Violent images from Kashmir filled television screens last week. So let’s look at the tally. Seven Naxal-affected states, disturbances in all seven northeastern states and, of course, the ever-present strife in Kashmir – 15 of India’s 28 states have violent internal conflicts at present. In addition, we also have religious/caste/regionalism-based violence in other parts of the country. If that’s not enough, add honour killings to that list. While no one strife dominates, we are probably living in one of the most violent times in independent India. This in 2010, when India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, when we have a relatively stable government and we see more affluence around us than any other time. Three questions come to mind: What’s going on? Where will all this lead to? Most importantly, what can be done about it?
The answer to the first question – what’s going on? – can be the same cynical response, that this is what India is. Blame the politicians, corrupt officials, illiterate voters and that seems to answer the question. The question can also be answered by a usual ‘who cares’, especially for us city dwellers who don’t really see the impact of these 15-odd conflicts. The Naxalites haven’t attacked our five-star hotels, cinemas and train stations (yet) and the north-east movements are tucked away too far to be noticed.
Fact is, despite liberalisation, the benefits are not reaching Indians. Yes, they reach the top 10 per cent of Indians. However, they do not reach the other 90 per cent. In fact, these Indians get the worst of badly implemented capitalism – inflation kills their savings and purchasing power, their land gets stolen by corporates, their politician cares only about the rich guys. They are no advertiser’s target group, so the media dismisses them and they don’t get a voice. Every now and then, a politician comes and tosses cheap rice or wheat at them, keeps them alive on drip-feed, and hopes to swing some votes. Our rural poor never see the benefits of liberalisation.
So while we might debate endlessly on whether the CRPF is adequate to fight the Naxals, and whether the army is doing a good job in Kashmir or not, the fact is that in these discussions we are only addressing the symptoms. We are trying to bring the fever down while the infection is what needs to be cured. We don’t need Crocin, we need strong antibiotics. And unless the rural or underprivileged Indian youth sees a better life coming, the infection is only going to grow. From 15 states, we could have all 28 states infected. Trouble is brewing, and the cities are ignoring it.
One suggestion is to use the massive youth student population. A radical move – such as exchange programmes between city and rural colleges – where every city student spends time in the villages, and vice versa, will help a lot. This needs to be done on a massive scale. The city students will spend time in the villages and infuse modern values there, and come back home with a better understanding of rural issues. There can be other similar ideas – incentivising MNCs to base themselves in smaller towns is another one. Sure, there will be lots of challenges but, frankly, there is no other way out. Unless we truly reform the core of our country, things will never really change.
One insurgency curtailed will turn into another, TV anchors will scream, politicians will offer a Crocin and the infection will continue to spread. Surely, that’s not the India we want to leave behind for the next generation. It’s time to pop the antibiotics and, most importantly, stay and complete the course.