Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Reality that Looks Like Fiction


On April 6, 2010, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, advertised in The Hindu, a major English daily. No, it was not a AIDS ad nor it was about prevention from cholera or polio. It was about prevention from naxalism. The ad read as follows:

I was poor and had no job
So, I joined the Maoists
The gun became my identity
I killed, I maimed, I blew up schools and bridges
But, I still have no job.
My children can't go to school
My wife can't live with me
I can't till my land.

My intention here is to do an autopsy of this promotion. And I will reserve my views on naxalism, terrorism, and civil unrest for a future post.

The Target: The audience the publishers had in mind was not the poor tribal, for the chances of them picking an English daily is puny. Whether or not they have ever heard of news paper in their remote villages is also doubtful. It is actually you the ad is aimed at, its you the affluent and middle classy city dweller, who would find it difficult to vacate his intestines without the morning dose of news.

The Intentions: The Home Ministry wishes to make you believe that naxals are actually poor people who joined Maoists since they did not have job and are being misled. This is an important strategy for brutally suppressing any civil unrest. The strategy is to indoctrinate the masses in the view that rebels are misguided and state's violent actions against them are justifiable. Its an excellent way of preventing build up of any pressure or protest from civilians to stop the genocide. Creating an air of favorable views among the subjects of the state is a pretty old tactic used in civil wars.

The Reality: The ad agency which created this ad seems to be obsessed with Bollywood stories wherein the hero takes the wrong path after facing poverty as a child and is later brought back to lawful path of the society by his lady love. But reality ain't that simple. When a poverty-stricken man takes up arm to vanquish the scarcities in his life, he transforms into a criminal craving for silver and not a rebel. Looks like either the state has got its vocabulary wrong or it contemplates the masses to be incapable of distinguishing between the two words, criminal and rebel. Given the state of education in the country, both are possible. However, this is another addition to governmental faux pass.

The Reality that Looks Like Fiction: Arundhati Roy ventured into the jungles of Dantewada,
Chhattisgarh, to spend time with people whom you would like to call a different species altogether. She did not go there to study biological features of these creatures but to study social, political, and economical aspects. What she came out with is the long history of oppression by the police and economic deprivation by the corporates. What she wrote is unimaginable even compared to science fiction, but probably there is more fact than fiction.

I have no idea how much truth resides in the stories told by the tribal because no independent entity can verify them. But it will be stupid to expect that the authority in power will allow any  independent entity to verify the crimes committed by the authority. War crimes are never committed by the victor because it is he who defines what are war crimes. Hence, even though there claims of harassment, rape, loot, etc., on the tribal community cannot be verified, they cannot be nullified either just at the denial of the government. However, if there is smell of decaying dead bodies in the air, it indicates that someone is dead. And the smell is everywhere, from Kashmir to Mizoram, from remote open fields to dingy slums right in the heart of the city. Signs of oppression is everywhere.

Have your land or house ever been engulfed by the state on the name of development, for laying down road, railway or building dams? How much compensation were you paid? Can that even be called compensation, can it buy you even one tenth of the original property elsewhere? And all that is very much legal. You either face legal notice and comply or be forcefully evicted from your own property that took a life to acquire. If you have experienced it, then it would be easy for you to imagine how would it feel when the property at stake is not just a piece of land or house, its livelihood, its the way of living, its life, its the existence of not only a human being but the entire community and their culture. You have two options, either you surrender and spend rest of your life in misery. Or you fight back and risk your own life while dreaming to preserve the future of the community. What would you choose?

Police harassment is pretty evident even in the city streets to an observant. You would find police patrols in jeep and bikes roaming around during late evening hours to collect hafta from the street vendors and shop owners. It is a tax for allowing the vendors to do business peacefully. Homeless street dwellers are regularly looted and molested by those who have been assigned the job to protect the citizen. I feel no need to elaborate any further on the structure of law-enforcement agencies. The blotch on their image is visible to everyone in this land. Nobody wants to be in a deal which involves police as it will be like walking to the trouble. The law-enforcement agency still functions as "colonial tool of tax collection (extortion)." Given its daredevil acts of human right violations in the cities, which are media hot-spots, it won't be hard to imagine the extent they will go in remote corners of human civilization.

We, the middle-class office goers don't care because nobody bothers us directly, nobody takes money or land from us that often. They do it indirectly by means of taxes that feed the whole system of inefficiency. You bleed without being stabbed. If you are patriotic and honest to the state and believe the press to be unbiased and free, then you would find it easy to rubbish Arundhati's article as mere imaginative gibberish. But if you find yourself to be a skeptic, a rationalist, who has the bit of insight to doubt the freedom of press on matters which if proved true would nudify the state in the sight of international community, then you cannot merely turn Arundhati's jungle book down as a piece of mere fiction.
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