, 2 and 3 tell Rajapaksa to make a little concession and the Human Rights Game continues. The show must go on!

Out of the negative comes the positive

Although impunity for war crimes will continue, genocide be ignored, and an independent nation a pipedream, there are positive developments.

1. Media attention of the Tamils’ plight was garnered by the whistle-blowing medium Wikileaks, which began leaking correspondence between the US Department of State and hundreds of diplomatic missions around the world on November 28, 2010. Initially Wikileaks convinced five core mass media to use the raw data and produce articles. Subsequent to releases of many files about the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by “cablegate”, hundreds more media picked up revelations of massive governmental lying and corruption, and crimes of many types including war crimes, not the least committed by United States governments. 3,166 of the 251,287 cables concerning Sri Lanka war crimes and obtained by Wikileaks—perhaps through brave Bradley Manning—are from the US Embassy in Colombo.

The “Boston Globe” reported, December 9, 2010, that, “No foreign leader fared worse in the cables released by Wikileaks than Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa”, referring to US Ambassador Patricia Butenis implications of his role in war crimes.

Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, one of the President’s brothers, candidly remarked, according to Butenis’ January 15, 2010 cable, “I am not saying we are clean; we could not abide by international law—this would have gone on for centuries, an additional 60 years.”

Minister of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa admitted the same to US Senate Foreign Relations staff members. Ambassador Butenis implicated all the Rajapaksa brothers in government as well as other senior civilian and military leaders in conducting war crimes.

World attention concerning the war crimes committed by the Sinhalese chauvinist government(s) has occurred because of the alternative medium Wikileaks but also due to a group of Sinhalese and Tamil journalists who escaped from Sri Lanka and formed the organization and website www.jdslanka.org. The Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka obtained a short video of 17 frames taken by a Sri Lanka soldier showing eight or nine naked prisoners bound and blindfolded being executed at Kilinochchi. JDS presented the film to UK’s Channel 4. After forensic verification of the film, which was taken January 2, 2009, Channel 4 broadcast it on August 25, 2009. Then in June 2011, Channel 4 broadcast the devastating documentary, “Sri Lanka Killing Fields”.

2. Despite the GOSL maintaining a “zero tolerance policy on torture,” the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has determined that torture is apparently accepted and practiced by the government. In its November 28, 2011 report on Sri Lanka it was found that many allegations of torture and ill-treatment were common, also “enforced disappearances, sexual violence, unacknowledged detention” [as well as] “threats to civil society, journalists, lawyers, and other dissenting voices.”

CAT Rapporteur Ms. Felice Gaer asserted that Sri Lanka has the world’s largest number of disappearances. Sri Lankan cabinet advisor and previous Attorney General Mohan Peiris conceded that of the 6,000 people arrested annually, there were “only 400 torture allegations”.

CAT underlined “the prevailing climate of impunity” and “the apparent failure to investigate promptly and impartially wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed.”

CAT also criticized the LLRC for its “apparent limited mandate” and “alleged lack of independence”.

While the US government has a long history of torturing people and even offers instructions about how to torture at its “School of the Americas” in Georgia, its ambassadors do sometimes inform the Department of State when other governments conduct torture. Again thanks to Wikileaks, the world can know about a May 18, 2007 cable sent by Robert Blake, then ambassador to S.L. He reported how government-connected Tamil paramilitary groups, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal and Eelam People’s Democratic Party, “keep critics of the GSL fearful and quite”.

These anesthetized Tamils torture and/or kill many of their own people, who sympathized with the Tigers or who seek basic rights from the government. The para-militarists also kidnap and sell Tamil women into prostitution and sell children into slavery. Leaders Karuna and Douglas Devananda were former leading Tiger guerrillas who now enjoy government posts. Karuna even joined the leading government party and became a minister.

3. On September 16, 2011, sixteen NGOs asked the HRC president of the 19th session to invite both the GOSL and the UN Secretary-General to place the UN expert panel report on the agenda, as well as the LLRC. This is significant grass roots pressure as the groups include some of the best known, such as Amnesty, but also others from third world countries, such as the African Democracy Forum. Furthermore, the current HRC president is a woman from Uruguay, Laura Dupuy Lasserre.

Following the May 2009 HRC emergency session in which Uruguay voted for the Sri Lanka prepared resolution, a new president has been elected in Uruguay, José Mujica. Not only is he a socialist but he was a guerrilla in the Tupamaro liberation movement. Once captured, he spent 15 years in prison, some of it under torturous conditions, including two years confined at the bottom of a well. It might just be that Uruguay will press for a bit of justice.

