The recent claims about India’s poverty having fallen by around seven per cent provided a stark reminder of the violent times we live in.
Whether you believe the dubious new figures, the fact remains that a staggering amount of people still live in devastating poverty in India. We should therefore not underestimate the extent of this violence. It is too often a form of violence that goes unnoticed and is so institutionalised that it is seldom regarded as actually constituting violence. Billions in the world are however subjected to it every day of their lives.
The violence in question is not experienced directly as war or beatings, but its effects are just as brutal, lethal and lingering. How often are we appalled by the harrowing images that we see on our TV screens as people are bombed into submission, beaten into acquiescence or hammered to within an inch of their lives?
But when we walk along the street, do we regard the families living on the payment as having been violently attacked?
Do we perceive the unemployed, underemployed or low paid as having been beaten and bludgeoned? Of course we don’t. These people are, though, just as much the victims of violence as are civilians in war torn Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan.
Just because we don’t see bombs being dropped or beatings being meted out does not mean that the poor, the underprivileged and the destitute are no less victims of violence than those who experience it directly.
When government officials talk of poverty having fallen drastically and then try to shift the poverty line to some bogus 29 rupee a day standard in order to save on the welfare bill or even to legitimise ‘free’ market policies, they are as culpable of state violence as are the baton wielding police we see on our screens in Greece or elsewhere who put down people protesting against cutbacks, wage reductions and attacks on standards of living. On the surface, these politicians are merely carrying out the administrative or managerial roles of governance. After all, they are just implementing the policy decisions of ‘what is deemed necessary’ for the maintenance of a fully functioning democratic, civil society. Well, so the lie goes.
This form of institutionalised violence is culturally acceptable as ‘normality’ and can often go on to produce direct violence when people rise up against the injustices brought about by it in the first place. Since 1991 in India, politicians and their corporate associates have presided over a system that has shifted wealth from the real wealth producers – the labouring classes – to the rich and privileged. In doing so, we have been witnessing not only the robbing of people’s income, but their life expectancy, their life chances, their access to food, their access to education, their access to health, decent housing and all other things that contribute towards people achieving their proper potential in life.
As elsewhere in the world, capitalism appears painless and benign. There is no shock and awe, not unless you have been bombed, invaded, forcibly evicted from your land or village or subjected to the ongoing looting and pillaging of natural resources in various parts of the country that other writers such as Arundhati Roy have written so eloquently on.
In the main, though, the process is slow and ongoing, yet is all pervasive. Its practical effects result in lives marked by hardship, struggle and blight. The malnourished children whose food has been stolen from their bellies. The child who dies in the womb whose life was robbed before it ever had a chance, if indeed it would have ever had a chance anyway. The preventable diseases, the lakhs of farmers who took their own lives as a result of corporate collusions with successive administrations, the lack of access to drinking water and the lack of basic human rights and dignity that financial security can so often bring.
In response to the myth of ‘trickle down’, this is now referred to as ‘gush up’. If anything does or has actually trickled down it is more by way of chance or struggle to get a slice of the cake than by design.
Of course, no one is ever held to account for this form of structural violence. It’s become a fact of life, it’s become a fact of India and the world at large, which buckles under the perils of the predatory system we now witness.
If someone were to come along and steal the food from your plate, the livelihood from your hands, the health from your body, the years from your life and the water from your tap, how would you feel? And how would you feel if you then witnessed the appropriation of all that by a handful of people who try to convince you that it is all for your own good?
When corruption in India is mentioned, the phenomenon is described as ‘illegal capital flow’. Yet when the functioning of India per se is mentioned, it is usually described as ‘democracy’. Unfortunately in these times, ‘democracy’ is becoming stripped of its dictionary meaning and becoming institutionalised violence and theft by any other name.
(British writer Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India and written extensively in Indian newspapers and journals. )