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India: Alternative to the politics of hatred

Tuesday 2 July 2013, by siawi3

by Harsh Mander

The Hindu, June 26, 2013

A life-long believer in non-violence rebuts Modi’s charge that he is a Maoist sympathiser

I am resolutely opposed to the politics represented by Narendra Modi, which I find deeply inimical to the pluralist and humane idea of India, to secular democracy, and to caring and inclusive governance. There are many, on the other hand, who are evidently greatly attracted by his muscular style of leadership and his focus on market-led economic growth. The battle between these two ideas of India and of government is the stuff of democracy. But I wish this battle is fought without resort to untruth and disinformation.

In a series of recent public statements, Mr. Modi has described me repeatedly as a Maoist sympathiser. Though I feel uncomfortable being drawn into his style of strident public polemics, he leaves me no choice. I feel constrained to respond because his remarks are utterly false and contradict my deepest lifelong convictions. I have — since my college days, in my years in the civil service and the decade since in public life — always been passionately and publicly opposed to all forms of violence: violence which is communal, terrorist, anti-Dalit, anti-woman, anti-poor, and also equally Maoist violence.

No justification

I strongly disagree with those, among them my liberal friends, who in any way romanticise or even indirectly rationalise the resort to violence by left militants, suggesting their violence is justified because of the structural violence of poverty, exploitation and state violence. I am convinced there is no such thing as altruistic violence. Violence, even when in the name of the oppressed, brutalises all, and the oppressed suffer the most. The only legitimate instruments to fight injustice are non-violence and democracy.

As evidence of my Maoist sympathies, Mr. Modi speaks of the employment in an orphanage run by an NGO with which I am associated, of a Maoist’s wife. The facts of the matter are as follows. As one part of our resistance to the politics of hatred, it is our conviction that we must also build an alternative politics and civic action based on love and caring. One such task we chose, was to reach out to as many homeless children as possible who are brutalised on city streets. Over the past seven years, in several cities, my colleagues and I helped establish and run 45 residential homes for the education and care of around 4,000 homeless street girls and boys. These employ more than 500 staff, as child carers and teachers.

For running these homes, it is our policy to give preference to single women, women survivors of domestic violence, and homeless and destitute women as house mothers and home managers, so that the children’s home also provides them a place of safety and healing. Under the name of Sirisha, a woman came to my colleagues in Hyderabad in the year 2008 saying she was estranged from her husband and only son and was in severe depression, and that she be given the chance to live among the children as a volunteer so that it would help her to heal. In time, when a position in the same home fell vacant, she was appointed as one of the home managers, because she performed her duties of child care well. No one had the faintest idea about her true identity. After more than two years with us, she applied for 10 days’ long leave for the first time. A few days later, we learned from the newspapers that she was Padma, second wife of a Maoist leader, and she was arrested by the police in Odisha. Apart from her, we learned after several years about another former staff who also hid his Maoist antecedents.

I have consistently written and spoken about my unambiguous and resolute opposition to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. Before he claimed that I have ‘Maoist sympathies’, Mr. Modi’s advisers could have undertaken a casual search on the Internet, to read my many writings on the subject. I reproduce just a few short extracts from some of my numerous published writings on the issue:

“More than forty years of Maoist insurgency in India has not altered its culture of casual acceptance of the inevitability of loss of life, even of civilians, in such battles. I find it extraordinary that people who oppose the death penalty are also willing to support the execution of people by private armies and militant ‘people’s courts’. In this ‘rude justice’ of Maoist executions; men and women are eliminated for crimes such as informing the police, joining a rival faction, choosing to opt out of membership of a militant group, or belonging to an oppressing category of people.

“Maoists continue to resort to violence and terror. These include the physical liquidation of people, attacks on police stations and targeted killing of police personnel, summary executions of so-called informers and ‘coverts’, exploding of landmines resulting in large scale deaths, destruction of public property, death threats, and ‘bans’ on political parties. The Sankaran Committee rightly condemns Maoist violence for its focus on ‘military actions rather than on the mobilisation of people for social transformation’. The arbitrary and violent actions of Naxalite parties contribute to ‘further brutalis(ing) the society and lead(ing) to the shrinkage of democratic space for mobilisation and direct participation of the people, impairing the very process of transformation that the movements claim to stand for’.

“I believe — and the experience of human history bears me out — that it is violent movements which are much more likely to fail to achieve their initial stated objectives than non-violent ones. Justice can never be violent or retributive: its intrinsic character is compassionate, measured and wise. It is self-evident to me that it is impossible to build a just and humane society by means which are unjust and inhuman. The outcomes of strategies which are built around bloodshed, vengeance, repression and hate will always ultimately be brutal and unjust, even if the violence is undertaken for lofty ideals.”

The writer is a social worker.