13 May 2010

Article: Has Indian Democracy Failed?

Smitu Kothari's article "Has Indian Democracy Failed?" was published on 6 August 2007 on the website of Intercultural Resources (ICR), an Indian-based organization "for research and political intervention on issues related to the impacts [of] and alternatives to destructive development".

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "From whose vantage point do we assess our democracy? The minority that celebrates our 'economic miracle' and has found the means, both legitimate and devious, to enhance its comforts and privileges? Or the over 70 per cent who live on less than Rs 80 [Rupees] a day, some striving to improve their lives against grave odds and others living a life of penury and humiliation? [...] Integral to democracy was the commitment to strive for social and economic justice. Any assessment of our democracy must start with an assessment of that commitment. [...] Can we call our country democratic when, in the past few years, there have been a hundred thousand farmer suicides – a hundred thousand families devastated? [...] This reality points to our being integrated into an undemocratic global economic system dominated by institutions which are silent when the US and Europe heavily subsidise their farmers undermining the very survival of millions of farmers in countries like ours – one of the reasons for the suicides. [...]

"Should we admit failure when the police or the army fire on democratic protests often in the presence of district collectors and senior members of ruling parties? Are the firings and repression in Nandigram and Kalinganagar scattered incidents or are they part of a pattern where 'development flows from the barrel of a gun'? Even a cursory look at what is unfolding in the Northeast highlights how projects ranging from uranium mines to scores of large dams are being implemented with minimal public discussion using lies, subterfuge, armed force and blatant bribery. [...] Despite nine per cent growth, less than one per cent of the national budget goes towards public health spending? We have child malnourishment levels that are higher than sub-Saharan Africa. Highlighting this, a recent government of India-UNICEF study found that 56 per cent of women and 79 per cent of children below three years old were anemic – a situation worse than seven years ago. [...] So you have a classic situation of widening expectations created by a populist image of resurgent India and a reality of disenchantment. It is inevitable in this situation that Maoist movements are finding resonance among despairing populations. Vast areas in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa are now under their influence."

The late Smitu Kothari (1950-2009), a social and environmental activist, was Director of Intercultural Resources (ICR), New Delhi, and Visiting Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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