The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation, London.
Ilina and I appreciate deeply the solidarity and support extended by so many friends from the United Kingdom and across the world in the course of my trial and incarceration. We were looking forward to meeting at least a few of you in the course of our proposed visit to the United Kingdom in November.
The original citation of the Gandhi International Peace Award when it came, was a surprise, as I on my own had never claimed to be a representative of the tribal people of India. However, I had always proudly claimed the heritage of a vernacular and indigenous life-world that was egalitarian and sustainable, and since the awarding body was free to make its own ascription, I humbly accepted the responsibility being put on me. I was fully aware that there could be many views about my fitness to undertake such a task, but it never occurred to me that my ethnic identity, in that I was not ethnically a member of the tribal people of India, would stand in my way.
To my understanding, the ethnic indigenous people of the world have suffered terrible violence in the course of the development of the capitalist state, a violence that has been directed equally against all colonized people, the working class, and other subaltern sections. Efforts to build a new society must be made by all oppressed people together. To claim to take on board the politics of genetic ethnicity as a part of this effort is a form of racism, and racism never smelt sweeter merely because it was articulated from the platform of a subaltern identity.
What we are confronting throughout India today is widespread hunger, compounded by widespread displacement, to the extent that it constitutes a stable famine spread over large parts of the country and over large sections of its people. Access to appropriate health care remains a dream for all except a privileged minority. The penetration of global capital into resource rich ‘undeveloped’ regions, and the operation of industrial and mining interests in these areas have been responsible for this displacement and disenfranchisement of communities. State policies in countries like ours are aiding rather than curbing these processes. Urgent measures are needed to combat this hunger, stop this displacement and ensure equity, human rights, and social justice. However, voices of dissent are deliberately suppressed through outdated laws and juridical processes, and thousands of citizens languish in prison for opposition to these policies.
In the context of the award, the changed citation has only led to further contention and acrimony. Unfortunately, the process of nomination, the thinking behind the original citation and that behind the second, were never made public by the Gandhi Foundation. If the first citation was problematic, the second was even more so, as in this, the “Tribal People of India’ of the first citation did not find any mention at all. This was not a position in which I could afford to be complicit. The level of debate is now such that the paramount issues outlined above threaten to be replaced by a palimpsest of ethnic fundamentalism. Under the circumstances, the really important task of delineating and combating the tragedy being enacted before our eyes gets pushed to the background.
Accordingly, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that at the present juncture it will not be appropriate for me to receive this award. My thanks go to those who nominated and to those who selected me for this award. It was never my intention to give offence or show disrespect to any of the parties in this controversy. I greatly regret any inconvenience that the organisers may be put to as a result of my decision.