Inspired by India’s recent farmer protests, immigrant truckers and students are bringing fresh militant tactics to their struggle for worker justice in the greater Toronto area. The results speak for themselves.
Arshdeep Singh, a 30-year-old Punjabi semi-truck driver in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, was left with a bloodied lip after his group’s protest on July 9 outside Sukh Auto, an auto repair shop. Singh was attacked by the shop owner, Sukhdeep Hunjan, and a handful of goons.
It was one of said goons who threw the punch that busted Singh’s mouth. Then Hunjan, a squat boss in a tan shirt, black pants, and blue sneakers, called the police—not to report the assault, but to report the protest.
The Peel Regional Police promptly sent 10 cop cars to the scene, but that didn’t stop the crowd of about 100 from chanting “Lutt band karo! (Stop the robbery!),” and other choice slogans.
Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan”translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old.
This was the second protest outside Sukh Auto that Naujawan Support Network (NSN) had held in a matter of months. Both protests were designed to pressure Hunjan to pay back wages stolen from former employee Rupinder Singh by publicly naming and shaming the boss. (A note for readers: While a number of them share the last name Singh, none of the persons interviewed for this piece are related to one another.)
The sign for the shop is now gone—and, according to members of NSN, Hunjan has changed the name of his business on Google.
Bold, militant protests like these are happening with increased frequency in Brampton, resulting in big wins for workers who have been exploited and taken advantage of for too long. And yet, the Toronto-area group’s emergence as a powerful grassroots force fighting for worker justice has been among the least reported labor stories in North America’s settler colonies over the past year (with some very limited exceptions).
Through campaigns reliant largely on direct action, NSN has managed to fight and win back over $200,000 CAD ($154,000 USD) in stolen wages for its members. The organization of about 100 mostly Punjabi immigrant workers and students (“Naujawan” translates to “young people” in Punjabi) is a little over a year old.
At the core of NSN is a dedicated group of volunteers and workers who connect with and support other workers who have experienced wage theft or other forms of exploitation. Mobilizing workers and community members to take collective action, like the protests in front of Sukh Auto, is an integral part of the organization’s mission—and a crucial source of its strength.
“Our benchmark—our filter—for organizing is that a worker has to be willing to come to an organizing meeting and fight for their rights while standing alongside other workers,” Simran Dhunna, a 26-year-old NSN organizer, told TRNN.Continue reading
by Selina Singh*
Thousands of Indian farmers have parked outside the capital Delhi for more than 100 days. They have pitched tents on five highways that lead to the city and say they will leave only when the federal government withdraws three new farm laws enacted last September.
Half the Indian population depends on agriculture for a living, and farms are almost entirely family-run. The protesting farmers fear these new laws will corporatize Indian agriculture. They may not know what happened to American farmers when Ronald Reagan was president, but what scares them is akin to what happened then—loss of income, more indebtedness, and the empowerment of a pillaging BigAg.
Most of the agitating farmers are from two Indian states, Punjab and Haryana. In both regions, federal and state governments buy up most of the staple food grain that farmers raise. The government also fixes the price of the grain it buys at a Minimum Support (or purchase) Price. To varying degrees of efficiency, this purchase system prevails in most Indian states.
Indian farmers, workers, and the poor depend on the purchase price and the government procurement system. For growers of rice and wheat, this price is a stable and assured source of income. Governments sell a part of the food grain they procure at subsidized rates. Roughly 800 million of the poor rely on this subsidy to be able to afford their food.
After introducing the new laws, the government assured farmers their income would double in two years. But farmers rejected the offer, saying they prefer the reliable MSP system over grand dreams of higher income. They say they will be ruined by the three new laws—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Favors for Corporates
Farmers are afraid of these laws because they create a parallel agricultural market, one where there are no transaction taxes. The existing markets run by state governments charge a transaction tax (it is an 8.5 percent tax in Punjab) for their upkeep. If traders would move outside the government-regulated markets to operate in the tax-free open market, farmers expect it will undermine the MSP system.
Initially, farmers suspect, they may get higher prices for their produce from private traders or agro-giants than in the existing markets. But over time, the government-run markets would start failing. Then, say the farmers, they would be at the mercy of agribusiness giants.
The new laws also permit and encourage contract farming, wherein farmers would enter into contracts with companies that would commit to supplying seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs to farmers (or groups of farmers), in exchange for raising crops demanded by the companies at pre-fixed rates. Farmers fear this will have private companies impose stringent conditions on what crops they can raise and how. The risk of rejection of crops over “quality issues” would forever loom over them. They are anxious that contract farming could reduce them to workers on their land, raising crops at the instructions of companies that they enter into contracts with.
