November-December 2008

Table of Contents

1) Impact of US Meltdown on Indian Economy

2) Nuke Deal Is a Conduit to Import US Crisis into India

3) Campaign against Communalism and Terrorism

4) Fact-Finding Report on Kandhamal Situation

5) South Orissa Bandh by CPI (ML) and Other Parties

6) Students Revolt Against MNS-Shiv Sena Goons

7) The Tamil National Question in Sri Lanka Demands a Political Solution

8) Fighting Caste Oppression and Untouchability: A Sri Lankan Experience

9) Thank Ye for Thy Baton Comrade Shukla

World Financial Crisis

Impact of US Meltdown on Indian Economy:

A Quick Assessment

– B Sivaraman.

The Spreading Economic Contagion: A Reluctant Recognition

Indian economy is insulated from the crisis…The global financial crisis will not affect us much…First Chidambaram went on in this vein until both he and his boss Manmohan had to reluctantly admit that no developing economy could possibly remain immune to the global crisis. Still, it was projected primarily as a financial crisis or at best a precursor to a mild recession. But no financial crisis is ever a mere crisis of the world of high finance alone. Just as the gloom on the trading floors soon spread to the shopfloors in the factories, financial turbulence is just a symptom of the turmoil in the real economy.

In a global crisis of such historic proportion where the total bailout packages by all countries work out to some 3 trillion dollars but where there is still uncertainty whether the system can be salvaged, it is stupid to pretend that India would be immune to the systemic crisis. A finance minister’s (FM) job is not to give false hopes. Panic at the stock markets cannot be prevented for long with pep words from the FM. Till October 14, the Bush administration alone has announced bailout packages to the tune of over $ 990 billion apart from injecting fresh investment worth $ 200 billion in banks and private financial institutions to shore up their financial position.

The contagion is truly global in a globalised world. How can the high priests of globalisation in India expect to insulate the country from this all-pervasive crisis?! Already the financial crunch is having its impact on the foreign institutional investors’ (FII) hot money in India. Just wait for the impact on trade, foreign direct investments (FDI), exchange rates, remittances, balance of payments (BoP), forex reserves and, above all, on the macro-economy in India. Goodbye to the rosy stories of double-digit ‘growth miracle’, it is now an impending debacle that stares economic analysts in the face.

The possible social impact is mindboggling. The new middle class in India is witnessing its first financial meltdown and a possible deep recession. The information technology – business process outsourcing (IT-BPO) myth would soon be blown. The possible BPO gains could hardly make up for the IT sector losses inflicted by recessionary economies in the developed world. Anyway, if the job losses are already running into lakhs (100,000s) in the US, one can well imagine how much political pressure will build up there against outsourcing. If such leading names like Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers start biting dust and their brightest kids are given unceremonious marching orders, Indian B-school products are surely in for a bad patch. Pre-election political pressure may have forced Jet Airways to take back its decision to terminate 1900 employees, but the job scenario in the so-called high-growth high-wage sectors has already turned gloomy.

All booms in India, based primarily on foreign money, will soon go bust. The recession-ridden US consumer/industry can hardly sustain the growth miracles of China and India. The surpluses of the Indian bourgeoisie would find a greener pastures in greater and greater acquisitions abroad than investing anew in a dwindling economy at home. Didn’t the Swiss bankers’ association point out a few months back that Indians were holding $1.4 trillion in Swiss banks? A sum about 40% larger than the gross domestic product (GDP)! The only breed that will thrive is the breed of speculators — in stock markets, currency trade and possibly in the real estate, gold and art pieces where the desperate wealth would flow.

In US, if it was first the speculative housing market bubble/subprime and then the financial bubble, in India it has just begun with the stock market bubble and possibly the real estate bubble. When it extends to the investment bubble (what with the special economic zones (SEZs) and other fabulous concessions, the telecom bubble, the IT-BPO bubble and so on), all claims of India having weathered the storm would wither. India perhaps might go under late and might take longer than the rest of the world to come out. All over the world there are 77 tax havens like St. Kitts and Cayman Islands. But in India there are 580 SEZs!

The Immediate Impact on Indian Stock Markets

The festival season in India was seldom so gloomy for the share market. Investor wealth worth Rs. 250, 000 crore (1 crore = 10 million) was wiped out on the bourses on a single day, on 10 October. The Sensex fell by 1000 points before recovering some 200 points, an intra-day drop of some 800 points. The lachrymal wave washed away the festive mood.

At the first sign of stock market crash and FII funds stampede, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has once again permitted P-notes (participatory notes) paving the way for enhanced speculation. The present convulsion in the Indian bourses would look mild before any possible explosion in future as a result of this heightened speculation. Despite the government itself acknowledging that the P-notes were being abused/misused at the time of banning them, no safeguard has been put in place. Anyway, how can there be any safeguard within the realm of speculations? It is absurd.

Impact on Indian Banks

“Indian banks are safe,” reassured Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Subbarao repeatedly. Indian banks’ exposure to international markets is relatively small at 6 percent of their total assets, the rating agency Crisil said, adding that even lenders with large international operations have less than 11 percent of their assets overseas. But a mini-version Indian bailout was in the making simultaneously in the first week of October with the government virtually shoring up two mutual funds and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) coming to the urgent rescue of three more which landed into liquidity crisis in the backdrop of a steep crash in the stock markets.

At a time when the big names in Western banking industry are queuing up for bailouts, there may be a sudden leap in non-resident Indian (NRI) deposits in Indian banks as these funds would look for a safe haven back home. We can hence expect a big clamour from the NRI lobby for greater concessions for their deposits. Chidambaram would only be too willing to oblige. The RBI recently increased the credit cost on term borrowings (with more than 7-year maturity) to Libor+4.5% and even then the big Indian corporate names are finding it difficult to raise funds amidst the present turmoil. Indian borrowers will end up paying more for the foreign lenders and Indian banks might be forced to pay more for the NRIs – all in the backdrop of a creeping recession and falling rate of profits.

Even when Chidambaram was preparing to pass some 66 reforms-related pending Bills in possibly the last session of the parliament and a committee had prepared a blueprint for major financial sector reforms, the US financial crisis fell like a bombshell. No doubt, the UPA ideologues would also use the global meltdown as a pretext to push the same risky reforms. In the years to come, as the new investment projects go under one after the other and investors and insurance companies and hedge funds go under trading in credit default swaps and all such devices, the financial crisis here in India might be the denouement rather than the beginning as in US. ICICI, the symbol of new breed of unscrupulous financial manipulators, is already in doldrums.

Increasing Liquidity

Liquidity position in India is comfortable, said RBI Governor Subbarao after a slew of measures. But he avoided hinting at any possible reduction in prime lending rates. The liquidity position may be comfortable, the banks and financial institutions might be slush with funds once again but with interest rates ruling high there is no pick up in the credit offtake by SMEs (small and medium enterprises). As they are the main employment providers in the industrial sector, the employment in this sector has already taken a heavy toll. A deep and prolonged recession in the West might result in unemployment for millions of these workers.

