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It is something I have noticed a few times now. Regions rich in mineral resources are poor. No idea why this is so, but one has to wonder if mining harms the interests of the region in ways beyond the obvious.

Some examples off the top of my head.

Vidarbha in Maharashtra has rich mineral resources and crippling poverty. As state pushes for increased mining, the tribals are pushing back.

Orissa as a state has some of the richest mineral resources in India, but is among the poorest states. The locals know well that mining harms.

Similar patterns in Jharkhand.

Balochistan in Pakistan is also mineral rich and desperately deprived.

Sichuan in China-occupied-Tibet...

How is this so? If minerals are wealth, where is the wealth going? Why are the people of mineral rich places so desperately poor? If minerals are not wealth, why shouldn't mining be stopped and something else started there?

Why is it that proponents of development keep criticising opposition to mining from local citizens?

Your views?


Sunny Singh makes a very intriguing and perceptive observation about the Arab Spring and the rash of self-immolations that it brought.

She points out that while self-immolation is known culturally in say India or among the Tibetan Buddhists, it is a very important taboo in Islam. Not only is suicide forbidden, but mutilating a body - dead or alive is another big no-no. Self-immolation is not a part of Islamic cultures, which see suicide as sin and even suicide bombings are largely justified by fringe beliefs as an act of jihad, but most Muslims will not be able to reconcile with it as acceptable.

Yet these self-immolations, almost flamboyant in both method and breaking of deep cultural taboos have been everywhere the Arab spring touched.

At this point, it is important to read her post to understand the religious, cultural and historical nuances she brings up.

When I read it, the first thought that struck me was that when something on such a scale, and totally unexplained happens, there is a good reason to look at what could be happening on an unconscious level and what immediately stands out to me, as it did to her is the symbolism. The very public statement being made.

The other thing that stood out to me was that if we look beyond the obvious, and choose to define our own lens for the circumstances rather than that of religion or culture alone, then there are threads in common with the self-immolations in Tibet, the women's self-immolations in Afghanistan, and the historical stories of self-immolation from India.

Now, at this point it is important to say that I am describing a landscape of perceptions, looking at how the unconscious mind may be working. The unconscious works in images and sensations rather than logic. So I am trying to look at those, rather than logic too. For example "suicide is useless because nothing is solved" has no place in this view I'm trying to describe.

About the circumstances:

1. One common factor that stands out instantly is the loss of autonomy. Most of these countries are dictatorships reeling under the choices of dictators or other autocratic rulers with little recourse. Particularly the Afghanistan women, but not men - is a quite telling instance. They feel helpless to influence their own circumstances.

2. The oppressor is perceived as having no concern for them as humans and deserving of consideration. (the "perceived" is not to debate the guilt or innocence of oppressor, but to describe what may appear to the victim)

About the method of suicide:

1. It breaks free of the perceived inability to change circumstances.

2. It grabs attention, so it is a statement.

3. It symbolizes the helplessness as an erasing of the identity from the scene. A charred, dead body has neither the personality nor the look of the person. Like the charred body is there, but means nothing - the live body was there, but meant nothing.

4. It is painful and long drawn rather than, say - a suicide bombing - which as Sunny points out also erases the identity from the scene.

5. It is an angry, torturous, deliberate act.

A hypothesis is that the person feels impotent to change their circumstances. There is a lot of anger at failure to do so. Anger directed at self for failing. The method of death is also a self-punishment for that. There is a need to be heard - to "register" and a willingness to pay a high price for it with pain and death after other options have failed - thus the very visual, dramatic death. The breaking of religious taboo also signifies the breaking free from imposed limits - so I think in that sense the taboo actually makes the act more desired. It is an angry condemnation of the oppressor by creating loud, difficult to ignore illustration of their unacknowledged actions destroying the person.

I disagree with Sunny about this being the symbolism of a suicide attack rather than self-immolation. I think a suicide attack is different in several key ways:

1. Object of anger - self immolation has two clear objects - the oppressor and the self. The punishment of the oppressor is in "exposing" his oppression, powerlessness, a possible intent that society or another more powerful will bring justice. In that sense, it marks the oppressor and attacks self. A suicide-attacker is either angry with the world at large or a person, with or without anger with self. The primary target of punishment is not self - the goal is to erase the presence of others. Also there is no element of self-punishment/pain intended - how it happens may be different. The death is intentionally quick.

2. The person may be cornered if at all, but is not defeated and will go down fighting. The self-immolator has acknowledged his powerlessness, but wants it known.

3. I perceive a suicide attack as resulting from anger rather than desperation, but there may be many reasons - including peer pressure to be a hero.

There are other perceptions too, but now that the "track" is open, I am sure you can think of them yourself.

Moving on.

The unconscious may not be consciously known, but it communicates. The symbolism is unconsciously registered by others too. So I want to look at the movements. Will look at the Afghan women separately.

