In India, the year that has just passed started with hope but ended with anger and discontent. Hope, because it was thought that with the pandemic finally dwindling, the economy would revive and so would jobs and incomes. The mainstream media talked of a V-shaped recovery, the government again started talking of a $5 trillion economy (whatever that means). Although there was no reason to do so, working people, desperate after two years of extreme hardship, hoped against hope. The victory of the farmers’ movement in forcing the government to back down on the three agricultural laws also boosted the morale – perhaps, the government was finally beginning to listen to the people. However, this dream broke down in short order.
A few months after Narendra Modi was re-elected in 2019, India’s Parliament passed a discriminatory bill extending citizenship to refugees from six religious minority communities, except for Muslims from the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Following the controversy, a series of protests erupted across the country. The capital city of Delhi witnessed ghastly communal riots, as members of the minority Muslim community were targeted by far-right groups that rallied in support of the bill. To identify the alleged “rabble rousers and miscreants,” including the protesters, law enforcement officials acknowledged using what they called the Automated Facial Recognition System.
In mid-September 2022, the nine-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for its 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State. Because China, India, and Pakistan are members of the SCO, the organization represents about 40% of the world’s population; with the addition of Russia, the SCO countries make up 60% of the Eurasian territory (the other member states of the organization are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and now Iran). In its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, the SCO represented itself as a “regional” organization, although the sheer scale of the SCO would allow it to claim to be a global organization with as much legitimacy as the G-7.
In Kolawalpur village of Banda District (state of Uttar Pradesh), many farmers complained bitterly that the miners of river sand had destroyed their farms and standing crops. What is more, threat of floods in the rainy season and the river drying up in the dry season had increased due to the excessive extraction of sand from the river using heavy machines. Workers who were employed in sand mining had not been paid the wages due to them. In Mahawa and Bhirala villages of Sikar district (state of Rajasthan) the farmers and pastorals had been devastated by mining of stone and the use of dynamite for this. Water sources were drying up. Not just workers but even other villagers had fallen prey to stone dust related health problems including silicosis disease. After blasting work, stones were hurled here and there and could hurt anyone.
The virus of deindustrialisation that beset North America and Europe in the 1970s created a field of scholarly literature on post-work and post-industrial society. These writings led to the curious assumption that the digital economy would be the primary motor of capital accumulation; there was marginal interest in the fact that even the digital economy needed infrastructure, including satellites and undersea cables as well as plants to generate electricity and gadgets to link to the digital highways. This digital economy is grounded in a range of metals and minerals – from copper to lithium. Old steel, tempered in large factories, however, continues to be the foundation of our society. This steel – a thousand times stronger than iron – is as ubiquitous in our world as plastic.
It all started with a survey. In April 2022, members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), went door to door in the town of Warangal in Telangana state. The party was already aware of challenges in the community but wanted to collect data before working on a plan of action. Thirty-five teams of three to four CPI(M) members and supporters went to 45,000 homes and learned how people were suffering from a range of issues, such as the lack of pensions and subsidised food. Many expressed anxieties around the absence of permanent housing, with a third saying that they were not homeowners and could not pay their rents. The government had promised to build two-bedroom apartments for the poor, but these promises evaporated.
How will you feel if someone promises to remove an injustice you have suffered for years, but in the end leaves you suffering even more than before? Something similar appears to be happening to tribal communities in India in the context of the Forest Rights Act 2006. They were promised by the government that the historic injustice caused to them in the context of arbitrary classification of some of their land as forest land during colonial times will be corrected now. To realize this they were asked to file claims for the land cultivated by them but whose legal ownership was stated to be that of the forest department, hence leading to frequent harassment and eviction attempts. After a decade of such attempts the picture that emerged was that that several hundred thousand tribal households may face eviction from a big part of the land earlier cultivated by them!
