India’s new genocide

Courtesy of the government of India, I reluctantly have to expand my list of genocides to include the war on indigenous and peasant peoples currently underway in the forests of Central India. This description draws on the extraordinary account published by novelist and activist Arundhati Roy, in Outlook India as Walking with the Comrades and in the The Guardian as Gandhi, but with guns, describing her several weeks earlier this year spent amongst the Maoist/Naxalite resistance.

Who is this war against?

Well, it’s against the tribal peoples – “the Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds” – of the forests of central India, across the states of  “Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal”.

Why? Roy answers:

Over the past five years or so, the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MoUs with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminium refineries, dams and mines. In order for the MoUs to translate into real money, tribal people must be moved.

Therefore, this war.

Later, she describes the reason more vividly:

Why must they die? What for? To turn all of this into a mine? I remember my visit to the opencast iron-ore mines in Keonjhar, Orissa. There was forest there once. And children like these. Now the land is like a raw, red wound. Red dust fills your nostrils and lungs. The water is red, the air is red, the people are red, their lungs and hair are red. All day and all night trucks rumble through their villages, bumper to bumper, thousands and thousands of trucks, taking ore to Paradip port from where it will go to China. There it will turn into cars and smoke and sudden cities that spring up overnight. Into a “growth rate” that leaves economists breathless. Into weapons to make war.

In a sense, the answer that modern India, like other post-colonial countries, is a brave and enthusiastic heir to the colonialism practised on it by the British. Modern India has turned colonialism against its own people – just as many Africans have turned Western tools of war and exploitative capitalism against their own people. Colonialism did not end with the formal retreat of the imperial powers, it simply continued by native proxy. Outsourcing, y’know:

The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce, it criminalised a whole way of life.

So what’s the reluctant liberal line on the whole thing? Roy writes:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries.

But is it genocide?

What is the case for calling this genocide? Well, remember that genocide doesn’t just cover outright murder. The UN convention on genocide also includes in the definition “acts calculated to bring about [the group’s] physical destruction in whole or part”.

You see, genocide, like everything we humans engage in, has been modernised and updated. Outright murder tends to get outright bad press. So more sophisticated techniques of destroying people or peoples, have evolved. You don’t have to kill them, you can move them ‘for their own good’, or destroy their means of earning a living, or

The drive from Raipur to Dantewada takes about 10 hours through areas known to be ‘Maoist-infested’. These are not careless words. ‘Infest/infestation’ implies disease/pests. Diseases must be cured. Pests must be exterminated. Maoists must be wiped out. In these creeping, innocuous ways, the language of genocide has entered our vocabulary.

There’s one extraordinary quote in this article, from a policeman, that could be the start of a whole book: ‘The problem with these tribals is they don’t understand greed. Unless they become greedy, there’s no hope for us.’

4 Responses to India’s new genocide

  1. dawwaysha says:


  2. Nishit says:

    I think that by believing everything that Arundhati Roy says, just because she won a Booker, you are committing a big mistake. She has a reputation of being a deliberate, insidious contrarian
    who enjoys the ‘global attention’ her whinings can fetch.

    While it is nobody’s case that the tribals have been exploited since centuries and their displacement without proper rehabilitation will make their condition worse, what Arundhati Roy wants to propagate is a myth that the Indian State and the Indian people are after the tribals’ resources and want to eradicate them if they can’t have their way. This is simply not true. You have to appreciate that ancient societies, steeped in poverty, ignorance and superstition are very resistant to change, and due to their historical exploitation, are very suspicious of outsiders.

    On the other hand, the only way to get the fruits of development to reach these resource rich, underdeveloped regions and their abjectly poor population is to allow industrial development, albeit with due care to guard against environmental damage and careless displacement.

    However, insidious elements (read political forces) have been using the resentment that exists within this population to turn it into an armed movement that stands severely in opposition to any development, any intervention and any intrusion of outsiders. They have been responsible for abductions, rampage and mass killings of their own tribesmen who are friendly to the government, police forces, school teachers, government officials and employees of private enterprise. Needless to say, the people who have fomented these movements have political agendas, and their ground troops are just cannon fodder.

    People like Arundhati Roy don’t want you to realise this. They instead use their endowed tongue to create a deliberately skewed and distorted picture of reality. People on the outside will take her word for gospel just on authority, and nobody will go and investigate the ground situation. Try it and you too could be abducted and executed by the Maoists.

    There are other regions in India where tribals used to be backward, superstitious, ignorant and violent. To some extent, they still are so. However, the efforts of social reformers and absence of insidious elements saw them gradually develop through the decades, and gain out of the affirmative action that is a part of the country’s Constitution and public policy.

    • MB says:

      Just because Arundhati said something against the govt policies does not mean she is wrong. Land grabbing in central tribal areas have always been a problem. As for backwardness and superstition being a tribal phenomenon you must look at Rajasthan where child marraiges take place or Haryana-punjab-delhi where female feoticied is very common. The babas on various channels are an example, spreading superstitions etc. Tribals are a close knit society unlike “civilised” ones, they do not kill their own brethern just because they are freindly with someone. Opening mines and heavy industries do nothing for the tribals. How many tribals are employed in mining or these industries? Naxalism is a problem created by the Govt. As for the policies, people in the govt. themselves do not adhere to their rules and regulations- Vedanta case is a point.

      • ND says:

        Too many generalisations. Tribals are NOT a close knit society – in fact, there is a reason they are called tribals. They do not form uniform societies spanning districts, what to speak of entire states. Many of these tribals have been marked in the past as being highly superstitions, highly suspicious of outsiders, and prone to violence over trivial matters. Of course Arundhati Roy won’t tell you much about this. It doesn’t suit her agenda.

        It is nobody’s case that industrial development does not cause displacement and loss of livelihood of an indigenous population. However, you cannot just go on protecting someone’s ‘way of life’ at the cost of social upliftment even while the rest of humanity keeps on progressing.

        There have been various social reformers in the past in places such as Gujarat and Maharashtra who have successfully implemented social reforms in many tribal areas. However, many areas in Central India remained out of reach, to some extent due to government apathy and cynical politics. Should these people forever be devoid of fruits of human social development?

        When you talk about social ills still prevalent in India, you should also consider how many ills have already been removed. Sati was prevalent in the Kshatriya community in almost all of North and Western India. In the last few decades and century, how many such incidents have taken place? You need to also bear in mind that these customs prevailed in communities that were traditionally very impervious to change. However, things have definitely improved with education and empowerment.

        So that, ultimately, is the case. Why don’t people like Arundhati Roy use their fame and prowess over language to push for an end to discrimination, real empowerment, investments in health and education, and ensure that benefits CSR activities and government programs actually reach the people who need them?

        What is the point of just opposing something absolutely?

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