4 July 2011. A World to Win News Service. An important political event took place in London 12 June that has helped to strengthen the bonds of international solidarity here and support an important revolutionary struggle being fought in India. A meeting was held in the city centre, in Friends House, to oppose the vicious counterinsurgency war being waged by the Indian government, Operation Green Hunt, which has seen the deployment of large-scale paramilitary and military forces. Much of the fighting is concentrated in remote rural areas inhabited by millions of India's desperately poor tribal peoples, called adivasis, whose land is being sold off by the Indian government to large mining companies. The Indian government has declared that the war targets the revolutionary insurgency led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), with the Prime Minister claiming that the Maoists represent the country's "number one national security threat".
Operation Green Hunt has been accompanied by a clampdown on democratic rights that has targeted civil liberties activists, revolutionaries and oppositional media throughout the country, including through a series of repressive acts whose names are very telling: the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act. Unsurprisingly, the number of political prisoners in "the world's largest democracy" has been rising steeply.
The London meeting was thus an important way of rallying people in the UK to take a stand against all this, and to bring out the reality of events that have been largely hidden from view in the mainstream media around the world. The meeting hall was nearly full – the main organisers, the International Committee Against the War on People in India (ICAWPI) - report 500 people attended. Large numbers of people from London's South Asian community came out, and it also attracted activists from around northern Europe.
The programme started with a short video that had been put together by Indian film makers and musicians, which set the scene for the battle being waged in India's countryside. Then a representative of the ICAWPI provided some background and presented the speakers. Jan Myrdal, who spoke first, recently produced a work on the battle in India called Red Star over India, a title that evokes the famous account of the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tsetung, Red Star over China, which had brought that revolution to the world's attention.
Myrdal argued that the struggle in India's countryside is the most large-scale uprising of native peoples since the times of Christopher Columbus, and that its importance must not be underestimated by revolutionaries and progressive people. He gave details from recent travels in the guerrilla zones, and talked about how the insurgent forces are trying to build what he called "green infrastructures" as part of their efforts to change the world, in sharp opposition to the dynamics brought about by neocolonial relations that predominate in the Third World, and in particular India, where mining companies plunder the people and the natural resources. He also emphasised the shoots of internationalist solidarity with the struggle in India's countryside that are growing around the world.
Basanta, a leader of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), had been scheduled to speak but was unable to make the trip, and sent a short message in which he emphasised the need to recognise that the land and resources were rightfully the property of the masses of people in these countries, and that this made it necessary to give the international solidarity campaign an anti-imperialist character, in order to unite the people against their common enemy.
The next speaker, comrade Kolash from the Nepal Solidarity Forum in Europe, spoke of the bonds that united the masses of ordinary people in both India and Nepal, and how they were facing a common enemy in Indian expansionism. He traced some of the history of India's domination of Nepal, in particular the series of unequal treaties that have enabled India to take the lion's share of the country's most important source of energy, the hydroelectric power generated by the run-off from the Himalayan mountains. He pointed out how, despite the overthrow of the monarchy in Nepal and the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, India has insisted on continuing to enforce these unequal treaties, and has also intervened repeatedly to oppose a revolutionary outcome for the political process that has been led by the Maoists there for many years now.
Between the speakers, solidarity messages were read from a number of different organisations, including from Turkey, Canada and Italy.
The final speaker had been eagerly awaited, and received an enthusiastic greeting: Arundhati Roy, the celebrated author and activist from India, who has recently released a new book, Broken Republic, that includes her recent accounts called “Walking with the Comrades”, about the three weeks she recently spent in India's forests with the Maoist guerrillas.
Roy sharply exposed what democracy in India meant for the most oppressed, including that over 400 million people are living on less than a dollar a day. She described how Indian democracy was the exclusive preserve of the high castes, the rich and powerful, and did not extend to the vast masses of poor dalits ("untouchables") and adivasis, nor to staunch opponents of the status quo. She made light of her celebrity status, remarking ironically on how many times she'd heard the phrase, “author of the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things”.
One member of the audience challenged her, arguing that in many places people are not allowed to go around criticising their country as she did India. Roy responded, that, it's true, that there are countries where she would not be allowed to write her latest work, but it's also true that if she were not Arundhati Roy, author of a Booker prize-winning novel, she would already be in jail – that many others who were doing nothing more than saying the same thing that she is saying were already there. This gave her an important opportunity and responsibility. And she herself has already come under attack: her home was pelted with stones by reactionary demonstrators angry at her statement that Kashmir, the disputed province between Pakistan and India, deserves self-determination, and the Indian government is currently weighing whether to charge her with sedition for her statements.
In regard to the Indian government's efforts to attack the Maoists as “outside agitators”, she said: "It is impossible to distinguish the Maoists from the adivasis: 90 percent of the Maoist guerrillas are adivasi, their resistance is older than the Maoist movement, but it would not be what it is today without the action of the Maoists. In turn, the Maoists are not the same as 40 years ago; they and their struggle would not be what they are today without the adivasis." She described the feelings aroused in her as she slept in the guerrilla camps, under the open sky, in what she describes as a "thousand star hotel".
One important point of controversy that came up frequently during her trip to London was the use of violence by the revolutionary forces. "I don't condemn it any more," she told the Guardian newspaper, in an interview preceding the meeting. "If you're an adivasi living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation."
Roy highlighted the importance of women in the revolutionary struggle. She pointed out that many feminist organisations in India's cities work with NGOs to oppose women's oppression yet ignore what is going on in the countryside. In particular she called on them to speak out against the rape and terror that is being targeted against rural women as part of the army's counter-insurgency war.
There was a spirit of passionate debate about these and other crucial issues facing the revolutionary struggle in India, including on the part of many in the UK who opposed the support the British government is giving to the Indian state. Many issues were raised in the course of the Q&A that cried out for more examination, including in particular the role of communists and democracy. In her penultimate book, Listening to the Grasshoppers, Roy accused Mao of genocide, and one man in the audience challenged her as to how she could support Maoists while arguing that Mao committed genocide. When the questioner was met with a chorus of booing and hissing, Roy intervened and argued that this was an important issue that needed to be debated – and it does indeed, not least of all with Roy herself, as behind the young man's question lay fundamental issues of whether capitalism does need to be overthrown and whether a whole new world, free of exploitation and oppression, can ever be achieved. Ignoring these questions, in a world where communism has been the target of an intense propaganda for decades, is not an option for anyone who actually wants to do away with the source of oppression. But all in all the meeting concluded with a spirit of internationalist solidarity, and a hunger to go more deeply into the vital issues like these that had been raised.
The meeting ended with the ICAWPI representative calling on people to get involved in a series of efforts, including in a newly launched campaign to defend the Central Committee members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) who have been imprisoned, along with other political prisoners, and an international conference that will be held soon.