The RBI hurried to cut Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) by 150 basis points to 7.5 per cent, releasing more than $12 billion fresh liquidity into the Indian banking system. But if mere money supply alone can drive the economy and industrial growth forward uninterruptedly, then no economy will ever face any recession and there cannot be a meltdown of this nature. However, amidst all-round alarmism and panic reactions, confidence building itself has become the main plank of economic policy!

The government has once again liberalized ECB (external commercial borrowings by corporates). It is a different matter that in the light of the meltdown nobody would bother to take a second look at dollar bonds issued by Indian banks despite all their backing by the Indian government and hence they are abandoning the idea raising external funds/borrowings. While RBI might come forward to infuse liquidity liberally in the short-term, wait for the booming NPA figures in the medium and long term.

Exchange Rate: Rupee Depreciation

When the western economies are going into a tailspin one after the other, the appreciation of dollar and euro looks somewhat paradoxical. From unprecedented appreciation earlier a few months back, the rupee fell to record low — reaching Rs.49 per dollar at some point. The dollar is gaining vis-à-vis rupee because of the outflow of the FII funds and since the worst is yet to come in the US/global meltdown, a repeat of the East Asian crisis in India is very much a possibility. During the preceding period, if the rupee appreciated by around 18%, now it has depreciated by around 19% during this Jan-Sept.

The exporters who were crying earlier are happy but it is now the turn of importers to come to grief. Not many people know or remember that manufacturing imports had overtaken total domestic manufacturing production in the domestic organised industrial sector this year. Apart from cost escalation and consequent reduction in profit margins, just wait for the impact of the rupee depreciation on inflation. The confident prediction of possible fall in inflation rate to single digit by January sounds hollow in the backdrop of this as well as the cut in CRR rates and other measures by the RBI aimed at increasing the liquidity.

Impact on Trade

The trade deficit is reaching alarming proportions. If exports are growing, imports are growing even more. Thanks to workers’ remittances, NRI deposits, FII investments and so on, the current account deficit at around $10 billion doesn’t look so threatening. But for some reasons if the remittances dry up and FIIs funds take flight, it will be a repetition of 1991 after a few years if forex reserves get depleted and trade deficits keep increasing at the present rate. Even as the country’s exports and imports registered a substantial growth of 35.1 per cent and 37.7 per cent in dollar terms, respectively, during the first five months of the current fiscal (April to August), the trade deficit during the period has shot up. The trade deficit was around $14 billion for a single month of August 2008, a record level. Even Goldman Sachs’ prediction that India’s forex reserves would decline to $271 billion by year end from $310 billion in March 2008 looks a very conservative estimate.

Unprecedentedly high forex reserves were becoming a burden. As most of these funds were in dollars, the government had parked most of them in US treasury bonds or invested them in securities and bonds in foreign banks. With the meltdown and consequent poor returns following rate reduction, these treasury investments have taken a beating. The government had its fingers burnt with the earlier dollar depreciation. A part of these funds could have been used to clear some of the external borrowings. Now with the recovery of the dollar, repayment costs in rupee terms have also shot up. A golden opportunity was missed. The government was toying with the idea of establishing a wealth fund/SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) with these reserves to finance private parties taking up infrastructure projects through PPP. But, despite all the hype, the PPP has been a total flop so far.

An Indian Recession?

It might be just a slowdown in India till now. But a recession cannot be ruled out in the medium term. Chidambaram is claiming 7.5 – 8% growth this year. ADB has predicted 7% growth. Many rating agencies estimate industrial growth between 6.5% and 5.2% from around 11-12% in 2006-07. It is hoped that agriculture would be the saving grace this year thanks to a good monsoon. But just recall that Chidambaram was boasting about a possible 10% growth early this year after the budget and the situation has changed!

True, there is a boom in FDI this year. The total FDI between April and August this fiscal stood at $14.6 billion. A record figure. Average monthly FDI inflow is above $2 billion whereas a few years back that was the annual figure. Kamal Nath was confidently asserting that the target of $35 billion for this year would be achieved. But a closer look reveals that a sizable chunk of this FDI going into mining loot, services, financial services in particular, entertainment industry including luxury hotels and so on and also on mergers and acquisitions (M&As) not mainly to fresh investments in the core productive sectors alone. The long-term sustainability of such a pattern of FDI flow is anybody’s guess. Especially, in the midst of the global liquidity crunch. Inflows into already committed projects might give a false impression and it remains to be seen how long this boom will continue. To sustain it, Chidambaram is bound to come up with a slew of fresh liberalisation measures. FDI caps in insurance, banking and financial services are already being hiked. There might be 100% FDI in single-brand retail. There will be more and more sellouts to attract foreign capital. Chidambaram keeps repeating ad nauseam that India, like China, will continue high growth despite recession in the developed countries.

Well, if high growth is to be driven primarily by foreign capital assisted by government landgrab, tax waivers, assured returns guarantees for infrastructure investments and fabulous BOT terms and so on, in short, by making the whole of India into a tax haven, the structural distortions this Manmohan gamble would lead to is mindboggling. Leaving a handful of big business houses and Indian MNCs, nothing Indian would be left in the “Indian” economy. And even the “India” MNCs have started looking outward. India Inc spent $26 billion in mergers and acquisitions abroad this year. The global meltdown would, if anything, only accelerate this trend and the scarce capital resources would be channelized for overseas spending. If this is the story of overseas M&As by “Indian” companies, M&As in India by foreign companies is even more breathtaking. In power sector alone, the merger and acquisitions worked out to $5 billion out of a total M&A value of $55 billion in the infrastructure sector alone. This is the secret behind the high FDI. But overseas M&A is not a rosy path. Tatas teamed up with AIG which was one of the first to go under. TCS, Infosys and WIPRO…all were on an acquisition spree abroad but at home they are the leading ones in issuing pink slips.

The nation would soon realize the real cost of the N-deal. N-deal was also a sort of bailout for the US industry. Kakodkar has once again made it clear that 20 nuclear reactors would be set up! How in the given situation the governments would foot the bill in the next ten years?

The Deflating Growth Bubble

And what about the growth story? Well, the ratio of savings and investment to the GDP reportedly remains high at 35 per cent. So far so good. Still, there is a slowdown in the Indian economy. The core sector growth is down to less than 4 per cent. All vital productive sectors are on a slowdown. With such a structural background, if and when the Indian economy slips into a recession, the recession will be protracted and there will be no a quick revival. Crude oil prices have declined to $80 a barrel. The monsoon has been good in most parts of the country. For a couple of years it is not difficult to continue with the growth story. But infusion of liquidity, i.e., increasing the velocity of circulation alone in other words, can hardly sustain production. The basic structural flaws are bound to come back to the fore and haunt.

