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Antinomies of Political Society

This paper is an attempt to delve on the consequences of the antinomies of flattened notions of subaltern politics. On the basis of a field study in a pollution affected village in Andhra Pradesh, it demonstrates how sustained demands for the closure of polluting industries based on collective mobilisation and action are met by repression by an uncivil state in nexus with the mafia and economic elites. This in turn pushes collectives to break up and be replaced by interest-based demands either at the level of smaller groups (formed around available social stratifications) or even the individual. This makes it increasingly difficult over a period of time to sustain collective political action that could demand and gain long-term structural changes.

Antinomies of Political Society

Implications of Uncivil Development

This paper is an attempt to delve on the consequences of the antinomies of flattened notions of subaltern politics. On the basis of a field study in a pollution affected village in Andhra Pradesh, it demonstrates how sustained demands for the closure of polluting industries based on collective mobilisation and action are met by repression by an uncivil state in nexus with the mafia and economic elites. This in turn pushes collectives to break up and be replaced by interest-based demands either at the level of smaller groups (formed around available social stratifications) or even the individual. This makes it increasingly difficult over a period of time to sustain collective political action that could demand and gain long-term structural changes.


I Introduction

he inter-relation between the state, civil society and more recently, political society, notwithstanding the differences over what constitutes each of the domains, has emerged as the most significant area of study to comprehend the process of democratisation. Civil society has been for long, post- the east European debacle, projected and trusted as an all-encompassing panacea for most of the problems plaguing developing societies. It is a political imaginary that is carved out to stand for various values, actively pursued through varied institutions. Civil society has become a kind of “aspirational shorthand” for ideas/values of equity, deepening participation, public fairness, individual rights, tolerance, trust, legality, cooperation and informed citizenry [C M Elliot 2004]. These ideals are fostered and protected by voluntary associational activity independent or “outside” of the state. These could include wide ranging associations or institutions such as the clubs, religious bodies, sabhas and samajs, unions, professional associations, community action groups, NGOs, media, research institutes and youth organisations to name a few (ibid). Civil society therefore looked like it was a radical alternative in state regulated societies. However, after the initial euphoria died out, scholars began to raise serious doubts about the scope and nature of the autonomy of civil society and its implications for the process of democratisation. For instance, the emphasis on trust (one of the most significant markers of civil society) in situations of marked inequality not only offers a false promise to the poor but robs them of their right to struggle and protest [Michael Edwards 2000]; Where associations are hierarchical and based on ascriptive ties moving to an associative concept of democracy only leaves intact and reinforces the iniquitous social structures [Gurpreet Mahajan 1999]. In a society with unequal access to law emphasising legality as a baseline criterion of civil society only permits the government to forcibly clear the slums, pavements and tribals in the name of development [C M Elliot 2004; Nivedita Menon 2004]. Such grave and perhaps obvious limitations of the civil societal domain are grossly overlooked in the euphoric versions, as they abstract it from any concrete reference to existing civil societies or the way it is transformed under the influence of other domains. It continues to be thought as neither related to the state nor market by conflictual power relations [Neera Chandoke 2003]. How do we move beyond such dehistoricised, depoliticised and flattened notions of civil society and re-locate it in the process of democratisation?

There have perhaps been three broad alternatives suggested. First, instead of uncoupling, civil society had to work or in fact had to be made sense of only as complimentary to the state. “State alone can create conditions that are necessary to protect the institutions of civil society” [Gurpreet Mahajan 1999]. In other words, civil societies are constituted by a community of citizens and therefore we need to recognise the state as still the critical “mobilising agency”, instead of “letting it off the hook”. Therefore “if the project of civil society is to be saved and along with it the freedom accorded to citizenship, it can only be done through the constitutional democratic state” [Dipankar Gupta 1999]. The second alternative, along the Tocquivellian line emphasised the autonomy of the intermediate institutions against a demagogic state on the one hand and the sectarian and communitarian political forces on the other. It is assumed in such a model that an independent legal-rational framework that is rule-bound and norm-based would eventually democratise society [Andre Beteille 1995]. The third alternative emphasises the significance of the grassroots initiatives [Rajini Kothari 1988], which has been further developed and more recently conceptualised as an alternative site of “political society” which constitutes along with political parties and organised social movements, non-party political formations for “strategic” and “contextual” mediations by the subalterns [Partha Chatterjee 1997]. According to Partha Chatterjee: “by political society I mean a domain of institutions and activities where several mediations are carried out” (ibid). Thus, “the politics of democratisation must therefore be carried out not in the classical transactions between state and civil society but in the much less well-defined, legally ambiguous, contextually and strategically demarcated terrain of political society” [Partha Chatterjee 1998]. The idea of “political society” is potentially radical in identifying that “populations” that constitute this alternative site are neither agents of the state nor civil society. They are often excluded in the process of political participation. “For the sake of survival and livelihood, they have to negotiate with both state and civil society or public sphere, domains often led and occupied by the middle class bourgeois subjects and social elites” [Kuan-Hsing Chen 2003]. It brings into relief the fact that not only the state but also civil society using the well-recognised “civil” norms could potentially become part of the power block and mercilessly attack the subaltern classes, for preserving its own dominant interests. It is therefore that the modes of protest of “political society” are not consistent with the principle of associations in civil society; they violate institutional norms of liberal civil society. Of course the problem with “political society” understood in this way is that the activities here would not necessarily conform to our understanding of what is “progressive” or “emancipatory”. They could be struggles of squatters on government land to claim residence rights (which would include illegally tapping electricity lines, for example), but they could as easily be the effort of a religious sect to preserve the corpse of their leader in the belief of its resurrection or the decision of a village panchayat to kill a woman accused of adultery [Nivedita Menon 2004]. These struggles therefore more often than not fail “the tests of legality and constitutionality set by civil society” (ibid).

