Nandini Sundar : The art of creating‘happy’ open-air prisons

The Emergency in Kashmir will soon take the form of a declared All India Emergency. the undeclared one is of course already upon us.

In 2005 the BJP government of Chhattisgarh claimed that  Salwa Judum was a self-initiated people’s movement aiming to finish Naxalism, and people were flocking to Salwa Judum camps which would be models of development. Instead, all the people who were forcibly incarcerated in Salwa Judum camps fled back to their villages as soon as they were able and fifteen years on, the Naxalites are hardly finished, even if weakened. The villagers whose homes were burnt by Salwa Judum or those whose family members were killed in the conflict, and who have still not got justice, are living testaments to how lies purveyed by the media and ruling parties remain simply lies.

In listening to the government and media talk about how happy Kashmiris are with the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A, I am constantly reminded of Chhattisgarh and the government’s claim that people were so happy to leave their villages. Just as in Kashmir, media, factfinding groups and even opposition parties who wanted to visit to ascertain the truth were prevented from doing so. While people did not face the same kind of communications blockade, simply because few people used phones, in practice they were blockaded from communicating by not being allowed to meet in bazaars or visit each other for fear of being randomly killed or arrested en route.

And just as in Chhattisgarh, Salwa Judum was jointly carried out by the ruling BJP government and the opposition Congress leader, Mahendra Karma – in the case of Kashmir, almost the entire opposition has been weak, silent or divided. The utter shame of Kejriwal demanding full statehood for Delhi and congratulating the BJP for demolishing the full statehood of Kashmir is not lost on anyone. State parties which could find themselves similarly put under President’s rule one day and waking up to a changed geography the next – all seem to be suffering from some strange kind of Stockholm syndrome where they are under the captive sway of the BJP’s overwhelming presence. Or perhaps we owe this sorry spectacle to the BJP’s powers over investigative agencies like the ED and CBI.

The BJP claim that sarpanches in J & K will be strengthened will make them like those in Bastar – only on paper and working with the administration, while people hate them and they need insurance from the people. One cannot have democracy only at the bottom and imprisonment at the top or vice versa. Democracy is a long chain which links everyone and once one link is broken, the chain is useless.

The mainstream press has usually gone along with the government when it comes to national security issues, especially in the peripheries. Thus when Mizoram was being subjected to grouping and the entire population was being uprooted, an Indian Express editorial, dated 7 January 1967 stated: ‘Evacuation of the entire village population over 4000 sq miles is a spectacular operation which implies either that the situation is more serious than the authorities want the country to believe or that a newer determined effort is about to be made to wipe out the last vestiges of rebellion. The evacuation will help in isolating and mopping up the rebel bands but resettlement of 60,000 people far away from their houses will present serious difficulties. Operation Security will involve a measure of force.’

Currently there is not only the willingness to accept ‘a measure of force’ but active triumphalism by the media with headlines like ‘historic moment’, ‘geography being redrawn n´, ‘surgical strike’ etc.. This is even worse than the Emergency – where as Advani famously said, the media crawled when they were merely asked to bend. Here they celebrated when they should have condemned, and were vocal cheerleaders of the destruction of democracy when we needed them to defend it. It is at times like this when one most misses fearless voices like Gauri Lankesh.

Underlying all this is, of course, corporate interests. Just as it is being said that the removal of Article 35 A will create more investment opportunities, we will soon be told that the removal of the 5th Schedule and laws against Adivasi land alienation should also go so that Adivasis can benefit. In Jharkhand, steps have already been taken to weaken the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act.

What happens in the peripheries happens in the centre. The Emergency in Kashmir will soon take the form of a declared All India Emergency. The undeclared one is of course already upon us.

Nandini Sundar, a sociology professor at Delhi School of Economics. She has a Ph.D. in anthropology and has done extensive research work on the tribes in Bastar, their socio-economic conditions and how the law operates there. Because of her expose of state machinery involvement in the atrocity on tribals in Bastar, she is a constant target of trolls and threats from the Hindutva Brigade. 


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