[Report on the second session of the symposium titled “North-East India: Strangers of the mist” has been reported by R. Nithya]
To understand the growing dissent and disarray among some sections of Indian civil society, a UGC sponsored one-day symposium, with the theme “India: A Million Mutinies,” was organized under the Human Rights Programme by the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, at the Dayar-e Mir Taqi Mir Building, on February 1, 2012.
Top academicians, bureaucrats, former military officers and journalists were the panelists who spoke and coursed the discussion.
At the commencement of the symposium, a welcome address by the Head, Department of Political Science, Prof. Nisar ul Haq concluded that despite the cliché that unity in diversity is one of India’s greatest strengths, many contradictions have come to the fore. “Besides North East, the state of Kashmir still remains a point of conflict between India and Pakistan. The final and most severe of all these internal contradictions is that of the Maoist insurgency which now influences nearly 20 per cent of the Indian state”, Professor Nisar said.
The Tagore Hall of the university was the venue with students from different departments attending the symposium. Mr. Najeeb Jung, Vice Chancellor of the varsity, in his inaugural address said that taking violent means to disrupt the state is all wrong. “But I think there’s enough reason for people to take up weapons against the state which has not been so sensitive”, he said. The Vice Chancellor blamed the politicians of Kashmir valley for the misuse of state power in the form of police and army to entrench party rule, adding that it isn’t far from what’s happening in Chhattisgarh. He concluded by saying that while the discussion should address the ways in which the state should react to this, the other side of the story must also be given a thought to.
Naxal Movement: The War Within
The symposium was divided into three sessions with different themes. The first session was based on the sub-theme “Naxal Movement: The war within”. The session was chaired by Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The panelists for the session were Mr. Sumanta Banerjee, Independent Scholar, Prof. Nandini Sundar, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Delhi University and Mr. E.N.Rammohan, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Assam- Meghalaya cadre.
The panelists dug deep into the problem of Naxalism. The session was kick-started by Prof. Anuradha Chenoy. In her speech, she said that generally, the armed conflicts have three dominant narratives and the same is the case with the Naxal movement. The first narrative is from the state, which sees armed conflicts as disrupting the status quo. “The state generally has a law and order approach, a very militarized approach,” she said. The second approach comes from the insurgent groups.
“There is a different discourse of the insurgent groups, which is almost parallel to the state. And there are discourses within that,” she said. She further explained the third narrative, which comes from the people who are looking at the conflict. “These people can be anthropologists, social scientists, human rights activists who contest very often and really try to look at the root causes of these conflicts, who look for an alternative, who critique.” She also said that despite the third narrative and the people who craft it, both the state and local militias often reject the third narrative.
Making it clear that the Naxalite movement revolves around some basic problems in the rural areas- social justice, economic inequality, housing problem, Sumantha Bannerjee, the first panelist, said this conflict should have been solved sixty years ago. “We are ashamed that after more than sixty years, we’re grappling with problems which should have been the priorities of the Indian state,” he said.
Sumantha Bannerjee further added that the Naxalite movement was not a spontaneous sort of Peasants’ Uprising. “It’s a part of a larger political group of setting up a people’s democratic scheme through violence,” he said. The Naxals used the strategy of an agrarian revolution through the tactics of guerrilla warfare among the peasants. “They do not want to capture power directly at the state but through setting up liberated zones in the rural areas, extending those liberated zones and gradually moving towards the centre,” he said.
Criticizing the Indian state for equating the Naxals with the terrorists, Sumantha Bannerjee said that there is a more dangerous threat far worse than the Naxal movement. “The Indian state is ignoring completely the communal threat from the religious fundamentalists.”
Sumantha Bannerjee also castigated the Naxals for having a violent approach towards achieving an egalitarian society. At the same time, he said the Indian state is also having a militarized approach. “It’s a bleeding war if the Indian state continues its militarist solution to problems. It’ll bleed both the Indian state and the common masses,” he said. He insisted that the civil society should put pressure on the Indian state for a dialogue with the Naxals. “It’s our duty; we can’t allow our people to suffer.”
The second panelist to speak in the session was E. N Rammohan. A former Director General of Border Security Force (BSF), he said that the armed forces deployed in the Naxal hit areas should learn to be meticulously legal. Rammohan also said that forces should try to find the root cause of the insurgency. “So the first thing that a force which is deployed in this area should do is to find out why these people are taking up the gun,” he said.
E. N Rammohan further said that after analyzing the problem, the Armed forces should send feedback to the people who’re sending them there. “They (Armed forces) should tell them (higher authorities) to rectify things for the insurgency to disappear.”
After the panelists spoke, a powerpoint presentation titled “Reflections on the Naxal state and Naxalism,” was presented by Prof. Nandini Sundar. The presentation briefed the audience about the Naxal movement. Other highlights of the presentation were Maoist Organisation in central India, Government responses, Role of the Media and the role of Judiciary. In the words of Prof. Nandini Sundar, “You’ve hundreds and hundreds of deaths and rapes which ‘India’ does not mourn. Unless the government recognizes that these deaths are also a part of India, we’ll never come to a resolution of the issue.”