The idea of “political society”, though constitutively “outside” and opposed to the civil society, does not clearly demarcate what forms of protest really constitute it. More importantly, it in fact collapses a whole range of “strategic” actions adopted by the subalterns as part of this “much less well defined” domain of political activity. It is also therefore less ideological in differentiating between organised political movements around alternative (to both state and civil society) democratic and radical principles and the strategic and contextually defined politics of the possible. It in fact collapses them together to constitute a seamless domain of strategies of negotiation and survival. The point is that for any project of radical democratic transformation ideas, beliefs and practices in this domain do not hang independent of each other. In fact, if we are not prepared to make a more nuanced distinction between strategies born out of the imperatives of survival and those that propel collectives to forge an informed protest, beyond the immediate interest-based, the project of democratisation would enter a perilously self-defeating logic. We would have come a full circle in putting in place an equally depoliticised, dehistoricised and flattened notions of alternative radical political sites, from where we began in our critique of the civil society. It would therefore necessarily become ambiguous to demarcate the “governing principles of political society” and the alternative “forms of institutionalisation” it would attempt. While it needs to be undoubtedly acknowledged that uncivil development is making it increasingly difficult for the subalterns to wage organised protest and pushing them towards more spontaneous survival strategies, would it not be for this very reason, imperative to search for the signposts of alternative modes of protest that could actually bring them out of what now seems to be an never-ending struggle for survival? “Political society” in its bid to constitutively contrast it with civil society ends up as a seamless domain of qualitatively distinct political actions – of radical social movements, political parties and non-party political formations for strategic and contextual negotiations – that in practice cannot actually coexist and are bound to enter into a conflict to mutually dislocate each other. This paper is an attempt to delve on the consequences of the antinomies of flattened notions of subaltern politics on the basis of a field study in a pollution affected village, Kazipally in Andhra Pradesh, and to demonstrate how sustained demands for the closure of the polluting industries based on collective mobilisation and action is met with uncivil state repression in nexus with a mafia and the economic elites (industrialists) in the market. This in turn pushes collectives to break up and be replaced with interest-based demands either at the level of smaller groups (formed around available social stratifications) or even the individual. This makes it increasingly difficult over a period of time to sustain collective political action that could demand and gain long-term structural changes (in this case closure of industries; revival of agriculture). Therefore the assumption that a “political society” can unproblematically refer to or subsume both organised political movements as well as contextually demarcated “strategic politics” actually becomes highly untenable. In other words, while it is democratic to recognise the strategies for survival, it is however struggles that lie beyond the survival strategies that are imperative for any meaningful idea of democratisation.

Understanding the Context

Kazipally is a village situated 35 km towards the north-east of Hyderabad in Ginnaram mandal of Medak district. Medak is one of the most backward districts of Andhra Pradesh. Kazipally has 506 households with a total population of 3,000. In what follows, we present the socio-economic background of the village.

From the above data, it is evident that the amount of resources available to people who are victims of industrial pollution are very limited. Firstly, around 82 per cent of the total households are dependent on farming. Again, another 15 per cent of the households are engaged in agricultural labour for livelihood. Together around 97 per cent of households are dependent on agriculture. A Greenpeace report suggests that industrial pollution in this area has affected 2,000 acres of farmland besides contaminating well water to the level of 140 feet.1 Pollution has displaced households from their traditional livelihoods and

Table 1: Occupational Statistics

S No Category No of Households

1 Small cultivators 354 2 Medium cultivator 50 3 Big cultivator 10 4 Rich cultivator 6 5 Landless labourers 76 6 Industrial labourers 3 7 Others 7

Total 506

Source: Field Study.

Table 2: Caste Statistics

S No Caste No of Households

1 Yadava 40 2 Muthrasi 141 3 Muslims 101 4 Mangali 12 5 Chakali 25 6 Goud 10 7 M Kapu 5 8 Madiga 172 Total 506

Source: Fieldwork.

disposed people of their assets. These villagers do not have alternative skills to choose other employment avenues. The industries, as is evident from the evidence, do not employ the villagers. Thus, although the industries take subsidies from the government stating that they would contribute towards development of backward areas, they do not provide any employment opportunities or avenues of social mobility in terms of skill development for instance to the local population. Some of the marginal and small farmers are also engaged in other activities as their major economic activity. However, there is an availability of additional incomes for those engaged as washermen, or in occupations such as fisheries, selling fruits grown on common lands, or dependent on livestock.

Nature of Industrialisation and Capital

Industrialisation in Kazipally had started in the post-Emergency period, when Indira Gandhi contested from Medak and won. This area was adopted as an industrial development area (IDA). However, rapid industrialisation was witnessed only from 1989 onwards. Most of these industries, started after 1989, operated on loan licensing and outsourcing by multinational and other big national corporations.

There are now in all about 50 industries in Kazipally and Gaddapothram. It has been recently found that of the 50 units, 35 units have been operating without Central Pollution Control Board clearance certificates. The Commissionarate of Industries does not have records about some of these industries.

