Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fascism, Terror Attacks: Shrinkers Of Democratic Spaces in South Asia

By Sebastian Rodrigues

It was on December 27, 2008 morning I received a phone call from a friend in Goa’s Southern most Canacona taluka that Indian Army camp is being set up adjacent to the Highway in Bhatpat village. I did not understand any reason for this sudden development. Canacona is a peaceful locality and that the precise reason for my wondering of logic for stationing of Indian Army personnel in tents. But gradually the logic began to appear on the horizon of my understanding after discussing with few people around Goa.

The immediate reason seemed to be terror attacks on Taj Hotel and few other locations in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The Indian State has pressed panicked buttons after the incident. The extend of panic is visible in my State of Goa as well. Government responded with various measures including declaring Goa as one of the potential target of Terror attacks that are claimed to originate in neighbouring country of Pakistan. So the barricades are increasing across the State of Goa. Our KTC bus stands now has armed security, our beaches now has armed security, our starred hotels now has armed security, Sand bags structure with uniformed armed personnel in uniform is regular phenomena. Our markets too are supped to be eyed by Terrorists from Pakistan and so they too are witnessing intrusion of machine gun wielding armed personnel. Goa’s Police headquarters in Panjim too has army-garrison look at its entrance. In short Mumbai terror attacks are used as pretext by the state agencies to further its security obsession.

Security obsession is a phenomenon all over India especially in the locations that are more famous and well known. I have witnessed this all over India and feel very sad that once available abundant free space is increasingly getting shrinker due to terror threats. Biggest casualty of Terror threats are democratic spaces that common people enjoy in any country. The biggest beneficiary of these terror threats are armament industry that thrives on hatred and nationalism. Whether it is organised army of nation getting into war or non-state actors involved in low intensity warfare activities within borders and outside borders, armament industry is always pleasant beneficiary. Political systems that have succumbed to this logic are in the grip of self destructive spiral cycle. India-Pakistan rivalry is one example to this effect. There is a composite nexus between arms industry and its political system to keep fuelling rivalry between the two countries and Kashmir has become not only casualty but also an opportunity to build political carriers of politicians. The rivalry also serves the purpose of diverting attention from domestic issues of the two countries and pushes on top the agenda of hatred and war on the topmost level of the country backed up by organised media campaigns. Various internal contradictions such as inequality, poverty etc that constitute power relations between various classes and castes are sort to be pushed to the backburner so that internal asymmetry within both countries benefiting economic elites including Multinational Corporations (MNC) remains untouched. Another major beneficiary is mining industry that supplies nuclear and non-nuclear raw materials to the war industry. Uranium, bauxite, iron are common metals used in large quantity in war efforts. The genuine efforts are needed to create atmosphere of Peace and Friendship and to do away continues efforts towards building armaments are sky rocketing defence budgets in all the countries of the world. Middle class indulgence in war jingoism is major culprits that are thwarting genuine efforts at Understanding. Middle class consumerism must be halted quickly and force to focus on issues genuine in the interest of Planet and Humanity.

During the Kargil war in late 1990s this was so clearly visible. Both Indian as well as Pakistani media contributed towards creating jingoist war hysteria. Pakistan bashing in India and India bashing in Pakistan were at its peak. There are signs that these are picking up again in December 2008. Section of media in both the countries is plying into hands of global arms dealers on prowl. In 1999 when the Kargil war was at its peak the following poem flowed out of my heart:

The Slogan

War Jingoism is just too crazy
War maniacs are basking in pseudo glory
Images of enemy pushed in minds, too gory
Intellectuals lost balance to speak frankly
War hysteria they generate very genuinely
Artists rejoice in fanatic nationality
Fascist politicians do rock-n-roll in tune with nation topsy-turvy
Arms dealer is pleasant beneficiary
Forgotten in a stroke who survives barely
Life of a soldier: just a fodder in political harakiri
The forgotten hungry millions is cause for concern and worry
In the jingoist nationalism we shall witness hedonist emergency
Down with arms dealers
Down with Fascist forces
Long live democracy!
Let this be slogan of many and many.

This poem continues to hold its relevance today. Trends have moved away from launching counter terror initiatives to stressing need for declaring full fledged war against Pakistan. Identification of enemy outside the border as well as identification of enemy inside the border. The entire Muslim population of Indian nation is sough to be identified as ‘enemy within’. Identification Cards are becoming a necessary for security purpose. Increasing state surveillance from State agencies is becoming increasingly visible. At cybercafé identification document is becoming almost compulsory.

