India UpdatePublished by MAC on 2006-05-26
26th May 2006
Unprecedented social upheavals
If ever "development" were turning into its antithesis it must surely be in the "mineral belt" of central and northeast India, where community protest by Indigenous, dalit and others communities has reached a pitch unprecedented in post-independence history.
They key socio-economic issue is "displacement", joined by a pervasive and abject failure to make compensation for the uprooting of thousands of people - sometimes going back years.
The agitation has spread throughout Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and the north-east. In Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, Maoists (members of the Community Party of India Marxist-Leninist) are waging a war, not only against an increasingly repressive state, but also themselves jeopardising the lives of indigenous people caught in the middle. The government of Megalaya has banned public meetings - a move clearly aimed at objectors to uranium mining.
In an almost "carbon-copy" repetition of the massacre of Indigenous villagers protesting against establishment of Tata Steel's Kalinganagar plant in January, "security" forces on May 20 fired on local people opposing the establishment of a similar plant in Orissa. Meanwhile, the blockade against Tata's own plant runs into its fifth consecutive month.
Yet Tata, the country's largest private company - and its most globalised - pushes ahead with other aggressive plans, combining an audacious and bewildering mix of "carrot" and "stick". Not a word of dissent at this rapid social dissolution is being sounded by the big foreign mining companies (BHPBilliton, Rio Tinto, Posco, Mittal, and Vedanta), poised to exploit the region's massive mineral resources.
As a second "toxic ship", laden with asbestos-contaminated wastes, heads for India (an earlier vessel was turned back) so the goverment is accused of promoting the world's most carcinogenic material at the highest political level.
Under the former Hindu nationalist BJP government, India was said to be "shining" - a concept resoundingly rejected by the electorate in 2004. But now, as one social critic memorably puts it, the country is "simmering".
Even so, amidst the turmoil and growing violence, there are a few signs of hope. An important interim legal victory has been secured in Delhi for hundreds of thousands of silicosis victims of the stone crushing industry. And a Joint Parlimentary Committee, looking into forest rights of Indigenous people, has come up with recommendations which - if adopted - could impeded, if not halt, some further depredation.