4. One institutional voice asking for the UN expert panel report to be taken seriously is the European Parliament. In a “join motion for a resolution”, February 9, 2012, the parliament agreed to “support efforts to strengthen the accountability process in Sri Lanka”, including the establishment of a “UN Commission of inquiry into all crimes committed, as recommended” by the panel.

Although the EP has no binding powers, it can prod and further inform the public.

5. For the first time (to my knowledge) an internationally renowned Buddhist has spoken out publicly against fellow Buddhists’ treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In an apparently undated letter (sometime in February 2012), Thai activist-economist-philosopher Sulak Sivaraksa has appealed to the “Sinhala Buddhists first of all to acknowledge the crimes that they committed against their own Tamil sisters and brothers and ask for forgiveness from the Tamils.

”Rejoicing at the war victories, when thousands have been killed, ‘disappeared’, maimed, raped and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and detained, is totally against the dhamma” [the way].

Sivaraksa has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the 2011 Niwano Peace Prize for furthering world peace. He is considered a “Thai institution”.

These positive points I have listed can give us some hope that more and more people are not to be fooled about who the culprits are regardless of how the world’s governments do their best not to assure accountability while maintaining impunity for their war criminals, which otherwise would mean many of their own leaders would be imprisoned.

What to do

I conclude with a few pointers about how we can go forward.

Several Tamils I have come to know tell me that Tamils from Eelam are among the “most inward looking people” while complaining that other people are not interested in their welfare.

Furthermore, most of the Tamils in the Diaspora rely on western governments, and perhaps India, to fight their battles. They ask them to have the Sri Lankan government judged, condemned and punished, and even go so far as to ask for support to create a new legal nation, that of Tamil Eelam within the state of Sri Lanka. But this political-economic world has no place for pipedreams and fairytales.

I take from the many millions of righteous rebels in the Arab Spring movement—those not doing the West’s errands—as an example of what could be done. I take also from what many of us were doing in the 1960s-70s in the US and around much of the world. I take also from what the folks are doing in the Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) movement today.

1. Drop illusions of winning through political parties’ parliamentary power. Stand up to all terrorist states.
2. Organize from the grass roots. Go door-to-door. Learn and educate.
3. Use fewer speeches, fewer rallies and connect organizing with speeches and rallies..
4. Join in with other peoples’ struggles. Engage in solidarity work especially with the Palestinians whose struggle is nearly identical to your own. Israel is to Palestine what Sri Lanka Sinhalese governments are to the Tamils.
5. We must combat the growing racism/fascism in the West against Muslims and Arabs.

We have wondered over the deserts and the seas. We have been hungry and thirsty. We have been murdered and tortured. We are of the working class, of the castes. We are many races, ethnic groups, nationalities, religions and non-religion. We share a common vision: freedom and equality; bread and water on the table; a shelter over our heads. We must fight together if we are to live in peace and equality.

1. See my “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka” pg. 121-5 to see who financed and finances Sri Lanka’s human rights abuse. Add Russia to the long list: India, US, Israel, U.K., EU, Japan, Iran, Pakistan and the greatest war crimes contributor of them all, China.

Book Release & Discussion: Jan Myrdal’s “Red Star Over India” (New Delhi, Feb 11)

ANC Centenary: A Display of Elite Power

Ayanda Kota
Chairperson, Unemployed People’s Movement

The centenary celebrations of the African National Congress (ANC) are being used to persuade the people that a movement that has betrayed the people is our government, a government that obeys the people, instead of a government of the elites, for the elites and by the elites. It is a hugely expensive spectacular designed to drug us against our own oppression and disempowerment.

In his Communist Manifesto Karl Marx wrote that “Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class…The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie”. Here Marx is referring to the ability of the bourgeois to translate economic power into state power, thus reducing our governments to mere managers acting in the interests of capital and not the people. This has happened to governments around the world. But here our politicians are not mere managers. They are, like in Russia or India, a predatory elite with their own class interests and they support capital and repress the people as long as they can get their own share.

Since 1994 there hasn’t been a reorganisation of the economy. The commanding heights of the economy continue to reside in the hands of a tiny elite, most of which is white. Unemployment is sky rocketing. Most young people have never worked. Anyone can see that there is an excessive amount of poverty in South Africa. There are shacks everywhere. In fact poverty reigns supreme in our country. Every year Jacob Zuma promises to create new jobs and every year unemployment grows.

If things were getting better, even if they were getting better slowly, people might be willing to be patient. But things are getting worse every year. Poverty and inequality are getting worse. The government is increasingly criminalising poverty instead of treating it as a political problem. When people try to organise they are always presented as a third force being used to undermine democracy and bring back racism. But it is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratise the economy. It is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratise the media. It is the ANC that disciplines the people for the bourgeoisie. – a role that they are very comfortable to play! It is the ANC that follows the line of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is our local leaders who taking the leap from their old bosses, stealing from us, treating is with contempt, acting like the former colonial government and oppressing us.

