Starting with the Naga insurgency since India’s independence in 1947, the north eastern region which has international borders with China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh continues to be in the grip of secessionist insurgency. These demands for secession however, evoke strong reactions from the Indian State and deployment of a large number of security forces in the region. As a result, the State and its security forces treat every common people as militants and secessionists to be suppressed by the use of military might and repressive legislation. Local supports which are enjoyed by the insurgents is sought to be diminished by rough treatment of the civilian population by conducting combing operations. Suspected civilians when arrested are subjected to third degree methods by the military forces giving a clear message “stay away from insurgents or suffer the consequences.” Years of counter insurgency operations to curb the activities of these rebels and their sympathizers has resulted in incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, outright killing, burning of entire villages and several proven and unproven violations of human rights. Therefore, deploying the military, trained to fight enemy hostility, to deal with civilian populations is bound to have, and has had, disastrous consequences. And that must be the reason why the might of the Indian State become more challenged in north eastern region where the idea of secession from India retains much local salience.
Most of the common people from the region have a perception that the Indian State had instituted puppet governments in their own country without any respect for human rights and dignity and does continue to follow on a policy of exploitative measures to wipe out their ethnic identity, religion, culture, language and so on. Common people consider that the State maintains oppressive measures against their economic rights without exploring economic resources in agriculture, industries, mining and so forth forcing them to enter into poverty. While a little is done for its economic, and nothing for social, cultural and political development, New Delhi puts more emphasis on establishing military base throughout the region thereby creating an atmosphere of an undeclared war which was already confirmed by Supreme Court’s statement on Manipur, “are we in a state of war.” What the outside world see as development in the northeast are merely in the construction sub-sectors at the cost of agricultural land and the impoverished wage labor and peasant families. In the name of protecting national security, State has put in place a series of malicious laws in the region that threaten the dignity of a commoner which often results in the violation of human rights. Nagaland was described on a BBC report as a region which is “sealed off from the outside world, (and) home to one of the world’s longest running insurgencies…..no one knows exactly how many people have been killed in the conflict, but some estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 have been killed.” In the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks on February 8, 2008 and November 6, 2009 it has been reported that India has deliberately kept Arunachal Pradesh underdeveloped as a deterrent to Chinese invasion. Outpour of extreme resentment at the Indian security forces that shock the world when twelve Manipuri mothers in naked holding the signs that read “Indian Army, Rape Us!” stormed the Kangla, in Imphal which was occupied by Indian Paramilitary Forces cannot be forgotten. The recent encounter between ULFA and the security forces in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district which follows by bombing and burning the villagers’ houses in barbaric manner by the security forces also shows the real light.
The world knows the fact that armed conflict prevails in India’s north eastern region and in an effort to contain this conflict situation, Indian security forces have committed maximum crime and human rights violations under the cover of draconian law AFSPA. Since people have been tortured, maimed and killed by these security forces several incidents of human rights violations in the region have been documented by local, national and international human rights agencies including the UN. These harassment, tortures, murders, imprisons, falsely accuses, complete destruction of properties are taking place in a tiny region which is little known to mainland Indian scholars. It has been noted that the then MP from Meghalaya Mr. P.R. Kyndiah had complaint on 8 March, 2001 that “when seven businessmen were killed and in one of the newspapers they said, ‘five Indian businessmen have been killed’, as if Shillong was not in India… When there was a change of Government in Manipur…, they said ‘Kohima calling’. They did not know that the capital of Manipur was Imphal…..When I was the Head of the State in Mizoram, I received a letter from the Ministry of Defence addressed to ‘P.R. Kyndiah, Governor, Mizoram, Agartala.’ Agartala is the capital of Tripura. This is the kind of ignorance that is there about the North-East.” So the mainland Indians, who would uphold counter insurgency, if ignorant of the history, regional, racial, cultural composition of northeast India, would not automatically hesitate in violating or make others violate human rights and still would not care about how many are massacred.
Therefore it is true that when the UN is talking about world peace and a comity of nations, India at the same time tries to arbitrate peace through a redoubtable military presence which results in violating human rights. The human rights violations in the region are, in fact, sanctioned by the Indian State in the form of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, which has been operative in the northeast region for over five decades and has given unaccounted power to the security forces to search, arrest, detain or kill anyone on the basis of suspicion, all in the name of maintaining law and order. Despite consistent allegations of widespread human rights violations in the region, to international human rights organizations knowledge, however fall in India’s deaf ear which results in no prosecution of these security forces. The Supreme Court, reflecting the grievances of people in north eastern states, recently said that prolonged deployment of armed forces in the region was bound to result in fake encounters and extra-judicial killings. And to add salt to State’s wound, several militant organizations, which people says are formed by the security forces with the knowledge of the State, using the cloak of revolution have been carrying out forced extortion from the civilians, human rights violations and individual terrorism, thereby making the common people confused between revolutionary and reactionary. It is not surprise that people in Chandel and Khongjom of Manipur had been protesting since recently for immediate withdrawal of surrendered cadres from their villages. They say that these surrendered cadres, with security forces, used to roam freely carrying arms and have also resorted to extorting money from the civilians and government departments. Every common people was shaken by the incident when one top leader of a surrendered group in Manipur was caught right handedly when he, with the company of Assam Rifles, came to deliver a demand letter to the Director of Regional Institute of Medical Sciences.
Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for more than 12 years, has proven that India, although lauded as the largest democracy in the world, has a consistently poor record in terms of human rights violations. Everyone praises Sharmila for being adopted the non-violence means of Mahatma Gandhi. But comparing Sharmila’s resistance with that of Mahatma Gandhi results in different context, as the rulers or the suppressors of Mahatma Gandhi’s India were foreigners. How can (India) be so inhumane in her own child? So I am increasingly inclined to accept that every measure taken up by the State against insurgency may be good, but that measure if without majority sanction, may prove to be counter-productive. And that is happening in the northeast. Thus damages made by the State are so deep that my mortal thinking always confuses whether the conflict between the Indian State and the non state actors will come to an end. Remember, the Indian government, to suppress the Mizo rebellion, carried out air strikes in Aizawl which remains the only instance in Indian history to carry out an airstrike in its own people. So is – who is the terrorist?
Ayekpam Basanta Mangang is a writer from Manipur.