A Perpetual Sojourn

Vijay Joshi

Mother of Exiles, the statue of Liberty, proclaims "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

Most of the early European exiles arrived in America mostly for a better life. Some were forced to flee for political reasons. Some escaped religious persecution. Historically the meaning and the experience of an exile has changed and continues to  evolve.

All exiles are not made equal. There are multiple flavors of an exile. An immigrant belongs to a class lower than that of an émigré, higher than refuge- less than expatriate. An immigrant is someone who voluntarily leaves his native country to settle permanently in another country.  Émigré is an emigrant, the one forced to leave for political differences. A refugee is a person who has fled from  political persecution or for personal safety . Expatriate is someone who has left native country willingly with conscious effort to resist total inclusion in the new world.

In medieval Europe, exile was considered the worst kind of punishment. Dante when he was banished only about 100 miles from Florence, he treated his exile as social death which was reflected in his later writings in “Inferno”. There was implicit permanent attachment to the birthplace and no prospects of a return to homeland. Today being in exile is not as severe and as permanent anymore. Also social media apps like Skype, Facebook, Tweeter etc. has eased a lot of pain of displacement and has brought memories of old home closer to the new home. 

An immigrant longs for the world left behind in his native land but manages to belong to neither world. When he sees a new place, he sees some connection to the old place, forever searching for his old home in his new home. His loyalty, affection, culture are all a mix bag of old and new and always in a state of limbo. He lives a double life- his life outside his house; he tries, without quite succeeding, to belong to the new world, while his life inside his new home, he strives to replicate his old home, without much success either.

He is uprooted, upended and tries hard to without quite succeeding completely to put his roots down again. He tries to connect to the new world while not quite disconnecting from the old world. While striving to be stationary, he is always mobile, drifting while trying to be motionless, in transit while struggling to settle down, never knowing how to blend in, always going somewhere without getting anywhere.  He tries desperately to become a “new self”, without really letting go of “old self”.

He tends to do continuous retrospection, always imagining himself in the old world as preserved and frozen in his memory. He is frozen in time, culture, values of the old world, a world which has since changed and does not exist anymore; it lives only in his memory. He continues to cling to the old world or at least to the idea of the old world.

He tries to belong to two places and fails to belong to either place, trying to preserve traces of old identity, while struggling to acquire a new identity, losing both the identities in the process. He, who has become now a stranger in his own lands, is also a stranger in the new lands. He is a man of many faces while without belonging to any of those faces.

His accent, no matter how impeccably hard he tries to hide it, always betrays him as a person of foreign lands. An accent is a residue of old language which gives him away as someone who is not a native speaker of the language. An accent is the resistance of his subconscious to the new language.

Just because you have become an American citizen does not transform you or make you forget your allegiance to the old country, although your oath might force you or coerce you. Indian American strives to maintain native ethnicity, cultural connection by celebrating and participating in all the festivals, Bollywood movies, ethnic restaurants, cricket, and by keeping religious connections by building various houses of worships, and continues creative pursuits by forming ethnic literary groups, ethnic magazines, ethnic newspapers in the adopted country.

Most of the Indian immigrants of my generation, who emigrated in or around 1970s, did so as qualified professionals who emigrated for a better future for themselves. This was followed by relatives of these early immigrants many of whom in their middle ages came for the betterment of their children’s future and then very recently H1 visa holders who settled here for a temporary stay and ended up as legal immigrants and there is the group of college students many of whom stay on after finishing their studies and become new genre of immigrants. Then there is the group of undocumented illegal aliens who live a marginalized life, although as wretched as their lives might be here, they feel they are better off here than they would otherwise be in native lands.  The attitudes, affinity to India, blending into the American culture are varied; each group has its own set of goals. 

Recently during my last visit  to the town I grew up in India,  I found cyber cafés, McDonalds, fancy boutiques touting Western  fashions, high rise buildings and night clubs, and  very little resemblance to the city tucked away and stuck in my memory. The lines between a native culture and foreign culture had blurred making the two almost indistinguishable. 

I realized then that although my home will always be alive and well preserved and frozen in the depths of my memory, does not exist anymore back in India.

Now I was at ease with myself. I felt at home in my new home in my new adopted country.

e.mail : joshi117@yahoo.com

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

The continuing tragedy of the adivasis


The killings of Mahendra Karma and his colleagues call not for retributive violence but for a deeper reflection on the discontent among the tribals of central India and their dispossession

In the summer of 2006, I had a long conversation with Mahendra Karma, the Chhattisgarh Congress leader who was killed in a terror attack by the Naxalites last week. I was not alone — with me were five other members of a citizens’ group studying the tragic fallout of the civil war in the State’s Dantewada district. This war pitted the Naxalites on the one side against a vigilante army promoted by Mr. Karma on the other. In a strange, not to say bizarre, example of bipartisan co-operation, the vigilantes (who went by the name of Salwa Judum) were supported by both Mr. Karma (then Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly) and the BJP Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh.

‘Liberated zone’

From the 1980s, Naxalites had been active in the region, asking for higher wages for tribals, harassing traders and forest contractors, and attacking policemen. In the first decade of this century their presence dramatically increased. Dantewada was now identified by Maoist ideologues as the most likely part of India where they could create a ‘liberated zone.’ Dozens of Telugu-speaking Naxalites crossed into Chhattisgarh, working assiduously to accomplish this aim.

The Naxalites are wedded to the cult of the gun. Their worship of violence is extreme. They are a grave threat to democracy and democratic values. How should the democratically elected State government of Chhattisgarh have tackled their challenge? It should have done so through a two-pronged strategy: (i) smart police work, identifying the areas where the Naxalites were active and isolating their leaders; (ii) sincerely implementing the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the land and tribal forest rights of the adivasis, and improving the delivery of health and education services to them.

