January 3, 2014

India Has Become a Dystopia of Extremes

by John Pilger

In five-star hotels on Mumbai's seafront, children of the rich squeal joyfully as they play hide and seek. Nearby, at the National Theatre for the Performing Arts, people arrive for the Mumbai Literary Festival: famous authors and notables drawn from India's Raj class. They step deftly over a woman lying across the pavement, her birch brooms laid out for sale, her two children silhouettes in a banyan tree that is their home.

It is Children's Day in India. On page nine of the Times of India, a study reports that every second child is malnourished. Nearly two million children under the age of five die every year from preventable illness as common as diarrhoea. Of those who survive, half are stunted due to a lack of nutrients. The national school dropout rate is 40 per cent. Statistics like these flow like a river permanently in flood. No other country comes close. The small thin legs dangling in a banyan tree are poignant evidence.

The leviathan once known as Bombay is the centre for most of India's foreign trade, global financial dealing and personal wealth. Yet at low tide on the Mithi River, in ditches, at the roadside, people are forced to defecate. Half the city's population is without sanitation and lives in slums without basic services. This has doubled since the 1990s when "Shining India" was invented by an American advertising firm as part of the Hindu nationalist BJP party's propaganda that it was "liberating" India's economy and "way of life".

Barriers protecting industry, manufacturing and agriculture were demolished. Coke, Pizza Hut, Microsoft, Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch entered what had been forbidden territory. Limitless "growth" was now the measure of human progress, consuming both the BJP and Congress, the party of independence. Shining India would catch up China and become a superpower, a "tiger", and the middle classes would get their proper entitlement in a society where there was no middle. As for the majority in the "world's largest democracy", they would vote and remain invisible.

There was no tiger economy for them. The hype about a high-tech India storming the barricades of the first world was largely a myth. This is not to deny India's rise in pre-eminence in computer technology and engineering, but the new urban technocratic class is relatively tiny and the impact of its gains on the fortunes of the majority is negligible.

When the national grid collapsed in 2012, leaving 700 million people powerless, almost half had so little electricity, they "barely noticed", wrote one observer. On my last two visits, the front pages boasted that India had "gatecrashed the super-exclusive ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) club" and launched its "largest ever" aircraft carrier and sent a rocket to Mars: the latter lauded by the government as "a historic moment for all of us to cheer".

The cheering was inaudible in the rows of tarpaper shacks you see as you land at Mumbai international airport and in myriad villages denied basic technology, such as light and safe water. Here, land is life and the enemy is a rampant "free market". Foreign multinationals' dominance of food grains, genetically modified seed, fertilisers and pesticides has sucked small farmers into a ruthless global market and led to debt and destitution. More than 250,000 farmers have killed themselves since the mid-1990s -- a figure that may be a fraction of the truth as local authorities wilfully misreport "accidental" deaths.

"Across the length and breadth of India," says the acclaimed environmentalist Vandana Shiva, "the government has declared war on its own people." Using colonial-era laws, fertile land has been taken from poor farmers for as little as 300 rupees a square metre; developers have sold it for up to 600,000 rupees a square metre. In Uttar Pradesh, a new expressway serves "luxury" townships with sporting facilities and a Formula One racetrack, having eliminated 1225 villages. The farmers and their communities have fought back, as they do all over India; in 2011, four were killed and many injured in clashes with police.

For Britain, India is now a "priority market" -- to quote the government's arms sales unit. In 2010, David Cameron took the heads of the major British arms companies to Delhi and signed a $700 million contract to supply Hawk fighter-bombers. Disguised as "trainers", these lethal aircraft were used against the villages of East Timor. They may well be the Cameron government's biggest single "contribution" to Shining India.

The opportunism is understandable. India has become a model of the imperial cult of "neo-liberalism" -- almost everything must be privatized, sold off. The worldwide assault on social democracy and the collusion of major parliamentary parties -- begun in the US and Britain in the 1980s -- has produced in India a dystopia of extremes and a spectre for us all.