The problem might be made to look minor — as that of liquidity — at present but if there is a severe constraint in demand then no amount of infusion of money into the system and supply side magic would be able to save it. And given the fiscal scenario, the government would not be able to go for any fresh neo-Keynesian binge either, leave alone any major corporate bailout as in the US. Pay commissions and loan waivers might sustain aggregate demand for a couple of years but signs of slowdown are already on the wall. Despite repeated promptings of Chidambaram, the bankers are not ready to reduce even the home loan rates and not just the prime lending rate for the businesses. After all, they are hardnosed businessmen and they will continue to be top executives in their banks while Chidambaram and his party might go out of power.

The 11th Plan estimates that to maintain an average annual growth rate of 9%, the investment in infrastructure would have to rise from Rs. 259, 839 crore in 2007-08 to Rs. 574,096 crore in 2011-12 at constant 2006-07 prices, aggregating to Rs. 2,011,521 crore over five years. In the terminal year, this works out to be 9 per cent of the GDP, up from 5 per cent of the GDP in 2006-07. The Plan document itself says that the government cannot manage this much money and a substantial part of it has to come from the private sector. PPP is supposed to pave the way. But what is the record so far? The Government of India’s Committee on Infrastructure which monitors PPPs notes that 244 PPP projects are ongoing and another 76 are in the pipeline in the country. The total capital outlay in the ongoing projects amount to a minor fraction of the total projection by the Planning Commission. To finance infrastructure projects, the GoI established an India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited (IIFCL), a wholly Government-owned company to provide long term finance for infrastructure projects. According to the IIFCL website, it would provide loans upto 20 per cent of the project cost and projects “awarded to a private sector company … [a company established] through Public Private Partnership (PPP) shall have overriding priority”. And how big is this IIFCL? The GoI has successfully persuaded the World Bank to give it a loan of a meagre Rs.2700 crore to finance projects worth Rs. 2,011,521 crore! Making bogus projections to justify pro-private sector policy changes is the thriving industry in India. In such a situation, can any sizable fund flow into the risky infrastructure sector of a developing country amidst tottering private banks and investment funds?

Many approved SEZs are in doldrums as they are not getting any units and this whole thing is a massive real estate speculation of gigantic proportions. Even though the real estate speculation in India is taking a different trajectory and is not as reckless as credit instruments without any backing by collaterals as in the US subprime, the real estate bubble centering around SEZs landgrab is no less serious. Despite RBI’s reservations, the banks were competing to lend to SEZ promoters and even the nationalized public sector banks accumulating huge NPAs would be lined up for private takeover. SEZs might finally achieve what Narasimham’s two reports could not achieve. If millions of home loan borrowers are defaulters, the banks can take back their houses. Even they can takeover the SEZs. But if they themselves go deep into the red irretrievably, they themselves would be taken over. Companies incurring loss too would be taken over by stronger sharks. After a wave of takeovers, if the economy doesn’t revive, this would only amount to taking over the losses. A massive collapse in asset prices is the ultimate eventuality.

Social Impact

‘Suicides after market crash is an urban trend’ …screamed the headlines in a pink paper. Beneath that was the sob story of an entire family committing suicide after heavy loss in the stock market. “Whether it is a seemingly well-to-do US-resident of Indian origin wiping out his entire family or middle-aged brother-sister duo killing their parents and then committing suicide, the financial crisis has hit everyone, and has hit them hard”, the report added. At least, the desperate farmers go alone leaving their family members in the lurch. But the scorched middle class investors take their entire families along and that is the level of urban investing middle class insecurity. This explains the golden age for gold as investment in yellow metal is considered safer. Just think of the hundreds of new scrips by companies with ambitious investment plans counting on these investible surpluses of the middle classes and also the market opportunities opened up by their wealth. All these plans for new scrips will be scrapped. The middle class boom might be glamorous but the depression in incomes and losses in the markets are far more agonizing. Pink slips are painful indeed and joblosses are not limited to the West alone. Those who are hoping that jobs in the West would shift across to the cheaper shores of the India are missing the point that domestic job losses due to recession in the West as well as a slowdown in India would far outweigh such outsourcing gains. Even the real estate boom is going bust in Bangalore, the Indian El Dorado.

The Indian BPO sector derives 40 per cent of its revenues from the financial sector of the developed countries and exactly as they mushroomed fast they will wilt with the same speed. IT-BPO sector in India accounts for 5.5% of the GDP but 30% of exports and a very high share of service sector employment in cities like Bangalore. El Dorado is poised to turn into a hell!

Take the case of garments and textiles. Hardly a few months back, tens of thousands of workers, mostly women, were out of jobs in Chennai and Bangalore and towns like Tiruppur and Karur. The villain was the rupee appreciation, leading to some 18% reduction in incomes in rupee terms. After the loot by layers and layers of intermediaries, the factory producer was left with nothing and hence closed down the unit. Now dollar has appreciated, smile returned to the faces of garment owners but the smile soon vanished. The current exchange rate offers handsome returns but the orders are drying up due to impending recession. No margin then…no orders now! No jobs in both the scenarios.

The impact on the working class by means of wage compression and workloads, illegal retrenchment and worsening of job security and working conditions etc., would be onerous. Already this has started happening. For reasons of space, we are not elaborating. But we can only say there will be many more NOIDAs.

The employment in organised industrial sector – both public and private – was 8.98 million in 1997 but it was down to 7.62 million by 2005, i.e., precisely during the growth miracle if we leave out the disastrous year of 2001-02 for the industry when the growth was very low. If the growth miracle turns into a debacle what will happen to organised sector employment? Formal sector will be informalised and permanent workers will be booted out.

Bailouts for the bankrupt and boot-out for the workers. The same logic of capital! Total blackout of the possible social impact of the meltdown and almost virtual absence of any discourse on safety measures/nets is one of the characteristic features of the current crisis of capital, across the globe as well as in India.

Politics in India

Nuke Deal Is a Conduit to Import US Crisis into India

Liberation, November, 2008.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has finally sealed the nuclear deal with the US. For the Congress and the coalition of Unashamed Partners of America headed by it, the nuclear deal is the supreme achievement of the government. On the eve of signing the deal, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated India’s commercial commitment to the US nuclear energy industry: “We look forward to working with US companies on the commercial steps that will follow to implement this landmark Agreement.” In a second statement issued after the Agreement’s signing he also reiterated India’s commitment to implement the Agreement in good faith even though no such reciprocal assurance was made by the US to confirm New Delhi’s claim regarding the so-called US ‘guarantee’ on uninterrupted fuel supply.

On India’s part, faithful implementation of the commitments, whether declared or undeclared, has long been underway. From the vote against Iran at IAEA to the continuing prevarication and procrastination on the issue of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline proposal, India has been complying with the Hyde Act, which requires India’s foreign policy to be congruent with American priorities and objectives, in letter and spirit. And now Pranab Mukherjee’s explicit assurance reaffirms the commercial component of India’s commitment, which can only be music to American ears at a time when the US economy is passing through its worst crisis in some eighty years. The dilapidated atomic reactor industry in the US is awaiting hefty orders from India even as massive military purchases are in the pipeline.

