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India: Intellectuals, Maoists and the State

by Dr. (Fr.) Ambrose Pinto SJ, 12 July 2009

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Mainstream, 11 July 2009

Intellectuals concerned with issues of people have been under attack in recent years in different states. The Karnataka Government had prepared a list of teachers of colleges, editors of newspapers and some NGOs alleging them to be close to the Naxals in the State because of their involvement in the anti-communal struggle. A group of them including Girish Karnad, Professor Govind Rao, Dr Sridhar and a host others were arrested in 2003 when they had gone to participate in a rally in support of the Supreme Court decision to maintain neutrality at the Bababudan Giri shrine in Chikmagalur when the saffron forces were attempting to communalise the Sufi shrine. In fact, it was the Congress Government headed by S.M. Krishna, the present Foreign Minister of the country, that was in power then. The allegation against Binayak Sen was similar. He was dubbed as a sympathiser of the Naxalites and kept in jail for more than a year without trail. Now you have the West Bengal Government. Days after some members of civil society went to Lalgarh to broker peace, the police have lodged a general complaint against film-maker Aparna Sen, dramatist Shaonli Mitra, poet Joy Goswami and others with breaking Section 144 while entering the villages. Gopal Menon, the documentary film producer from Karnataka, was put behind bars for filming police and Army atrocities. Police said reports submitted to the government suggested that some of the Maoists had accompanied the intellectuals during their Lalgarh trip and the intellectuals are in nexus with the Maoists to destabilise the State. When the intellectuals were asked of the nexus, they claimed total ignorance.

The state has various kinds of intellectuals. There is a group of committed intellectuals the state makes use of to further its vested interests. They are no threat to the safety and security of the state. Since independence, most intellectuals have not risen above petty party politics. They are intimate with Ministers and bureaucrats and some of them enjoy considerable perks for their unstinted support to the government in power. They are intellectuals of the establishment. They are most willing to do the biddings of the party in power and tune their thinking to the party in power. On the other hand, the state has problems with intellectuals committed to the cause of the people. Wherever there are radical and extremist groups, there is much deprivation of basic rights, and disregard by the state to the basic issues of livelihood. Those States or areas that have become Maoist or Naxalite targets continue to lie at the bottom of the human development index and at the top of the world corruption index. The ultimate consequence of the State’s brazen looting of funds meant for development is obviously violence. The radical or extremist movements have their roots in impoverished socio-economic conditions increased by the inaction of the state. Who can deny that the anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is not valid? By pinpointing the root cause of violence, of course, intellectuals are not supporting violence. They are only performing their role and responsibilities to society by highlighting the apathy and the inaction of the state. If the intellectuals do not condemn the colonial stance of those elected to govern us and who are thus doing their people a great disservice, why should they exist? All said and done, the primary task of the intellectual community is to announce and denounce. While they are expected to voice the concerns of those who are voiceless, it is their responsibility to pinpoint institutions and structures responsible for the discrimination and oppression of the poor.

Given the wide and increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the country should expect from intellectuals to be committed to the cause of nation-building by understanding the socio-economic reality of the people. India does not need “ivory tower intellectuals” or “state intellectuals”. The country is in need of “organic intellectuals”—committed to the cause of the people and respond to the challenges that affect the poor and the marginalised. That is exactly what the states resist. They prefer “ivory tower intellectuals” who could restrict their lives to the campus of their universities or the four walls of the classrooms. Intellectual activists, like the ones in Bengal, threaten the State and make those in power insecure. Those intellectuals whom the State had alleged of subverting the state had gone to Lalgarh to get first hand information of what is taking place in the area. They were merely doing their duties when they alleged that the security forces were torturing women and children. The group had met agitating tribal leaders as well as the common people in some villages during their visit to the affected zone. After being shocked by the intensity of the violence both by the state and the Maoists, they had made a very sincere appeal to both Maoists and the administration to lay down arms and to begin a dialogue. The common people were not getting food and water and were caught in the cross-fire between the Maoists and the police. The group had made it clear that they do not believe in the politics of violence and counter-violence where ordinary citizens become victims.

Taking an equidistance from both the state and the extreme elements of the state, it is the responsibility of intellectuals to stand by the people. Whenever there are extremist elements controlling the lives of the people, there is the state terror by the police where women are molested and children are harmed. People have to live without food and water for days. Security forces loot and torture innocent citizens. Intellectuals would be failing in their duty if they do not express deep concern at the ongoing violence and massive police action. State violence in the name of law and order only leads to another round of blood-letting and a spiral of renewed violence, tragedy and injustice. The two kinds of violence only feed and aggravate each other. Whenever there is state operation, it normally hits civilian life and social safety of people living in sub-human conditions. Public services and social opportunity worsens by unremitting police atrocities.

It is important and necessary therefore to understand that violence is an expression of frustration with a failed State and deserves only condemnation in a democracy. People in remote areas of the country are unhappy with the administration but not all of them may support the Maoists or the Naxalites. Most of them are victims of fear. Instead of counter-violence, why doesn’t the government implement a comprehensive development programme to end the misery of the people? While the Dalits and tribals have been denied their livelihood in the name of ‘forest protection’, the timber and land mafia have been allowed to run free by conniving with local administrators. The natural resources of the indigenous people have been allowed to be robbed pushing them to the extremes of poverty and helplessness. The government’s efforts in ameliorating poverty are not wholehearted. Given the nature of the market economy, governments to a large extent are in support of traders, businessmen, multinational corporations and the industrialists. People are becoming more and more aware of it. To end the extremist problem for good, governments may have to give up their commitment to neo-liberalism. Violence could only increase if resources are transferred from the people to corporates. At this juncture to initiate peace, States should arrange for adequate relief to the inhabitants of the disturbed areas, restore law and order and start long-term development programmes with special emphasis on their socio-economic needs. Confidence-building measures like land reforms, development of local industries and entrepreneurship have to be initiated among those adversely affected by the current economic policies of the governments in power to avoid violence and further bloodshed.

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