The reasons why multinational corporations especially of the US outsource production of their products is because it is estimated by Baumol and Oates that if the country has to achieve zero discharge standards, it would cost the economy $ 2 billion. It was in 1989 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came into effect in the US. The EPA had classified products especially chemicals and metallic products as bio-accumulant toxins. These were the kind of chemicals that will not decompose and therefore their discharge would accumulate toxins in the environment. The term “dirty goods” is also associated with this type of production. A “dirty good” is defined as a good the effluent treatment costs of which will exceed the value of the final product itself. Therefore production of dirty goods by abiding by the water, soil and air quality standards set by law implicitly works out to be uneconomical. It is therefore that the MNC corporations have chosen to produce these dirty goods by loan licensing their products to third world producers. The national corporations on the other hand are outsourcing production of dirty goods with the objective of securing ISO 2001 and other such quality certificates which are a precondition to exporting their products to foreign markets. Such outsourced production is also undertaken by units in Kazipally and Gaddapotharam industrial areas.

Interestingly, the modified value added tax (MODVAT) introduced in 1991 has been a boost to small-scale industries. Since MODVAT is a tax at the source, the small-scale industries as it is are being given several subsidies on raw materials, excise tax and so on. Further, the small-scale companies also recruit cheap labour. Therefore the MODVAT works out quite low. And this in turn implies that the big corporations will get intermediaries or their outsourced products manufactured at lower prices than if these products were manufactured by these big corporations themselves. Medak being a backward area, the incentive packages for industries are very attractive. And although technically the region falls in Medak, it is only 35 km from the city and this implies access to infrastructure. This model of industrialisation referred to as new industrialisation has been identified as generating high social costs both in terms of blatant violations of labour standards and environmental pollution [G Vijay 1999, 2003]. While the product market of the industries is non-local, the uncivility in the sense of violations of norms laid down by law in the interest of the community is built into this model of industrialisation. The intrinsic need for uncivil manufacturing practices propels a chain of uncivility seen in the unethical lobbying with political circles, bribing of bureaucracy, nexus with mafia and such other uncivil practices. Uncivility thus becomes inevitable and systemic.

II Problem of Pollution and Social Cost

The pollution levels in Kazipally tank are an outcome of dumping of industrial toxic effluents for the past 16 years. Several reports including a technical report about the Kazi Cheruvu and the groundwater by the environmental department of Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) in 1998, the monthly updates of quality of water in the tanks by Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB), and the more recent committee constituted by Andhra Pradesh High Court, chaired by justice Gopal Rao, which submitted a fact finding report (2004), have all established irrefutable evidence about the alarming levels of damage done to these water bodies. As part of our research, we have got water samples tested independently by Yagna Labs during 1997 and again water samples collected in similar locations for comparison again in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI). The results of some of these findings are given below:

From the above figures we know that not only are different chemicals present in the water of Kazipally tank way above the normal ranges, for several indicators the figures for 2003 show increase in pollution levels. Although it is true that pollution has been controlled due to a long drawn battle by the people, this is no compliment to regulating authorities as the standards are being blatantly violated to date. And that violation of standards is illegal whether it be violated by a margin or by enormity, since the standards imply that presence of chemicals beyond these limits can harm the life, property or health of the inhabitants and other life forms in nature on which the community

Table 3: Comparative Figures for 1997-2003 – Water SampleTest Results

Parameter Normal Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 S Ranges 1997 2003 1997 2003 1997 2003 1997 2003 No

1 pH 7-8.5 4.2 7.2 7.8 7.2 7.6 7.2 8.1 7.3 2 Dissolved

solid 500 mg/ltr 3900 2860 7600 2900 970 2865 7960 1860 3 Chloride 200 mg/ltr 340 930 520 855 550 855 250 445 4 Sulphates 200 mg/ltr 260 509 320 488 340 495 140 545 5 Fluoride 1.0 mg/ltr 1.8 .752 2.5 .759 2.3 .600 1.0 .666 6 Magnesium 30 mg/ltr 300 347 300 346 300 272 180 347 7 Calcium 75 mg/ltr 700 594 500 644 600 594 200 495

Source: Fieldwork - 1997, results based on tests conducted by Yagna Labs, Amberpet. Fieldwork – 2003, results based on the tests conducted by EPTRI Lab, Gachibowli. Different kinds of samples have been collected.2

is dependent. This needs to be the framework for reading the above figures.

As a result of pollution, nearly 7,000 acres of land in 32 villages have been partially and completely destroyed (JNTU Report 1998). There have been several reports of loss of fish, and cattle on which several rural communities depend for their livelihoods (Field Data, 1997-98, 2003-05). The recent health report of Greenpeace has made startling revelations about the health status in the affected villages.

Thus, we find enormous damage has been done to the natural environment and huge social costs have been generated for the local communities due to industrial pollution.

Methodology of the Present Study

The present study focuses on community action against pollution in an effort to see how the idea of “political society” understood as constituting both organised collective action or movements for structural demands and various strategies or negotiations with immediate interests for survival, becomes in practical terms unsustainable. For this purpose this study has analysed three social groups that are organised and ideally posed for mobilisation against polluting industries. The farming community, youth and women have been chosen as relevant social groups for this study. This is because all the three social groups have organised associations and with an exception of the farmers’ association, other associations in themselves are meant to serve other objectives. This research was a curiosity to find out what these associations were doing about the problem of pollution which was a general problem of the village community. The Kalushya Vyatireka Raitu Committee (KVRC) with a total membership of 40 farmers, the Shivaji Youth Association with a total membership of 50 members, and the DWCRA micro-credit groups which together have about 100 women are the associations that have been taken up for the study. The study has been done in two phases. An earlier study done in 2003 includes responses from all the 40 farmers. A recent survey done in 2005 is based on a sample of 30 respondents from all the three groups. Thus, this study is based on a total of 70 respondents. A structured questionnaire and informal interviews were used to collect primary data. In the collection of primary data, we find that since the experience is a shared one, we often came across repetitions in the narratives and therefore we may argue that the responses of this sample speaks for the social groups these associations represent.