The day Pranab Mukherjee and Condoleezza Rice inked the nuke deal, George Bush met the finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 7 (G7) countries – the US, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – and leading officials of the IMF in a desperate bid to check the growing financial panic that has now begun to spread beyond the American horizons to overshadow the G7 sky. The meeting of the G7 finance chiefs called for “urgent and exceptional action” and the use of “all available tools to support systematically important financial institutions and prevent their failure.” In a separate statement US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson admitted “never has it been more essential to find collective solutions to ensure stable and efficient financial markets and restore the health of the world economy.”

History is replete with examples showing what the US really means by finding “collective solutions”. It desperately tries to pass on its crisis to other countries and refuel its military-industrial complex to underwrite its economy, and in the process steps up politico-military intervention across the world. And it is precisely at this juncture that the Indian ruling classes have pushed India into a tight strategic embrace with the crisis-ridden US – a country that is hated by most nations of the world for its imperialist arrogance and aggression and whose economy is now emitting waves of financial instability and panic across the global economy. Strategic partnership with the US can only prove to be a conduit for importing the entire gamut of crises facing the US into India.

Manmohan Singh and his ilk epitomise the typical Indian comprador mindset that considers the US to be the pinnacle of capitalist success and would do everything to bask in the American sun. But the much-trumpeted great American dream is now fast turning sour. Just a couple of days before Pranab Mukherjee signed the deal, almost every newspaper in India carried the shocking story of an MBA degree-holder from India killing his entire family as well as himself as all his fortunes collapsed in the ongoing financial meltdown. The nuke deal and Indo-US strategic partnership is not a passport to US-sponsored prosperity and power, it is an invitation to greater crisis and vulnerability to US blackmailing and arm-twisting. All right-thinking Indians must reject this sordid comprador capitulation with the contempt it deserves.

Politics in India

Campaign against Communalism and Terrorism:

Beyond the National Integration Council (NIC) Deliberations

– Liberation, November, 2008.

After a lapse of more than three years the NIC met last week against a backdrop of raging communal violence in several parts of the country punctuated by periodic bomb-blasts in major cities. The response of the state to such a situation conforms to a by now familiar, almost predictable pattern. The NIC deliberations only reflected and reaffirmed this pattern.

In the face of communal violence unleashed by the Sangh Parivar, the state withdraws into a shell of inaction, or openly stands by the perpetrators and protagonists of such violence, depending upon whether the reins of the state are in the hands of the Congress/United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)/National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In the wake of a terrorist incident, the same state however becomes hyperactive. The police swings into action, arrests and encounters follow suit, and we are treated to an official propaganda blitzkrieg with sensational stories as to how the state has just busted some ‘terror modules’ or killed or arrested some dreaded ‘terrorist masterminds’.

While the police establishment reduces the whole question of tackling terrorism to a no-holds-barred battle between ‘terrorist masterminds’ and ‘encounter specialists’ in which the courts and constitution must not play spoilsport, the political establishment launches a competitive chorus for a hard state and tough anti-terror laws. The BJP demands re-enactment of Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA), the Congress rules out bringing back any law that has already been exposed and discredited in public experience, promising to introduce even tougher new laws.

In his speech at the NIC, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered all the customary ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’ shibboleths that we often hear these days even from his ‘counterpart-in-waiting’ Mr. LK Advani who however refused to attend the NIC meeting, reportedly peeved that his name figured at the 137th position in the list of invitees! The PM called for avoiding any “impression that any community, or sections amongst them, are being targeted, or that some kind of profiling is being attempted”. He also reiterated his commitment to the Constitution and the principles of civil liberties and democratic rights: “We should not be provoked to suspend or subvert a democratic process in the search for solutions. A democracy has a special onus in that it has to ensure protection of civil liberties even as it seeks to enforce law and order.”

Perhaps all this talk about not subverting the democratic process was meant to justify the UPA government’s refusal to take any action against Sangh outfits like the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Hindu Yuva Vahini. In Delhi, the police versions regarding the Jamia Nagar encounter have raised precisely the kind of questions that Manmohan Singh says should be avoided, but the UPA government has refused to set up a judicial enquiry headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge to resolve the issue on the plea that such a step would demoralise the police!

With the government limiting its role to empty phrases and deliberate inaction against the perpetrators of communal violence, NDA constituents were emboldened to offer all kinds of arguments in their own support. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik attributed the Kandhamal attacks on Christians to ‘conflict of interests’ between scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), leaving it to the Centre to decide if Bajrang Dal should be banned. Sushma Swaraj of the BJP accused the UPA of failing to distinguish between extremism, which is linked to ‘home-grown sentiment’, and terrorism, which according to her, is all about secession!

While the NDA speakers boldly advocated their point of view, the CPI (M) said little except reiterating the party’s unstinted support to any official campaign against terrorism. The party refrained from demanding a ban on the Sangh outfits; and instead of explaining the context in which India is increasingly internalising the threat of terrorism, Yechury only harped on the anti-national argument to denounce terrorism.

By equating terrorism with secessionism, the propagandists and ideologues of the Sangh brigade are trying to pitch their variety of ‘nationalism’ as the most powerful anti-terrorist antidote. And this, like most Sangh claims, is based on complete lies. If secessionist sentiment prevails in any part of the country, that too is very much a home-grown sentiment and this recognition is central to any quest for a political solution to secessionist campaigns. Moreover, the terrorist incidents now taking place across the country have little to do with any secessionist sentiment brewing in any part of the country. These incidents are rather a reflection of, and reaction to, the combination of the following three factors: the relentless Sangh campaign of communal violence, the growing involvement of India in the US-led global war, and the increasingly unmistakable communal bias of the Indian state in most of its affairs and actions.

At a time when communalism and terrorism are growing in a dangerous spiral, the campaign against communalism and terrorism must be firmly anchored in the secular, democratic, anti-imperialist agenda of the Indian people.

Orissa Pogrom

Fact-Finding Report on Kandhamal Situation

– Liberation, November, 2008.

A Communist Party of India [CPI (ML)] fact-finding team visited Orissa’s Kandhamal District on 15-16 October, 2008. The team visited affected villages and relief camps, after facing interrogation by the Orissa Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The team also met District Magistrate (DM) and various police officials of Kandhamal district. Below is a report by team member J P Minz.

1. The District Magistrate’s (DM) Statement: The DM told us that Kandhamal had been peaceful for the preceding ten days. Whereas there used to be fifteen relief camps, now only seven were operational, having 12,641 people. According to him, breakfast, meals, supplementary food meant for children, and iron and calcium tablets for pregnant women are available in these camps; a doctor is available round the clock; books are available for children and there are regular reading sessions. Blankets, sarees, buckets and mugs and similar essentials have also been provided.

2. Conditions at the Relief Camps: Our team visited Phulbani, Tikabali, Ji Udaygiri and Rakiya relief camps and found that the inmates of the camp are living in extremely bad conditions. In the name of breakfast they get only fifty grams of chura (beaten rice) and rice-dal for meals, which is not enough to satisfy the needs of hunger and nutrition. In the name of supplementary food, the children are occasionally given biscuits. Bathing soaps have been distributed just once in the camps. The doctors do visit but patients are told that there is no medicine. There is no arrangement for pregnant women. The camp inmates sleep on plastic mats on the ground. They have to defecate in the open, which apart from being unhygienic also puts them in danger. One inmate of Ji Udaygiri camp, we were told, was killed when he had gone to defecate.

3. Role of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal: The victims in all the relief camps unanimously told the fact finding team that it is the VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres who have sowed the seeds of communal division in the villages. They used to organize meetings of the Kandha tribals and incite them to attack the Christian hamlets and also provided funds for doing this.

4. Role of the Police and Administration: The anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal started on the day of the bandh called by VHP after the murder of Swami Lakshmananad, and these riots continued for over a month. In the communal fire two hundred Christian villages and 127 Church and prayer halls were either destroyed or burnt. Apart from this, schools, hospitals, hostels and convents also have been damaged. The incidents of killings, rape and loot also were carried out in addition to former incidents. The shocking fact is that all these incidents took place in full view of police and the police remained mute spectators. The official figure for deaths has been reported to be 31, however, a senior government official on the condition of anonymity informed that he himself consigned two hundred dead bodies – found from the jungle – to flames after getting them collected in a tractor. As per his estimates based on the intensity and pace of killings the number of those killed is over five hundred.

5. Atmosphere of Terror: The Christians continue to experience great terror. The Sangh outfits are campaigning for sending back the CRPF and the Nikhil Utkal Kui community is threatening to launch an armed movement. Riot-victims are frightened to go back to their villages because they have been threatened that if they return they will be hacked into pieces. The rioters are also proclaiming that only Hindu converts will be allowed to return. On the other hand, those in charge of the relief camps are pressurizing the riot victims to return to their villages saying that the life has returned to normalcy and peace has returned.

Conclusions:

1. This violence was a pre-planned anti-Christian communal assault, and in no way was it a ‘clash’ between adivasi (tribals) and dalits.

2. This violence which had full support from the Biju Janta Dal Government was planned and executed by VHP and Bajrang Dal.

3. The Sangh’s propaganda about ‘indiscriminate religious conversion’ is a far cry from facts, as the Christian population of Orissa is only 2.5 per cent of the total population. It is to be noted that Christian missionaries began working in Orissa 150 years back.

4. Dalits have far less proportion of land in comparison to the Kandha tribals. In Kandhamal 90 per cent land is government land, 5.5 percent belongs to tribals and rest 4.5 per cent belongs to Dalits, OBC and Oriya (businessmen). There is not much difference in the economic conditions of the tribals and the dalits. The dalits are very slightly better off as they engage in small businesses.

Our Demands:

1. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal (BD) should be banned.

2. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik responsible for the violence should tender his resignation immediately

3. The accused for the riots be immediately arrested.

4. The Orissa Govt. must reconstruct all houses, churches, schools, hostels, hospitals and other social-religious structures demolished during the violence and for other damages adequate compensation be granted after a proper survey

5. The relief camps be run for another six months and proper civic arrangements for food, medicine and sanitation be made in these camps.

6. Arrangements be made for registering First Information Reports (FIRs) related to the communal violence at all police stations.

7. Peace process be initiated and guarantees be made for reopening and running of schools, hospitals and other institutes run by the Christian missionaries.

Orissa Pogrom

United Protests: South Orissa Bandh by CPI (ML) and Other Parties

– Liberation, November, 2008.

On 13th October CPI (ML) Liberation along with four other parties – CPI (ML) New Democracy (ND), Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) [CPI (ML)], Socialist Unity Center of India (SUCI) and Samajwadi Jan Parishad held a successful bandh in five districts of South Orissa – Kandhamal, Rayagada, Gajapati, Koraput and Ganjam – against the carnage in Kandhamal, the complicity of the Navin Patnaik Government and the criminal inaction of the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre. The bandh was total in the five districts and marked by the spontaneous participation of people. Around 10, 000 people actively participated in Liberation’s initiatives to make the bandh a success in Rayagada; 1200 in Gajapati.

Holding that the ruling BJD as well as Congress which is in power at the Centre too have blood on their hands because of their hands-off approach towards the Sangh Parivar mobs, the CPI (ML) had declined to join a joint protest announced by Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] with Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Congress party in the state.

In Bhubaneswar, trains were stopped and the National Highway blocked by 200 Liberation activists. Comrade Tirupati Gomango held a rally of around 8000 people at Gunupur. The bandh sent out a stern political message rejecting the communal violence against thousands of Christians by the Sangh outfits and condemning the forces in power which are allowing the violence to take place unhindered.

CPI (ML) Liberation’s Nation Wide Protests

On October 3, CPI (ML) held nation-wide protests demanding prosecution of Chief Ministers of Orissa and Karnataka for allowing saffron mobs to indulge in an anti-Christian pogrom; demanding a ban on the Sangh outfits guilty of communal violence and protesting against the UPA Government’s refusal to take stern action against the communal killers. A memorandum to the President of India was submitted from all over the country. The memorandum, raising all the above issues and demands, also noted that the Sangh’s accusations of ‘forced conversion’ was actually serving to cover up their own acts of forcing adivasis and Christians to convert to Hinduism. Conversion from Hinduism has largely been an act of rebellion by the oppressed castes against the caste-ridden Hindu fold, noted the memo, and “the current wave of violence is therefore also an attempt to terrorise the Dalits and other oppressed social groups for their rebellion – and is therefore a continuation of social oppression in another form.” The acts of humiliation of Christians that have come to light – raping, parading naked, and forcing to eat excreta as ‘purification’ ritual – are all reminiscent of the atrocities against Dalits.

The party also noted the increasing incidents of communal violence in Dhule (Maharashtra) and Adilabad (Andhra Pradesh), in which the minority community bore the brunt of the attacks. Also, it condemned the Tarun Gogoi Government for allowing the Bodo-Muslim clashes to take place, which had resulted in thousands of people being driven into refugee camps.

In Delhi, activists of CPI (ML) gathered at Parliament Street and burnt an effigy of Navin Patnaik and Yeddyurappa, and submitted a memorandum to the President.

