South Asians have little to be happy about as they look back on the first year of the new millennium. They are left to face the consequences of the policies of governments that are going overboard in appeasing the international monetary agencies representing imperialist interests. The parties in power think nothing of creating and strengthening forces of fascism, religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in order to divide the growing protests of people against their policies. The boiling cauldron of people’s discontent could be channelised anywhere.
The past year was one of endless strikes. Peasants, trade unions of all sections of workers in the industrial and agricultural sectors and almost all sections of middle class employees took to the streets in protest. Women have been at the forefront in these struggles in all the three countries. As citizens and as workers they have emerged as the strongest forces against the use of religion to justify gender discrimination and women’s inequality. In India most of the movements have been against privatization and cut in public subsidies, in Bangladesh against the efforts of right wing fascism to take over the state, in Pakistan against the forces of religious fundamentalism and for human rights.
Struggles in all these countries have had the common goal of democracy, to make their voices heard by governments becoming increasingly unresponsive to their needs and interests. Hardships resulting from the accelerating drive towards liberalization and cut in people’s welfare and food subsidies have forced a social polarisation. It is in the interest of the democratic forces in the region to make common cause for peace, friendship, a scientific temper, and opposition to IMF, World Bank dictated policies in the region. The designs of the ruling governments in the region are on the contrary met through increased tension and ethnic conflicts while they merrily sell off their country’s assets to multinationals. It is necessary to defeat these designs. In many ways today is a do or die situation for the people.
'Stomach aches' and starvation deaths
Aur ant men hamare sone ke desh men utarta hai akal...
Thus begins a famous poem (quoted here in Hindi translation) by Nabarun Bhattacharya. Chronic hunger and malnutrition have always been the lot of the majority of the poor in south Asia, yet such scenes of misery and starvation amidst the plenty have not been seen in India for a very long time.
Stark hunger and death due to starvation is everyday news, as is the fact that the godowns are overflowing and Food Corporation of India does not have the storage capacity to keep all the grain in the country. About one fifth of the total grain stored is destroyed by rodents and due to unscientific storage practices. The central government, obsessed as it is with projecting an image of techno-savvy country with a very large, prosperous and 'dynamic' middle class, cannot manage to initiate relief measures, distribute grain or organise Food for Work programmes. Local administartors and district collectors are often seen arguing with the media whether deaths due to the 'stomach ache', and 'intake of poisonous weeds' and 'dangerous substances' should be treated as 'starvation deaths'. In fact, the public distribution system (PDS) has been systematically undermined and dismantled by the BJP-controlled government while the rich have been subsidised in so many ways.
The extent and scale of widespread hunger and starvation deaths in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and even in Punjab and Maharashtra, has surprised many observers, yet the fact remains that for last one decades various safety nets and welfare structures have been dismantled. Under the dictates of the global forces of liberalisation, providing substantial relief in extreme circumstances is no more a natural response among the governing classes.
The utter callousness of this government is unprecedented in the history of independent India, busy as it is, in selling out the county's assets and kowtowing to US and its lackeys.
The Agra Summit
The people of India and Pakistan have been disappointed that not much was achieved by the Summit. But the outcome was not really unexpected, given the nature of the ruling powers in the two countries, and their stake in keeping differences alive. Kashmir is a real problem and "issue", as much as it is a good stick for the two governments to beat each other with. The wishes of the people of Kashmir is the last thing in the minds of the two governments, as is the great desire of peace that the people of both countries have manifested time and again through various people to people interactions and dialogues.
In Kashmir the Indian government itself seems determined to sabotage the peace process whenever there are signs of hope. In a reminder of the Chittsinghpura incident where all the Sikhs in the village were murdered under circumstances where the government has still not been able to clear its name, such incidents continue to occur with an uncanny regularity, and the Kashmiri people continue to be caught between the armed forces and the terrorists, with no hope of realising their dreams of a peaceful solution. Civilians get killed, including women, and many more are injured in the unprovoked firing on peaceful, unarmed demonstrations.
There is legitimate suspicion in India that the regimes of India and Pakistan would like to keep the cauldron boiling, and that verbal manifestations of peace are meant for the consumption of multinationals invited to invest in India, or at best for deceiving people on both sides of the border. The BJP in India seems ready to fall in line with the right wing Sangh Parivar ‘solution’ of the communal division of the state of Kashmir along religious lines, while the Pakistani counterpart would like to keep the issue alive if only to justify denying the legitimate rights of the ethnic minorities in Pakistan. All this suits the US designs as well.
Heritage under threat not just in Afghanistan
The destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the fundamentalist Taliban regime was a glaring illustration of the havoc a partnership of imperialism and fundamentalism can create in Asia. These symbols of world’s heritage have remained untouched through more than a thousand years, including that of the famed destroyer Mahmud of Ghazni, and their existence till recently testifies to the spirit of composite culture that has flowered in Asia through the centuries, which is under threat today from the twin forces of imperialism and religious fundamentalism of all hues.
It must be noted that the rockets and mortars that have annihilated the Buddha statues have also trampled over democracy and the human rights of the entire Afghani people, particularly the women, and have been gifted to them by the government of the United States, which calls itself the staunchest defender of ‘open society’. The US government could not supply them enough arms in its bid to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan as part of its war against socialism. The Mujahideen and its child the Taliban were the creations of the US policy, they were nurtured with systematic care and heavily armed by them through the ensuing decades not merely for their opposition to socialism and anti imperialist democracy but because they helped keep alive, and in many ways recreated, blow ups of the imperialist sponsored image of Islam as a barbaric, fundamentalist, uncivilized entity.
It is not a coincidence that while Iraq is a declared enemy the US government is very happy to ally with and sponsor Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the most backward looking and undemocratic of the Muslim regimes. Lebanon and Bosnia are recent memories. Closer home the American government has no qualms in supporting military regimes in Pakistan that have been systematically violating human rights, encouraging fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh when the regime decides not to play ball on issues of health and WTO that benefit multinationals, and can swing from alternating approving nods to the Tamil militants, or the Sri Lankan regime that denies equality to Tamils, as and when it suits. The BJP led NDA government has been a beneficiary of Clinton’s gracious support despite its abetment to sectarian politics and anti minority killings, in return obviously for the promptness with which the BJP regime has complied with the dictates of the World Bank, IMF and WTO.
It is also a pointer that while Muslim regimes like Iran and Pakistan and Muslim groups all over Asia have strongly criticized the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban, the US led western powers, who are ready to bomb Iraq at the drop of a hat, have done little more than make some formal noises of displeasure even as the world listens aghast to Taliban statements of determination.
Besides, the trend of destroying heritage monuments in the name of religion and ideology in the recent past began with the destruction of Babri Masjid by the Sangh Parivar in India, followed in reaction by scattered incidents in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Only recently a 16th century mosque got destroyed once again, this time in Jaipur, by the affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, and the government has done nothing about it.
One can see that right wing politics in Asia is inseparable from religious intolerance and fanaticism. These trends can only grow given the pragmatic alliance and accommodation of imperialism and fundamentalism.
With the sensational royal massacre, in which virtually all the members of the royal family were killed by the crown prince before he shot himself, and its aftermath of the royal succession and associated rituals, Nepal seems to have announced its entry into 21st century. Unfortunately this decade-old democracy is governed by one of the most corrupt, rapacious and politically cynical formation called Nepali Congress which does not have any intention to end the institution of monarchy (which is constitutionally above law in Nepal) and initiate any serious reforms. There is little hope for change in Nepal until this nexus is broken.
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