Whereas Nehru's democracy succeeded in granting the vote -- today, there are 3.2 million elected representatives -- it failed to build a semblance of social and economic justice. Widespread violence against women is only now precariously on a political agenda. Secularism may have been Nehru's grand vision, but Muslims in India remain among the poorest, most discriminated against and brutalised minority on earth. According to the 2006 Sachar Commission, in the elite institutes of technology, only four out of 100 students are Muslim, and in the cities Muslims have fewer chances of regular employment than the "untouchable" Dalits and indigenous Adivasis. "It is ironic," wrote Khushwant Singh, "that the highest incidence of violence against Muslims and Christians has taken place in Gujarat, the home state of Bapu Gandhi."

Gujarat is also the home state of Narendra Modi, winner of three consecutive victories as BJP chief minister and the favourite to see off the diffident Rahul Gandhi in national elections in May. With his xenophobic Hindutva ideology, Modi appeals directly to dispossessed Hindus who believe Muslims are "privileged". Soon after he came to power in 2002, mobs slaughtered hundreds of Muslims. An investigating commission heard that Modi had ordered officials not to stop the rioters -- which he denies. Admired by powerful industrialists, he boasts the highest "growth" in India.

In the face of these dangers, the great popular resistance that gave India its independence is stirring. The gang rape of a Delhi student in 2012 has brought vast numbers into the streets, reflecting disillusionment with the political elite and anger at its acceptance of injustice and a modernised feudalism. The popular movements are often led or inspired by extraordinary women -- the likes of Medha Patkar, Binalakshmi Nepram, Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy -- and they demonstrate that the poor and vulnerable need not be weak. This is India's enduring gift to the world, and those with corrupted power ignore it at their peril.


Enver Masud, "Religion Newswriters Association Bashes Islam," The Wisdom Fund, December 6, 1999

[It was equally convenient to blame the intrusion of Islam into India for Hinduism's fallen state, even for the caste system, and to describe Hindus as slaves of Muslim tyrants: a terrible fate from which the British had apparently rescued them in order to prepare their path to a high stage of civilisation.

These ideas about the Muslim tyrants, Hindu slaves and British philanthropists were originally set out in such influential books as James Mill's History of British India, which now tell you more about the proselytising vigour of some Enlightened Scots and utilitarians than about Indian history.--Pankaj Mishra, "How the British invented Hinduism,", August 26, 2002]

Luke Harding, "Heart of Darkness," Guardian, September 15, 2003

IN THE BEGINNING. THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. ONE WAS A VAST, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semifeudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England. . . .

Though governed by Muslims under a legal system based loosely on sharia law, its millions of non-Muslim subjects - Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists - were allowed freedom of conscience and custom.

This empire was ruled by the world's most powerful man, Akbar the Great. Akbar was one of the most successful military commanders of all time, a liberal philosopher of distinction and a generous patron of the arts. . . . His hobbies were discussing metaphysics--Alex Von Tunzelmann, "Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire," Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (August 7, 2007)

Rama Lakshmi, "Hindus Detail Involvement In Deadly '02 Riots in India On Video, Assailants Tell of State Collusion," The Washington Post, October 26, 2007

"Inside The World's First Billion-Dollar Home,", April 30, 2008

William Dalrymple, "Nine Lives In Search of the Sacred in Modern India," Knopf (June 15, 2009)

"The Truth About Resources, Markets, Capitalism, War," The Wisdom Fund, November 11, 2009

PHOTOS: "Inside the Life of the Ambani Family, Owners of the World's First Billion Dollar Home," Vanity Fair, 2012

"US restores ties with Narendra Modi as he is tipped to be next Indian PM,", February 13, 2014

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Nine hours, two sessions, 71 questions; yet, as a new book examines, all SIT's done is put Modi's defence on record, not challenge contradictions,", February 17, 2014

Heather Timmons and Arshiya Khullar, "Narendra Modi's track record in Gujarat is not the runaway success he claims,", April 7, 2014

[Modi, implicated in a massacre in 2002 while chief minister of Gujarat, has been elected as India's new prime minister. Is he a dangerous neo-fascist, as some say, or the strongman reformer that this country of 1.2 billion people craves?--William Dalrymple, "Narendra Modi: man of the masses,", May 12, 2014]

[His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer - through privatisation or outright gifts - of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies - India's biggest businessmen - have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.--Pankaj Mishra, "The new face of India: With the rise of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi culminating in this week's election, Pankaj Mishra asks if the world's largest democracy is entering its most sinister period since independence,", May 16, 2014]

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, "An open letter to Narendra Modi,", May 19, 2014

Anu Anand Hall, "An open letter to all you ABCD Modi-maniacs out there,", October 1, 2014

"American Justice Centre to Challenge Immunity Clause in Case Against PM Modi," The Citizens Bureau, October 21, 2014

Debunking the Gandhi Myth: Arundhati Roy, October 21, 2014

Rajan Menon, "The India Myth,", October 23, 2014

[Right-wing assailants have stopped weddings between interfaith couples from taking place. They have even forced married women to desert their Muslim husbands, and to marry Hindus instead.

