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Parallel Lines of Dissent

by PRITI GULATI COX

We have a situation in which the government is acting as a guarantor to the process of expropriation of access of common property resources across the country and handing over those resources to private interests. This is leading to inequity… this process gives birth to widespread structural violence. And in response to this structural violence the resistance of the public is their right. The laws regarding revolt against the state are extensively deformed and because of this, many people are in prison.

Dr. Binayak Sen [1] [2]

Indian authorities are fighting against what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh maintains is “the biggest internal security challenge facing our country.” [3] The people who make up this “challenge” have many names—left-wing extremists, Naxalites, Maoists, and others—but whatever terminology is used, their role is to be a thorn in the side of corporate India.

They are struggling to maintain their existence as self-reliant Adivasi (indigenous) communities. The great irony is that these communities, with some of the world’s smallest ecological footprints, lie atop India’s largest mineral deposits.

This “challenge” has the Indian state on one side and the tribals-turned-revolutionaries fighting for their land and water on the other. In the middle is a stew of capitalism, starvation, usurpation, “development”, displacement, police brutality, rapes, smoldering villages, indiscriminate killings, draconian internal security laws, counterinsurgency operations, censored reporting, thieves’ notes called memoranda of understanding backed up by corporate patronage, and the eventual destruction of the land and its inhabitants. [4]

Chhattisgarh is one of the richest states in India in terms of precious mineral resources and home to a large segment of India’s Adivasis – the poorest of the poor in a poor country, and some of the most underrepresented in the political process. They are victims of a resource war that is being played out in the forests of central India. For more than three decades, they have benefited from the work of Dr. Binayak Sen, a pediatrician and civil liberties activist who has dedicated his life to providing medical service to the poor people of the state. He is also the national vice president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which has sent out fact-finding teams to affected areas and revealed gross human rights violations.

Most of those violations have been committed by paramilitary and security forces, the local police, and a militia known as Salwa Judum. Armed and supported by the state and national governments since 2005, Salwa Judum is a vigilante movement meant to combat the Maoists. Dr. Sen blew the whistle on the state governments’ arming of the Salwa Judum; as a result, he was arrested by the state government in May 2007 for having links with Maoist rebels. He was repeatedly denied bail that year and remained in judicial custody until 2009, when he was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court in Delhi. The trial against him continued in Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, and on 24 December 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison under charges of sedition and conspiracy. In April of this year, the Supreme Court once again granted bail, finding no evidence of sedition against him. But his trial in Chhattisgarh continues.

Rallies in India, the United States, Canada, and Britain demanded an end to Sen’s persecution for whistleblowing and peaceful dissent. Amnesty International has declared Sen a prisoner of conscience. “If I am free today it is also because of the national and International campaign to free me,” he said recently in an interview. [2] Since his release he has continued speaking out against state policies on many occasions, noting on August 13 that “I am proud to say that I was convicted under the same law that Mahatma Gandhi was during the British rule. It is ironic that the British who made the law have now repealed it in their own country, but the same sedition laws continue to exist in our country.”[5] When asked about physical and mental abuse of prisoners, Sen draws attention back to the unjust laws that landed them behind bars in the first place. Describing such laws as “a disgraceful reality,” for a democracy, Sen has reached out to those of us who believe in peace, justice, and equality, “to see that this process is halted as soon as possible. [6]

Which raises a question: What is to become of those throngs of innocent people languishing in India’s prisons, or of displaced indigenous communities? They have no access to Supreme Courts, no websites campaigning for their support and release, no semblance of redress. Theirs is a collective suffering – a kind of collateral damage. They are victims of a system set in motion by the state and the corporations who build their towers of profits on the lands of rural communities, by uprooting them, seizing their forests and waters, and wiping out many lives in the process. Sen goes so far as to characterize the situation as genocide. In his view, because “the Indian propertied classes do not have another country in which they can go and exploit, they are turning their gaze inward.” [6] But all is not lost; for Dr Binayak Sen and all other voices of dissent, the fight for collateral justice has only just begun.