They resent that the law on contract farming is formulated in a way that the contracting company would control the input as well as the output of farming.
“Any company we enter into a farming contract with will supply us seed, fertilizer, pesticide, etc. So, our inputs will be under the control of the company. Existing retail stores will go out of business [as they cannot withstand competition from corporate giants]. Then, the grain we produce will also go to the same company,” says Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who heads the Indian Farmer Union (Ekta-Ugrahan).
It is the biggest farmer union in Punjab and represents the interests of small and marginal farmers. A small farmer owns up to 5 acres of land, while a marginal farmer owns less than 2.5 acres of land.
The new law on contract farming bars farmers from approaching civil courts if there are disputes. It says they can take out loans to finance their contractual obligations, but the government will recover arrears on land revenue from farmers who fail to meet contracted obligations. That, farmers say, means their land (and/or other assets) would be auctioned to recover what they owe. In other words, contract farming is luring farmers with higher returns but it could make them even more vulnerable than they are.Continue reading
Journalist Rana Ayyub was recently threatened on Twitter by a police department in India with “legal action” for making a “political comment” and was ordered to delete her tweet. She had posted an innocuous statement on the impact on Muslims of the destruction of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, and on her hope that the Supreme Court of India would provide a modicum of justice the following day in a widely anticipated, politically charged verdict.
While the Amethi police department eventually deleted the tweet after an outcry, a cavalcade of Hindu right-wing commenters did not go away. They claimed she was inciting religious violence, tagged multiple Indian police departments claiming she was violating communal (religious) harmony, and amplified genocidal thought against Muslims.
Ayyub is a frequent target, receiving death and rape threats for years, to the point where UN officials felt the need to intervene by calling on the Indian government to protect her. But she was far from the only one on Friday. The swarming behavior of the online Hindu right and their appeals to police Twitter accounts to harass Muslims and dissenters were widespread.
The story of how India came to this point isn’t just one of bigotry and state violence, but also of the failures of capitalism in a state that turned away from socially conscious populism toward an increasingly pro-business set of policies in the neoliberal era. But to understand its particular context with respect to what happened to Ayyub and others, we have to go back to the 1980s and 1990s.
The Hindu right believes the site of the Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram, a mythological figure they revere. Without objective, impartial evidence, they also claim that a Hindu temple once stood on the site before, they say, it was torn down by the Mughals five centuries ago. After years of antagonism, in 1992 they sent 150,000 cadre to illegally enter and destroy it.
The incident sparked extensive violence against religious minorities across India and the region. Thousands were attacked or killed in India and Bangladesh, and numerous other religious sites were desecrated, mostly Muslim in India, mostly Hindu in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But the Hindu right didn’t want to just destroy the mosque; they wanted to build a Hindu temple on the remains. Meanwhile, Muslim institutions rightfully wanted to rebuild a mosque on the site. And so it went to the courts.
The Supreme Court of India recently sided with the Hindu right. It handed the site of the destroyed mosque over to a trust to build the temple to Ram. Following the decision, preemptive curfews were imposed in Mumbai, Bangalore, and elsewhere prohibiting the gathering of five or more people. This continued the policing of the public — particularly Muslims and dissenters — by the government and its Hindu right supporters that had begun before the verdict was handed down.
The Supreme Court’s decision provided judicial validation for one of the most incendiary acts of religious desecration in modern Indian history. It is unfathomable that five judges could come to the conclusion that the very force that demolished the mosque should be legally entitled to build a Hindu temple on its ruins. What the Supreme Court decision on the Babri Masjid shows is that Hindu right-wingers have captured the state’s institutions at deeper than just an electoral level.
In all likelihood, so too does the work of the government archaeological department that the court relied on. The survey, which has not yet been released, claimed to find evidence of the alleged lost Hindu temple. Previous research by the Archaeological Survey of India on the site has been contested by historians as well as other archaeologists brought in by a Muslim institution claiming the site.
All of this is a stark break from India’s secular tradition. Secularism in post-independence India was always different from the ideas of secularism in the United States or France, for instance. For India, secularism meant the balancing of interests of different religious forces by the government and respect for all of them. At its best, it was about promoting tolerance and harmony among the people.