The men behind these attacks are no mere vigilantes; they represent extreme right-wing groups with great political clout, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal, and even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.--Sonia Faleiro, "An Attack on Love,", October 31, 2014]

China Hand, "Is Narendra Modi the Leader of the World's Largest Democracy . . . Or the World's Most Successful Fascist?,", November 21, 2014

Imtiaz Akhtar, "The Myth of India as a Superpowert: A Fascist Model of Development,", December 11, 2014

[ . . . in the advent of a nuclear catastrophe of whatever kind, American companies would not, in India, be liable for damages, civil or criminal. India resisted for ten years; under Modi it caved. --Norman Pollack, "Obama's India Visit: Shill for American Capitalism,", January 26, 2015]

Discussion: "India's Daughter," NDTV, March 4, 2015

Shobhaa De, "'India's Daughter Banned?' It Should be Compulsory Viewing,", March 4, 2015

[The chilling reminder midway through the film, that 250 members of Parliament have been accused of rape, shows that the political leaders of the country are complicit in perpetuating India's rape culture.--Beejoli Shah, "India's Daughter makes me want to defend India. It's the wrong impulse,", March 9, 2015

Dorothy M Figueira, "A new class of Aryans: Narendra Modi's electoral campaign was premised on a government for 'daridra narayan' but he seems to be busy creating a class of new Aryans,", April 2, 2015

Praful Bidwai, "Modi Government: In service of Corporates and Hindutva,", May 28, 2015

[Various cricket boards have been converted into cosy clubs with top politicians and businessmen functioning outside the ambit of regulation and in control of huge sums of money. Among such politicians was the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and his Man Friday, present BJP chief Amit Shah. In 2009, Narendra Modi was elected president of the cash-rich Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) and Shah was elected vice president.--Brinda Karat, "The government's defence of the indefensible underlines the importance of being Lalit Modi,", June 19, 2015

[The Modi government is using yoga as a cult to regiment Indian society. Sunday's carnival is the latest act in an invidious campaign by the Hindu fundamentalists, which began with Modi's ascendancy to power, aimed at making India a "Hindu nation."--M K Bhadrakumar, "The Yogi and the Hindu,", June 23, 2015]

[By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. . . . Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews--William Dalrymple, "The Great Divide: The violent legacy of Indian Partition," New Yorker, June 29, 2015]

Shoaib Daniyal, "Fact check: India wasn't the first place Sanskrit was recorded - it was Syria,", June 30, 2015

[It is democracy for those who agree. The rest experience a more nightmarish scenario.--Vijay Prashad, "Modi's Scandals: a Delhi Diary,", July 16, 2015]

The surprising truth of open defecation in India, July 31, 2015

Head to Head - Is Modi's India flirting with fascism?, December 25, 2015

Arnab Goswami vs Dr Zakir Naik, July 8, 2016

Karolina Goswami: Why is the international media unfair to India?

[Adityanath is facing criminal charges of attempted murder, defiling a place of worship and inciting riots--Michael Safi, "Controversial Hindu priest chosen as Uttar Pradesh chief minister,", March 19, 2017]

['A cow is not an animal,' says Gujarat Law Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja. 'It is a symbol of universal life'--Shehab Khan, "Slaughtering cows now punishable with life imprisonment in Gujarat,", April 1, 2017

[Rifath Shaarook's 64-gram (0.14 lb) device was selected as the winner in a youth design competition.--"Indian teen builds world's 'lightest satellite',", May 16, 2017]

["The Islamophobia has filtered down to a stage where all conservative Muslims are seen as possible terrorists; the distinction between conservatism and extremism has got blurred."--Saif Khalid, "Zakir Naik: Why India wants to arrest the preacher,", May 23, 2017]