Self-immolations marked the start of most. People understood the suffering the man was making known, and took it up. They also related with it deeply, because they could recognize it in their circumstances - so they were unconsciously on the same team (and in real life circumstances as citizens too). Others may have recognized the expression as appropriate for their circumstances and self-immolated too. Self-immolations dotted the process, giving voice to the suffering and in that sense adding power to the movement too.

There were no suicide bombings. This was a crowd of oppressed and defeated people at the end of their rope without the resources or inclination to attack the oppressor, leaving it to those able to take up the cause on their behalf. And I include the Tibetans in this.

Another connection I make is with India's Jan Lokpal Andolan. Very similar frustrations, massive mobilization of people. The only difference being that the people still had the right to be heard. There was one self-immolation attempted, but overwhelmingly, people were taking up the cause rather than giving up. I think this is also an important aspect of democracy - however dysfunctional in the moment.

However, the element of suffering manifested as fasting - without any attempt to erase identity. The identity had presence in a democracy, but the suffering hunger echoed the suffering deprivation (scams, inflation, etc) at the hands of the oppressor.

If you take still another example from around the same time - the Occupy Movement. Here, you see neither the physical suffering, nor the attempt to erase identity. You see an element of challenge rather than self-denial/deprivation. Taking risks with being attacked by the system, occupying spaces of power - in some kind of echo of the arbitrariness and inequality? Didn't follow the movement so much, so these are very general impressions rather than nuances - more important for what was not seen as compared with the other protests. This is a democracy, with also a somewhat functioning public welfare system - identity and no desperate deprivation or immediate threat of it.

At the root of these perceptions of deprivation and denial happening worldwide, is what I think Sainath points out in his lecture on mass media and mass reality - rising inequality, food prices, inflation and add to it collapsing economies and floundering corporates being bolstered by public resources, when the public itself is reeling.

The Afghan women's oppressor is not the government, but society and it is a very gender specific oppressor. So you don't find Afghan men self-immolating so much as the women. The Afghan men have their voice in their democracy - again, however dysfunctional - even the fact that "it is supposed to be like this" is often enough for someone to claim that space in need. The protests in Pakistan, for example.

On the other hand, women with their severe social restrictions, an extremely chauvinistic culture and little hopes for bettering their circumstances choose self-immolation largely as a means of escaping domestic violence. The rest of the symbolism remains the same, except the people taking up the cause are far fewer, because women's rights is not as widely identified with a subject and you find more of their champions among the social workers, though there are instances when locals - both men and women have protested when they identified with the victim.

In summary, I think there is a scale of dissent or protesting distress. The easiest method is chosen. Where the victim has voice, they speak up. Where there is no government listening, they rebel. If there is hopelessness, there are public self-immolations. It is about agency, in my view. They may be seeking acknowledgment that they suffered and they matter. Or "proving" the genuineness of their distress and hopelessness that goes unheard with everything they have - their life itself and a painful death in order to make that one statement that matters.


I got thinking about this, and it has led to some pretty deep thoughts, which as usual are likely to offend all parties involved indiscriminately, so if you are easily offended, do yourself a favor and stop reading.

I have no doubt that Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace believe it from the bottom of their soul. I also have no trouble understanding the outrage at some happenings in the name of Islam. Most people are horrified that Muslims don't condemn killing of non-Muslims. For example, the ghastly mob killings at the UN office in Afghanistan, because some obscure pastor in the back of beyond burnt a Koran. There were massive protests. It isn't like a few people quietly killed a few more people.

However, Terry Jones does make the point he started out to make - challenging this facade of Islam being a moderate religion. While I have no doubt that Muslims do believe that they are genuinely peaceful, I find that the more religious they are, the more their descriptions of peace and justice and other good values become unrecognizable, though we use the same word "peace". To many peace loving Muslims, there is absolutely nothing wrong in someone desecrating the Koran to be killed. The killers are heroes and defenders of Islam. We can't even call them inhuman, because their laws ARE different from ours and so is their spiritual guidance. Death is not something they shy from - possibly are more honest about it than the rest of the world. By our standards, this is wrong, but the part the world does not get is that they aren't applying our standards. They have not idolized life and death and sanctity and such things, which frankly, the world has idolized in claim, but does not respect. I am not calling them good or bad, but it is clear that calling a Muslim peaceful is extremely misleading, not because they aren't - they are, but because their idea of peaceful includes many things ours doesn't. And then again, it isn't all Muslims. Many have adopted western standards, so when they say peaceful, they mean it exactly like we do.

It is not good or evil. It is simply a different culture, and the faster the we accept that, the better it is going to be for the world. The middle east is not the west. In their rush to be accepting of people of a new culture, they have chosen to believe things and now they are blaming Muslims for not living up to those standards. What standards? It was never a Muslims idea to let a Koran burning go unpunished though a few may have agreed on being asked/challenged. We want to make friends of them, but on our standards - even in their country.