At its worst, though, it pushed Indians to primarily identify as members of rigid religious “communities” rather than by their social position as lower caste, or farmers, or workers, or women. For example, India’s treatment of secularism has allowed the Hindu right to obscure the widespread institutionalized sexism and gender violence that undermine women across religious lines by focusing on anti-women provisions in Muslim family law. (India has separate laws governing marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance for four religious communities: Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis.) It similarly fostered a continued flattening of the enormous differences within religious communities.
But this version of secularism made some sense as a political strategy when you consider the powder keg of institutionalized religious animosity that the British fostered over hundreds of years and left behind in South Asia. Their tactics on this front, collectively known as “divide and rule,” ranged from redefining the population by religious identity through the census, to separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus, to setting the precedent for partitioning territory along religious lines in 1905.
Given this context, much organizing during the nationalist movement took on a religious hue, led by key figures like Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The result — the last gift of the British as they handed over political control to the native elites they had cultivated — was the creation of national states on the basis of majority religious community — Pakistan for Muslims, India for Hindus.
Enormous social violence stemmed from resulting population transfers, killing over one million people during the partition into two states (later to become three with the independence of Bangladesh). The region will likely never recover from this original sin, hardened into national boundaries in the capitalist nation-state system, and provided with armies and nuclear weapons.
The lasting impact of the violence of partition on social consciousness — including on the left — can’t be overstated. By channeling social militancy into a liberal, communal framework, the trauma of partition foreclosed on any possibility of a leftist revolution in India at independence, notwithstanding important exceptions. Consequently, there was no deep land reform on a nationwide basis, as in China, or other sizable redistribution of assets and power to the majority poor. Parties on the revolutionary left faced a choice between state repression and oppositional electoral politics.Continue reading
by Serene Kasim and Saurav Sarkar, crossposted from Jacobin
On August 31, the right-wing Hindu Indian government labeled 1.9 million of its residents as stateless.
The official purpose given by the government was to root out undocumented people. But it is widely known that the true motivation was to displace Bengali Muslims from the northeastern Indian state of Assam. This was made obvious in speeches and promises made in the run-up to the recently held national elections that brought the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government back to power for a second consecutive term.
A noxious act in and of itself, the implications of the roundup are likely to be even more consequential for the future of the Indian polity, furthering a project of isolating and punishing Muslims while expanding detentions of undocumented people, Muslims, and others.
The instrument stripping 1.9 million people of rights is the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a now-arcane institution that was created in 1951 to identify who belonged to India at the time. It was reincarnated in 2014 and completed its work in Assam this year.
1.9 million people amounts to 6 percent of the total population of Assam and is two times the number of Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
The current incarnation of the NRC’s purpose was to identify undocumented immigrants from neighboring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh. But its reach goes far beyond.
The new NRC forced all of Assam’s residents to submit documentation like passports, land records, or birth certificates to show they had been in the country or were descended from people who were in the country on or before midnight of March 24, 1971, the day when Bangladesh went to war for independence from Pakistan, with India’s eventual armed support.
Given the paucity of paper documentation in India and the cumbersome nature of its bureaucratic machinery, an unsurprisingly large number of people have been adversely affected. 1.9 million people, including those as old as sixty-five, are now legally forced to go to tribunals and the courts to prove that the only country they have ever lived in should not detain them.
In the absence of a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, it is unclear what will eventually happen to those who are held in detention for ostensibly being undocumented migrants from Bangladesh; there is currently no legal avenue for deportation.
Concurrently, the government has ordered states to build detention centers across the country in places as far flung as Assam in the northeast, Karnataka in the south, and Maharashtra in the west (all states that have BJP majority governments, incidentally). It has indicated that its inclination is to round up Bangladeshi undocumented migrants across the country.
by Lavanya Nott
It is a weekday afternoon in early October. About fifteen women ranging in age from about twenty to sixty gather in a small two-room office in Jaynagar in South Bangalore. This is Dussera season, and on this day of the festival, it is customary to worship one’s work tools, so the women have brought along buckets and mops. They are here for a meeting, but before it begins, one woman performs a small puja, and another distributes sweets.
This is the Executive Committee of the domestic workers’ union that operates under the umbrella of Stree Jagruti Samiti (SJS), a non-governmental organization based in Bangalore, India and formed by long-time women’s rights activist Geeta Menon. The group is fighting for the rights and welfare of those in the unorganized sector.