[not a single recommendation by the Sachar Committee or the Justice Srikrishna Committee were implemented by the "secular" Congress.--Rana Ayyub, "My Concerns Right Now For India,", June 4, 2017]

Frank Schell, "India's Narendra Modi: Three Years On,", June 13, 2017

"Demonetisation: 'What India has done is commit a massive theft of people's property -- a shocking move for a democratically elected government', says Steve Forbes,", June 29, 2017

Modi's Israel Trip Continues India's Rightward Drift, July 5, 2017

[Mahatma Gandhi's pronouncements on matters of grave importance, is this : "The Hindu religion prohibited cow slaughter for the Hindus, not for the world. The religious prohibition came from within. Any imposition from without meant compulsion. Such compulsion was repugnant to religion."--"Open Letter From Mani Shankar Aiyar To Swapan Dasgupta,", July 5, 2017]

[In India today, nationalism has a religion. Hinduism. We may pussyfoot around it and refer to it as Hindutva--Farzana Versey, "The Murder of Muslims,", July 21, 2017]

[The woman, Akhila Ashokan, who prefers to be known as Hadiya, converted to Islam from Hinduism while studying medicine in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Last year, she met Shafin Jahan, a Muslim, and they married in December. Her livid father went to the Kerala high court demanding that Hadiya be returned to his custody.--Amrit Dhillon, "Widespread shock as supreme court endorses dissolution of union between woman from Hindu family and Muslim man,", August 20, 2017]

[33 million children from ages 5 to 18 are working--Josh Jacobs and Reeva Misra, "Child labor: The inconvenient truth behind India's growth story,", August 21, 2017]

[The ruling has implications for the government's vast biometric ID scheme, covering access to benefits, bank accounts and payment of taxes.--"Indian Supreme Court in landmark ruling on privacy,", August 24, 2017]

Prabhat Patnaik, "The RBI Report And The Truth About Demonetization,", August 31, 2017

FE Online, "Why Steve Forbes called demonetisation a 'massive theft of people's property',", September 4, 2017

"India was richest country in the world when ruled by Muslims," September 21, 2017

[Hindus, Hindustan and Hinduism have no connection with ancient India, prior to 12th century. They began to get accepted gradually after 16th century by a larger populace. . . .

Hindu, Hindustan and Hinduism - were coined and popularised by Muslims and Christians--Devdan Chaudhuri, "How did Hindus become Hindu and why Hindutva is not Hinduism,", October 17, 2017]

"Under Muslim rule, India was the richest country with 27% of world GDP: Shashi Tharoor,", October 22, 2017

Bhaskar Chakravorti, "One Year After India Killed Off Cash, Here's What Other Countries Should Learn from It,", November 2, 2017

Danielle Wiener-Bronner, "United suspends flights to smog-filled Delhi,", November 10, 2017

The New Maharajas, December 13, 2017

[The complaint against journalist Rachna Khaira came after she wrote an article in the Tribune newspaper saying that reporters were able to buy access to addresses, emails and phone numbers of a billion citizens for about $8.--Vidhi Doshi, "An Indian journalist exposed a huge breach in a government database. Now she's facing a police complaint,", January 8, 2018]

"India Supreme Court judges: Democracy is in danger,", January 12, 2018

Mani Shankar Aiyar, "Modi-Netanyahu Truly Made For Each Other,", January 17, 2018

[Aadhaar, India's grand program to provide a unique 12-digit identification number to each of its 1.3 billion residents, appears to be collapsing under its own ambitions.--Reetika Khera, "Why India's Big Fix Is a Big Flub,", January 21, 2018]

India: Exploring Delhi, DW Documentary, February 22, 2018

The Editorial Board, "Modi's Long Silence as Women in India Are Attacked,", April 16, 2018

Apoorvanand, "How India's institutions are failing Muslims,", May 3, 2018

"Inequality in India can be seen from outer space,", May 27, 2018

[Recently, the NITI Aayog released a report that highlighted the gravity of India's water situation. The country is facing its worst water crisis in history and if no action is taken to address this, the demand for water would far outstrip its supply by 2030. In fact, even by 2020, it is expected that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater.--Amit Kapoor, "India staring down the barrel of a major water crisis,", June 26, 2018]

