Walking With The Comrades and Idle No More

By: Jacob Taylor
on for GS206

In Walking With The Comrades, Arundhati Roy tells a story which describes her experiences walking with the Naxalite warriors across India. They are people who might be called tribal, as they are all indigenous peoples of many histories and stripes. All have fallen under the rule, by choice, of the Communist Party of India, due to the respect gained for the party and its members by 30+ years of work throughout India. The party has spent decades defending those who the government would not, and in the aftermath of the new constitution in 1950, which turned all indigenous and tribal lands into government administered lands, fought for their autonomy. In this will be answered questions concerning globalization of culture, of politics, of economics, and of the environment, and the effects it has had on the poor of India. Also examined will be the Native American movement, "Idle No More", which stands up against the Canadian government and the corporations who wish to use their land for profit without benefit to the people living there, and the parallels between the Naxalites in India and the tribes in Canada.

The government of India has acted, so far, as the facilitator of the globalization of the indigenous and tribal villages and people of India. Roy details Memorandums of Understanding that have been created, largely in secret, between the government and the mining operations. She says that several hundred exist, but there can be no certainty of the number because the details are never public. Because the indigenous people do not wish to move off the land they have lived on since before India was a state, India must find a way to make sure those MoU's are fulfilled (because, though pitifully, the government does profit from them), and thus that those people move. Roy alleges that what the government has done is frame this attempt to exploit the land under which they live as what the government calls an "internal security challenge", allowing them the use of the military to enforce it. She speaks several times about the language the government uses, even using it herself several times to chidingly refer to the friends she is making among these Naxalites as "senselessly violent, bloodthirsty insurgents", as the members of parliament and the media do. In this way the government can, and has, militarized the clearing of people. It is active displacement by the government, on behalf of the corporations. This land has been the home of these people since before India was a state, and so it's a direct attack on the local culture to take their land away like this. She gives the example of the Kondh, who worship a particular mountain in Andhra Pradesh, which also happens to be a source of bauxite that Vedanta wishes to extract and sell. So, the Kondh must be moved to make room for the mining operation. Enter the Salwa Judum, who are in charge of creating an environment where indigenous peoples will move into the roadside camps the government has created to house the people it's shoving off the land. "Between June and December 2005, it burned, killed, raped and looted its way through hundreds of villages of South Dantewada" (Roy, loc:745). Roy says the military term for these camps is called "strategic hamleting"[sic]. The operations those months have pushed 60,000 Indians into the camps. The next step was proclaimed by union home minister Chidambaram, former non-executive director of Vedanta (conflict of interest!), and was proclaimed "Operation Green Hunt", to flush the tribals out of the forests in central India, so that their lands may be exploited and the Maoists (Naxalites) killed. This militarization is also exemplified by the Jungle Warfare College, which is being run, at 8000 police per 6 weeks, to train police in jungle warfare. This training teaches regular police officers how to be guerrilla fighters in the forest, so that they may better counteract the Naxalites. This is a lot of examples, but what these examples show is systematic use, by the government, of paramilitary and military operators to displace and dislocate tribal Indians from their land, annihilating their culture. The home minister even stated repeatedly, in public, that indigenous people need to join us all in the industrialized world, and that the change can be made by force if necessary.

Roy relates to us the stories of one of the oldest members of the CPI, about the time before war, before the conflict was militarized. When the communists first moved in, people wouldn't work with them. Then the communists showed them how collective bargaining worked, and led them to several significant victories in doubling or tripling the income per bundle on resources harvested from the forest. They saw the power of this collective bargaining, and that was about the time when corporations began to be interested in the mineral and forestry wealth of India. Back then, they had a choice about all of this, but no longer. The vision of the future has turned from hope to survival and warfare. Similar feelings are voiced by the Idle No More movement in Canada, where the indigenous people, so called "First Nations", are fighting in Canadian Parliament, as well as on the streets, to secure the right to their own land. As in India, the Idle No More movement seeks to uphold the autonomy granted to them in Canada's constitution, and just as in India it is denied to them by the government of Canada. The aborigines in Canada have standing treaties with the Canadian government, treaties that define their autonomy over their land, the ownership and management, and give to them the sole right to the resources in it. Teresa Spence, a tribal Chief in Canada, was at the time of the Democracy Now piece on Idle No More, in the midst of a hunger strike on Parliament's front lawn with the intention of getting a hearing with Prime Minister Harper, about upholding those treaties the government is not.

