Millennium Post

Rights in times of extremism

The truth, as they say, is always a compound of two half truths and you never quite reach it because there is always something more to say.

However, with Clear. Hold. Build, Sudeep Chakravarti tries to bring to the table the argument along with the counter-argument over the extremist ideologies that are throbbing in large parts of India and that are deemed by many as a threat to the very idea of India’s existence.

Citizens of the country have for long been force-fed a certain idea about development and have been blinded into believing that anyone opposed to it is an enemy of the state and the Constitution of the country.

Chakravarti’s book is an eye-opener to how the proponents of this idea of development flout norms and constitutional tenets – the very aspects they seek refuge under when questioned for accountability.

The book delves into the ‘dark deals’ that take place to push certain projects and how quickly and meticulously everything is hushed up under the carpet before voices of dissent from the remote parts of the country reach the supporters of development.

Chakravarti takes the readers to the grounds where there is growing discontent over the manner in which governments and businesses in India treat communities and stakeholders. He shows us how gullible stakeholders are manipulated and made to pay the price for development. Where cajoling doesn’t work, use of force is made with impunity.

The author gives a case-by-case account of how disaffection has emerged in project-affected communities over issues of land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation, which have become a major threat to economic growth, apart from adding to the cost of businesses on account of lost opportunities, delays and liabilities. Consent of communities in most cases has been manufactured either by presenting a body of lies or through sheer use of force. Consent has just been extracted.

Clear. Hold. Build also delineates cases of extortion by Maoists and how they too stand on a flimsy ground by expressing dissent through spilling blood. To minimise tension companies are paying up extremists. ‘Minimise tension. These two words have for long purchased partial immunity from Maoists. As rebel economies are by default offline, businesses – small, medium and big – are approached for ‘donation’ – euphemism for outright extortion, to feed rebel machinery,’ Chakravarti writes.

This is where the author succeeds in striking the right balance in piecing together the situation on the ground. Chakravarti speaks to senior executives, policy-makers, activists, lawyers and local communities across conflict zones in the country to present a ringside view of the present and future of business and human rights.

The author raises red flag over some of the most significant human rights flash points in recent past – Vedanta, Tata Steel, Posco, Kudankulam. The book builds a strong case for looking into the execution of the corporate world’s much-touted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. It highlights the need for a change in attitude from Clear. Hold. Build (which means security forces ‘sanitise’ an area of opposition using any means at hand, dominate that area with exhibition of force, and then build upon that advantage) to Protect, Respect and Remedy, as espoused by John Ruggie in 2008 to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Unlike a lot of literature on government and corporate world functioning in conflict zones, this book offers solutions too. Chakravarti says that the businesses are wary of talking to NGOs and vice-versa. While corporate feel there is nothing to be gained out of engaging with NGOs, the latter is wary of being perceived to be selling out while talking to businesses. ‘We need to change the way people talk to each other,’ the author says adding that this is what his book aims to achieve.

The idea of human rights is comparatively new to India and the rest of South Aisa, this is where the author believes lies the scope for course correction. ‘I cannot comment on fundamental right, but surely such a discussion is a fundamental necessity in a country that aspires to sit at the high table of economically prosperous and geopolitically powerful. Deep vulnerabilities and denial at home can hardly aid such ambition,’ he writes.

Chakravarti’s book must be read by all those who have taken sides in this great divide of state vs non state. We might just stumble upon certain unexplored ideas and unseen facts.
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