James Crabtree, "The staggering rise of India's super-rich,", July 10, 2018

[The changes in the cattle industry mirror what's happening nationally for many of India's 172 million Muslims, for whom lynchings, hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric from a host of legislators from Modi's party have taken a toll.--Annie Gowen, "Cows are sacred to India's Hindu majority. For Muslims who trade cattle, that means growing trouble,", July 16, 2018]

"India - the good, the bad and the ugly," TRT World, August 15, 2018

VIDEO: "I Know PM Modi Admired Jawaharlal Nehru,", September 12, 2018

[Vivek is more than just an activist film; it is an essential, urgent history lesson that we can ignore only at our own peril--Saibal Chatterjee, "This Documentary Is Aimed At Pricking The Conscience Of All Indians,", September 15, 2018]

[But Patel's conduct during the violence that accompanied Partition stands in stark contrast to Modi's in 2002. Both Patel and Modi were faced with the serious breakdown of law and order in their respective domains, involving violence and rioting against the Muslims. In Delhi in 1947, Patel immediately and effectively moved to ensure the protection of Muslims, herding 10,000 in the most vulnerable areas to the security of Delhi's Red Fort. Because Patel was afraid that local security forces might have been affected by the virus of communal passions, he moved army troops from Madras and Pune to Delhi to ensure law and order. Patel made it a point to send a reassuring signal to the Muslim community by attending prayers at the famous Nizamuddin Dargah to convey a clear message that Muslims and their faith belonged unquestionably on the soil of India. Patel also went to the border town of Amritsar, where there were attacks on Muslims fleeing to the new Islamic state of Pakistan, and pleaded with Hindu and Sikh mobs to stop victimising Muslim refugees.--Shashi Tharoor, "Why I Am A Hindu," Scribe US; US edition (October 2, 2018), page 209]

Parrikar, Times of India, March 18, p 11 Vidhi Doshi, "Patel's 600-Foot Statue Reflects PM Modi's 'Political Ego': Foreign Media,", October 29, 2018

Vikas Pandey, "Allahabad: The name change that killed my city's soul,", November 7, 2018

Alex Traub, "India's Dangerous New Curriculum,", December 6, 2018

Editorial: "Under Narendra Modi, India's ruling party poses a threat to democracy,", May 2, 2019

VIDEO: "nine people have the same wealth as over 600 million people"--"Anand Patwardhan on India's Election, Modi & India's Ongoing Violence Against Its Own People,", May 17, 2019

Zamira Rahim, "India builds detention camps for up to 1.9m people 'stripped of citizenship' in Assam,", September 11, 2019

Deepshikha Ghosh, "How Nobel Winner Abhijit Banerjee Described State Of Indian Economy,", October 15, 2019

[Under NSA, a person need not be informed of charges for 10 days, can be detained without charge for up to 12 months and doesn't get a lawyer--Ananya Bhardwaj and Debayan Roy, "Delhi Police chief gets powers to detain under NSA,", January 17, 2020]

Akash Banerjee, "Kashmir: 1yr after Article 370 Abrogation - Time to Celebrate?" The Deshbhakt, Aug 1, 2020

"How 5 August redefined national politics in India -- beyond Ram Mandir and Article 370,", August 5, 2020

Indian Farmers Lead Historic Strike & Protests Against Narendra Modi, Neoliberalism & Inequality, Democracy Now, December 3, 2020

David Simmons, "Democracy in peril: The India Story,", June 24, 2021

[RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), whose founding ideologues openly admired Hitler and likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany. . . . is the real power in India. . . . The ruling party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), considered to be one of the richest political parties in the world, is only the front office of the RSS.--Arundhati Roy, "'The damage to Indian democracy is not reversible',", June 22, 2022]

VIDEO: "British TV documentary on India's Modi sparks controversy,", January 17, 2023

Richard D. Wolff, Economic Update: Inequality's Insidious Spread in India, February 20, 2023

World’s largest population: why it could be a headache for India, SCMP, June 16, 2023

"Love jihad": Unmasking an Indian conspiracy theory, France 24, June 21, 2023

India in Dark Times, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Bijumohan Channel, December 25, 2023

What They Don't Tell You About Life in India, Documentary Central, January 11, 2024

Last Warning Against Dictatorship? DeshBhakt Conversations, April 5, 2024

Asia's Largest Slum, India's Richest City | Mumbai: A Tale of Contrasts, May 12, 2024

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