Freedom as the Counter to Imperialism
During the height of the Delhi Morcha we spoke with Harsha Walia about the lessons the diaspora should learn from those on the ground in Punjab and Delhi.
Since the beginning of the Delhi Morcha, we have seen renewed waves of protest around the world, as well as numerous debates about the goals and tactics of resistance. During the height of the Delhi Morcha we spoke with Harsha Walia about the lessons the diaspora should learn from those on the ground in Punjab and Delhi. We discussed strategies to effectively confront imperialism around the world including the importance of grassroots organizing, direct action, and solidarity. Below is an excerpt from our conversation that can be listened to in full here. The excerpt remains relevant today, as do the dynamics at play between resistance to Indian nationalism.
Freedom as the counter to imperialism, so what does this mean in the morche that are happening right now? This is of course not a theoretical conversation, but I think what's really clear in the morche right now, and especially after January 26th, is the ways in which imperialism is part of the resistance.The resistance to the three farm bills is of course about corporate control, it’s about the ways in which these farm bills increasingly privatizes and takes lands and resources and leaves farm owners and farm workers in debt and impoverished. And this is also about imperialism, which is the control of the center over the Punjab, not limited to, but especially Punjab, which is at the epicenter.
It is of course undeniable that while the farmer's protest involves farmers and involves the solidarity of farmers from many, many, many states, which is important to uplift, it is also important to recognize that this is also very much in the legacy of Punjabi and Sikh resistance to the center and the politics of the center.
[Which] dates back to the British, that what's happening in 2020 goes back decades, if not centuries [to] the British raj ever since partition, especially if we think about the Green Revolution.
I must say about the Green Revolution, very few people rarely talk about the international dimensions of the Green Revolution, but I think it's important to emphasize and for all of us to know the Green Revolution in India and all of the harm and violence that it caused.
The Green Revolution was imposing industrial agricultural production in Punjab. This was actually a template for the world. This wasn't just an experiment in India. This was an imperialist, deeply capitalist, corporate capitalist agenda that international actors like the World Bank and the predecessors of the World Bank sunk their money into.
This was about the Indian state, and it was also a continuation of the kind of politics of the British raj where the imperial forces from abroad were also involved in the decimation of land and livelihood in the Punjab. It's as a result of the Green Revolution that we see this horrific legacy of farmer suicides and the fact that in Punjab, there's so many statistics, but one that really speaks to the ways in which imperialism works, is the fact that most farmers in Punjab have debt that is two and a half times larger than the rest of India, two and a half times larger.
Debt is, I'll just focus here for a second about debt because we're talking about imperialism and capitalism. Debt is a key feature of imperialism and capitalism because two of the main pillars globally that keep people oppressed and suppressed. One is, of course, military might, brutal state force, state violence, which of course we see in Punjab, especially in the 1980s and the use of anti-terrorism legislation, genocide, the counterinsurgency, so all of that, is the overt state force and military might.
Then the other is the economic pillar of imperialism and capitalism and debt is a central one there. Which is you keep people deliberately impoverished and you keep them beholden to you through debt. Debt of course predates capitalism, but it has really increased capital accumulation [which] increases through the use of debt as a mechanism of discipline. And so, it is really important when we're thinking about this current moment that we see the ways in which debt is operating alongside this more overt act of state violence.
Moving [back] to the current moment, how do we understand the morche? I think some of the ways in which we understand the morche is that it's this long legacy of repression that the Punjab and also farmers across India, but again, in this heightened way, and Punjab have, have faced it is also the consolidation of Hindu fascism, and the rise of Hindutva. Which is, important to name, it's about Modi, but it's not just about Modi.
Hindu fascism is baked into the Indian state since its founding. It's also very much about corporate control, of course Adani and Ambani and all of the corporations that are being boycotted. And here I think it's really important to understand how Hindutva is not contradictory to global capitalism.
Hindutva tries to present itself as a very kind of localized project, here for the small farmers we're here for the very kind of parochial sense of Hindutva that it invokes. But Hindutva as a populist ideology is not contradictory to global capitalism. Modi is one of the world's most business friendly leaders: so he’s a Hindutva fascist, and he's a capitalist, and those are not contradictory. Those work perfectly together because both of those ideologies are about oppression at its core.
In morcha now I think the two things that I would highlight that we really have to keep in mind, and I think that the diaspora is really well positioned to push back against, which of course is why so many social media accounts are being silenced. One is like just rejecting the ways in which the backlash to January 26th has been, for example, when the Nishaan Sahib was raised at the Lal Killa. Right away, a lot of ways in which people responded to that was to say, ‘oh, but don't worry, the Tiranga is still on the Red Fort.’ My position on that personally is, so what if the Nishaan Sahib had replaced the Tiranga? There's nothing to be proud of with the Tiranga, it represents bloody wars, it represents occupation, it represents state violence. So it is important not to respond with the ‘oh, but you know, we're good Sikhs, we are patriots, we are Indians too.’
Because that kind of nationalist narrative is just jingoism, and it bolsters the Indian state. Those who have always been cast outside the state, our politics can't rest in the Indian state. That will never bring freedom. In these moments, it can be a knee jerk and understandable reaction because there's so much backlash that people feel the need to prove their loyalty, I think this is actually precisely the time to say no.
We are, we're loyal to freedom. We are loyal to the sangat. We are loyal to the panth. We are loyal to Guru ji’s teachings. We are caste abolitionists. We believe in freedom and equality for all. The Tiranga just does not represent that, it is a flag that represents violence and war.
So it's important to not play that narrative.The other [of this] is the [question of] ideal violence. A lot of liberals are coming out and saying, ‘oh, I used to support the farmer's protest’ (though they never did, they just were riding the bandwagon), who are now saying, ‘oh, now I don't support the farmer's protest because they were violent’, ‘look what happened at the Lal Killa’, ‘look at what happened at the bus’.
It is really important not to try to convince those folks. They're always going to be opportunistic, they're always going to be on and off the next cause.
It's really important to say two things. One is at the core source of all violence is the Indian state.The core source of all violence is these systemic forces. It's not the people who are responding in self-defense. It is not people who are responding in anger, that violence is not comparable.
Lifeless property, like an empty bus versus the lives of hundreds and hundreds of farmers who have just died. Let's not even talk about the past few decades. We're just talking about the past few months, right? Who have died of hypothermia, who have died of various causes.
That's actual harm. So it's important to not get into the violence, non-violence rhetoric, which never serves any struggle. To very much say some people have a right to direct action. Peaceful protest is very important and people escalate for really good reasons. Which is that when you're fighting state power, there are many reasons why you might decide to escalate a resistance. Of course we will face backlash for making those decisions, but the people who condemn us were never on board anyway. So it's important not to falter in those messages.
@HarshaWalia is an activist and writer based in Vancouver. She is the award-winning author of Undoing Border Imperialism and, most recently, Border and Rule. Trained in the law, she is a community organizer and campaigner in migrant justice, feminist, anti-capitalist, abolitionist, and anti-imperialist movements.