The women gathered for the Executive Committee sing praises of the union, giving it credit for educating them on their rights. One woman, Saraswati, talks about how, after her involvement with the union, she is able to state her own terms and conditions to potential employers before being hired, thus tilting the power dynamic more in her favour. The women tell the story of a fellow union member Shaila, who was wrongfully accused of theft. Shaila was thrown out of her employers’ house, and was standing at their gate, crying, when Vonamma, the president of the Executive Committee, and other members of the union came to support her.
Vonamma was able to articulate to the employers that if they were intent on firing Shaila, they would have to make an official police complaint and find some evidence of her guilt. The employers finally gave in, admitting that there had been no theft. Shaila was unable to keep the job, but she was able to retain her pride and her employer was made to apologize. It seems like the community that the union has helped build among these women has been a major driving force for their strength—both collectively and individually. The women have been inspired by one another, and are learning from each other’s experiences.
Vonamma was seven years old when she began domestic work. Born in Bangalore, her father died very soon after her birth. Her mother—also a domestic worker—was left with the task of raising eight children. None of them received an education, and as a result, they also joined the workforce. Vonamma toiled away in a kitchen, standing on a stool that would raise her small figure to the kitchen counter, and was beaten by her employers when she displayed tiredness. Now she is twenty-nine, is unmarried, and lives with her mother. On this afternoon, she is cheerful and animated, and leads the proceedings when the meeting commences.
The Executive Committee is elected during the union’s general body elections. Women are recruited to the union through intensive fieldwork: SJS goes directly to the places where they live and work. Menon says, “The first step is to recognize that these places are no longer just slums, but labour colonies.” Most of the women in the union live in slums, and SJS’s work involves recognizing that these urban spaces are not merely dwelling places, but sources of labour, and that these women are economic entities. Making an effort to move on from thinking of slums merely as the residences of these women is making the effort to recognize the work that these women do—including daily labour in their own homes, in their capacities as wives, mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, caretakers, and as women living on the economic margins.
Hailing from various parts of South India, the shared characteristic among the women of SJS is a lack of education and skills. Most only went through a few years of school. For instance, Rajeshwari, the Secretary of the union, was pulled out of school at age fifteen. While this lack of education severely hampers the women’s social and economic mobility, Rajeshwari says that working with the unions has undone some of that for many of the women. They are in many ways more empowered to stand up for themselves and preserve their dignity. Saraswati, a member of the union, says that most of the women state their own terms and conditions to future employers, and inform them of their involvement with the union. It appears that being unionized has given these women a greater sense of self and belonging—some larger context and perspective from which to think about the work that they do and their legitimate, economic contributions to their communities.
Rajeshwari works for two families in Mantri Elegance, one of many colossal high-rise apartment buildings that have sprouted in Bangalore in the past two decades. These high rises house Bangalore’s ever-expanding upper-middle class—a generation of young software professionals nurtured and supported by Bangalore’s IT-dominated economy and representative of India’s growing neoliberal practices of large-scale consumerism and capitalism. The great influx of money that this economy has created has given this professional middle class that much more spending potential, leading to a greater demand for domestic help.
While most of the women have resigned themselves to lives in the informal sector—lives that, in all probability, will continue to be on the margins of Bangalore’s society and economy, they seem determined to fight for the rights and dignities they deserve, and more so, for happier lives for their children. The most difficult step in this movement appears to be the translation of these dreams of respectable wages, regular bonuses, and workplace dignity into reality. Two factors stand out more clearly than others as hindrances to the fulfillment of these dreams: firstly, the oppression and mistreatment of domestic workers is firmly embedded in Indian middle-class society’s psyche, and much of the struggle for these women’s rights depends on some level of malleability on the part of their employers. Secondly, there is a sense of inertia among the women when it comes to taking larger steps forward, especially with regard to their own literacy and education. Solving these problems—for example, mobilizing these women to participate in adult education programs of some sort—however, is an expensive, resource-consuming endeavor.
by Natasha Narwal
On September 11, 2014, residents of E block, Aya Nagar, Delhi woke up to see bulldozers at their doorstep. Accompanied by the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), they came without any notice and started demolishing houses, not even giving the residents time to save their belongings.
Sanhati reports that at least two were killed: an elderly woman struck by a wall and pregnant woman who suffered shock. Besides the injuries inflicted on the body, the residents’ minds have been scarred by the site of their houses, their investments of a lifetime being reduced to a pile of rubble in a moment.
