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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Who Gains when a Poor Kills another Poor?: Reminiscing the Past and Reflecting the Present

Sunday 29 December 2013

by Sunil Ray

‘Bengali culture’ seems to have lost its resonance when I see a poor is killing another poor just because both of them belong to opposite political parties. Raping and killing of women across Bengal presents another antithesis of its culture that seems to have lost its equilibrium. The society has now reached the height of dehumanisation the State is celebrating. All these lead me to argue that what Bengal has been witnessing today is one of the greatest crises of humanity—the last phase of which finally shook the very essence of Bengali consciousness, that is, raping and killing of a college girl. The cry of the womenfolk in the wake of such an incident of rape for the complete elimination of those who slaughter their daughters must not be dumped as an isolated protest movement. It has to be read as a cry for complete reversal of the social order to end the crisis of humanity. What else does the march of the people on the streets of Kolkata by intellectuals, artists, novelists educationists, students, villagers show? This was no way different from the movements organised by the peasants of Singur and Nandigram. Not to speak about the land grab movements by the landless and poor peasants from the landlords under the leadership of the CPI-M that shook the foundation of feudal exploitation in Bengal.

It was a great awakening in the early seventies when landlordism (jotedari system) collapsed due to the peasant uprising of that time. I was then in my village, a non-descript village called ‘Simlon’ (Burdwan district) and used to see how the dispossessed agricultural labourers, the small farmers, the poor, living at the mercy of the rich landlord families, never knowing how to keep their head high, were out on the streets with a great sense of assertion that they had the right to live with dignity as much as a landlord family has right to live. I had seen them in tattered clothes with perhaps no food in their stomach demanding in one voice that they also had the right to command over land and other natural resources to live with dignity. The cry for freedom was undeniably the underlying force in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I saw with my own eyes how the poorest for the first time in history, as it were, could raise their voice against their total neglect by the order, across castes, creed, religion etc., to create a better society. I remember to have heard the poorest of my village saying: “We have now learnt how to keep our head high and survive with dignity. We will send our children to schools like what the babus are doing.” Today, when I reflect back after having grown up, I see its parallel in the Zapatista movement in Mexico.

However, the blunder that was committed by the then leading Left party and its politics was unparalleled in that such a great peasant movement was reduced to a mere land grab movement, not being understood in the proper perspective that it was a cry for freedom from all forms of repression in Bengal, beyond the dispossession of land ownership alone.

No society in its process of evolution to freedom can remain completely free from the oppressive forces. When the latter are displaced by the new system, their remnants remain subdued, and wait for an opportunity to retaliate. No doubt, landlordism crumbled in rural Bengal and I saw personally in my village how violently repulsive the oppressive forces could be subsequently to reverse the process against the poor who by now had learnt to live with dignity, for the first time in the history of Bengal. I had also seen how the poor villagers used to go hungry for months from April to July until monsoon set in each year and beg for left-overs and very low wage work. However, now when I go to my village I never see such things. Even in these months of the year, it is difficult to get an agricultural labourer, much before even the MGNREGA work begins. Each of the same household has sufficient stock of rice and other materials to eat. The biggest hurdle of food insecurity no longer exists. It is, however, not true that Bengal has turned out to be completely food-secure. There might be some pockets that are still battling against food insecurity.

But, there is no reason to be complacent about it. The poor achievements in the rest of the spheres of development, including health, education, infrastructure, and of course the growing mismatch between educated unemployment and availability of jobs—all these created disenchantment with the ruling Left party. The much-trumpeted ‘systemic change’ was pushed to the margins and in that the Central Government invariably stood out to be the pretext for ‘no change’ to have taken place. The politics of opportunism within Left politics at the local level joined the regressive forces that were growing silently and surreptitiously.

The ‘cry for freedom’ of both men and women from the moribund social and economic system was stifled and smashed to smithereens subsequently so that the search for societal elevation found its possible achievement in the inevitability of the logic of “partocracy”. A large chunk of people from the middle strata, that had also the history of shedding off ambivalence and sacrificing their lives for the country as they dreamt that they would create a new world in the days to come, was pushed to the periphery while the leadership of the movement that longed for the liberation of humanity passed on to those who were actually opposed to it. The latter discovered paradise in the practices of ‘partocracy’ that gradually led to the growth of ‘fascism in rural Bengal. Consequent to it, rural Bengal witnessed alienation of the masses for the first time perhaps from the Left movement.

The poor performance of the government in the following years in providing basic conditions for survival and growth of the poor people, as mentioned earlier deepened such a process of alienation. The politics of retaliation that was perpetrated by the repressive forces, which had passively survived during the Left regime, left no stone unturned to reinforce the alienation process to ensure that they could come back with a vengeance. Fascism reappears now under the shadow of democracy.

