India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic, is a powerful country in the world with an overpopulated, ever growing country rich in different cultures, traditions, races and religions. Its constitution lays down many provisions and rights to fulfill the aspirations of its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, sex and religion. While framing the world’s lengthiest written constitution with 395 articles and 8 schedules it makes sure to make it the best of all which would be required for effective governance and to provide its citizens liberty, justice and equality. But what my mind do not understand is does the Indian Constitution which is one of the most frequently amended constitution in the world actually comply with the current scenario of India’s North Eastern region. Isn’t it important for the Indian State to understand why there are so much of problems in the region? Isn’t it important for New Delhi to hunt out and find a permanent solution to the root causes of these problems?
It is true that the northeast region has undergone tumultuous socio-economic and political changes in the process of India’s one nation building project. However one also cannot deny the fact that the one nation building project has been marked by resistance across the region leading to various forms of conflicts between the Indian State and the people of the northeast. Perhaps this conflict may be the main reason to push the people of the northeast in an appall condition socially, politically, culturally and economically. It has been felt to the people that the ethnic people of northeast were continually been ignored and left out of the country’s political decision-making process. Even though it has enormous resources viz forest and wildlife resources, agricultural resources, mineral resources, hydro-power resources etc, a sizeable number of persons from northeast who reside in metropolitan cities and in major urban areas of the country for higher education and employment frequently faces discrimination as they are addressed with derogatory adjectives or face discrimination in the form of targeted attacks, assault, molestation, rape, murder and other atrocities. Therefore it seems that there is very much loose and lack of management when it comes to the people of northeast.
An Indian top political leader recently said that India was an ‘open book’ and an ‘open society’ with a ‘well functioning’ democracy having full respect for freedom and human rights, and there were effective checks to address whenever aberrations – whether of civil rights or human rights – come to notice. But in its report on human rights in India during 2010, Human Rights Watch stated India had significant human rights problems. An independent United Nations expert in 2011 expressed concern that she found human rights workers and their families who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. American Consul General in Kolkata Henry Jardine wrote that the overwhelming presence of military, paramilitary and police officers contributed to the impression that Imphal (which is the capital of Manipur) in North East, was under military occupation. He also reported on September 1, 2006 that Manipur was less a state and more a colony of India. Then where is the respect for freedom and human rights which this top political leader is all talking about? So, to me he was just trying hard to paint a picture of India which is not.
To the people of the northeast, India may be just a geographical expression whereupon the Indian rulers exercise unrestrained armed power to perpetuate semi-colonial condition to fulfill their vested interests. Between 2000 and 2007 India ranked world’s second largest arms importer accounting for 7.5 percent of all major weapons transfers. Now in 2013, India has emerged as the largest arms importer in the world, overtaking China. India accounted for 9% of all international arms imports between 2006 and 2013 making it the world’s largest weapons importer. The question is why New Delhi does not reduce military spending and devote those precious resources to pressing human needs. In a region where there is great deal to be done in the fields of health, education, transport and daily essential commodities one cannot be spending so much on defense. So centre should understand that the people of northeast continue to battle against starvation and deprivation which cannot be fought with guns and missiles. New Delhi must stop to respond with cosmetic economic packages mostly in the tertiary construction sub-sectors, police modernization, AFSPA, other black laws, State Police Commando, Village Defense Force and other repressive and divisive tactics since all these responses are the antithesis of democracy. Therefore, even though people in the region do not appreciate all violent forms of revolt, it force me to make up my mind that all these violent revolts, militancy or insurgency against the Indian State however, must be a reaction to the violent character of Indian rulers. May be I was wrong. But most of the educated persons in the northeast have been left out with the impression that the Indian administration only sees the region as a military buffer zone, as a threat to the peace and has taken no effort to make public confidence building plans. The people of northeast want the Indian government to put an end to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, demilitarization of northeast, an end to the reign of terror, killing, harassment, displacement, subjugation and exploitation in the name of Indian national security. So at the moment, India’s north eastern region is like a volcano that could erupt anytime. And that may be the main reason why the so-called democratic system of India has been increasingly under threats, attacks and severe pressure from the unstoppable activities of the rebels in the region.
So the first step for a solution to the current unrest in the region is to understand people’s aspirations and respect their cultural, economic and social autonomy and identity. I would also like to point out that the law should be in the interest of the citizens, for the protection of the citizens, civil liberty or dignity of the individual is equally important as National Security. The administrative mentality of the Government of India should be changed towards the people of the North Eastern states. I do not believe that India does really need the National Counter Terrorism Centre to counter terrorism challenges in the North East. The Indian policy makers should not only focus on stopping attacks. Instead they must deal with the underlying causes that turn a young person into a rebel or a terrorist or a freedom fighter. Merely providing some economic incentives and development projects will not be the enough answer. The Indian leaders should try to respect the cultural and ethnic identity of different groups and recognize that these indigenous people have a culture and a religion of their own. Transferring the economy to the hands of outsiders which are mostly from capitalist mainland India will only succeed in sowing the seeds of alienation. The future welfare and prosperity of the Indian nation may largely depend on the North East. It is high time that New Delhi wakes up to the burning issues to stop violence, to curb insurgency, to maintain peace and harmony across the region and for effective constitutional machinery. Indian government should make every possible effort so that every North East people do not feel being isolated or discriminated and wishes to remain as a perfect citizen of a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic and republic India.
If these indigenous people’s aspirations are not met at some point, rising frustrations over ethnic discrimination and the denial of sovereignty may lead a new generation of these people to take up arms. It might force them to stand on the firm believe that India has no right to say who they are; and to change the neo-colonial prison system of northeast, the people themselves will have to take the initiatives. Then the question will automatically arise – does the Northeast belong to India?
Ayekpam Basanta Mangang is a writer from Manipur.