In Karnataka, another major centre of the ongoing communal violence, protest demonstrations were held in various places in the state, and the memorandum to the President was sent through the tahsildars in the taluks. More than hundred people protested in front of taluk office at Harapanahalli. The demo evoked much expectation in the town as a church near Harapanahalli was also attacked sometime back. Our comrades had helped in getting bail for the Christian priests, on whom false cases had been foisted in addition to the attack on their church. The demo at Gangavati was also impressive and demonstrators shouted slogans against BJP that is coming out with its true colours after assuming power in the state. The demo at HD Kote near Mysore protestors included construction labourers and All India Central Coordination of Trade Unions (AICCTU) activists.

In Jharkhand, hundreds of people marched in the capital of Ranchi. The March against Communalism, in the Sainik Bazaar campus, was led by CPI (ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar. The March culminated in a mass meeting at Albert Ekka Chowk, addressed by many leaders. Protest processions, effigy burning, dharnas and mass meetings were also held at various district headquarters (HQs) in Jharkhand; Bihar; Assam and Karbi Anglong; UP; W. Bengal, Tamilnadu, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Durg.

All India Progressive Womens Association (AIPWA) between 10-14 October, held protests and submitted a memorandum to the President of India demanding ban on the Sangh outfits Bajrang Dal and VHP responsible for assaults on Christians, and a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the rape of a nun in Orissa.

Politics in India

Students Revolt in Bihar Against Inaction on MNS-Shiv Sena Goons

– ML Update, 28 October – 03 November 2008.

Bihar Bandh called by All India Students’ Association (AISA) is a Success

The scale and level of students’ anger and outburst against attack on North Indians in Mumbai and Maharashtra was historic on the day of Bihar Bandh called by All India Students’ Association. The whole State machinery was out to stop the agitating students from expressing their anger and shock at the state of inaction by Maharashtra and Central UPA governments, but the students and youth, despite severe police crackdown on bandh and protests on 25th October overcame all suppression and made the bandh a success. The news agencies and media houses under instruction from Bihar Government tried to play down the news, however the scale of the actions on the streets were just too intense to be suppressed.

The non Maharashtrian students who had gone to Mumbai for appearing in an examination conducted by the Railways were brutally and severely attacked on Sunday 19 October by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) goons and were forced to return from Mumbai. The students from Bihar upon their arrival at Patna Junction Station next day and learning the tragic death of Pawan (examinee from Nalanda) virtually seized the Patna Railway Station and even firing in air by the police did not stop them. The Station was literally in the hands of the agitating students. The students wanted Bihar’s chief minister (CM) Nitish Kumar and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad both to come to the Patna Station and meet them. The students’ heightened anger was not just due to attacks only on them, but the fact that prior to the examination they had requested Mr. Lalu Prasad to change the centre and venue of the examinations from Mumbai citing the recent attacks on people and students from Bihar and other north Indian states. This request of theirs had fallen on deaf ears of CM and Railway Minister and students’ apprehension turned into reality. When the students had gone to Mr. Lalu Prasad prior to the examination for change in venue, he did not meet them and the reports of the same were carried in the news papers prior to the incident of attacks. The students gradually spilled over on the streets and vented their anger by smashing glass-panes of vehicles and breaking anything coming their way. The students in other districts of Bihar took similar action.

To orient the struggle towards the just demand of trying Raj Thackeray for murder and sedition and putting a ban on MNS and Shiv Sena, the AISA called for a meeting of all students’ organizations at Patna University on 21st October which was attended by State leadership of the student wings of the ruling Jananta Dal (United) [JD (U)], as well as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and National Student’s Union of India (NSUI), and also the student wing of Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party (NCP); in fact most student organizations except Akhil Bhartiya Vidhayarthi Parishad (ABVP) which was not invited for the all party meet. At the meeting the joint decisions of all the student organizations was to call for arresting and prosecuting Raj Thackeray on charges of murder and sedition, calling on the forty members of parliament (MPs) from Bihar to initiate immediate action in Parliament to demand that the UPA Government rein in the MNS and Shiv Sena or else resign. It was decided to hold a protest march on the following day (22nd October) to voice their urgent demands, followed by Students’ Assembly

On 22nd morning, however, due to news of police firing on agitating students at Sasaram the AISA leadership of Bihar felt that Students’ Assembly was not enough in voicing the urge for urgent action for justice and decided to call for a Bihar bandh and it was accordingly communicated to all the students’ organizations that attended the meeting. AISA also asked the organizations to declare the bandh call from the podium during the protest meeting and on the following day all the newspapers carried it. Later while a press conference of the student organizations was on, an all-party meet called by Bihar CM Mr. Nitish Kumar was also going on that was boycotted by the CPI (ML). The meeting was not called so much as to discuss the growing attacks on the north Indians and people from Bihar, rather the agenda of the meeting was the situation in Bihar after the attacks – clearly indicating the Government’s mood to suppress the students and youth protests. While parties like JD (U), RJD, LJP and Congress were just paying lip service to the whole situation and then we saw a coming together of all arch rivals while meeting the Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh only to tell him that they have kept the angry youth under control and unless the UPA acts against MNS and Maharashtra Govt. the student-youth anger may become difficult to control.

Along with AISA, however, the students’ organizations of all these ruling parties (except ABVP) had declared the support for Bihar bandh on 25th October. The same evening as the all-Party meet ended and they came to know of their students’ wing’s declaration, the parties pressurized their students’ organization to pull out from the bandh. The Chhatra-RJD, was the first to pressure its members to stay away. Many of these ruling parties’ students’ organizations published their declaration of pulling out from the bandh and by 24th morning it was clear that no students’ organization was with bandh except AISA and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) which also declared full support for the bandh. At this development the Patna University unit of almost all the organizations (except ABVP) terming this pull-out a betrayal of the student community, declared their intention to defy their State leadership and go with AISA to support the bandh, and eventually they did rebel (including the ruling Party’s Chattra–JD (U)) and implemented the bandh call in Patna on 25th October. The bourgeois parties could not suppress their students urge for justice as promised to the PM. There are also confirmed reports of students from organizations of ruling parties defying their Party’s order and coming out in full support of the Bandh. At some places even some sections of ABVP ranks defied their organisation’s order and supported the bandh. This trend is reflective of the spirit of unity among common students against criminal and corrupt politics of all mainstream parties.

The bandh was hugely successful in Patna and several districts of Bihar incuding Ara, Buxar, Arwal, Jehanabad, Gaya, Nalanda, Bhojpur, Siwan, Jamui, Lakhisarai, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Sasaram, Sheikhpura, Narkatiagunj, Samastipur etc. The AISA and rebel students from other organizations stopped trains and road traffic at several places in Bihar. The effigies of MNS president Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray were burnt at various places despite security forces trying to stop them. At some places even the effigy of railway minister Mr. Lalu Prasad was also burnt. The students everywhere demanded that both these leaders be booked for murder and sedition. ”If Union Ministers from Bihar fail to ensure the institution of cases against both the Thackerays under IPC sections relating to offences of murder and sedition, we would move ahead to intensify the agitation for their en masse resignation,” warned Abhyuday, State Secretary of AISA. Abhyuday also took exception to the silence of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and Union Steel and Fertilisers Minister Ramvilas Paswan on the issue of taking constitutional action against the Vilasrao Deshmukh government for its failure in ensuring safety and security of Biharis in Maharashtra.

