India: the plight of the rural and urban poor in a land of facades, mark the first signs of an Indian Spring
… India’s ascent to “new world power” is both true and what Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, called “false reality”. Despite a growth rate of 6.9 per cent and prosperity for some, more Indians than ever are living in poverty than anywhere on earth, including a third of all malnourished children. Save the Children says that every year two million infants under the age of five die.
The facades are literal and surreal. Ram Suhavan and his family live 60 feet above a railway track. Their home is the inside of a hoarding which advertises, on one side, “exotic, exclusive” homes for the new “elite” and on the other, a gleaming car. This is in Pune, in Maharashtra state, which has “booming” Bombay and the nation’s highest suicide rate among indebted farmers.
Most Indians live in rural villages, dependent on the land and its rhythms of subsistence. The rise of monopoly control of seed by multinationals, forcing farmers to plant cash crops such as GM cotton, has led to a quarter of a million suicides, a conservative estimate. The environmentalist Vandana Shiva describes this as “re-colonisation”. Using the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, central and state governments have forcibly dispossessed farmers and tribal peoples in order to hand their land to speculators and mining companies. To make way for a Formula One racetrack and gated “elite” estates, land was appropriated for $6 a square metre and sold to developers for $13,450 a square metre. Across India, the communities have fought back. In Orissa State, the wholesale destruction of betel farms has spawned a resistance now in its fifth year.
What is always exciting about India is this refusal to comply with political mythology and gross injustice. In The Idea of India, wrote Sunil Kjilnani, “The future of western political theory will be decided outside the west.” For the majorities of India and the west, liberal democracy was now diminished to “the assertion of an equal right to consume [media] images”.
In Kashmir, a forgotten India barely reported abroad, a peaceful resistance as inspiring as Tahrir Square has arisen in the most militarised region on earth. As the victims of Partition, Muslim Kashmiris have known none of Nehru’s noble legacies. Thousands of dissidents have “disappeared” and torture is not uncommon. “The voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence,” wrote Arundhati Roy, “has now massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities, their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable display of raw courage.” An Indian Spring may be next. (full text).