At least twenty persons belonging to the tribal population
of Rayagada district of Orissa have died from eating mango kernels.
The Orissa administration, from the Chief Minister downwards,
insists that these are not starvation deaths, since mango kernels
are habitually consumed by the tribals anyway. They may be right.
What constitutes starvation death being a matter of definition,
these deaths may not fall under that rubric. But, the fact that
more than half a century after independence a significant part
of the population of this country has to survive on mango kernels
is a matter of national shame. The fact that this happens even
in a situation where over fifty million tonnes of foodgrains
are rotting in government godowns is not just shameful; it is
The so-called "economic liberalization", which has entailed
drastic cuts in government expenditure in rural areas, and hence
curtailed even the limited purchasing power that used to come
into the hands of the rural poor, is of course the immediate
reason behind this state of acute misery. But there is something
more. The baleful effects of "liberalization" are superimposed
on a base which is quite intolerable anyway.
Why should such intolerable living conditions, greatly aggravated
no doubt by "liberalization", exist at all? Paradoxically, India's
record in this respect is abysmal even compared to countries
of East and South East Asia, despite the fact that in many of
those countries the poor scarcely had any political rights for
long stretches of time, while India has continuously had universal
adult franchise for the last fifty years. To say that this is
because average growth rates in those countries were higher
than in India is nonsense. Growth rates as such have little
bearing on poverty: the state of the rural poor in India for
instance has become worse if anything during the nineties when
the country's growth rate has allegedly accelerated.
The conclusion is perhaps inescapable that India's uniquely
oppressive, caste-ridden, social structure prevents a distribution
of the means of consumption with anything like the degree of
equality achievable in other Asian countries. And the reaction
of the Orissa administration to the allegations of starvation
deaths reveals unwittingly the nauseating contempt in which
the tribal population
[++Page 2 SOCIAL SCIENTIST]
is held by the establishment: it is almost suggested that the
tribals are stupid enough to prefer mango kernels to rice; so,
if they die in the process then what can anyone do? "Liberalization"
which has vastly increased inequalities over the last decade
gets nourishment precisely from this soil.
The lead article by Bhairabi
Prasad Sahu in the current number of Social Scientist,
while arguing for a change of perspective in the writing of
Indian history, makes, in passing, a point similar to the one
above. He sees the Brahmanical ideology as supporting the "caste
land-power pyramid" which denied property rights in land to
"the untouchables": they remained landless labourers despite
land abundance in the country.
Paradoxically they continue to remain landless
labourers (predominantly), even half a century after independence.
Radical land reforms which could have dealt a blow to this uniquely
oppressive system were eschewed. The bourgeoisie's compromise
with landlordism contained within itself the prospects not only
of a cul de-sac for the path of development being pursued,
but also, as Krishna Ananth argues in his piece, of a fascist
threat, such as what we are witnessing today.
Saadat Hasan Manto's partition stories are moving, powerful,
and stunningly evocative of the frenzy of the times. They constitute
some of the finest examples of creative writing in the subcontinent in
modern times. Alok Bhalla in his piece shows why Khalid Hasan's
English translation of these stories, which has been much praised, is
in fact "too weak and sentimental, partisan and censorious" to do
justice to Manto, to reveal his true significance to us.
Margit Koves discusses the anthropology
in the aesthetics of the young Lukacs, taking four of his works:
Diary, The History and Development of Modern Drama, Soul
and Form, and Theory of the Novel. She also discusses
how Lukacs' philosophy developed from being subject-centred
to acquiring a being-centred character.
Finally, we publish the text of Manim Chatterjee's Pritilata
Wadedar memorial lecture, delivered earlier this year at Jadavpur
University, Calcutta, where she argues that 1930 marked a watershed
in the participation of women in the freedom struggle, in both its
Gandhian and revolutionary forms.