Nuclear tests : Politics of Aggression

Newsletter Sep 1998

The nuclear explosions of 11th and 13th May 1998 by India and subsequently on 28th and 30th May by Pakistan were initially accompanied by unprecedented national euphoria and pride in both the countries. Within India the general atmosphere created was of a patriotic fervour which equated bomb with national pride and it was presented as a great scientific and national achievment. Fortunately, it did not take long for this euphoria to dissipate because of the dissenting voices which raised questions both of the rationality and morality of such a decision.

We believe that projecting nuclear capability as a proof of one’s strength would not only lead to dangerous arms race in the region but such a stepwould also have grave consequences for all the people in general in terms of decrease in access to resources, education, employment, services because of diversion of already scarce funds towards building and maintaining nuclear arsenals. The consequences would be specially grave for already suppressed sections of society, especially women, as ideologically, it sanctions violence and aggression and thereby creates an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.

What justification does the BJP-led government offer for the nuclear explosions?

In spite of being a coalition government, the BJP pushed for a nuclear agenda with its allies and conducted nuclear tests within a few weeks of coming to power. The BJP government claims that these tests are for the national security and that it felt compelled to conduct these tests in view of the deteriorating security environment.

The logic offered by the pro-nuclear strategists is that the nuclear weapons offer security by functioning as deterrents in case of a foreign [read Pakistan] attack. They say that the weapons are not meant for aggression, only for defence. With formal demonstration of nuclear power, the current government feels that it can now address the border issue more assertively.

All the previous governments - including Congress and United Front in the recent past - have been supporting the development of nuclear power over the successive years. However, they seemed to have used their discretion and not carried out the tests after the first explosion in Pokhran in 1974. The current government, in contrast, gave a `go ahead’ soon after coming to power.

The BJP/RSS combine has always maintained that the development of the nuclear weapons is essential to show the power and the strength - an argument which fits in very well with its proclamation of the male superiority. In the larger picture of the Hindu nation, the BJP/RSS have seen Pakistan and to a lesser extent China as major enemies. Hence, scoring over Pakistan appears to be one of the major goals of the nuclear explosions. The euphoria that had set in after the Indian nuclear explosions and prior to the Pakistan explosions is a clear proof of the macho image building exercise that the two states indulged in!

Additionally, the BJP required to gain political mileage to keep its coalition partners together and the opponents quiet! It succeeded in doing so for a few days. Soon after the Indian nuclear explosions, The Pakistan government also demonstrated its ability to carryout nuclear tests successfully, following which the Indian euphoria started subsiding. The political uncertainty is looming large again for the BJP-led government.

What dangers are associated with the making and deployment of nuclear weapons?

The government has chosen to ignore the implications of the nuclear tests. The argument of national security is based on the potential threat posed by these weapons to the enemy and the ability to counter a nuclear attack by means of nuclear deterrents. As yet, the appropriate equipment necessary for detecting and countering a nuclear attack are not available with India. Even if the necessary systems become available, they will not act as effective deterrents between India and Pakistan since the travelling time for nuclear missiles between the two countries is just two to three minutes, whereas between the USA and the erstwhile USSR, it is 30 minutes giving theoretically enough time to detect and possibly deter the bombs. For India and Pakistan there is no such possibility. If a nuclear bomb explodes over a Pakistani city, Indians will also suffer from the adverse effects of the explosion. The high velocity wind and rains that will follow consequent to the explosion would easily carry the remnants of radioactivity across the border. For natural forces like wind and rain artificial boundaries separating the nations do not exist!

India and Pakistan both have acquired the capability of developing nuclear bombs formally. It is, therfore, important to understand the potential of destruction of these bombs. A nuclear weapon does not have the capability to hit its target with any greater accuracy than the conventional weapons. In fact, in terms of efficiency of using the nuclear fuel the nuclear weapons are less efficient than the conventional weapons like a chemical bomb containing TNT.

