In order to understand the relationship between the multitudes of diverse cultures, regions, ethnicities, and spiritual traditions that exist within the modern nation state of India we need to take a closer look at what “India” is — and why there continue to be independence movements within its borders from people seeking liberation from the state.
“India” is a word that commonly is used for the country of India, as well as being a ‘catch all’ word for many peoples, cultures, races, and even cuisines.
You may be surprised to learn that the word “Indian” is not native to any of the languages of the South Asian Subcontinent. It comes from the orientalist imagination of European colonisers. The term gained prominence from the colonial encounter, and has stuck ever since. Its continued usage, particularly by the Indian state, is tied to a violent colonial project of homogenising people and erasing Indigenous plurality. This project of “Indian-ness” which is tied directly to the political discourse of the Indian State, is today upheld by the fascism of Hindutva — a social project of the RSS to build a Hindu rashtra — a homogenized and subdued population helplessly subject to the whims of a xenophobic Hindu nationalism and global capitalism. Hindutva envisions and enforces one nation with one language, one religion, and today ‘one market’, all in service of the ruling caste.
The origins of the modern Indian State are rooted in the European colonisation. India as a political entity has been imposed by the colonial state structure to eliminate diverse expressions of indigenous sovereignty and replace them with an authoritarian model that could exploit the land and people for the profit of the empire. The structure of the colonial state has itself been developed and deployed as an imperialist structure to make exploitation and domination more efficient throughout the colonized world. It was this political structure that was handed over by the European Coloniserin 1947 when India achieved its “independence”.
The Transfer of Power made sure that the imperial relation continued and this is the foundation on which centre-state relations in modern India are based. Although there was an undeniable shift, it was more of a reconfiguration of oppressive power than an actual end to colonialism in India. In other words, “national independence” did not lead to decolonization; colonialism changed forms, but the underlying discourse, structures, and power relations remain firmly in place today. This lack of political power to redetermine Indigenous autonomy has remained unresolved, and resulted in continuing conflicts from Peoples seeking self-determination throughout India.
From its inception, India established a highly centralized state structure to maintain majoritarian control and unleashed a nation-building project to ensure the peoples of the subcontinent were assimilated into a unitary ‘Indian’ national identity. Various regions and communities that have resisted this process have been projected as pathologies that must either be assimilated or annihilated altogether.
Currently there are many movements for secession from the centralised structure of the Indian State. From Kashmir and Khalistan in the North West, to Assam, Manipur, Nagaland in the North East. In the South of the Subcontinent there are movements for the autonomy of the Dravidian nations. All of the secessionist movements make demands for their regional autonomy.
The colonial moorings of the Indian state makes any dissent that challenges the authority of the state a criminal act. The Indian Penal Code written in 1860 by colonisers provides the basis for punitive laws that are used to punish political discourse as sedition. Sucsessive Indian laws such as TADA/UAPA provide the basis not only for imprisonment but also the political justifcaction for genocide. The Indian state continues to treat political conflict purely as a law and order problem. As a result the narrative of “anti-national” has become a dog-whistle for Indian fascism. The India state’s vicious counter- insurgency strategy to eliminate and permanently foreclose dissent is escalated in a well-documented formulaic process:
Militarizing the police and overwhelming the region with an armed military presence
Enforced disappearances of human rights activists, journalists, and pro-liberation political leadership
Incentivizing the extrajudicial murder of activists and guerrillas with impunity through an elaborate bounty system using unmarked funds
Crushing popular support through illegal detention, enforced disappearances and draconian laws
The enforced peace in India is therefore maintained not through political settlement, but by maintaining the omnipresence of repressive state violence— and making this violence felt upon the bodies and voices of potential dissidents today. Restricting public space exclusively to Indian nationalist forces, the state has maintained its coercive judicial-military apparatus to swiftly eliminate political opposition through extrajudicial killings, judicial repression, and the lived reality of the omnipresence of state violence. The genocidal violence maintains its lingering presence and is reproduced daily upon those who seek to dissent—forcing them to live under a regime in which violent perpetrators of crimes against humanity maintain positions of power over survivors.
The reassertion of Indian political hegemony over the region is not the result of a political settlement or the resolution of political demands but the imposition of a violent “peace” built upon genocide.
Currently India is a non-permanent member of the United Nations security council, its aspirations in the UN have been held back precisely because of the Indian State’s human rights record and its draconian response to dissent. India has not ratified the convention against torture and instead weaponses “territorial integrity” to silence ciritism and political discourse.
On the morning of March 18, 2023, Indian authorities launched a militarized security operation to arrest Sikh leader, Bhai Amritpal Singh. Citing a threat to "public order by incitement to violence" internet services have been suspended across Punjab, and Section 144 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure has been invoked to criminalize the gathering of four or more people.
The Indian government began “granting mining licences to private and multinational corporations as part of the liberalisation and privatisation of the economy in the early 1990s.” The current Maoist rebellion began in 2004 when People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) merged to create the Communist Party of India (Maoist) — this group is banned in India.
Since the annexation of the Sikh confederacy by the British in 1849, the Sikh peoples have been resiliently resisting foreign occupation and mobilizing to re-establish Sikh sovereignty in the Punjab. The manifestations of Sikh liberation movements since 1849 have taken a variety of forms that continue to inspire and drive Sikh self-determination today.