III Political Society: Collective or Interest Based?

In dealing with the problem of pollution, we find that whenever people have raised structural questions through their collective political activity, they have faced uncivil means of repression both by the coercive state apparatus like the police and coercion by organised mafia. This uncivility has weakened political activity. In what follows, we narrate the experience of the Kazipally victims of industrial pollution in instances where they raised such structural questions.

The conflict around the pollution of the village tank by industries took a political form that raised structural demands. The demand for shutting down of the polluting industries can be seen as a structural demand and there are several reasons why shutting down of polluting industries can be interpreted as such a demand.

The villagers of Kazipally, as already pointed out, were predominantly dependent on agriculture and other traditional allied activities before their tank was polluted. The conflict thus got articulated as a conflict between farmers and industry. Secondly, as already seen in the narrative on the nature of industrialisation, these industrialists are outsiders in a regional sense of the term. The industrialists are predominantly from coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh. This regional dimension assumes special significance in the wake of rising aspirations for a separate Telangana statehood. Further, the regional dimension is of relevance in two other senses. Although the industrial policy outlines development of backward regions as the objective of rural industrialisation in the form of industrial development areas and justifies giving these industries subsidies and such other benefits, we find that the contribution of these industries to development of these backward regions is very limited. The local people are not given employment opportunities in these industries. Its also true that the products produced by these industries are not meant for the local market.

We also find that the victims of pollution includes several sections of people who are impoverished. The landless, those with livestock, the artisans and those in the traditional service sector have also been victims losing income sources, livelihoods, assets, health, etc. Vis-à-vis the industries who make huge profits, enjoy links with individuals in power, and hold the capacity to manipulate the system, this problem is posed as a conflict of the poor and the vulnerable with the rich and the powerful.

The demand for permanent shutting down of polluting industries is thus a demand of the farming community against the irresponsible industries; it is a demand of the local community against the industrialists who are outsiders; and it is a demand of the poor and vulnerable people against the rich and the powerful lobbies. In these senses, the demand for a permanent closure of the polluting industrial units becomes a structural demand.

Such a demand was raised on several occasions. The first time such a demand was raised was way back in 1989. The villagers of Kazipally and several other affected villages led by different civil society-based organisations including the Forum Against Pollution, Jana Vigyana Vedika, etc, and the political representatives of these villages conducted rallies and dharnas.3 As a consequence, people of these villages were lathi-charged and the representatives were arrested. Again in 1994, villagers fighting the industrialists were attacked by the mafia and although the villagers put up some resistance, they had to leave the villages

Table 4: Disease Incidence in Affected Villages

Nervous system 3 times higher than the controlled group Circulatory system 2 times higher than the controlled group Respiratory system 3.81 times higher than the controlled

group 1 in 20 are affected Digestive system 1.98 times higher than the controlled group Blood and blood

forming organs 2.914 times higher than the controlled group

1 in 35 persons are affected Endocrine, nutritional and 1.84 times higher than the controlled group. Metabolic systems 1 in 35 people are affected. Neoplasms 11 times higher than the controlled group Skin and subcutaneous tissues 2.67 times higher than the controlled group Congenital Malformations,

deformations and chromosomal abnormalities 3.93 times higher than the controlled group Cancer 11 times higher than the controlled group

Source: Greenpeace, 2004.

fearing a threat to life. Villagers who fled were booked under cases including an attempt to murder. In another instance in 1995 the villagers led by some of the political representatives attacked industries and ransacked and assaulted the industrialists. As a consequence, villagers demanding closure of industries were booked for an attempt to murder, and framed for extortion.

In 2005, based on an affidavit lodged by the Goa Foundation with the Supreme Court that several of these industries were functioning without clearance certificates from the Central Pollution Control Board since 1994, the Supreme Court ordered a public hearing. Objections were raised to the way public hearing was being conducted. The Pollution Impact Assessment Reports had not reached several villages. The dates of hearing were not clear. Some villagers complained of threatening calls dissuading them from attending the public hearing.

Despite all this, villagers mobilised themselves in huge numbers and gave evidence against the industry, on the day of the hearing. After the lunch break perceiving that the public hearing was going against them, the representatives of the industries, disturbed the public hearing by having the Greenpeace activist beaten up. Following the assault on the Greenpeace activist, there were angry protests by the villagers . Consequently, in this protest, the assistant sub-inspector of police was hurt. Later when the Greenpeace activist along with another researcher, who were mobilising people went to register an FIR in the police station, the circle inspector assaulted them again. After realising that those assaulted were activists who had nothing to do with the protests of the villagers, the additional superintendent of police arrived and tendered an apology to the activists. He assured that action would be initiated against the circle inspector.

Although complaints against the industrial representatives and the circle inspector were registered, no action was initiated in both these cases. Moreover, 62 villagers including both the Greenpeace activist and a researcher were booked under 8 sections of Indian Penal Code including Section 307 which is attempt to murder. Of the 62 names, 12 names were mentioned while the other 50 names were put under the category of others. The constables were going around villages blackmailing the villagers that their names would be included in this other category and were extorting money. The sarpanch of Kazipally4 who was allied to the industrialists went to the village and told the villagers who were mobilising against the industrialists that if the Greenpeace activist and the researcher who were mobilising people could be beaten up by police, what could ordinary villagers do? From the point of view of the villagers, the Greenpeace activist and the researcher were amongst those that enjoyed a network with the urban elite and had access to bureaucracy and even ministers in the cabinet. If such people could be assaulted in the custody of the police, what protection would ordinary villagers have? This scared the villagers who then kept off the public hearing on the second day.

On the second day of the public hearing, 12 mini-buses were hired by the industries in which people were brought with the specific purpose of giving statements in favour of the industrialists. Several villagers reported that the village heads of some villages and some villagers had received bribes to speak in favour of the industrialists. Thus, what was supposed to be a democratic process of letting the villagers vent their opinions freely was subverted by the industrial representatives who resorted to acts of uncivility followed by the police who repeated the acts of uncivility both aimed at intimidating the villagers who out of fear kept away from the second and third days of public hearing.

From the above narrative of events over the years, it is quite evident that whenever structural demands around organised collective action strengthened, the market, civil society and state have shown trends of uncivility aimed at suppressing the political activity of the people. As a consequence to such uncivility of institutions, the state loses its legitimacy and is seen as unjustly allying with the dominant interests. The state apparatus which in this case, for instance, was represented by the Pollution Control Board (PCB) and the police who fail to implement the law or they themselves take recourse to extra-judicial methods builds as a general perspective that not only can the state be manipulated, but is also arbitrary and inconsistent in its behaviour. The state loses its objective arbiters image thereby. Added to this the state by not initiating action against the mafia like elements because of their links with mainstream political parties and by not acting upon the acts of violence perpetrated by the industrialists allow very little space for organised political protest.

There is yet another trend that political activity may take in wake of growing uncivility. We find that as a result of growing uncivility, what begins as a political activity for long-term demands (in this case closure of industries), takes the shape of interestbased politics. The problem with interest-based politics as already suggested is that collective interests are often compromised for interests of immediacy and survival. The “political society” refrains from raising structural questions and even questions of collective interest and lapses into pursuing opportunities satisfying the needs of immediacy especially around problems of survival. This alternative interest-based politics begin to look far more feasible. Therefore interest-based “strategies” or “negotiations” grow. We however find that whenever people have resorted to interest-based politics, political activity has become unsustainable and in the long run this has proved counterproductive for the community making it weaker and more vulnerable. The un-sustainability of political activity due to interest-based negotiations of the political society is due to the impact it has on the solidarity of the collective.

In reality we find that since society is stratified based on several structures, interests are stratified as well. In a political activity initiated by such a stratified society, commonality of interest holds only a symbolic significance providing ground for an artificial unity of the collective. While collective political activity mounts pressure on the system and creates conditions where the system is forced to accommodate the demands of the collective, the individual or small groups’ (within this collective) interestbased acts within a political society take advantage of such pressure and push through (its) their own demands. As a consequence to the benefits accrued to the interest-based political society, such beneficiary groups distance themselves from collective political activity. In doing so, they weaken the collective political activity. In what follows we show how these trends in interest-based politics can be seen in Kazipally.

In 1989 soon after the dharnas raising structural demands saw lathi-charge and arrests, these demands took the shape of interestbased politics. Instead of asking for closure of the polluting units, the villagers demanded that they be given some livelihoods and income-earning opportunities. The manufacturing process in these predominantly bulk drug and chemical industries produced as residue dry ash. This ash is being used for brick making in kilns located in the vicinity of the village. There are other works that the villagers are offered: running water tankers, taking up construction contracts, other activities of transportation, etc. The villagers are, however, not offered employment in the industry as workers. Some youth have been employed by industries that are not directly responsible for polluting the Kazi talab. These industries are located elsewhere at a much further distance from the village. However, the opportunities that the youth could secure were only as daily contract workers.

In 1995 when the villagers ransacked the industries, although the industries did not close down their operations, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Model Industrial Association representing the industries and the village represented by its heads including the sarpanch and the zilla parishad chairman.5 A sum of Rs 4 lakh was paid to the village. A community hall, laying village roads and such other activities which were considered to be village developmental activities were undertaken with this money. In return the villagers were asked to withdraw all the cases filed by them against the polluting industries. Some dissenting groups however persisted with the cases in the court. In 1998, based on the Andhra Pradesh High Court directive, all the polluting industries were closed. The industries, however, approached the Supreme Court and got a stay order. In 1999 the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh made a statement on the issue of pollution in which he said that “these industries were earning foreign currency for the country and that the pollution control authorities should go slow on the issue of pollution. If industries are harassed then it may impinge growth.”

In 2001, based on the case filed with the Supreme Court, the court gave an order asking for closure of 18 industries until they abided by the prescribed standards of water quality and hydrolic reduction. The PCB, however, after a brief period of closure reopened the industries. During the same year, the Supreme Court gave a ruling stating that the industrialists have to pay compensation to the farmers whose lands have been damaged on account of pollution. The amount of compensation paid was however a paltry sum of Rs 1,700 per acre per annum. This amount was not even equivalent to the in-put costs incurred on seeds. Further, those who were landless did not receive any compensation. As part of the same judgment, safe drinking water from river Manjira, supplying water to Hyderabad was to also supply water to the village.

In 2002, the village was able to get one of its demands approved on paper. The district collector ordered repairs to be taken up on the Kazipally tank. The collector had ordered that a sum of Rs 9 lakh be collected from the industries for this purpose. The villagers were however disappointed after a brief period of excitement when heavy engineering equipment (“grasshoppers”) was sent to the village to begin work. The day the work was to begin saw a festive environment with a pooja being performed at the site of the work and a coconut offered to the gods. After few heaps of mud were removed from the tank, the grasshoppers however never returned again. On contacting the collector about the work, the village representatives were told that the industrialists were not willing to pay and that the government was negotiating with them.

