[Marxism] On Change in India

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 13 06:53:57 MDT 2011


On Change in India
by Siddhartha Deb September 2011

India is indeed rising. So why are more than three-quarters of the 
country living on less than fifty cents a day? A snapshot of 
inequity, in four scenes.

1. Our author witnesses a roadside “encounter”

The highway out of Hyderabad towards Kothur village was still 
being worked on, with new overpasses and exits being constructed 
next to the lanes that were open to traffic. Vijay and I were 
halfway to our destination when we saw the man appear, standing in 
the middle of the road and waving us down. We were traveling fast, 
moving much too quickly to understand immediately what the man’s 
appearance meant. A few days earlier, on this same road, we had 
been stopped by two police constables. Assigned to guard duty at 
another point on the highway and left to fend for their own 
transportation, all the men had wanted was a lift. But the figure 
in front of us now was not in uniform, and his objective was far 
less clear, although I had the impression that he was part of the 
knotted confusion of people and cars that had sprung up suddenly 
on the smooth thread of the highway.

Vijay brought his tiny car to a halt, and the man loomed up in 
front of the windscreen, a dark, stocky figure dressed in a 
T-shirt and jeans. He put his right hand down on the bonnet of our 
car. In his left hand, he held an automatic pistol, its barrel 
pointing up at an acute angle. His gaze, as it swept over our 
faces, was intense, scrutinizing us carefully, meeting our eyes 
for a few seconds. Then he abruptly lost interest in us and 
switched his attention to a motorcycle coming up from behind, on 
our right. He advanced swiftly towards the bike, pointing his 
pistol at the riders. A policeman in uniform appeared on our left, 
tapped on our window, and asked us to move on.

Vijay drove away slowly, his eyes and mine fixed on the rearview 
mirror to get a better sense of the composition of the scene. 
There was the gunman in front of the motorcycle. Off to the side, 
next to the uniformed policeman, was a red Maruti car, a modest, 
everyday model of the kind that might belong to a minor civil 
servant or a doctor. There was a policeman sitting at the wheel, 
an officer in a peaked cap, his window rolled down. There was also 
a man in the back seat, but he was invisible, just a silhouette 
behind the tinted black window. The gunman had now moved on from 
the motorcycle towards an approaching bus, which he flagged down, 
waiting as the passengers slowly piled out on to the road.

 From all this, it was possible to come to the following 
conclusions: The men were hunting for someone. The gunman did not 
know what this person looked like; it was the invisible man in the 
back of the car, an informer, who knew that. They expected their 
target to be coming this way, but they had no information as to 
how he or she was traveling, which is why they had stopped a car, 
a motorcycle, and a bus. The mix of uniformed men and the armed 
man in plain clothes, the unmarked civilian car being used by the 
policemen, and the pistol—rather than rifle—in the hand of the 
gunman meant that this was not a legal operation. We had just run 
into one of the encounter squads operated by the police, what 
Devaram had talked about when he pointed his imaginary pistol at 
me. If the target had the misfortune of running into the encounter 
squad, he would probably be gunned down in cold blood, with a 
report released later to the media to say that the person had been 
killed in an active encounter and that he had shot first at the 

Later, I would find out from news accounts that the police had 
indeed been looking for a Maoist who, fortunately, did not show up 
that day. At the time, though, the scene felt unreal as soon as we 
had left it behind, taking on the shape of a dream. And in a way, 
the encounter squad was a dream, surfacing from the deep regions 
of the national subconscious where farmer suicides, Maoists, and 
impoverished workers swirled together to form the collateral 
damage of progress. In a few weeks, the prime minister would 
announce the dispatching of tens of thousands of paramilitary 
troops to encircle the Maoists in the “red corridor” they had 
carved out in the forests of central India, but although this was 
one more reminder of the ways in which India was at war with its 
own people, it would elicit little comment from the big cities.


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