One of Charles Dickens’ characters, Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), when asked to make a donation for the sake of the poor responds acridly that the poor were none of his business and that they should go to the prisons or workhouses. Despite being a disgruntled curmudgeon, Scrooge did not suggest that the poor should be killed. He thought that it was the duty of the State to look after them. Workhouses were the old institutions in England that provided food and shelter to the poor in exchange for labour.
The government of India is not even as generous as Scrooge. The Prime Minister has been asserting time and again that the Maoists are “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”. The Home Minister has declared a battle on Maoists by fielding 55,000 troops of security forces against the Maoists. “The centre is committed to fight Naxalism [Maoism],” Mr Chidambaram has declared. “We will provide all possible help to… eradicate the left-wing extremists completely.”
Maoism is a serious problem in India today. They are using ruthless violence in order to achieve their goals (securing the rights of the poor). Violence of any form is not justified for rational creatures. Yet when an extremely violent movement sweeps almost the whole country (Maoism has spread to 18 states in India), one cannot just sit back and utter platitudes about the futility of violence. Nor should the country merely treat it as a law and order problem and use more violence to suppress the infectious violence.
“The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of the poor,” says a recent BBC report which also says that the paramilitary offensive against the Maoists is likely to begin in October. Do the poor have no rights in the present world driven by the egotistic greed of capitalism? Should their clamour for the basic amenities of life be silenced with machine guns and battle tanks? Should the poor be exterminated from the face of the earth?
India is a country with an enormous number of people (300 million at the least) living in abject poverty. Their number keeps increasing because their sources of livelihood are being taken away from them. Their land is taken away by dams, SEZs (Special Economic Zones), industries, or housing schemes for the affluent. Their traditional jobs cannot be sustained any more. Other job opportunities are not provided by the government or any other agency. What should they do? Commit suicide?
The Marxist Party (CPM) in India, which was supposed to defend the rights of the poor, has become capitalist all but in name. In West Bengal the party has joined hands with the industrialists and other capitalist agencies and waged wars against the poor. In Kerala the party has been corrupted thoroughly by the charms of capitalism. When there is no one to defend the poor, they will defend themselves. This is what the Maoists are doing.
But it is a bad defence. The ruthless violence they have resorted to will not carry them far. It is an act of despair. It is a terrified cry for serious help. It is the roar of the mortally wounded but ferocious animal.
The government of India may succeed in putting out that cry by killing large numbers of Maoists. But is that the way to overcome poverty: killing the poor? Why does the government of India refuse to learn the lessons from the mess its military actions have created in the Northeast?
“When a few people decide to live larger than life, we all get trampled,” wrote Naomi Klein in 2001. The Colossuses have been taking giant strides creating a system that is not very different from the ancient caste system of India. The new Shudras are the economically deprived lots. How long should this new socio-economic system keep the balance tilted before we realise that the tilt of the balance is as unjust as the old caste system that we now repudiate?
In the meanwhile, one hopes that the contemporary (economic) Brahmins will at least acquire the humanism of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Other related articles of mine: