Dialogue  January-March, 2010, Volume 11 No. 3

Editorial Perspective

Feminine Discourse

The feminine discourse dominated by Feminism, i.e., the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of sexual equality, pre-supposes unjust social order in the society treating its women-folk unequally. The feminists attack patriarchy; believe that women only can write about the women. There is a strong advocacy of women-empowerment, especially for the political empowerment, through the reservation of seats in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies. Many State Governments have taken steps to reserve seats for the women in the Local Self-Government bodies, the Gram Panchayats and the urban administrative bodies. Here it needs mention that as far the political empowerment of the women is concerned, India was far ahead of the Western countries; the country gave voting right through adult franchise to its women members earlier than the Great Britain.    

The women in India have no legal/constitutional bar in occupying any post. Indira Gandhi was our Prime Minister. Our President is also a woman. We have women members in the Central and State Cabinet, and also as MPs and MLAs. And yet the demands for reservation of seats for the women in the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies are loud. The only natural way to tackle the problem was to get to these bodies by selfless service and popular endorsement. But the easier way of entry to the corridors of power has been through the politics of vote-bank. And the Indian politics is trying to manage the same. In this case, it must be pointed out that man women relationship is not as simple as the linear one. It is a highly diffused and sublime phenomenon. There is no guarantee that the empowered women deriving strength and position through sex solidarity may not transfer the positional benefit across the sex divide to their family members ultimately leading to consolidation of the power to the family and the kin. The rule of cis-trans relationship with women at the centre does not necessarily go in favour of feminism  and sex solidarity.

Familial, kin and social harmony have been the guiding principles in man women relationship in most of the human societies. Of course, there have been aberrations and negative developments. Steps must be taken to ensure that there is no injustice towards the women. The positive change is already visible. Positive legal and constitutional steps are being taken throughout the globe. Neolocality is replacing patri/matrilocality. But, some negative developments are also visible. The changing situation has increased the complexity of the society and the problem of adjustment. This, however, does not mean that women should become men. The role reversal is no way to get over the deep inferiority. Here, it must be pointed out that the tradition is not always the dead fossil.

An in-depth research on feminine discourse, including the gap between what a protagonist of feminism says and how she behaves with the male members of his own family may be highly revealing.

Developments in Kashmir

In a most shocking sad incident, a couple of days ago in North Kashmir, an 11-day old baby, Irfan was hit in the head by stone pelting protesters, started bleeding from nose and declared dead in a local hospital. The family was traveling in a vehicle from Dangivaccha to Sopore for medical check-up of the baby. The protesters wanted the family to join them; their refusal resulted into scuffle and the death.  

It needs mention that stone-pelting by the demonstrators is a recent trend in the valley. This problem dominated media attention a few months back; some organizations opposed it, whereas most of the organizations supported the same with the plea that Kashmiris had no weapons except stones. Mian Abdul Qayoom, Kashmir Bar Association president counseled the media recently not to refer to them as stone-throwers, but as the “youth of resistance.” As the act of stone-pelting has taken centre stage in Kashmir during past few weeks, the separatists started describing it as the “only viable method” to show “resistance against Indian rule.” It needs mention that 2000 persons have suffered injuries during last one year due to such act. For persons like Syed Geelani, “it” amounts to small sacrifice only. Due to separatists’ support, the stone-pelting demonstrations continued. Naturally, the police used batons, teargas and at times even bullets to counter the same. The common man got maimed/physically handicapped and even killed. People also continue to suffer economically. The self-inflicting incident has, naturally, shocked and angered the Kashmiris. There was demand for action in the State Assembly. Public leaders have come out with statements condemning the act except PDP which blamed the government for this mode of protest. In the mean time, the ‘kingpin’ of the stone-pelters, Irshad Ahmed Zargar, a former member of now defunct outfit al-Jehad, and 50 other stone-pelters have been arrested. A tip-off from “some law-abiding citizen” helped the arrest. As reported, “The gang gets money from some businessmen and separatist groups.” Of course, Baramulla is tense as there is a demand for the release of the arrested persons. They have also formed a Stone Pelters Association and addressed the media calling for a four day bundh in Srinagar to press for the release of the arrested ones.        

Two factors led to the unprecedented promotion of the violence and cult of gun in Jammu & Kashmir in late 1980s:

           i.   Two world powers – US and USSR – were humiliated by the Islamists in Iran and Afghanistan respectively, giving tremendous boost to their morale. After achieving their objective in Afghanistan, the Jehadists were free to open fronts in Kashmir and elsewhere.

          ii.   Rigging of elections in 1987 undermined the faith of a section of the youth in democratic processes. 

Some added factors were; (i) penetration of fundamentalist elements in education –both in course content and personnel; (ii) undue weightage to popular light-weights – Hurriat Conference leaders; (iii) gradual weakening of Indian position vis-à-vis Pakistan under US  pressure and (iv) external fiscal and armed support.

The separatist leaders of Kashmir receive huge financial assistance from foreign countries, particularly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; they are living luxurious lives on both sides of the border. They have managed to send their children abroad for studies and to get them posted on higher posts. On the other hand they are utterly insensitive to the sufferings of the average Kashmiris. They often give calls for strikes/Hartals, organize demonstrations; instigate youth to indulge in violence. The frequency of the strikes in the valley is so large that the business comes to a yearly stop for 57 days; the daily wagers remain idle at home for more than 100 days in a year. As reported, strikes observed in the Kashmir Valley, during the last 20 years, have aggregated to four years. Apart from the strikes called by the secessionists/insurgents/others, curfews imposed by the authorities also result in forcing the wagers to remain inside their homes. As expected, business and trade in the state suffer huge losses.

Menace of Naxalism

Naxalism, like Jehadi insurgency in Kashmir and ethnic insurgency in the North-East has assumed serious proportion. The menace is increasing year after year. There was death toll of 53 during 2001 in nine Naxalite affected states; the death figure increased to 156 in 13 states in 2004, and 170 in 17 affected states in 2007. The violence profile of the Naxalite activities is equally grave. A total of 231 SP/Police personnel were killed in 638 incidents during 2008 (the number of incidents were Chhattishgarh –168; Jharkhand –153; Orissa --132). The number of the incidents increased to 998 during 2009 with 312 casualties of police/security forces (345 incidents in Chhattishgarh, 76 in Jharkhand and 32 in Orissa). Their armed strength with 10,000 hardcore and 45,000 unorganized People’s Millitia with 8000 to 15000 weapons is also considerable and is increasing day by day.

 CPI (Maoist) in its IXth Congress (2007) decided to follow a more militaristic approach to capture political power and establish a “New Democratic Revolution” to replace the existing constitutional democracy in India through Protracted People’s war (PPW)

Government’s March 2006: 14-point policy to tackle  Naxalism has mix of police action and developmental approach (DA) – helped by MNAREGA, Forest Act 2006, Recognition of Forest Rights Act + no talks with Naxalites. Latest strategy of the Government, popularly called “green hunt”, started in Chhattisgarh is based on the concept of inter-state cooperation – “enter-hold and consolidate” in the Naxal held areas. The strategy, no doubt, is the realistic one, but it is necessary to remove certain handicaps for its success. Some of these are:

         (a)   Low police morale, inadequate training and motivation, and lack of proper equipments, along with the existing vacancies in the police force are the real hurdles in tackling the problem. According to a statement made by the Union Home Minister on February 7, 2010, total vacancies in the police force of the states is 2.53 lakh, which amounts to 20% of the sanctioned strength. Unfortunately, such vacancies are more in the Naxal affected states.

        (b)   The Police strengthening may take about 3-4 years time, but CRPF and other Central para-military forces may be used for some time to fill in the gap.

         (c)   There is lack of inter-state coordination and political will. While the Centre is clear in its objectives – that the Naxals have to be dealt with by force alongwith development, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa are dragging feet. Political will is strong only in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

        (d)   Naxalism, like other verities of insurgency, derives strength from myth-making and propaganda. The Government’s weaknesses lie in the fact that it fails to counter the myths and propaganda by Naxalites, NSCN, ULFA, Islamist, etc and their supporters among intellectuals (especially of the leftist variety), media men, politicians and others. Contrary to the popular perception, declared aim of the Naxalites, as we find in their literature, is only to capture political power, and not to help the downtrodden/tribals in getting the fruits of development and other such things. In reality, the Naxals, like other insurgents are the greatest hurdle for development work; they are destroying even the schools. But even then, they derive benefit when the State fails to deliver. 

         (e)   Naxalism, though claims to be working for the tribals, it is neither an Adivasi movement nor its leadership is Adivasi. They, of course, form majority of its cadres, and are thus only being used. About 50% of tribal districts (187) are affected.

         (f)   The whole trouble started because of misgovernance and lack of governance in tribal areas and among those living on margins. The development efforts passed them by and neglect is palpable. Now Naxals are impeding reform efforts – and are riding on just grievances of these sections.

        (g)   Tribal/Poor’s demand is for justice and fair and equal treatment; economic development is only a part of the problem. Government and its agencies in mining and project areas causing displacement have been unfair and insensitive towards rehabilitation. What is needed is not “compensation” but “sustainable rehabilitation” which takes care of both economic needs and emotional trauma of displacement. Government is dragging feet on it and a bill in this regard as being held back in Parliament.

Intellectuals & Liberals (IL) – The Home Minister has repeatedly asked the intellectuals to come forward to understand the real face of the movement and to condemn the Maoist violence. But the Left and liberals in India are a confused lot. They continue to believe that the Maoists are fighting for the downtrodden and deprived tribals and ignore the out-dated and Nihilistic Maoist ideology of capturing power by violence. They confuse and link the just and valid grievances of the tribals and the marginalized with the Maoist objective of capturing political power, which has nothing to do with the welfare of the deprived. Maoist prime agenda is political power for which it is using the grievances of others and tactical United Front Strategy to beguile the liberal class in the country.              

The insurgent outfits in India derive benefit from the opinion created in their favour by a section of intellectuals/civil society groups/human rights activists who, at times, create confusion in civil society and establish the credibility of the former in public eye. When such outfits get harassed by Government’s action, need time for re-establishing themselves, then the latter ask for peace-talks and cease-fire between the outfits and the Government. The recent steps taken by the Union Home Minister in dealing with the insurgent outfits of North-East and the Naxals, however, shows that he has clear vision as to how to tackle the problem. He has rightly said that ceasefire is only between the sovereign entities and not with the insurgent groups.

A common trait of the insurgent outfits in India is their insensitivity towards the suffering of the common man. Their leaders are amassing wealth by questionable means – hawala, extortion, drug-trafficking, illegal arms trade, smuggling of fake currency, etc. Naxals leaders, who are doing every thing to deprive people from the fruits of development and education, are also amassing wealth. Underground Naga leaders, while ensuring the proper education of their children used to prevent the commoners from going to the schools and   I have personally seen such phenomenon in operation in Nagaland. Separatist of Jammu & Kashmir, as mentioned above, are doing the same.

Indo-Pak Foreign Secretary levels talks

The July 2009 meeting of PM’s of India and Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh and declaration delinking  the dialogue process with the terror acts received a set-back on the floor of parliament when the PM was forced to retract what be had signed at Sharm-el-sheikh. It happened because, the PM had failed to take the country in confidence over the change of course on its stand that there will be no dialogue till Pakistan took credible action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

However, despite the national mood the advisability of dialogue resumption continues to be PM’s choice. This is irrespective of the chances of success of the process and changing political dynamics in Pakistan with the Pak army once again assuming the central role in determining the course of Indo-Pak relations. It believes in not conceding an inch to India on any issue. This is the function of popular Army operations in Swat/Buner Valleys and in South Wazristan against the Pak Taliban (TTP) responsible for a series of terrorist actions in Pakistan. The latest AF-Pak policy of President Obama has accorded central role to Pakistan and Afghan Taliban which Pakistan supports. As a price Pakistan is demanding the resumption of dialogue with India and lowering of its profile in Afghanistan which is supported by the USA. India’s isolation was implicit in the humiliation of not being invited to a meeting on Afghanistan at Istambul on Pak insistence and the snub at a similar conference in London (both in January 2010) when India opposed the move to talk to moderate Taliban and accord it a role in Afghanistan as part of US/NATO exit strategy.            

The offer by India to hold Foreign Secretary level talks on Feb 25 at New Delhi. surprised many and was claimed as victory by Pakistan Foreign Minister, who promptly also invited China to mediate in South Asia, an intended slight to India. With India focusing on Terror as core issue and Pakistan on Kashmir and resumption of composite dialogue as core issues, not much was expected except perhaps the tentative beginning of a process. The new Pakistani assertiveness was in stark contrast to Indian defensiveness – giving credence to the fact that India was doing so under the US pressure to address Pakistan’s concerns to ensure latter’s support to US policy in Afghanistan. The timing and the tenor of the foreign secretary of Pakistan at the post-talk press conference (February 25) only confirmed the Indian discomfiture over the whole effort.

Pakistan asserted the inefficacy of linking dialogue with terrorist actions and while India’s obsession with dossier’s which Pakistan rejects with disdain continued. This tactics has become counterproductive. It only targets individuals and criminals and not the Pakistani state which is comlicit with the anti-India terrorist groups. There were broad hints that the PM’s India and Pakistan might meet in April 2010 at Thimpu on the sidelines of SAARC meeting. Unless the PM takes the nation in confidence over the change of course on the dialogue process, considering the national mood, the Thimpu meeting (if held) will prove to be another Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Besides, the perception that the dialogue process with Pakistan in most unpromising circumstances, is driven by the US/NATO interests in Afghanistan and to appease Pakistan, and not in India’s interest can damage and erode PM’s image and hold over foreign policy. The whole Indian approach, despite assertions to the contrary, lacks conviction and conveys an impression that it is a matter of compulsion and not choice and India is getting coopted in serving the US interests in the region and not its own. It may sound an uncharitable conclusion, but given the realities of the current Indo-Pak relations, any investment in it is illogical and dismaying. Dialogue is desirable but not critical as is being made out by its supporters. Hope is no substitute for a pragmatic and calculated approach in national interest.                                                                                                                                

                                                                                                                                                                                                                – B.B. Kumar

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                                          Astha Bharati