Two thousand students throughout the State were arrested. Police lathicharged the agitating students in several districts and the irony above all is that those now in jails were threatened by the police to be charged with sedition. There are hundreds of students and youth still in jails. The outburst of the student has been massive and entire police and administrative setup simply could not contain the protesting students except lathicharging and threatening to book them with sedition. Also, what was seen is the students’ unity as against the unity of all the ruling parties in suppressing the anger and urge for immediate action for justice to the families of Pawan and the other student who eventually lost their life at the hands of MNS goons, mute spectator Maharashtra government and an insensitive Lalu Prasad who did not heed to students’ requests for changing the venue of examinations.

Meanwhile, another incident of another cold blooded murder has taken place in Mumbai in which one youth Rahul Raj from Patna was shot dead in a so-called ‘encounter’ by the Maharashtra Police led by the assistant commissioner of police (ACP) of Mumbai. His dead body is being brought to Bihar on 29th October. After the bandh, CPI (ML) General Secretary Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya and AISA State leaders visited Pawan’s family in Nalanda to share their grief and assure the family of justice for Pawan. It came out that Pawan’s father was an employee and a trade union activist in Maharashtra’s textile mills before being thrown out of the job in 90’s. A son is killed in the State where his father toiled in mills to bring prosperity to that state. Couple of days before the Bihar bandh a day long Nalanda bandh was also called by AISA and RYA to protest Pawan’s death. Nalanda happens to be home constituency of Bihar CM Mr. Nitish Kumar. He was also slated to hold some kind of meeting in Nalanda, however, the enraged students uprooted all the arrangements being made for his meeting and the bandh was a huge success in Nalanda.

South Asia

Stop the War!

The Tamil National Question in Sri Lanka Demands a Political Solution!

[Text of CPI (ML) Central Committee Statement on developments in Sri Lanka.]

The Sri Lankan government’s ongoing military campaign to corner and crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) has led to a terrible humanitarian crisis in the country. Reports emanating from the island indicate that the Sri Lankan state is on the verge of wresting military control over large parts of LTTE territory including the administrative headquarters in Killinochi. While the number of people killed so far in the crossfire between the advancing Sri Lankan armed forces is anybody’s guess, some 500,000 people are estimated to have been displaced and rendered homeless in their own land. With the Sri Lankan government not allowing any relief to reach the people in refugee camps, international humanitarian organisations have been forced to leave the battle zones and recently even UN food convoys have had to return, leaving a vast population in the battle zones on the brink of starvation.

Over the last two years the military balance has steadily tilted against the LTTE. Following the collapse of peace talks and withdrawal of Norway from the peace process, the Mahinda Rajapaksha government seized the opportunity to go for an all-out fight to the finish. In the post 9/11 international situation, the LTTE has already suffered considerable international isolation with the entire Western and developed world declaring it a banned terrorist organisation. The December 2004 tsunami had also delivered a crucial blow to the economy and general life in the LTTE areas. The magnitude of the disaster was compounded manifold with the forces of Sinhala chauvinism disrupting the relief and resettlement plans drawn up under the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS). A split in LTTE following the desertion of the organisation’s eastern commander Colonel Karuna must have also prompted Colombo’s decision to push for a final military solution.

Even as the Sri Lankan armed forces intensify the war on LTTE, and the death toll keeps mounting, President Mahinda Rajapaksha waxed eloquent in the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2008 on the goals of peace, resettlement and development. Quoting Isaac Newton, he lamented that the world was building too many walls and not enough bridges! He would like the world to believe that his government was employing military means only against those who were engaged in armed struggle. If it were really so, why has his government forced international relief organisations and humanitarian agencies from the battle zones?

The Sri Lankan government must understand that there can be no military solution to the Tamil national question. Even if the LTTE is militarily defeated, the national question will continue to haunt Sri Lanka. It must also understand that its attempt to impose Sinhala chauvinism as the exclusive Sri Lankan identity is doomed to fail. It is a political problem which modern Sri Lanka inherited from the British colonial days, and can only be resolved politically. Following the 1983 pogrom in which Sinhala chauvinists had killed thousands of Tamils, the LTTE had emerged as the predominant representative of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. In spite of its overwhelming emphasis on armed struggle and the demand for a separate Tamil Eelam, in the course of the peace talks the LTTE had agreed to the notion of ‘internal’ self-determination of Tamils within the framework of a federal Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government must resume this process and stop the war on Sri Lankan Tamils.

The Government of India must take urgent bilateral and multilateral initiative to stop the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka, bring about an immediate cease-fire and ensure relief and rehabilitation measures for the displaced Tamil people in the battle zones. In recent times several Indian fishermen have also been killed by the Sri Lankan naval forces. India has lacked a consistent policy regarding Sri Lanka – initially India was believed to be patronising LTTE while later the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) got embroiled in a disastrous war with the LTTE itself. Many political forces in Sri Lanka, both among Sinhala and Tamil circles, found the Indian intervention in the 1980s objectionable and smacking of regional hegemonic ambitions of the Indian ruling classes. Since then and especially following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, India has failed to evolve any effective diplomatic response to the civil war in Sri Lanka. The current phase of the war in Sri Lanka does call for an urgent and appropriate Indian response to bring about an immediate cessation of the war and facilitate a negotiated political settlement of the question of Tamil self-determination in Sri Lanka.

South Asia

Fighting Caste Oppression and Untouchability: A Sri Lankan Experience

– S. Sivasegaram.

The system of caste persists as an integral part of Hindu society. Colonial rulers let it be and where useful encouraged it. Modernisation made an impact, but did not eliminate it. Although the Hindu Varna system is the reference point for its justification, caste structure and hierarchy vary from region to region. In Sri Lanka, caste is an integral aspect of Sinhala and Tamil societies, and matters in social interactions. Even the Muslims, with claims to a distinct ethnic identity, are tainted by caste, but to a less degree. Untouchability was strictly practiced among the Tamils of the North and less strictly in the East. The Hill Country Tamils of Indian origin are mostly from depressed caste groups and despite caste differences open discrimination has been less prevalent than in the North and East.

This article is on the struggle against caste oppression in the North, the Jaffna peninsula mainly, where discrimination and oppression had been strong from pre-colonial times. The caste system in Sri Lanka differs from that in India in some ways. While the Brahminist ideology holds, the Brahmins play no serious role in caste society; and there are no Kshatriya or Vysya caste groups. Thus, unlike in South India, the caste at the peak of the caste hierarchy is the Vellala (cultivator) caste among Tamils and the Govigama, its equivalent, among Sinhalese. The Vellala are around 40% of the population of the Jaffna peninsula. The depressed caste groups deemed as ‘untouchables’ form around 30%. The rest belong to middle level caste groups bound by the caste hierarchy.