It is like going to some nudist beach and judging the people by their lack of clothes, or judging a cannibal tribe for eating people. Its food, damnit! I had read about a tribe I don't want to name here and they aren't cannibals anymore, because it isn't about them, but a quote remains in mind "How much more can you defeat your enemy than not just kill them, but eat them!". An utterly alien thought that makes perfect sense in a different culture. Or the outrage of the guest in another tribe to find that his dog had been considered a gift and was now on the table for dinner. The Dalai Lama is a symbol for peace, but if you read the history of Tibet and some of the nightmarish tortures that were routine punishments... There is a huge diversity of cultures, which are coming closer as the world is better connected. Even among the so called standardized "values" that are eating up individuality, we have conflicts - torture of prisoners is routine in many countries regardless of what anyone says for or against it.

Terry Jones makes an important point, that governments the world over need to consider - to stop using cliches and labels to define an entire category of people, because this leads to confusion. In India, for example, the public has mostly accepted this. We have accepted completely the reality that regardless of how things should be, we are a people who will rise to kill and die for religion, and because we don't want that, we make extra effort to avoid such triggers. Religious insults are rare and usually by political figures rather than religious leaders (not always). There is a strong narrative for respecting all religions, which holds the people to sanity and the voice calling for violence then is the jarring note. But we went through hell before we realized the value of not avenging everything.

Sometimes it fails, as it did in the communal riots (actually it was born then), or at Gujarat. Modi couldn't have done one bit of harm if people weren't in the mood to be intolerant. This was a failure to integrate that gets blamed on one man so others can excuse their own petty hates. The main reason that Gujarat could recover has nothing to do with Modi either. It is the strength of the voice that rose against those actions. AND it was the Hindu voices disowning and condemning those actions that had impact. The Muslims would have condemned of course. It was only to be expected. A clear line was drawn - this shit has nothing to do with avenging Hindu honor.

Less noticed was the outrage against Vastanvi for asking Gujarat to move from complaining to progress, but it was an important milestone for Indian Muslims. When the traditional line was outraged at this seeming pacifism, the masses recognized it for what it was - moving with purpose. Another line was drawn - don't make it a rule for Muslims to always be hostage to some or the other agenda and prevent growth.

I am not attacking or defending anything at all. I am, myself an atheist and happy to burn any book in the world, as long as I am able to reference the knowledge I want. I am simply trying to look into the factors that result in these clash of civilizations kind of scenarios.

It appears to me that our stereotypes are failing us. When one person says "peace" he may mean peace as in non-violent. Another may mean the peace of being true to your value systems. You can see how a value system that honors killing in the name of religion does not connect killings of religious offenders with lack of peace. In fact, they would probably call it making the world more peaceful by getting rid of the sinners.

By whitewashing the whole thing, we disable ourselves from seeing the bite sized chunks that can be addressed and resolved. If we were able to look at it as say "day to day functional interaction" or "country above religion" etc - the ones who are not able to do this become visible and something can be done to resolve the situation rather than making assumptions that them calling themselves peaceful means that they will accept that the Supreme Court is greater than the Mullah.

I remember reading on some "anti-jihad" variety forum, where the chief occupation of people seems to be criticizing Islam and Muslims for perfectly logical reasons repeated infinitely. There was this utterly, beautifully, delightfully naive Indian who commented something along the lines of "We all should live like brothers because all religions are equal". The thread erupted in pandemonium. There were people who called him a Muslim pretending to be a Hindu, asked him about not speaking up against extremists, terrorists, etc, convincing about the evils of Islam.... the works. I cannot dispute any of the data they brought up, it is true. However, what I found ironic was that this was a group of people blaming Islam for being intolerant of other religions bringing the roof down because someone suggested co-existence!

Reminds me of those much ridiculed posters during the cartoon riots - Kill those who say Islam is a violent religion.

We are easily outraged by the inconsistency of another, but we fail to recognize it within us. And I include me in this. I remember going to the Jama Masjid one Eid night many years ago. I wanted to see how it is. It was glorious. Wonderful. Bright lights, Happy people, much celebration, excellent food.... but, in the background, I was totally terrified that someone would find out that I was "Hindu" and "something would happen". I had never been around so many Muslims before. Thankfully, nothing happened. The friend whose house I visited teased me mercilessly about my fears, but to help me feel safer, sent her brother to escort me out of the area after my visit was done. Said brother was Muslim of course, but that's different. I knew him. Huh? Illogical.

Stereotypes have an important function in life. They give us the broad understanding on something. However, they usually fail on intimacy, as they are a generalization, and emerging individual details demolish them. Then these stereotypes become dysfunctional.

All the arguments are correct. I am not disputing the logic of anything. I am asking for creativity out here. What else can we try? How else can we define the terrorists/extremists or other wrong actions so that we don't amputate a leg to remove a wart? Are there more useful ways of achieving this merger of civilizations other than wars, judgments and ill will?

Note: I am not recommending anything at all. I am throwing in a few things that came to my mind, and asking if we can be more innovative in how we manage our shared world.