A large part of indigenous culture and politics is identity, and so any time a global or national power comes in and tries to subjugate or change them to fit the state or global transnational capitalism's needs, it ends in ethnocide, culturicide, or genocide (Smith, Eriksen, 103). This identity is strongly tied to both location and existent cultural structures. When systems of global governance are imposed on top of these systems, they naturally remove some autonomy (ideally some benefits are reaped in exchange). The problem here is that often these global governance structures (and this completely applies to the state when it steps in, as well) are top-down corporate style structures, based on certain assumptions about private property rights and what the ideal of "Freedom" is that everyone shares, whereas these indigenous groups do not share many if any of these. This results in an incompatible power structure being forcibly lain on top of another. Roy laid out how the Naxalite military structure, which was very federal and participatory, had been adopted – not imposed – by the people over whom the Naxalites were ruling. Every area was given its own autonomy, just how the indigenous people thought it should work. The Indian government, on the other hand, mandated how things went, in violation of their own treaties. The Indigenous in Canada are protesting the same thing, right this minute. These outside structures imposed on the locals do not benefit them. They destroy their culture and political autonomy, but also they never quite benefit the indigenous groups even in the best of cases. In both India and Canada, the government granting this land to the corporation has stipulated that they do a little "corporate social responsibility" and build some cancer hospitals or schools. Often these never materialize, which is part of Idle No More's complaint to the Canadian government. This type of exploitative economic globalization, essentially the forceful implementation of neoliberal economics and globalized capitalism, comes into immediate and violent contact with locals who do not often share the idea of private property rights, greed, or market based solutions to problems. They prefer people based solutions. So, who benefits? The government, marginally, but significant profits go to transnational corporations like Vedanta and Hindalco, who are at once profiting from the land being stolen (and resources extracted) from these tribal groups and failing to give them any sort of meaningful work or payment in exchange.

Part of what was described by Roy also was what Ritzer would call "squeezing" globalization. Communists partnering with indigenous groups partnering with environmental groups, all working together to create a new autonomous system outside the existent one, that actually benefits or at least preserves the existing rights of tribal peoples. Roy says, about the environmental impact of their military group she travels with early in the book: "If you weren't here, you'd never know that over 100 people had stayed here the night before. The only traces left are some small bits of ash from the campfires." This, versus the mining companies whose bauxite mining of "thirteen tonnes of stone and rock yields one tonne of bauxite. The 'Red Mud' in these stilling ponds is the toxic residue produced by the refining process in which bauxite is turned into aluminum" (Roy, loc:138). One of these systems destroys the environment in search of profit. It's not the indigenous one. An example that sort of pulls all of this together is that "[t]here's an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We're talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale" (Roy, loc:190). All of the land from all of the people in central India is being sold out from under them by the government to the transnational mining corporations, destroying their culture, the environment, and their political autonomy, and it isn't even benefiting them monetarily.

So, what are the indigenous groups in Canada and India to do? They resist! Canadian groups are petitioning the government while simultaneously running advocacy campaigns to unite their peoples under one banner while simultaneously staging actual sit-ins to block mining equipment from being delivered to sites on their land. In India there are the Naxalite warriors, an entirely volunteer army, doing battle with the Indian government in the forests of central India. From the story Roy tells, it seems like the Naxalites are moderately successful. They haven't been eliminated, and when retelling some of their history she says "They've always been what seemed to be exterminated, and then risen back up stronger and smarter than before". This state, not being eliminated, is however a rather low bar to set for success. The Idle No More movement has had better success in Canada, by tying lots of disparate groups together with a common cause – one touched upon in the Democracy Now clip is the protection of shared drinking water resources, which were slated to be deregulated. This would have not only affected First Nations but also Canadians and USA'ers as well. There are small victories, but I think overall what needs to happen is for these groups to bind to each other globally, through groups similar in scale to La Via Campesina, so that they may globally, and as one united voice, resist these, the bad parts of globalization.

Works Cited

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. "Re-embedding Identity Politics as a Response to Globalization." Sociology of Globalization Cultures, Economies, and Politics. Ed. Smith Keri E. Iyall. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2013. 99-105. Print.

Goodman, Amy. "Idle No More: Indigenous-Led Protests Sweep Canada for Native Sovereignty and Environmental Justice." Democracy Now!, 26 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2013. link.

Ritzer, George. Globalization: A Basic Text. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

Roy, Arundhati. Walking with the Comrades. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.