***

Sometimes I wish it were all black and white like the media and the politicians present it him, he’s the bad guy, oh and he, he’s the good guy it’s all shades of blurry grey … It’s socioeconomic rather than religious … God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, then we’re doomed – as a species.

online conversation attributed to Bradley Manning [7]

Alleged to have given Wikileaks the now-infamous video revealing “collateral murder” [8] in Iraq along with a trove of documents detailing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pfc Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010 and held for months in solitary confinement on the US Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. At the end of April this year, he was transferred to the federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Public pressure helped force the decision to move him, but his attorney David Coombs also credits pressure from the government of the United Kingdom with forcing the move out of Quantico [9], where Manning, had been held in “maximum custody,” kept naked for long periods, and placed under suicide watch despite psychiatrists’ conclusions that he was not a threat to himself. [10]

David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, and the man who in June 2011 refused to testify before a grand jury hearing on Wikileaks, visited Manning about a dozen times from September 2010 to February 2011 in Quantico, and saw him “deteriorate” before his eyes: “He looked like someone who had been held in solitary confinement for some months. And I think that seeing him like that and seeing this being an ongoing process was my main motivation in continuing activism for him.”[9] Manning may be under less harsh conditions in Fort Leavenworth, but he still faces the prospect of life in prison because he put his conscience and his loyalty to America ahead of the Pentagon’s interests.

A couple of miles from the Secunderabad, India, neighborhood in which I grew up there is an army base whose official motto is spelled out on an arch over the entrance: Be Fikr Badhe Chalo (“Bash on Regardless”). That could serve well as a motto for the so-called War on Terror. That “war” has proved a colossal failure, its only accomplishment having been the feeding of its own ideology, while at the same time it has fed the ideologies of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other adversaries. As Wikileaks has revealed, 80 percent of the dead in Iraq are civilians. [11] Meanwhile in Afghanistan, coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians, and the Taliban are having a field day. [12] In both countries, the occupation bashes on regardless—regardless of the results, regardless of who is the US president, and regardless of who is in nominal control of the occupied country.

In order to continue fighting its unwinnable wars, the US  military created a bubble of “classified” or “secret” cover ups, and “fragmentary orders (FRAGO)”. [13] Wikileaks burst this bubble and exposed the horrors of war and occupation for everyone to see. At the same time that the Abu Ghraib scandal and the execution of Saddam Hussain were making headlines everywhere, the use of torture and violence was multiplying in the prisons, bridges, homes, streets, farms, check points, and mosques of Iraq.

Bradley Manning means different things to different people in this country. For some he’s a traitor, for others he’s a hero. But he is without question America’s son. The question is which voices will speak louder here in America? Is it going to be the forces that breathe fear and lies into its body politic, or will it be the forces of dissent? Either way, Manning will serve as an example.

I believe that just as the forces of the state, the corporations, the military, and the global elite are feeding off each other in their profit-driven assault on the world’s poor, we the dissenting voices—whether as lighting rods like Dr Sen and Pfc Manning or as part of the broader movement—must feed off each other and mobilize as a collective voice for equality and justice.

Binayak Sen’s release was a small victory for democracy in India. But what remains to be seen is if the United States, which claims to be the world’s second-largest democracy, can manage even that bit of justice in the case of Bradley Manning.

We continue to wait for Manning’s pre-trial hearing date to be announced.

Priti Gulati Cox (vanishingindia.com) is an artist. She lives in Salina, Kansas and, with CODEPINK is helping organize support for Bradley Manning in Kansas. Write her at priticodepink@gmail.com

Notes.

1. The Hindu, Mumbai, May 30, 2011

2. Sarwat Naqvi, India Unheard, July 29, 2011

3. The Hindu, New Delhi, May 24, 2010

4. Gladson Dungdung, Jharkhand Mirror, March 28, 2011

Arundhati Roy, Guardian, October 30, 2009

Anusha Subramanian with Suman Layak, Business Today, May 16, 2010

5. Sucharita Kanjilal, Hindustan Times, Mumbai, August 14, 2011

6. G. Vishnu, Tehelka, May 9, 2011

7. Ed Pilkington, Guardian, July 7, 2011

Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter, Wired, June 10, 2010

8. http://www.collateralmurder.com/

9. Democracy Now, July 11, 2011

10. Josh Gerstein, Politico, July 14, 2011

11. Angus Stickler and Emma Slater, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, October 23, 2010

12. Nick Davies and David Leigh, Guardian, July 25, 2010

13. Nick Davies, Guardian, October 22, 2010

 

Priti Gulati Cox is an interdisciplinary artist, and a local coordinator for the peace and justice organization CODEPINK. She lives in Salina, Kansas, and can be reached at p.g@cox.net. Please click here to see more of her work.

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