After the bulldozers had left, Deewan Singh, a daily wage worker and a resident of the colony sat outside the rubble which was once his house. Seething with rage that contorted his face, he lamented sarcastically that the promised ‘Achhe Din’ have come consisting of a steep rise in prices of basic necessities and now not even a roof on his head. Singh was referencing a popular slogan used by the BJP during the recent Lok Sabha elections.
“The whole Aya Nagar is built on illegal purchase of land, then why only our houses sore their eyes-just because we are poor?” asks Anita Devi. Devi and her husband, migrants from Chapra, Bihar, had invested their life’s savings in their house. That house now gone, she stared blankly into the uncertain future, narrating her story while cooking in the makeshift kitchen she has managed to build from the debris of her demolished house.
Aya Nagar is a village located on the southwestern edge of Delhi, on the road to Gurgaon, a satellite city home to luxury apartments and the offices of multinational corporations. In recent years, Aya Nagar has been completely transformed in character into a bustling urban settlement. This is no exception, though, as it is the story of Delhi neighbourhoods like Chattarpur and Maidangarghi as well. This expansion in Aya Nagar was the result of powerful people from the village grabbing land belonging to the local government and forest land and selling it off to various migrants to the city like Singh and Devi, desperate to get a place of their own in this hostile city.
Initially, incoming residents to Aya Nagar were primarily from marginalized sections of society, largely dispossessed landless labourers and low-income settlers from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and elsewhere in India. In the last ten to fifteen years, however, the character of Aya Nagar’s population has drastically changed.
Various builders have purchased land from local real estate dealers and built huge buildings and flats to lure more upwardly mobile sections of the working population of the city. Thus, Aya Nagar has become a curious site of designer flats and sprawling markets standing amidst the very modest houses of the working class households that are being further pushed towards the margins. This is in contrast to most areas in Delhi, where there is a clear separation of middle and upper middle class localities on the one hand and working class localities on the other.
Singh came to Aya Nagar with his family in 2005 and purchased a plot of land from a local resident of the village who claimed that the land was his ancestral property and was in the name of one of his relatives. But, apparently, the land belongs to the Gram Panchayat, the local government. Despite purchasing the land and investing a lifetime in building a house over it, Singh is still an ‘illegal’ resident.
This is true for most of the residents of the area. They live on the hyphen between legality and illegality, in the ‘gray zone’ of informality neither fully integrated nor completely excluded from the city, becoming fully visible to the state only when they become an eyesore.
The establishment and growth of such ‘informal’ settlements like Aya Nagar have been an integral part of the making of urban spaces. To quote Gautam Bhan, “Like most Indian megacities, the planned city of Delhi is only a small part of the city as a whole, and historically it has always been so. The peripheral constructions and the ‘wait and watch’ game of post- facto regularization has, in fact, been the means by which much of the urban space of the city has been organized.”
Neither informal settlements nor evictions and demolitions are new to Delhi. The settlements in Aya Nagar weren’t hidden from either public view or the state. A community of nearly 5000 people with public services and an expansive built environment cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be covert. As Ananya Roy writes:
Informality is not just that which is outside the planned/formal, as some kind of neatly bound residual order that lies beyond the state and formal planning. The informal, in fact, is “produced by the state itself”. The planning and legal apparatus of the state has the power to determine when to enact this suspension, to determine what is informal and what is not, and to determine which forms of informality will thrive and which will disappear. State power is reproduced through the capacity to construct and reconstruct categories of legitimacy and illegitimacy.
If you have spent any time on social media that deals with India, you have run across the name of its new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The erstwhile Chief Minister of Gujarat is in the United States this week on a state visit, overcoming a multi-year ban on his presence due to complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms while he ran the state. He is, by all accounts, being treated like a rock star, having appeared before 20,000 fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A less trumpeted but far more enlightening visitor to the States is Manoj Mitta. Mitta is a reporter for the Times of India and author of two books on communal violence in India. He addressed a small crowd at George Washington University in Washington, DC tonight at an event sponsored by the Sikh Coalition.
Through a recounting of anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 and anti-Muslim ‘rioting’ in 2002, Mitta effectively laid out an argument that Indian democracy and the Indian state have a serious and ongoing issue with anti-minority violence that can’t be explained away as just two major episodes. He pointed out that there was a failure to hold perpetrators accountable in both instances, and that the impunity around the anti-Sikh pogroms helped lead to a political calculus in favor of anti-Muslim violence. This, he implied, pointed to a system problem.