The Chhattisgarh government did neither. On the one side, it granted a slew of leases to industrialists, over-riding the protests of gram panchayats and handing over large tracts of tribal land to mining companies. On the other side, it promoted a vigilante army, distributing guns to young men owing allegiance to Mahendra Karma or his associates. These goons then roamed the countryside, in search of Naxalites real or fictitious. In a series of shocking incidents, they burnt homes (sometimes entire villages), raped women, and looted granaries of those adivasis who refused to join them.

In response, the Naxalites escalated their activities. They killed Salwa Judum leaders, murdered real or alleged informers, and mounted a series of daring attacks on police and paramilitary units. The combined depredations of the Naxalites and Salwa Judum created a regime of terror and despair across the district. An estimated 150,000 adivasis fled their native villages. A large number sought refuge along the roads of the Dantewada district. Here they lived, in ramshackle tents, away from their lands, their cattle, their homes and their shrines. An equally large number fled into the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh, living likewise destitute and tragic lives.

It was to study this situation at first hand that our team visited Chhattisgarh in 2006. We travelled across the Dantewada district, speaking to vigilantes, Naxalites and, most of all, ordinary tribals. We met adivasis who had been persecuted by the Naxalites, and other adivasis who had been tormented by the Salwa Judum vigilantes. The situation of the community was poignantly captured by one tribal, who said: “Ek taraf Naxaliyon, doosri taraf Salwa Judum, aur hum beech mein, pis gayé” (placed between the Maoists and the vigilantes, we adivasis are being squeezed from both sides).

We also visited the State capital, Raipur, speaking to senior officials of the State government. They privately told us that Salwa Judum was a horrible mistake, but added that no politician was willing to admit this. Then we spent an hour in the company of the movement’s originator, Mahendra Karma. He told us that he was fighting a dharma yudh, a holy war. We asked whether the outcome of this war was worth it. We told him of what we had seen, of the homes burnt and the women abused by the men acting in his name and claiming that he was their leader. He answered that in a great movement small mistakes are sometimes made. (The exact words he used were: “Badé andolanon mein kabhi kabhi aisé choté apradh hoté hain.”)

I was immediately reminded of a politician in another country, George W. Bush. In his holy war, too, there was no thought to the collateral damage that innocent civilians would suffer. Admittedly, the jihadis that Bush was fighting were as bloodthirsty and amoral as the Naxalites. But did a democratic government have to reproduce this amorality and this bloodthirstiness? Should it not fight extremism by saner methods? The tortures, the renditions, the displacement of thousands upon thousands of civilians — in all these respects, Dantewada seemed to me to be a micro version of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Palpable indifference

From Raipur we went to Delhi, where we met the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the National Security Adviser. Their indifference to the unfolding tragedy was palpable. So, in 2007, we filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court asking for the disbandment of Salwa Judum. Four years later, the Court issued an order chastising the Chhattisgarh government for creating “a miasmic environment of dehumanisation of youngsters of the deprived sections of the population, in which guns are given to them rather than books, to stand as guards, for the rapine, plunder and loot in our forests.” By arming poor and largely illiterate adivasis, the State government had, said the Supreme Court, installed “a regime of gross violation of human rights in a manner, and by adopting the same modes, as [have] done Maoist/Naxalite extremists.”

The strictures of the Supreme Court were disregarded by the State government, which recast Salwa Judum under another name and form, and by the Central government, which continued to put the interest of mining magnates above those of the suffering adivasis of the land.

The killings of Mahendra Karma and his colleagues are the latest casualties in a bloody war that began a decade ago in Dantewada. What will the State and Central governments now do? The knee-jerk reaction, doubtless encouraged by editorial writers and TV anchors in Delhi, will be to call for the Army, and perhaps the Air Force too, to launch an all-out war on the Naxalites, regardless of the consequences for civilians. One hopes wiser counsels will prevail. The times call not for further retributive violence, but for a deeper reflection on the discontent among, and dispossession of, the adivasis of central India, who are in all respects the most desperately disadvantaged of the Republic’s citizens, far worse off than Dalits even.

In the winter of 2006, after my experiences in Dantewada, I gave a public lecture in Bhubaneshwar. The State’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, was in the audience. I urged that the rash of mining leases being proposed by the State government on tribal land be stopped. As it happened, foreign and Indian mining companies were invited into the State, without any attempt to make adivasis stakeholders in these projects. The consequence is that Orissa, a State once completely free of Naxalites, has seen them acquiring considerable influence in several districts of the State.

The social scientist Ajay Dandekar, who has done extensive research on the subject, observes that the rise of extremist violence is a consequence of “the complete mismanagement of democracy and governance in the tribal areas.” The latest bout of violence, he says, should come as a wake-up call to those “who place still some hope in the rule of law and constitutional governance.”

I entirely concur with Dandekar when he writes that “if even now the policy makers are willing to take the issues of justice to the tribals head-on the extremists will definitely be dealt a bodyblow in the process and their own legitimacy would stand questioned.” A first step here would be for the top leadership of the present government to reach out directly to the adivasis. The Prime Minister and the Chairperson of the UPA should together tour through the strife-torn areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa, promising the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act, a temporary ban on mining projects in Fifth Schedule Areas, and a revival of the powers of gram panchayats. That would be a far more effective strike against Naxalites than sending in fighter planes or massed battalions.

Courtesy : "The Hindu", 28 May 2013

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED