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Monday, July 25, 2005

Barbarism at the gate

For the last three hours or so, the news channels have been full of pictures from a clash between agitating workers of Honda and the Haryana police in Gurgaon. They're brutal pictures. In some of them, the workers thrash policemen mercilessly with lathis, with one of them begging for mercy at one point. They ae also shown burning a police jeep after first trying to bash it up with sticks.

In the other pictures, the police thrash workers, some of them defenceless and cringing on the ground, with lathis, as berserk as the workers had been in the earlier scenes. It's quite monstrous, a complete breakdown of humanity or, as Hobbes would perhaps say, a demonstration of it.

It is unclear, at the time of writing, exactly what happened, and which events sparked off the confrontations. Either way, it is irrelevant whether the workers attacked the policemen first, as Star News indicated was the way it happened (and so did Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Haryana minister), or the police made the first move. All the beatings were unnecessary, and all the guilty men, with or without uniform, should be punished.

The opposition parties are already trying to politicise this issue, which is sad, because the principles of the case go beyond party politics, and the Haryana government has responded suitably. They have announced a timebound enquiry into the incident (15 days, I heard someone say), focussed their efforts on treating the wounded, and have promised to punish those guilty of violence, including policemen whose actions went beyond the call of duty. That seems fair enough to me, and we should withhold judgement on what they do next until those 15 days are up.

Sections of the opposition are trying to make it a brutal-police-v-oppressed-workers issue, which is unfortunate. George Fernandes came on Aaj Tak and said (rough translation from Hindi):
One must understand that these workers did not have a job, and must have been hungry. We don't know what troubles they were facing. In such a situation if a few stones get thrown, what's the big deal? The police are used to that anyway.
Well, firstly, it was far more than "a few stones". Secondly, to condone any kind of violence is just plain wrong, even if it is retrenched factory workers who are the perpetrators. (Fernandes was a disruptive union leader in his youth.)

The larger problem here is of the large number of under-educated and unemployed young men in this country, whose frustrations, which often find outlets like this, need to be addressed. That cannot happen through mere redistribution of wealth, for economics is not a zero-sum game, and redistribution never works. It can only happen if we enable all these people to become part of the free markets that have benefited some sections of the country, but not others. As I'd mentioned here, a complete removal of the license raj and a rehaul of our labour laws are essential if this is to happen. Entrepreneurship will get a big boost, the manufacturing sector will grow as it should have decades ago, and employment will consequently zoom.

But I suspect the larger issues here will be ignored, and in the coming days we'll just see politics in parliament, not statesmanship of the kind needed to take India forward.

Update (July 26): Subra Srinivasan has more here.
amit varma, 11:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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