Academic Atul Kohli provided a fairly convincing explanation for this system problem, why India’s politics over the last three decades have been so communal in nature. In brief, he argues that India’s governments have been pro-rich for the last 30 years, and this leaves few vehicles to mobilize the voting base. Communalism of the kind exposed by Mitta is one such avenue.
We see laid bare, then, the links between labor and economic justice issues on the one hand and the politics of communalism and other identities on the other; the neoliberals are using communal politics as a way to drum up support for a pro-rich electoral program that would otherwise be rejected.
“Fast Track” is an evaluation of Narendra Modi’s first 100 days as the hard right Hindu prime minister of India. Timed to roughly coincide with Narendra Modi’s coming visit to the United States, “Fast Track to Troubling Times: 100 Days of Narendra Modi” was released this past week. It comes after the election was concluded, but, the obvious objection holds, before enough time has passed to judge the government.
Thankfully, we can dispense with the idea that this government is starting from a blank slate. Each sections has a subsection that links current developments to relevant aspects of Modi’s record as Chief Minister, lending the report more weight than an analysis of 100 days would offer by itself.
Among Modi lowlights described in the report are a loosening of several rules around land acquisition for industrial projects that will hurt socially and economically disempowered groups, the use of anti-Muslim propaganda in UP for election campaigns, and heavyhanded pressure against members of the media to refrain from criticizing Modi or others. There are many others described in the report.
“Fast Track” is fairly comprehensive in terms of subjects, covering theModi government’s actions on “culture”, “development”, “economic policy”, “the Environment”, “women [and] sexual minorities”, “human rights”, and “religious minorities,Dalits, andAdivasis.” The independent sections are heavily sourced through links, making it potentially a more convenient read with a web browser than on paper. This design unfortunately takes away from a sense of linear narrative and there is some amount of repetition in order to allow each section to stand alone effectively. In general, the writing could be stronger; as it is, the report makes for a better reference text than a read.
“Fast Track” unfortunately does not have a separate labor section, but it does cover extensively the relationship between the state and the private sector, issues of social discrimination that are completely tied up with economic well being, and the question of development. Those interested in South Asia and its laborers will find useful information in this report.
The document is attributed to Ghadar Alliance, which describes itself as “an emerging coalition of Indian diasporic groups across the United States consisting of various social justice organizations active in the country for several decades.” (Ghadar Party was the name of a revolutionary nationalist movement in the Indian diaspora in the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century.)
The recent atrocities in Gaza have again refocused world attention on Palestine and the actions of the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. Israel is engaged in yet another exercise of what is euphemistically called “Mowing the lawn”- air strikes and military invasion undertaken on a periodic basis to subjugate the people of Gaza and make sure that Israel remains in control, on its own terms. The most likely outcome, right now, looks like a worsening of the status quo, with Israel tightening the clamps around the throats of the Palestinian people.
At first glance, the people of Palestine and the people of Sri Lanka would appear to have little in common. In point of fact, though, the two places are more similar than you might think. Both are descended from British colonies and became independent in the same year, 1948. Most pertinently, both areas experienced allegedly ‘ancient’ ethnonationalist politics of conflict in which there are calls for partition of the territory. Both areas have experienced a lengthy military fight over land.
When so many former British colonies have the same types of conflicts, we have reason to look to the history to examine whether correlation implies causation in this case. The first key question for comparison is whether ethnicity and land play out differently in former British colonies like India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, Cyprus, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Palestine, and Nigeria. All of these countries experienced territorial partitions under the logic of ‘communal’ separation. A tentative hypothesis as to why might look at the ways in which personal economic advancement in the colonial era was tied to the ability to stake a claim on behalf of a ‘community’. The second is this: does the organizing of politics into militarized ethnic conflict lead to the overshadowing of a pro-people and pro-labor discourse? In India, for example, the violence of the 1947 partition led many on the left to turn away from the politics of conflict as they witnessed the suffering of the people. Is this the case in Palestine and Sri Lanka as well?
There are, of course, key differences as well. The most notable one between Sri Lanka and Palestine is that Sri Lanka’s large-scale military conflict ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan government. Proponents of the Palestinian people ought to take a lesson from the end of that war; tens of thousands of civilians died under circumstances that are being investigated by the United Nations. Another major difference, however, would seem to offer hope: the world stood by and barely blinked while Sri Lanka endured human rights violations that continue to today. In contrast, the world is transfixed by what is happening in Palestine and Israel endures a level of scrutiny that is somewhat unusual among world states.