In 2003, the issue of pollution got considerable and favourable media attention. The regional press and the regional electronic media gave coverage to this issue. Several representations were made by K G Kannabiran (National President, PUCL) on behalf of the people of Kazipally to the PCB. Following this new attention the problem received, a commission of enquiry under the chairmanship of justice Gopal Rao, a retired chief justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court was set up. The commission was quite taken aback by the condition of the tank when it paid a visit to the village. Following this visit, villagers were asked to provide evidence of violations. Villagers began to act as vigilance teams and by doing so, caught several industries letting out effluents into a stream carrying water to the tank and burning solid toxic wastes outside the premises of the industry. As a consequence of these instances of violation of laws, a bond of Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million) was taken from the industries towards surety and in case of further violations, industries would lose this amount.

In 2004, Greenpeace came up with its health report. The report compared the disease patterns in pollution-affected villages with other villages which were not affected by pollution. The health report revealed several disturbing trends. It suggested that several types of diseases including congenital diseases and cancer in the pollution-affected villages showed far higher rates of occurrence than the other non-polluted villages. Some diseases showed 200-300 times of higher occurrence. After these discoveries, the need for having at least a primary health centre with referral authority was felt. The patients could then get free treatment at government hospitals in the city. Until now (2006) nothing has materialised.

On the whole we find that the achievements of the Kazipally victims have been quite limited. Although there have been several demands reflecting collective interests, which are not structural as we have defined it, including, employment opportunities in the industries, repairs to tanks, abiding by the quality standards, refraining industries from dumping untreated effluents into the village tank and setting up a health centre with referral authority, none of these demands have been achieved. The reasons for the failure of the collective demands quite clearly lie in the “strategic” and “contextually” defined “politics of the possible” of political society.

IV Political Society and the Decaying Community

In 1989 after villagers had secured the opportunities to sell dry ash, or take up transport and construction contracts, a large number of villagers were willing to do these works. These looked small in number in relation to the number of villagers willing to take up the opportunities. As a result, this led to an internal feud on who should take up these opportunities. The industrialists strategically gave the authority to decide on who could take up these works to the sarpanch. It was strategic in the sense that the sarpanches could easily be lured onto to the side of the industries as they received bribes from time to time. And given this frequent defections by sarpanches to the side of the industries, this system of allocation led to a situation where villagers who assured that they would not raise an alarm about the problem of pollution would be given these opportunities. A section of those fighting against pollution therefore withdrew from the struggle against pollution. This was a result of their dependence on the industry for their livelihoods. So much so that the president of the Kalushya Vyatireka Raitu Committee (KVRC) (farmers committee against pollution), the main organisation floated by farmers to fight against pollution, started to work on a construction contract in one of the most polluting industrial units. Those farmers who were relatively better-off or had some assets like vehicles (tractors, etc, necessary to transport material for the construction) or who could mobilise labour were the beneficiaries.

And since the sarpanches were hand-in-glove with the industrialists, there were several other methods by which they were preventing the villagers from participating in the protest against pollution, acting on behalf of the industries. Some of these means of control would be of relevance to discuss at this juncture. In the backdrop of the displacement from traditional occupations, especially agriculture, those farmers who were actively involved in the protest against pollution obviously could not secure opportunities with the industry. One of the active functionaries of the KVRC was earning his livelihood by engaging in unlicensed stone quarrying. This was possible for him because he owned a tractor which was used to transport the granite stones and concrete to construction companies. The farmer had borrowed a loan of Rs 1 lakh to engage labour to do the work for him. After the work was completed the farmer paid the labour their wages and when he was about to transport the material to the construction company, the sarpanch called the farmer and threatened the farmer with arrest for having engaged in illegal stone quarrying. The farmer not only felt threatened with arrest, he felt frightened that he may not be able to repay the loan he borrowed. The sarpanch then convinced the farmer that he should withdraw from the protest against the industries. Under duress the farmer kept away from the KVRS.

Again in 1995 when the MoU was signed between the village heads and the Model Industrial Association, a substantial number of farmers did not approach the court with complaints about pollution. This was because out of the amount of R 4 lakh which was paid, these farmers received some amount in the name of compensation. The decision about compensation was arbitrary since not all farmers received the amount. It was again biased towards those who assured to keep away from the political activity against pollution. The ZPTC chairman who was one of the signatories to the MoU himself owned about 40 acres of land in the village. He was a victim who had suffered the greatest loss in terms of number of acres of land affected. This person was active in the mobilisation of the farmers from 1989 onwards. After this episode, although he registered his presence in activities by villagers protesting against pollution now and then, he kept away from any further mobilisation activity linked to protest against pollution.

Yet another instance of a subversion of agitation against industrial pollution was in the way industries were dealing with the farmers whose cattle were dying after drinking polluted water. Earlier, the farmers were taking their cattle to the government veterinary hospital and after examination by doctors, took a certificate from them stating that the death of the cattle was perhaps on account of consumption of toxic chemical water. This certificate was necessary to carry out further forensic investigations on the dead cattle by city-based government veterinary hospital, following which an FIR could be lodged with the police, based on which a legal notice could be served which would be the basis for demanding compensation for the cattle. All such complaints and cases would mean mounting evidence against the industries. Fearing this, the industrialists dissuaded villagers from going to government veterinary hospitals or registering complaints with police. They said instead those whose cattle die on account of consuming toxic water could approach the industries through their sarpanch. And over the years several villagers received compensation whenever they lost cattle. However, there is now no evidence suggesting loss of cattle due to pollution with the villagers.

In the 2004 panchayat elections for the post of sarpanch, a new candidate stood with a single point agenda that he would ensure that problem of pollution would be solved in Kazipally village. This candidate was elected by the village. Soon after getting elected, this new sarpanch served notices to 50 industries accused of pollution. The industrialists were called to negotiate with the village. Thirty industrialists attended the negotiation meeting which was addressed by K G Kannabiran (PUCL) and G Haragopal (APCLC), who were playing the role of mediators for the negotiations. In this negotiation, the sarpanch made a categorical statement that no compensation would be accepted by the village unless the industries completely stop polluting the village tank and take up repairs to the tank. A second round talks was scheduled for after a few weeks. Meanwhile, the sarpanch struck a private deal and accepted a package of compensation for the village and distributed some money amongst the villagers. Neither tank repairs nor reduction of pollution were achieved. And to top it all, in the public hearing held in 2005 this sarpanch made a statement that development of the village was contingent upon industrialisation. He strongly argued that industries should not be closed.

Thus, on the whole we find from different instances stated above that what is described as strategic politics or negotiations within political society may ensure social mobility in a very fragmented sense. In the above cases for instance, villagers received money from time to time because of the protest. Farmer activists of the KVRS who strategically reduced the intensity of struggle or kept away from any further activity either because they got opportunities given to them by the industries or because they were dependent on the local administration in carrying on with their illegal income earning activities could be seen as achieving some level of accommodation into the system. However, that these small group strategies and individual centric negotiations for incentives have effectively displaced the overall community interest and collective action within political society, both in terms of giving up community demands like getting the tank repaired, preventing dumping of toxic effluents into village tank, getting a health centre, etc, and also in terms of the cost the community bears due to giving up community interest seen in the general health disorders community suffers on account of unabated pollution, cannot be denied. Apart from these direct costs that the community suffers, the strategic politics has longterm impact on the community life itself – on the trust, social fabric, social relations, and solidarity amongst the people of a community. Far from the community “struggling collectively as a single family” all these factors lead to a decaying of the community, making sustained political activity itself very difficult. We enumerate here these dimensions of the problem.

It is because of the inequality between the victims of pollution and the polluters that the vulnerable villagers are usually dependent on the institutions such as the panchayat. Lack of access to information is yet another factor that leads to dependence of people on formal institutions such as the panchayat. However, when representatives of people themselves go to the side of the polluters, those representing the people through political activism against pollution, find themselves more vulnerable. These activists from the village are usually dependent on social activists from outside or depend on other networks for protection against uncivil state and uncivil mafia elements. But if these social forces are found to be weak, then the political activists derived from amongst the common people of the village fail to sustain their resistance. In such circumstances, the political activism is given up for “strategic politics” aspiring for either individual benefits represented by the growing culture of compensation or just the immediate needs of the community that do not address the problem of pollution as such. A farmer Narasanna says:

the panchayat is corrupt and some leaders are even criminalised. There is no one to whom these leaders are accountable. Once the PCB closed down all the polluting industries. The sarpanch went and gave no objection certificates and got these industries reopened. And we farmers are dependent on these industries for our livelihoods – some supply water, some trade ash, some supply construction material and so on. If we participate in the protests we lose our livelihood…

The fact that farmers have associated themselves with different activities linked to the industries is an outcome of severe pressures that they suffer. Costs relating to curing health disorders, marriage of daughters, and education of children have been frequently mentioned by people. All these demands on the income earners compel them to make compromises and withdraw from the struggle against pollution and enter into individual bargains.

Amina a mother of a farmer said: “people unite if they see a possibility of a solution emerging from the protest. But if they see no such possibility, they prefer bargaining with the industrialists individually and get whatever they can”.

Once achieving opportunities becomes an individualistic pursuit, as Padmaja a DWCRA coordinator points out, “competitive culture increases, comparisons between families in terms of status grow. And individualistic behaviour leads to weakening of the community”. As a consequence of this individualistic behaviour and competitive culture, Venkataramani another DWCRA leader maintains “of late there is lot of friction between families in the village. Families are not sharing problems, resources, or labour. Mutual help amongst members of extended families has weakened.”

During our field survey, we came across several cases of aged people complaining of not being cared for by their family. This was one of the most perceptible fall outs of this decaying community.

An agrarian culture in the village in itself has several cultural forms especially in the celebration of several festivals. The festivals in their timing, symbolism and form are linked to seasons and agrarian economy. The destruction of agriculture due to pollution has today reduced the village to a mere collective in form without forms of expression of this collectivity in the day to day life. Today except the Moharram during which both the Hindu and Muslim communities participate in the festivities, none of the other festivals are celebrated with traditional fervour any longer.

Narasimha a farmer says that “earlier all the villagers were dependent on agriculture and there was lot of community life. Further, the earnings of the people was out of hard work. There was no easy money.”

Traditional village based occupations have replaced these opportunities with opportunities outside the village. Most of the youth work as daily wage contract labour in the industries that do not directly pollute the villages in which the youth stays. This is because the youth may take objection to dumping by industries if this dumping pollutes the village tanks to which they belong. While youth go to industries located away from the villages, the leaders say that this new work environment has brought them in touch with a new migrant society. The migrant communities


Dalit Agendas: Emancipation, Citizenship, and Empowerment

The Center for the Advanced Study of India and the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania will hold a major conference on critical issues relating to Dalit Studies December 4-6, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). We plan to bring together academics and intellectuals from both within and outside of formal academic institutions, including the many organic intellectuals who have kept alive India’s Dalit movement by following Dr. Ambedkar’s injunction to “educate, organize, and agitate.” The purpose of the conference will be to evaluate strategies for ensuring that Dalit agendas are recognized by and incorporated into mainstream academic dialogue and to assess the various political and social agendas, both contemporary and historical, that have sought to improve the lives of Dalits. These include Dalit political formations; print media and literary movements; colonial and postcolonial governmental practices and policies; initiatives for social and economic empowerment; feminist struggles; critiques of nationalist and radical movements; and diasporic activism. The conference will result in the production of an edited volume that will bring various Dalit agendas into dialogue and examine the conditions and contradictions of Dalit social mobility in contemporary India. We encourage proposals from all disciplinary, methodological, and ideological perspectives. Applications are welcome from independent scholars, postgraduate students, and those working within and outside of formal academic institutions.

