Indonesian security forces repress protests in West Papua.
This is part of Peoples Dispatch’s year-ender series for 2019. For the complete series, click here
Under neoliberal capitalism and its extreme right-wing manifestations in various countries, militarisation and occupation are no anomalies. The combination of extreme austerity policies and a politics of polarisation has ensured the collapse of social compacts across the world. Confronted with rising resistance, the ruling elites in many of these countries have sought to double down and increase repression to unprecedented levels. From Chile and France to Swaziland and the Philippines, this trend has only intensified this year.
For the people of these countries and many others across the world, resistance is not something extraneous to day-to-day life but part of the fabric of existence itself. They know, as do their enemies in the citadels of power, that there is no retreat, no compromise. In this year-ender, we look at five specific instances of heightened militarisation and the brave struggles of the people against it.
Palestine is a story of decades of resistance in the face of an apartheid state that is aided by imperial powers and the complicity of those who claim to be their allies. In 2018, the people of Gaza mounted one of the most heroic acts of struggle against Israeli atrocities in the form of the Great March of Return. This year too, despite the relentless siege by Israeli occupation forces and innumerable other acts of oppression, the people of Palestine endured and made it clear that they would not be silenced. From the thousands who returned to the border fence at Gaza despite horrific violence and administrative detainees who exposed the brutality of the Israeli prison system with their hunger strikes to the women who marched against gender violence, the people of Palestine showed that decades of militarisation could not cow them down.
Israeli oppression touched new heights this year with the constant air raids and the intensification of construction of settlements with the aid of a policy change by the US. As its political sphere lurched rightwards with almost every passing month, incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque compound became almost a weekly affair. Throughout these attacks, and the deaths and the torture, the flag of resistance continued to fly high. The slogan, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ has never been as relevant as now.
The people of Kashmir, the most militarised region in the world, are no strangers to state repression. However, the Indian state’s occupation reached its zenith this year. On August 5, the right-wing Indian government led by the Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abrogated the constitutionally mandated autonomy of the State – a step which has been part of its agenda for decades. This was followed by the deployment of 70,000 Indian soldiers, in addition to the already stationed 700,000 military and paramilitary personnel.
Between August and October, millions of people were virtually caged under curfew-like restrictions and a severe security clampdown. A communications and transport shutdown made it impossible for people to commute for nearly five long months, as the health, education and business sectors underwent a severe crisis. As many as 13,000 individuals, including politicians, activists and youth, were detained, either within Kashmir or in prisons outside the State.
Four months after the beginning of the military siege, the Indian government has made it clear that this is its idea of the new normal. The people, however, have time and again demonstrated extraordinary resilience in fighting back. From civil disobedience to spontaneous demonstrations, the resistance has defiantly fought back even as the state attempts to silence 7 million voices. Kashmir today is the front line of the global battle against state repression and right-wing authoritarianism.
For decades, the people of West Papua have organised against the occupation of their land by Indonesia and the racist violence they have endured. This year, the violence on Papuans began in the days leading up to the Indonesian Independence Day following protests against the New York Agreement of 1962, which Papuan sovereignty activists reject.
This was met with racist violence inflicted on Papuans, especially students in mainland Indonesia, by ultra-nationalists along with the police. The violence was followed by mass arrests on August 17 and 18. The massive protests by Papuans that began on August 19 have continued ever since. Neither the communication shutdowns or the deployment of over 1,500 armed police and security personnel could suppress the resistance.
The Rodrigo Duterte administration in the Philippines may not renew martial law in the Mindanao region in the south, but the war against activists and journalists across the country continues.
In the name of dealing with the banned Maoist Communist Party of Philippines, the Duterte administration has repeatedly engaged in what is known as “red-tagging”, which is to baselessly allege opposition leaders and activists of being part of the CPP.
The repercussions of that has been quite bloody, as political violence and murders have sky-rocketed this year, with leaders of trade unions, peasant groups, and progressive movements being at the receiving end of the attacks by the security forces and ultra-nationalist vigilantes.
Peace consultant, Randy Felix Malayo was murdered in January and 14 farmers were brutally massacred in a violent raid by the police and the armed forces in the island of Negros, just north of Mindanao.
Negros, which has a large and active workers’ movement, has been the worst hit in terms of political violence. Activists have argued that the militarisation of the nation in the name of counter-insurgency and the war on drugs actually aims at undermining workers’ struggles and progressive movements in the country.
In Western Sahara, which has a long history of anti-colonial struggles, the Moroccan authorities have been responsible for muzzling voices of resistance. Arrests and intimidation have become a common occurrence in 2019. Mahfouda Bamba Lefkir, a prominent activist, was arrested and subsequently sentenced by the authorities in May. The authorities continued to curb all major voices opposing the occupation. One of methods it used to instill fear in the population and discourage further mobilising, has been “disappearing” hundreds in clandestine detention and torture centers. Bachraya Abahazem, an activist from Western Sahara, was one of the hundreds who “disappeared” in one of these centers for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, the people of Western Sahara have been waging a valiant battle against their colonial masters for their independence and self-determination.