Hence, after a nuclear explosion unused nuclear energy can potentially spread over a large area around the target and be responsible for larger scale damage produced by the spread and persistence of radioactivity. Nuclear explosions over human habitat would lead to disastrous effects. It is estimated that even if a small bomb of 15 kiloton is dropped in a city with a population density of 20,000 people/sq. km., two lakh people are likely to die. In a city with a population density of 100,000 people/sq. km. seven to eight lakh people will die. These estimates will go up to five or 10 lakh deaths in the first scenario if a thermonuclear device is used, the kind that India has recently tested. These estimates apply well to Mumbai, Karachi and many cities on the subcontinent!

In addition to the immediate effects like instantanous death for human beings very close to the site of explosion, severe burns for people in 2-3 km. radius, total destruction of plant and wild life etc., there are other long term hazardous consquences of radioactive fall out. After nuclear explosions, huge amounts of radioactivity is released which can impregnate the soil, water and air for thousands of years to come. The genetic material in the living - human beings, animals and plants - exposed to residual doses of radiation can undergo mutations and these can adversely affect the future generations. Human beings can develop a variety of cancers, affected mothers might deliver babies with birth defects, young children exposed to relatively low doses of radiation may show stunted growth and may become infertile if they survive for longer periods. Even today wherever nuclear material is handled and processed - either for the production of nuclear energy or nuclear weapons - the hazards associated with the exposure of the workers are apparent. Many processing plants have been shut down in India.

Mine workers of Jaduguda (Orissa) mines and their families are a living example of the effects of chronic exposure to radiation. Uranium, one of the starting material for nuclear bombs is mined and processed in Jaduguda mines and workers are exposed to the dangerous effects of uranium in the process. The incidence of cancer resulting from radiation exposure in their families is much higher than the rest of the country.

What are the indirect effects of nuclear explosions?

With India’s active participation in the nuclear arms race and a perceived need to develop further and their refinements, the expenditure on such heads is bound to go up significantly. Dr Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, has calculated the extra expenditure on defence related matters from the recent budget presented by the BJP-led government. According to her, the latest budget involves a 14 per cent increase in the defence budget over last year’s revised estimates. This comprises an increase of Rs. 4038 crore in revenue expenditure and Rs. 1063 in capital expenditure. In addition to the expenditure which is not clearly defined but which can be used for the defence development, there is an explicit increase in budgetary expenditure on the nuclear programme in terms of outlays for the Department of Atomic Energy (a 59 per cent increase, from Rs. 987 crore to Rs. 1569 crore) and the Department of Space (a 62 per cent increase, from Rs. 850 crore to Rs. 1381 crore). To put some of these numbers in perspective, it is worth comparing them with some other items of central Government expenditure. Thus, the total outlay for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the 1998-99 Budget is put at only Rs. 3684 crore, well below just the increase in defence expenditure. The increase in allocation to the Departments of Space and Atomic Energy alone is more than 5 times greater than the increase in the outlay for health, 52 per cent higher than the increase in the Central education outlay, 72 per cent higher than the increase in allocation for rural employment and poverty alleviation. The priorities of the current government for the health sector, education and poverty alleviation programmes are made amply clear by these figures.

In addition to the effects of going nuclear in terms of high costs keeping up with nuclear arms along with the decreased investments on measures needed to improve the disastrous effects in case the `power’ is actually used by a conscious decision or by a fatal accident, are its ideological implications on various groups especially women. The focus on security and defence and projection of nuclear explosion as great scientific achievement are actually a cover to fan nationalistic feelings and has contributed to accentuating the process of militarisation in the subcontinent. The process is accompanied by making systematic inroads into education i.e., through text books and reconstitution of academic institutions and culture. The Minister of Human Resource Development has recently talked of a new cultural policy, which looking at the past history of BJP, is bound to eulogise `Hindu’ culture with its concomitant effects not only on women belonging to Hindu community but also for women of minority communities. The security and defence concerns, projected by the BJP government as justification for nuclear India are based on constructing a cultural and educational environment that is aggressive, chauvinist, power-obessed, violent, and revengeful. This has not only pushed back the agenda for peace and tolerance but also contributed to creating a environment of fear and insecurity for the disadvantaged and already suppressed sections of society.