During the struggle our leaders embodied the aspirations of the people. But once they took state power they didn’t need us any more. We were sent home. We are only called out to vote or attend rallies. But all the time our people are evicted from farms, paving way for animals as farms are turned into game reserves under the pretext of tourism. Our people are evicted from cities. Our people are denied decent education. The party has become a mixture of what Marx would call an instrument of power in the hands of bourgeoisie and what Fanon would call a means of private advancement.

Biko wrote that:

“This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective … South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 % of the population being underdogs.”

We, as the unemployed, belong to the 70% that Biko was talking about. We were happy to see the end of apartheid and we will always fight racism where ever we see it. But we are not free. There has only been freedom for the 30%. How can a person be free with no work, no house and no hope for their life?

R100 million is being spent on the celebration – spent to entertain elites, through playing golf and drinking the most expensive whiskey. Golf players are even receiving massages from young women sponsored by SAB. This is not a people’s celebration. We are absent! How some of us wish that all that money could have been used to build houses, create employment, build sport facilities or schools for kids who continue to learn under trees! Biko was right. As the world celebrates with the ANC today they put across a pretty convincing picture of freedom while everywhere people are broken by the burdens of poverty.

In his Wretched of the Earth, in the chapter called “The Pitfalls of the National Consciousness”, Frantz Fanon wrote:

“The leader pacifies the people. For years on end after independence has been won, we see him, incapable of urging on the people to a concrete task, unable really to open the future to them or of flinging them into the path of national reconstruction, that is to say, of their own reconstruction; we see him reassessing the history of independence and recalling the sacred unity of the struggle for liberation. The leader, because he refuses to break up the national bourgeoisie, asks the people to fall back into the past and to become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch which led up to independence. The leader, seen objectively, brings the people to a halt and persists in either expelling them from history or preventing them from taking root in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep, and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then.”

I am not opposed to the centenary celebration of the ANC. But if the ANC was a progressive movement they would have organised a celebration in a way that includes the people and supports us to build our power. They could have, for instance, asked people to meet all over the country, discuss how far we have come and far we still have to go, and draw up demands for a new freedom charter for the new era. But this celebration is just a spectacle that we are supposed to watch on TV. It is exactly what Fanon talks about. It is designed to keep us drunk on the memory of the past struggle, so that we must stop struggling and remain in the caves.

In a recent protest in Bloemfontein, police were there in numbers to flush the demonstrators. This has happened in many other demonstrations. The message is very clear: “Go back to your caves!” It is backed up state violence. As Fanon says a party that can’t marry national consciousness with social consciousness will disintegrated; nothing will be left but the shell of a party, the name, the emblem and the motto. He says that:

“The living party, which ought to make possible the free exchange of ideas which have been elaborated according to the real needs of the mass of the people, has been transformed into a trade union of individual interests.”

This is exactly what the party has become. Institution such as parliament and local municipalities have been severely compromised because of individual interests. Corruption is rampant. The Protection of Information Bill (Secrecy Bill), is another illustration of how the selfish interests of individuals ave taken over the party.

A true liberation movement would never have killed Andries Tatane, attacked and jailed activists of social movements. It would never send people to lull – it would encourage people to continue organising and mobilising against injustices and oppression. A progressive leader would know that he or she cannot substitute themselves for the will of the people. A progressive party would never help the government in holding the people down through fascist attacks on the media by the likes of Nceba Faku, Blade Nzimande and Julius Malema to mention but a few. A democratic party would never engage in attacks on protests as we saw most recently with the ANC and ANCYL fascism against the Democratic Left Front in Durban during COP17 Conference.

In the Congo, in Nigeria and across the Arab world people are deserting celebrations of the flag and political leaders as if they really do represent the nation. Some are turning to a politics of religious or ethnic chauvinism. Others are turning to the politics of mass democratic rebellion or a democracy that is truly owned by the people. This is a free exchange of ideas backed up with popular force. We are also seeing this in Europe and North America. Latin America has been in rebellion for many years. Across South Africa more and more people are deserting the party that spends so much money to keep them drunk on the memory of the past struggle, their own struggle, the same struggle that the ruling party has privatised and betrayed. There are occupations, road blockades and protests and the message is loud and clear: Sekwanele! Genoeg! Enough!

The only way to truly honour the struggles of the past is to stand up for what is right now. The struggle continues and will continue until we are all free.