Although colonial intervention did not dent the caste system, early in the 20th Century missionary schools allowed access to modern education to a few members of the oppressed castes. But the depressed communities remained backward since even primary education was denied to their vast majority. Protests against caste oppression and demands for the right to education and better living conditions started in the early 20th Century with the formation of workers’ associations and campaigns for equal treatment. Notably, the Jaffna Youth Congress, a progressive group formed in 1920 and inspired by the Indian independence movement, was supportive of struggles against discrimination.

Social reforms, including the introduction of free education, in the run up to independence from colonial rule in 1948 failed to meet the needs of the depressed castes, especially in the North, since the Vellala elite dominated the social institutions. The initiation of the left movement in Jaffna in 1937 and the founding of the Communist Party there in 1945 gave fresh impetus to struggles against caste oppression. The Minority Tamils Association founded in 1943 that organisationally united the depressed castes was a reformist outfit controlled by moderates. Efforts by communists to make the Association take a more militant stand were frustrated by the moderates. Thus, despite some degree of success of various campaigns, the oppressive caste system and the practice of untouchability remained intact.

The coalition government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that came to power in 1956, despite aggravating the national question by making Sinhala the sole official language, introduced significant social reforms. The election in 1956 of P. Kandiah, the only Tamil communist to be elected MP, helped the oppressed castes of the North in a number of issues. He was instrumental in the passage of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act in 1957 that made it punishable to deny anyone access to public places by reason of caste. The nationalisation of the schools in 1960 by the SLFP government elected that year loosened the grip of the Vellala elite on schools which were earlier under their control. Yet collaboration of the state machinery with the Vellala elite let the law turn a blind eye to continuing acts of systematic oppression, exploitation and humiliation based on caste.

Social disabilities suffered collectively by the depressed by caste persisted. The Communist Party (CP) successfully led local struggles against oppression in some issues. The reactionary feudal elite resented it and directed thugs to attack communists and militant members of the oppressed community. In response, some leaders of the depressed community prescribed conversion to Buddhism, a move rejected by the CP, failed to win popular support.

The return to power of the United National Party in 1965 in alliance with the Tamil nationalist Federal Party and the Tamil Congress emboldened the upper caste elite to uphold casteism. Earlier pledges to open public wells, eating places and temples to all irrespective of caste were breached, the affected communities had no choice but launch a militant struggle.

The split in the CP in 1964 led to opposed approaches to caste oppression. While the revisionists retreated to a passive approach, the Marxist Leninists took the initiative to launch a mass demonstration against untouchability on 21st October 1967 against a background of oppression by the reactionary elite backed by the police. The demonstration with a sizeable participation by members of the ‘uppers castes’ was brutally attacked by the police. The Marxist Leninists broadened the campaign to mobilise the masses and lead them under the banner of the Mass Movement to Eliminate Untouchability, an organisation to fight caste oppression that, unlike earlier caste-based organisations, was open to all progressive people.

Mass mobilisation and militant campaigns were launched to win access to public places and facilities that were denied to depressed communities. Expectedly, the reactionary elite took to criminal violence in the form of arson, murder and assault. And for the first time in the history of the island, oppressed masses resorted to armed action against the combined forces of reaction and the state apparatus. Not only the elitist Tamil nationalist parliamentary leaders but also the revisionists denounced the armed action. But support grew even among the ‘upper’ castes, for the campaign which also gained rising sympathy and support from a wide section of progressive forces across the country, including other nationalities.

Attempts by the upper caste elite to keep the oppressed castes outside public places, especially temples, and to continue with blatant discriminatory practices such as the denial of access to public wells, crematoria etc. were soundly defeated by the campaign that continued into the 1970s. The SLFP-led alliance that came to power consequently amended the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1957 to make it more effective.

The success of the struggle meant that the socio-economic basis for caste oppression and open discrimination and humiliation by caste has been destroyed, and that is no mean achievement. What is particularly important is that a struggle against oppression of a section of a community enjoyed the support of a sizeable section of the community associated with oppression. Thus it has lessons for struggles against other forms of oppression in Sri Lanka and elsewhere on matters of the united front strategy, political mobilisation of the masses, and focussed application of armed action in a way that isolates the main enemy.

This does not mean that caste prejudices and discrimination are over. They are strong among the Tamil Diaspora and exist even in regions under the control of the LTTE. The campaign therefore needs to go on undeterred, not as armed conflict but as social and political activities to isolate the reactionaries defending casteism. The Dalitists who preach caste hatred have no answers nor do the Tamil nationalists. The initiative is still with the Marxist Leninists.

The struggle also has useful messages for those misled by Dalitist movements as well as for the left in India, the most important of which is that there can be no separation between class struggle and struggle against any form of social oppression, and it is harmful to seek such separation.

South Asian Diaspora

Thank Ye for Thy Baton Comrade Shukla

– Soumitra Bose.

Comrade IKS, or Professor Indra Kumar Shukla, passed away on September 17th at 3:00PM PST on a hospital near Long Island, Los Angeles after an innings he started on the 26th of May 1928. A long innings of 80 steeled him as a national compatriot of the Indian proletariat and a true internationalist.

Professor Shukla a scholar of Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Bangla and a professor of English in Allahabad University was a symbol of English writings in protest journalism. He grew younger with every passing year in his life. A never failing activist, a highly erudite intellectual, a compassionate comrade and a life long fighter for the cause of the people and the proletariat, Professor Shukla was an ardent supporter of CPI (ML) and the naxalbari movement. He raised his sole voice of protest against the repression of the peasants in Nandigram and Singur and in all recent repressions in India, Prof. Shukla’s pen never ceased to roar. He was a keen observer of CPI (ML)’s activities and still had his reservations against Stalin and even some of the communist big wigs. He however was very steadfast in supporting Comrade Charu Mazumdar. Prof Shukla followed from abroad very keenly the proceedings of the 8th Party Congress of CPIML-Liberation. He wrote in many left Indian journals and sent his comments against every kind of repression in the ever amazing linguistic style that he always had.

He chose to live among the workers of Long Island near Los Angeles and always shared his life with those inner city dwellings where normal Indian compatriots would never dare. He stuck himself there, raised his family and grand parents and involved them in workers’ struggles. A relentless fighter against every kind of obscurantism, racism, communalism and for rational thought he dedicated his 80 years of struggling life for the cause of Indian and world revolution.

We honor and respect with every fiber of our consciousness the duty and responsibility handed down by Comrade Shukla to us on the international basis! We learnt from him how to make the whole world his country and abode and how to belong to the people of the world! Prof Shukla lives on as he would ever in our works, in our struggles and in our consciousness toward the common objective of all the people of the world – A world for the workers and toilers!

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