There is also ongoing visa diplomacy between the two countries. Pakistan government refuses to grant visas to number Indian citizens for traveling into Pakistan, while Indian government refuses to do issue visa clearances to number of Pakistani nationals to travel in India. I was refused visa by Pakistan government in 2006 when I applied to visit for Polycentric World Social Forum in Karachi. Even when the visas are granted by both the countries they are locality specific and that prevents citizens of both the countries to travel various parts of the countries. Besides it is mandatory for Pakistan and Bangladesh nationals to register the arrival at local police stations in India. This is not the practice to anyone from any other country in the world visiting India.

People-to-People contact between India and Pakistan is an absolute necessity for peace and democracy between the two countries. Terror attacks must not be allowed to hinder people-to-people contacts that are so important for two countries and to entire South Asia. This is also the practice that needs to be followed with other neighbours of Indian as well. Interacting with people of South Asian countries has been very interesting experience.

My long discussions with Amiya Bhusan Sarkar of Bangladesh – who studied mathematics at Goa University - has thought me so much not only about glorious traditions of Dhaka University but also trials and turbulences of Bangladeshi Hindus from Muslim Fascists forces. I have come to learn that their tagging and targeting is exactly the same as Muslims in India at the hands of Hindu Fascist forces. Similarly my long exchanges with Pakistan’s Fatima Saeed Khan – who is teaching Economics at Lahore School of economics - has brought about sharp understanding on how India and Pakistan as two States seek to continuously engage in hatred mongering. It is completely different feeling to listen to the official media propaganda and form once opinion on Pakistan than engaging in continues dialogue of discovery for oneself to know Pakistan its multiple realities and compulsions. It was very inspiring to get days to day information on anti-Musharaf protests by lawyers and students.

My short discussion with Mohan Tapang of Bhutan – who is in exile in Nepal - has made me appreciate so much democratic spaces within India. He asked me in July 2008 – a month after I was tagged naxal by Goa’s Opposition leader - “You can still go around the country and organise meetings?” Its first time I was realizing importance of how important it is to burn midnight oil to further expand democratic spaces in India. Then I had discussions with Dr.Tint Swe, Member of Parliament (Burma) in exile in India on military rule in his country of Burma that is India’s neighbour. Its pro-democracy leader Aung San Su Kyi is under house arrest for past couple of decades. Indian government is engaged with doing business with the military government in Burma.

It is Buddhist rule in Sri Lanka. I visited this beautiful county in July 2008. War between Sinhalese and Tamils has provided lethal blow to free spaces. It is military intrusion all over the places – Streets, Railway stations as well as beaches. LTTE has killed and silenced all the moderate voices expressing grievances of Tamils in peaceful manner. I have learned so much about this dynamics from Human rights activist who is a Tamil based in Colombo and often a target of State repression by Sri Lankan government. Checking of the citizens and tourists is rampant with check post at every 100 meters on the streets of Colombo. I was checked nearly dozen times on the day I arrived at Bandaranayke airport and went about sight seeing in Colombo – its streets and beaches. Sri Lanka is indeed very sad and depressing example of militarization and its spelled disaster for the community peace, prosperity and freedom.

I also had an occasion to converse with Mohamad Latheef from Maldives - in exile in Sri Lanka - who is a sharp critic of dictatorship in his Island country in Indian Ocean. This is a country wherein death is practiced as political strategy of rule and domination by the State.

South Asia today is gripped with fascist frenzy that needs to be addressed in vary serious manner. My reflections in this regard are as follows:

• Whenever there is love as a foundation of civilization, harmony and peace prevails.
• War takes the upper hand the moment hatred takes the foundational place in civilization.
• We must firmly ingrain love as a root of civilization.
• We must fanatically hate the hatred for the sake of Love, Peace and Survival.
• Hatred when unchallenged on time grows into a giant called fascism.
• Let’s Love an atmosphere of Love with all our might.
• Lies told thousand times can never change the truth.
• The hallmark of Fascism is telling one lie – a thousand and one times.
• Fascism is like a room with closed doors and windows – full of darkness. You open one window and entire darkness evaporates.
• Fascism survives only through brutal kind of repression.
• Love and Peace in fascist atmosphere only means a fanatic hatred and ruthless war.
• Visibility of fascist hatred only makes us a thousand times stronger in our commitment to Love.
• The important step in a fight against fascism is to open as many windows as possible, and allow free flow of sunlight.
• We must treat every occasion to meet people as an opened window and push in with a powerful and mighty light.
• The essence of life lies in making your struggle – my struggle.

Though Constitution of India upholds various kinds of human and democratic rights, it is important that it is matched with practices of Freedoms by its citizens – at times through assertive actions and genuine transformative reflections. War and Terror along with its support structure are outstanding shrinkers of democratic space in South Asia. They need to be vigorously countered at every level. The question is: Are we ready to burn the mid-night lamp in defence of democracy?

Published in Prajasattak, edited by Dadu Mandrekar, Panaji, January 2009

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