On May 3 World Freedom Day ten international human rights and press freedom organizations (including the Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN America) expressed serious concern at the increasing assaults on journalists and media freedom in recent times. They called upon the Indian authorities to stop targeting journalists and critics, and more particularly to desist from prosecuting them under sedition and/or counterterrorism laws. This was just one among several several statements to emerge from international media and rights organizations to express concern regarding the fast deteriorating press freedom situation in India.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has demanded the release of both Mohammed Zubair and Teesta Setalvad, a prominent journalist as well as human rights activist, who too was arrested very recently. This statement has noted the contradiction, observed also by other media organizations, between such arrests and the statements endorsed internationally by the Government of India regarding freedom of media and civil society organizations. In fact very recently at the G7 summit and meeting of several countries in Germany the Indian government committed itself to the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement which involves a pledge to guard the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors and protect the freedom of expression online and offline.
Last week the 14th BRICS Summit took place virtually, chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The BRICS bloc (Brasil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) represents a key political, economic, and scientific force in the international arena. These nations represent half of the world’s population and their collective GDP is greater that $20 trillion. In today’s context, the significance of the BRICS summit is increased to the extent that the bloc represents an alternative to the unipolar world of the decaying West. What follows are some of the key points from the Summit’s in Beijing: Multilateral compromise in the defense of international law, which includes being more inclusive with less developed countries. Promote peace and international security without compromising the environment. Support for a an open, multilateral, transparent, inclusive, rules-based, non-discriminatory commercial system.
Scorching heat has again been accompanied this year by reports of acute drinking water shortages in many villages. The situation was supposed to be different this time because of an unprecedentedly high increase in the budget for drinking water supply in villages announced about 15 months back, but clearly the actual improvement has fallen far short of the high expectations raised at that time. The budget estimate in the 2021-22 budget for Jal Jivan Mission, the main program for rural drinking water supply, was increased to an unprecedented extent to Rs. 50,011 crore, while in 2022-23 budget this was again creased to Rs. 60,000 crore. However, only 26% of the previous year’s allocated amount was utilized till January 2022, as pointed out by the Standing Committee on Water Resources (2021-22), 14th Report, Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
Recently released estimates of India’s economic output show that people are not spending enough. The only reason this can be is because they do not have sufficient income, and their buying power is limited. On the other hand, prices of all essential commodities are increasing at a disturbingly high rate. This will further restrict spending. Industrial production has grown at snail’s pace, and with people not having enough to spend, demand will continue to be low and industrial output too will languish. Bank credit for large industries is growing very slowly. So, prospects of any check on raging unemployment continue to be bleak because there is unlikely to be a fresh investment that would create jobs.
May 15 this year came as a timely warning that India is in the center of the global warming crisis. On this day the maximum temperature crossed the 47 degrees Celsius limit in about 20 cities, mostly in northwest and central parts of the country. These cities also figured in the table of the hottest cities at world level on this day. Most of these cities and the surrounding countryside have been figuring prominently also in the longer heat waves which have been experienced since early April. Six of these cities are located in the Thar desert or the area close to it. These include Jaisalmer, Phalodi, Pilani, Churu, Bikaner and Ganganagar. Four other cities are concentrated in a region of 13 districts known as Bundelkhand in Central India which saw temperature reaching 49 degrees C in Banda.
When Leela Devi was married in Tilonia village (Ajmer district of Rajasthan), she had not heard of solar energy. But making use of the existence of solar centre of the Barefoot College (BC) near her new home, she learnt adequate skills within a year to set up rural solar units and assemble solar lanterns. Later as India’s External Affairs Ministry teamed up with BC to start an international program for training women in rural solar energy systems, Leela teamed up with other friends from B.C. to form a team of trainers. A training program has been designed for training women as barefoot solar engineers. When I visited the Tilonia campus (before the training program was temporarily discontinued due to COVID) , a group of women ( several of them Grandmas) from Zambia , Chad, Kenya and other countries was being trained.
There is increasing worry that in some areas of critical importance the situation in India has been deteriorating steadily during the last eight years or so. As India is home to about 18 per cent of people in the world, this is clearly a matter of urgent concern. Hence a review of these disturbing trends is urgently needed with a view to suggesting suitable remedial actions for checking this deterioration. Inequalities have been increasing recently to record levels. According to the World Inequality Report, after years of significant reduction of inequalities in the post-independence period, inequalities are coming back to their colonial levels in recent times. This report tells us that the bottom 50% have only 6% of the wealth, while the top 1% have 33% of the wealth. The bottom 50% have only 13% of the income, while the top 1% have 22% of the income.