Maoist guerrilla attack kills 75 security personnel in Dantewada, in the indigenous homelands of Central India. Are security personnel cannon fodder in the ‘Maoist infested’ heartland of India? Should the state send in the Air Force? But what about collateral damage? These are some of the loud speculations in the never-fail-to-miss-the-point mainstream media, the idiot news on the idiot box. Till now, there’s been deathly silence in the more intelligent social media — at least parts of it I checked.
Why am I not surprised? Well, why should I be? The past couple of days my mediascape has been fairly flooded with stories of state oppression in Kalinganagar in Orissa and of hoodlums hired by the Tata group who have blocked access to food and healthcare for those who dared to oppose their corridor highway or whatever the hell that piece of road I’d love to see landmined is called. All the while Bombay House hides behind its halo of greenwashing — the Tatas, urban India would ask, surely not the Tatas? People I know and talk to have forgotten what the government and the Tatas had done in Kalinganagar in 2006 — the blood that was spilt and which is now being spilt in revenge several times over across Central India.
Some public intellectuals have woken up to the guises of Vedanta and its dubious owner and there’s some backlash on their trying to acquire land to set up a university. The problem is a Vedanta or even a POSCO is a lot easier to nail down than, say a Tata.
While our intelligence tells us that mining and petroleum extraction in homelands of indigenous peoples has pretty much the same outcomes, the media lets its inherent biases work in reporting. And public consciousness is unmoved — the people have been hoodwinked so long that they just don’t care.
They call this a democracy — but I guess by now we’ve come to recognize that scam for what it is. It’s time the state stopped fooling itself for now blood is being shed and we’re fast heading toward endemic guerrilla warfare in major parts of our geography. The dubious mining deals and a state that has all but lost its credibility is not going to last for long — these same investors will turn their back on an unstable economy.
The solution? Bring things out in the public domain. Engage with academia, civil society, business, the social media. Engage with the people. Dare to own up that big dams were a big blunder — a state scam. Europe did that ages back. They’re over and done with it. Dare to protect cultural and religious symbols. Respecting the past is wisdom. Declare geographies out of bounds for extraction of minerals, petroleum, whatever. Our home minister had the gall to say that a sacred mountain would not feed or clothe the Dongria Kondh people. Do these spokespeople of development policy have the faintest clue about the biological diversity in Niyamgiri and Gandhamardhan? Do they know about the wellness the forest affords people who live close to it? People whose food diversity and low morbidity give them a quality of life superior to that of others who score better on poverty indices? And would this minister and others of his thought say this with as much impunity had the bauxite been under Lutyens’ Delhi, had it been Raisina Hill? Would they be just as callous had it been politically sacred and not an old religious and cultural symbol, some local obscurity, some folk Ramayana tale? I double up in laughter at the prospect of uranium under Lutyens’ Delhi and leasing out Rashtrapati Bhavan to a mining company.
I think indigenous peoples have finally risen up. Quell them with airstrikes. Burn down forests. I suspect that is what this minister seriously wants to do, as in another of his insane diatribes he has wanted to see 90% of India urbanized. But the spirit will not be smothered.
The state needs to backtrack immediately. It needs to engage and do some serious course correction before there’s more bloodshed than it can gloss over, before someone calls the state’s and media’s bluff, before someone unmasks holier-than-thou CSR. Conscientious investment by the Church of England has pulled the carpet from under Vedanta’s act. We are perhaps just a few years away from large scale conscientious consumption.
The message to the old world order is loud and clear, change or perish.
Arnab Sen lives in New Delhi, India. This article was published in Chhattisgarh-net on 6 April 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.