Dealing with oppression and exploitation (Law of the Eventual Demise of the Oppressor)

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Dealing with oppression and exploitation (Law of the Eventual Demise of the Oppressor). P.M. Bhargava. The Hindu, June 5, 2010.

Dealing with oppression and exploitation (Law of the Eventual Demise of the Oppressor)

The socio-economic conditions of farmers, rural poor, slum-dwellers, SCs, STs and OBCs are worse off today than they were when India achieved Independence. Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Human beings are products of the process of Darwinian evolution. The human species has been around for some two million years. We, however, are the progeny of a woman who lived in Africa some 200,000 years ago. All other lineages appear to have died out. Man had two advantages. He could speak and thus construct a language, and he could use his two hands. He, therefore, evolved both biologically and socially.

Let me give an example of the biological evolution of man. Sickle cell anaemia is a disease in which our blood cells make a “wrong” haemoglobin (the pigment of the red blood cells). The normal haemoglobin has a capacity to carry oxygen to various tissues. When one is afflicted by sickle cell anaemia, this capacity is drastically reduced. If one inherits the sickle cell haemoglobin gene from both parents, one would have reduced chances of survival on account of limitation of physical activity. If one inherits just one sickle cell haemoglobin gene from one parent, the person becomes a carrier. The normal frequency of carriers of sickle cell haemoglobin genes is one in several thousand in most parts of the world.

However, in Africa, this frequency is 20 per cent. This is because if you carry a sickle cell haemoglobin gene, your red blood cells become impermeable to the malarial parasite and you thus become resistant to malaria. As malaria has been a major health hazard in Africa, nature balanced the advantage of having a sickle cell gene against the disadvantage of a limitation on physical activity, at the level of 20 per cent of the population. African Americans are the progeny of Africans. Since there has been no malaria in America, the sickle cell haemoglobin gene gives one no advantage. Therefore, as expected, the frequency of this gene in African Americans has been decreasing and has reached 12 per cent. So, biological evolution is continuing.

Social evolution

While it is important to realise that we continue to evolve biologically, it is more important to recognise that, beginning in the last century or so, we have been witnessing social evolution. Such evolution has led to the codification of certain laws. The first law is that social evolution, on account of sound scientific reasons based on obligatory variability in the human species, must take a tortuous path. Thus if the goal is defined as north, you may have to begin by first going south, then east, and south again, before you reach the northern destination.

Another law of social evolution is that mankind is today internally compelled — without being aware of it — towards some kind of a utopia which, like that of Thomas More, we will probably never achieve.

The question is: how close to the projected utopia can one eventually arrive? We don’t have an answer.

The third law that has emerged following social evolution, and the inevitability of which is hardly ever recognised, is that in the 21st century (and beyond) the oppression of people will never succeed in the long run, and the oppressor will have to pay up sooner or later. We may call this the Law of the Eventual Demise of the Oppressor (LEDO).

It took seconds after the Big Bang which led to the formation of our universe some 12 million years ago for physical laws to come into existence and elements to be formed. It took much longer for the evolution of LEDO. So the original inhabitants of the U.S., Canada or Australia were virtually wiped out by the European settlers through the use of knowledge which the local inhabitants did not have.

The situation has changed today. With the movement to universalise school education, the growing emancipation of women, the recognition of basic human rights, and several other similar demands made by civil society, there is a strong check on the propensity of power and knowledge to be used as agents to keep people oppressed forever. Thus we have seen colonies disappear and the zamindari abolished. The United States — which used to be the epitome of power in all spheres — has become the most hated nation in the world, declining financially, socially and politically.

Unfortunately, our governments at the Centre and in the States have not understood the power of LEDO. They have not recognised the reasons for the emergence and consolidation of left-wing extremism and have attempted to solve the problem by increasing oppression. It is not a coincidence that the areas dominated by left-wing extremists are largely tribal belts and among the richest in the country in respect of natural wealth and resources.

To control these resources and wealth — rather, give their control to the rich for a consideration that would benefit only a few individuals — the government believes it can eliminate naxalites and tribals through mechanisms such as the unfettered use of arms and by setting up vindictive organisations such as the Salwa Judum.

Increasing gap

The farmers, rural poor, slum-dwellers, members of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, who comprise a vast majority and include the 77 per cent who, according to Arjun Sengupta, live on less than Rs.20 a day are relatively worse off today than they were when India achieved Independence. The GDP growth rates we proclaim with great fervour have created more billionaires and millionaires, but the gap between the rich and poor has been increasing exponentially.

We have been blind to the root causes of the problem such as lack of education and provision of adequate housing, sanitation, potable water, and energy. So we have a situation where the number of those who have a cell phone is twice that of those who have reasonable toilet facilities.

Virtually every element of our agriculture policy that is actually practised and delivered is — in some cases such as the MGNREGS, in the long run — anti-farmer, in spite of the fact that 62 per cent of Indians derive their total sustenance from agriculture or agriculture-related activities. When we design a policy for farmers or the rural sector, be it in the area of pricing or retail, we want to first make sure that the largest benefit will go to the top 20 per cent.

There is no area, sector or group in which corruption is not rampant. The rule is that the richer and the more powerful you are, the more corrupt you are. Corruption bleeds the powerless.

Our means of oppression of the bottom 80 per cent of our population are varied, but the objective is their elimination or exploitation (which are two sides of the coin of oppression). This is not a stable situation. The government, the bureaucracy and the rich and powerful who (barring notable exceptions) represent the oppressors, must realise that today we have a new universal law: the Law of the Eventual Demise of the Oppressor, in place whether one likes it or not. It will assert itself sooner or later. What form and how long it will take cannot be predicted, but it will surely be a kind of revolution. And in a revolution, even if the cause is justified, what actually happens is not always justifiable. Therefore, wisdom demands that we prevent such an eventuality. It is for the powerful and the privileged to take this warning seriously.

When I asked Noam Chomsky about 9/11, he said he knew it was going to happen. What he didn’t know was when and how. We may well be entering the same situation.

Published in: The Hindu, June 5, 2010 (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/dealing-with-oppression-and-exploitation/article446697.ece). Retrieved: 26 July 2015.

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