Thus, the issue is no more actual outbreak of a war but continuing conditions of hatred, animosity and constant fear of losing life and property or actual mental and physical trauma following outbreak of violence in the form of communal riots or terrorist violence. The valorisation of male-values of aggression and brutality legitimises the use of violence as a form of assertion. Women, who have been worst victims of both visible and non-visible forms of violence are bound to get more oppressed in such an environment. We have already argued in the context of debate on egalitarian civil code that in our environment characterised by violence women get even more dependent on men of their community, thereby, becoming hostages of the respective communities.

Why are we opposed to nuclear weaponisation?

A total opposition to the nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, a pledge for no use of nuclear weapons at all by the Indian government and a call for the universal nuclear disarmament is what Saheli pleads. The uniqueness of the nuclear weapons in their ability to destroy life indiscriminately over space and time is the prime consideration for our opposition as has been mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

Nuclear weaponisation carried out by any country is equally reprehensible in our opinion and hence not only India and Pakistan but other nuclear countries like China, France, Russia, UK and the US should also take active steps in initiating the process of nuclear disarmament and carry it to completion. There should be no discrimination between the countries on the basis of the nuclear power they possess. The international initiatives for implementing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT] and Material Cut off Treaty [FMCT] can be looked at as a part of the process of universal nuclear disarmament.

As an immediate aftermath of the Indian nuclear explosions, a phenomenal increase in the culture of aggression, violence and revenge was witnessed. politicians as well as common people were talking more about war with our neighbours than cooperation and dialogue. Nuclearisation creates an atmosphere of tension, insecurity, fear, even panic. It tends to spread a false premise that economic pressures and social problems can be redressed through an accumulation of the capacity for violence. This sense of an increased capacity for violence against so-called enemies translates into and justifies everyday aggression against women, minorities and other under-privileged sections. By exploding the bombs, the present day government has driven us away from the path of peace and tolerance.

We are concerned about the increasing budgetary allocations for defence purposes at the cost of social reforms and health. The total budgetary allocation for health sector is poor to begin with. The healthcare available to the poorer sections of the society in the form of public sector facilities is far from satisfactory. Poor women suffer even more than poor men because of inadequacy in health services. The steady withdrawal of the state from the social welfare, health, education and the erosion of the public distribution system is adversely affecting the lives of millions of people. All this portrays a very dismal picture of the future. The budget presented by the Finance Minister only highlights the callousness of the BJP government towards weaker sections of the society.

Through nuclear tests the BJP/RSS combine provocatively direct their aggression against Pakistan. This is in tune with their Hindu fundamentalist politics. The anti-Muslim hysteria that goes with it has not only resulted in escalating border tensions between the two countries but other anti-democratic processes too. As an immediate step, Pakistan imposed an emergency suspending fundamental rights, which has been followed by a government declaration to accelerate the Islamisation processes in the country. The repercussions of these measures, especially of the latter, are bound to be grave for women, despite the Pakistan government’s assurances on the contrary.

While in India, there have been no such direct overtures by the Government, but the fanning of anti-Pakistan (read anti-Muslim) feelings has resulted in increasing the fears of minorities.

What are we doing to express our opposition?

The first voice of public opposition in Delhi came on the 16th of May when several academicians, journalists and activists working in the fields of environment, human rights violation, women’s rights, development, peace etc. came together at the ITO and marched to the Mandi House as a mark of protest. This protest has further led to the formation of at least two groups which are comprised of individuals and representatives of various organisations in Delhi. We are actively participating in the anti-nuclear activities of both these groups. Paramanu Bomb Virodhi Andolan [PBVA] has been organising peaceful demonstrations every Friday at various public places in Delhi to voice protest and talking to people on the street about the hazards and consequences of nuclear explosions. The Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament [MIND], another group has also held newsconferences, conventions to spread the message of peace. On 6th of August, in memory of the explosion of first atomic bomb on the Japanese city Hiroshima in 1945, a rally was arranged in which nearly 5000 people participated.The two groups intend to continue their campaigns to spread the message of peace to as many people as possible through brochures, pamphlets, organising public meetings etc.

We also hope to form links with like minded people across India, Pakistan and the rest of the world and exchange information and offer helping hand to each other for the campaign of universal nuclear disarmament. Through the activities of these groups, we have been active in voicing our protests against the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan.