The entitlement economy bites (Assam edition)

The descendents of tea estate workers—transported to Assam from Bihar and Jharkhand by the British—engage in public protests in Guwahati. They want, you guessed it, to be classified as scheduled tribes (STs) so that they too can receive the benefits of reservations. But the citizens of Guwahati, largely ethnic Assamese, resent this disruption to their daily life and business. The state government is unable or unwilling to ensure the maintenance of law and order. One woman protester is molested, disrobed and beaten by men, one of whom had his fast-food stall destroyed by the protesters. There’s a national outcry over the manner the poor tribal woman was treated.

What a bloody mess!

But also, how unsurprising. Thanks to the general ‘remoteness’ of the North East and the propensity of the players to cast the ethnic conflicts of the region in secessionist/separatist terms, there has been a tendency to ignore the enthic chauvinism that underpins much of the politics and violence. Just look at the names of the political student’s movements in Assam alone: you have everything from the All-Assam Students’ Union, to the All-Bodo Student’s Union to the All-Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam to the All-Assam Tea Tribe Students Association (AATSA). They have diverse political goals and levels of organisation. But they are all organised along ethnic lines. Traditional ethnic tensios and post-Mandal politics easily edge these organisations into pursuing the most parochial of agenda.

And when you introduce the politics of entitlement into this mix of ethnic politics, you should not be surprised that you’ll see clashes between those who stand to make relative gains and those who stand to suffer relative losses. That they will resort to violence is also a given: because violence grabs attention—not least of the television news channels. And also because such violence is hardly ever punished. The Gujjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab earlier this year point to a new threat to domestic stability. Unlike jihadi terrorism, this one is entirely home-grown. It is naive to believe that the law enforcement machineries of even the most well-governed states can cope with a descent to large-scale mob violence of this nature.

As long as the entitlement economy creates incentives for ethnic/caste mobilisation political violence of this nature is only to be expected. The good citizens of the country—outraged by how one woman’s modesty was outraged—need to ask why these ethnic-caste conflicts are getting more frequent and more violent?

3 thoughts on “The entitlement economy bites (Assam edition)”

  1. >> need to ask why these ethnic-caste conflicts are getting more frequent and more violent?

    I think because people are being denied opportunities to voice their opinions.

    1. there is a decline among regional and ethnic parties. they are becoming personal fiefdoms. I predict large scale farmer/regional violence in Karnataka once it becomes a two-party state. Isn’t the Gurjar-Meena conflict also a result of the two-party system? Either parties promise the moon while in opposition, knowing fully well that the demands are unjustified and cannot be met. Such espousal should have come from fringe caste parties, not Congress or BJP.
    2. the decline of communist parties. Ever since CPM became the B team of the Congress party to oppose the BJP, there has been a vacuum in the left of center space. Maoists have filled that space. the media, BJP and now even Karat have painted the maoists as terrorists.
    3. the complete bankruptcy of the national media . This appalling decline brought about by TV journalism has misplaced priorities. Little wonder that Salman Khans and Jessica lals get much more coverage than nandigrams and bodolands. Can you believe blood thirsty mobs in Delhi are not satisfied with the 2 year sentence given to Uphaar accused. Even such causes get national attention, but the aspirations of millions in India’s interiors only get a passing reference in the national media.
    4. politicians no longer espouse causes . when they rarely do like Karat espousing anti-imperialism, they get ridiculed by the media including this particular blog! these days parliamentary debates are not news worthy. thats just going thru the motions. If media had maintained the custom of reporting what happens in parliament/assemblies, someone might have spoken about nandigram or this adivasi ST demand. And the protesters might have got some assurance that politicians are ‘seriously’ talking about them.
    5. the general apathy or the greedy indian middle class. Unless the protesters do something dramatic, this core of Indian populace will not bother to look at them. One only had to read the blogs of educated middle class indians about the Ram Setu controversy to understand how appallingly ignorant they had become. “I want my God untouched. I don’t give a damn about what this project is about” was the general theme.

  2. Nitin,

    Excellent post. I have more to say on this than would fit a comment, so I wrote an entire post (with link back, of course).

    Spontaneous protest arising from entitlement politics, yes, but stripping and molesting women? I am not sure if economics and politics had much to do with that!

Comments are closed.