Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Violence and the State

What are the normal responses to violence and discontent in India, patterns that we have come to expect in almost machine like blueprint ? They tend to follow a standard operating procedure. First there are patchy protests and demands and agitations which are generally disregarded. The mighty state has no time to pay attention to the cribs and & gripes of ordinary people. They have other priorities, other issues to grapple with like for instance becoming a regional or global power or taking on super powers on their turf or fight political and ideological battles.

No one has time to spend on petty skirmishes. So if things get a bit noisy, they send in some police men with lathis or if things get bad , then with tear gas shells an if things get real bad, then folks with real guns and real bullets and they do some shooting practice and kill some defenseless people – pretty much like Jallianwala Bagh. There too, General Dyer whom we all love to hate got hold of his people and shot a peacefully gathered crowd hoping that he had put the fear of God into them.

But the reverse happened. his actions pumped some adrenaline into the freedom struggle with Mahatma Gandhi launching his non –cooperation movement soon after and revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh also becoming active in the rage spawned after the carnage. The pitiless General was finally disciplined after an enquiry but today, they is so much discontent and so many photocopies of the reviled general, that we have institutionalized what in those days was an isolated incident and rarely is the system ready any more to punish its own elite.

What happens when the police go in with their batons and their lathis and the tear gas and guns? Does by killing or brutalizing people a problem disappear? Of course not. Just as it did not then in the days of Jalianwala Bagh. The establishment thought then that by terrorizing people, the grip of the state would be strengthened but the opposite happened then and the same thing happens now. Dissent gets strengthened, not the state.

Today there are no Mahatma Gandhis around who would call off the Non Cooperation movement because a small police station in then unknown Chauri Chaura was set on fire. Many modern historians view the Chauri Chaura incident as a minor episode of violence, which while regrettable, did not merit the cancellation of a nation's demand for political freedom.

Supporters of Gandhi's point of view agree with his decision, as it was feared by Gandhi that Chauri Chaura was not an isolated incident, but a shocking episode in a rising trend of violence between protesters and police, which could have degenerated into an orgy of mob violence, which would justify martial law and police suppression of even more civil liberties. Whatever be the case, there existed a sensitivity those days that human lives and liberty were important and worthy of preservation. Today there are no Bhagat Singhs either but there are lots of guns and lots of people who love to use them without the courage or the convictions of either of the giants. And so violence escalates.

Once violence escalates beyond a point, then the state decides that talks are called for certain rebellions and agitations simply will not be crushed. So after decades of agitation the Nagas are called for talks and some times these talks drag on for decades because a problem that was simple to begin with has become extremely complex with the passage of time. The same thing has happened in Assam with the Assam accord, in West Bengal with the Gorkhas, in Assam with the Bodos, in Mizoram with the Mizos and now the same route of talks is being contemplated with the Nasalizes in Andhra Pradesh and else where.

Of course in Kashmir, the matter of repression and talks has taken such a turn that no one knows exactly what is to be expected around the bend. There is that famous quote that says some things about those who haven’t learnt anything from history are doomed to repeat it again. Looks to me that we ought to have things learnt many times over by now but haven’t because we keep doing the same things that Gen. Dyer did nearly a century ago. Worse, General Dyer was the representative of an imperialist regime who had no particular reason to be sensitive to the wishes of the Indian people. But when we shoot and kill our own people and then appoint commissions of enquiry, it seems to me that we have just stooped a notch lower.

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