Bengal is at present a site of retaliation in the political map. The cultural values of Bengal—that, knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly, protected, nurtured and projected the ‘values of humanism’ defying the inhuman values governing men or women from social and religious lives since the days of the Bhakti movement to the cultural Renaissance to the the freedom struggle—are now under siege. The soul of Bengali culture—that sought freedom from all forms of repression and that never sought any political, ideological back-up for its articulation—is now trampled. Of course, it would have welcomed political back-up had the latter created space for the former to assert. The great polarisation of all sections of population that took place for restoration of human values at two points of time, one during the struggle against British imperialism (before 1947) and the other against rural oligarchy (in the 1960s and 1970s) are two glaring examples in the recent history of Bengal.

But, then, why such a momentum lost its essence in Left politics in Bengal led by the
CPI-M? There may be many reasons as explained by many. However, to the best of my under-standing, it was ‘partocracy’ that was put before all human values—the very essence of Bengali culture that unambiguously speaks of humanism. No doubt a new Bengal was gradually unfolding with a piece of land available now to those who, unlike their forefathers, could never think of owning land. It was ownership, an identity which had no parallel in the history of the State, that created a dignified space for the deprived in society. Ironically, however, such a structural transformation was subsumed only to ‘partocracy’,

‘Once basic human values are trampled by partocracy that grew stronger over the years, politics of retaliation gradually got into the nerves of the common people in rural Bengal. With the growing intensification of partocracy, those who were still clinging on to the Left movement with the hope of fundamental social and economic change became disillusioned and that resulted in another round of alienation. All these finally culminated in a powerful force against Leftism. A new political formation came into existence with the single objective of elimination of Leftism in any form in Bengal. An ugly face of fascism in democracy!

The fall-out is dangerous. Individual identity is gaining legitimacy through the culture of retaliation and all sections are infected by it. What is wrong or right or what is correct or incorrect or what is humane or inhumane on the part of any individual action is now left to be decided not by the ‘typical’ traditional Bengali cultural values that spring from innate humanism, not by local community values, but by the political party that has the ideological foundation of fascism only. Fascism may have heterogeneous features with no uniform patterm of its birth and operation. But, the objectives are same. They are domination, repression and destruction of those who disagree to agree with those who are in power.

I remember a non-Bengali friend of mine saying to me: “Look Sunilda, is there a Bengali in Bengal now? You will see that each one seeks for his or her identity in terms of political party affiliation.” There is, as it were, nothing beyond it in that each one continuously claims to be superior to others everywhere from the teashop to the office, from educational institutions to local clubs, from village to town. The good part is that such a party-based polarisation defies casteism or communalism, the social virus that continues to eat up cultural vitality of the rest of India. Thanks to several movements that took place in Bengal leading to a cultural renaissance and never allowed such a virus to take the centre-stage in mainstream politics.

The message of what he wanted to convey is undeniably true to the spirit of universalism of humankind that extricated the humane cell of Bengali intellectualism from narrow confines. I had no quarrel with him. But, at the same time, how do I reconcile to the fact that one poor villager butchering another poor villager just because they belong to opposite political parties? An act which may be politically incorrect to the rival political party is a matter of conviction and judgment of one’s conscience. Be that as it may. But, why such a difference is taken to the level where one poor is killing another poor? Whose supremacy reigns? Is it the poor man who killed the other one?

If that is true, then I will argue against the contention that a new dawn is being ushered in Bengal with the poor ascending to power. Emancipation of the poor by killing another poor! No social evolution has such a historical record. What happens, however, is that such a retaliatory process facilitates realignment of the political process that never, as the past record shows, brought about remarkable change in society. This finally confirms its submission to capital with renewed vigour. While we get carried away by the constitutional legitimacy of such submissiveness, we are pushed to a point where we fail to situate ourselves to polarise on real issues related to our survival and growth with dignity.

So the question is: who gains when a poor kills another poor, a deprived is killed by another deprived? It is ironical that none of us cares to know about it. While no loss of life should go unnoticed and unaccounted for, it is a must for us to know who gains from it. It is but capital that gains out of the destruction of lives of the poor. It gains in two ways: (1) by way of injecting differentiation among the poor and weakening them in their bid to pull down the economic order that capital has designed for its proliferation; (2) preventing the poor from addressing the real issue of social and economic transformation that they seek for a better world to live in. Should we remain oblivious to the obvious writing on the wall?

The author is a Professor and the Head, Centre for Economic Studies and Policy, Dean of School of Social Sciences and Policy, Central University of Bihar, Patna.

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