Further information can be found on the conference website: The author of each paper proposal accepted for participation in the conference will receive an honorarium of USD 500 that we hope will help to defray the costs of any additional research that will be conducted for the paper. Travel (international or domestic, as needed) to and from Philadelphia, meals, and accommodation will be covered for all conference participants, and each contributor whose paper is accepted for publication in the edited volume will receive an additional honorarium of USD 500 following the final submission of their paper.

Deadline for Paper Proposals: November 1, 2007

Applications should include:

  • (1) a three-page description of the research to be presented at the conference and its place within your larger work and goals
  • (2) a two-page C.V.
  • Mailing address for applications:

    Dr. Ramnarayan S. Rawat Department of South Asia Studies University of Pennsylvania 820 Williams Hall 255 South 36th Street Philadelphia, PA 19104-2653 (USA) Email:

    working in these industries have a very poor quality life. This new culture has created a new section of youth who do not have serious concerns towards the issues pertaining to the village. They are unwilling to identify themselves with agriculture and the rural community. This has further weakened the community.

    While farmers maintain that the youth have very little commitment towards the village, the latter say that farmers withdraw from the struggle as soon as they receive compensation. And women are constrained by patriarchal structures in taking independent decisions about acting against the problem of pollution. Therefore, women are seen as a weak category that more or less has a residual role when men are constrained by compulsions. Women are seen as those whose interests are limited to family and do not really have much social role. This being the case, livelihood for male members or compensation are seen as priorities of women rather than commitment to eradication of pollution. Thus, what we have is a community in which over the years there is a complete loss of trust amongst different social groups. It is due to this that youth associations, farmer’s organisation, and DWACRA women are unable to work with one another.

    Political society undoubtedly enables us to grasp the distinctiveness of the dynamics of the subalterns in opposition and contrast to the norms of civil society. In this sense it takes our understanding of the process of democratisation beyond the classical, safe and settled domains of state and civil society. However, in mapping the dynamics internal to this domain it is flattened and dodges the more important issue of sustainability of such seamless alternative sites. First, the squatters of Kolkata could succeed in getting the state to recognise their claims as a “moral force” as long as they did not enter into a conflict with major interests in the state or did not raise structural questions as civil society did in Kazipally; it is therefore (in)explicable as to why “strategic politics” cannot prevent various slums from being demolished across the country and displaced people do not get rehabilitated by a state that acts “contextually” and “instrumentally”.6 It is therefore part of a systemic logic to acknowledge strategic interest-based negotiations, which would eventually displace organised collective action. It is untenable to consider that these varied protest forms could coexist within the undifferentiated political society. Second, political society of the squatters sustaining around strategic politics and emerging as a community or a single family is an anomaly. On the contrary, strategic or interest based negotiations over a period of time only make the community more vulnerable, thereby pushing social groups and individuals to pursue benefits. As the growing culture of compensation and declining trust between the youth, aged, farmers and women in Kazipally stands testimony, such negotiations are squarely in conflict with the collective interests, and articulated around the available social stratifications.

    Community festivals only remain as mere symbolic gestures of a collective life without the necessary resources that could sustain collective action for rehabilitation, employment and dignified living for the squatters in Kolkata or closure of industries and revival of agriculture for the people of Kazipally. Finally, political society as strategic politics only reflects politics that generate perpetual insecurity for the vulnerable by bringing unsustainable notions of mobility or in fact can be used only by social groups that are better equipped to gain patronage of the social elites, government functionaries and political leaders. Far from making large array of connections with other groups in similar situations, it merely increases the possibility of excluding the more vulnerable, such as the landless people without minimum resources, or capital in Kazipally. For these sections, the state, far from responding through welfare policies, increasingly becomes uncivil to cope with and aids the uncivil developmental processes in the market. This was more than evident in implications of active villagers in false cases, threats and physical assaults by the mafia during public hearings, apart from brazenly biased police brutality in Kazipally.




    1 ‘State of Community Health at Medak District’, Greenpeace India, Bangalore, 2004. Also refer Deccan Chronicle ‘Dirty Nakkavagu DestroyingFarmlands, Causing illness’, August 19, 1996.

    2 Though Kazipally village is situated right below the Kazi talab, it is about 250 metres distance from the actual location of the tank. This in a way dilutes the pollution by the time water reaches the village. We therefore collected different samples to show this variance as well. In Table 3 sample 1 has been collected directly from the tank. Sample 2 and 3 arefrom the canal. While sample 2 is from a location of the canal closer to the tank, sample 3 is from a point closer to the village. Sample 4 is the bore water which was used for drinking purposes until recently. This primary data can be supplemented by other secondary data sources including data from Commissionarate of Industries, Greenpeace, EPTRI and other reports.

    3 The most significant form being blockade of the national highway.

    4 President of the village panchayat.

    5 Chairman of the district council.

    6 Partha Chatterjee in his more recent work informs us about the court order to evict the squatters he had earlier studied and the increasing possibility of they being forcefully moved, “thus it is quite possible for the equilibriumof strategic politics to shift enough for these squatters to be evicted tomorrow…Such is the tenuous logic of strategic politics in political society” (Politics of the Governed, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003, p 60). However, does not still acknowledge that such “strategic politics” grow in lieu of organised political activity and cannot actually coexist with it in a “political society”.


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