After the presentation, a question-answer session was held. Many students posed questions to the panelists.
North-East India: Strangers of the mist
The second session saw a long discussion between the panelists and the members of the audience. Chaired by Mr. Doval, former director, Intelligence Bureau, the issue of Northeast attracted a lot of sound minds.
Speaking on the issue, Mr. Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Chair Internal Security, Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis, began with a romanticized description of the Northeast, the way the rest of the India mostly sees it: “Lovely landscape and a picture of boys and girls carrying guitar.”
“This picture is not absolutely wrong but misplaced,” said Mr. Bhattacharjee, “because things there changed overnight. CRPF showed up. The kind of ethnic cleansing that we talk about happened in Shillong.”
Mr.Bhattacharjee argued that the reality of the Northeast is either “juxtaposed” or exaggerated or at best misplaced. “There is no Northeast,” he said. Each state has its own individual identity with several ethnicities, he argued. He also went on to say that the Indian society living in the plains is wrapped by xenophobia. He said that various insurgent groups often use the completely new idea or narrative of identity. “They have used the Naga identity but there is no Naga identity. There has always been a Christian identity but they are never referred to as Christian terror groups,” he said.
Mr. Bhattacharjee said that the human rights issues come in with the response of the government to these groups.
It is not feasible to think that there is a “surgical solution.” The question remains: “What is the minimum force that can be used?”
Mr.E.N.Rammohan, IPS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, argued that the two longest dynasties in India were in the Northeast and that there is no mention of it in the Indian history books. “The Ahom dynasty in Assam goes back to the year 1228,” the year of its start. He said that “most problems can be solved if you look into the history.”
Mr.Rammohan briefed about the different ethos that the tribals in the Northeast have, which are different from that of the Hindus and Muslims, the people on the plains of the rest of India. He went on to talk about the root causes, among which the fact that Assamese people were not allowed to administer themselves with their tribal laws turned out to be one of the major ones. “When we got independence, we took our laws to those places that had not been entirely colonized ever,” he said. The solution lies in the “human element.” “We have to win back the people,” he concluded.
Talking about the diversity of northeast, Professor Sanjoy Hazarika, Centre for Northeast Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, claimed that the rich diversity is “a delight to the anthropologists and a nightmare of the administrators.”
“We are not mutineers. We are fighting for space. We were here. Recognize us,” he voiced. Mr. Hazarika presented the three major dimensions on the issue of Northeast. These include the dimensions of wealth, health and security. “To even bring Northeast up to par with the rest of India is a hard task. Northeast was partitioned twice. First, when Burma became an independent country, dividing the Nagas and the Kukis. Second, on 15 August 1947,” he said.
Mr. Hazarika argued that given the fact that “96 per cent of our boundaries are with other countries” and not with the rest of India, it is hard to create a sense of intimacy.”
On the issue of health, Mr. Hazarika said, “maternal mortality rate is the worst in Assam. If you are a young woman giving birth, Assam is the worst place to be.” The dimension of security led to a brief observance on the relationship between statistics and security.
Mr. Hazarika’s presentation looked into the Treaty of Yandabo, 1826 after an Anglo-Indian War, leading to the ceding of the Burmese to the then British Assam.
Mr. Hazarika concluded with a question on the idea of India, that of the Northeast states, and their relation with the rest of the country.
The third session of the symposium themed “Kashmir Conundrum” discussed the ongoing struggle in the Kashmir valley. The session was chaired by Ambassador Satyabrata Pal, member National Human Rights Commission. The Panelists were Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman National Commission for Minorities, Prof. Radha Kumar, Central Government Interlocutor for J&K and Suhasini Haidar, Senior Editor at CNN-IBN.
The session started with a power point presentation from Wajahat Habibullah. He categorically said that people of Jammu and Kashmir overwhelmingly accepted to be a part of India. Through the presentation, he stated that the most important question today is, “what exactly do the Kashmiris want?”
Quoting A.G. Noorani, he said, “Today plebiscite is as dead as a dodo.” Mr. Habibullah reasoned that the Kashmir problem has not limited itself to just ‘Azadi’, “Even if it is Azadi, then it means different things for different Kashmiris.”
In the presentation, he highlighted that the Kashmiri society has been ruined by what has happened in the last twenty years. “The pace of suicides has increased considerably, there’s high rate of drug addiction and moral degradation in a place which was always too protective of its moral standards.”
Other aspects highlighted in the presentation were Human Rights in J&K, Mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits, widows and orphans, custodial killings, missing persons in the valley and the mass graves, regarding which he added, “The recent issue wasn’t that of mass graves but unmarked graves because the tradition in Kashmir was that of not marking the graves.”
After the presentation, one of the central government interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir, Radha Kumar spoke. She talked about the need for the appointment of interlocutors. “We (interlocutors) were appointed partly because of 2010 tragedies and the need to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again and should not happen again.” She also gave a brief glimpse of the history from the UN resolutions to the much recent 2010 uprising.
Radha Kumar said that a lot of changes taking place in the valley have gone unrecognized. “The shift in the state, particularly in the valley away from violence towards the need for peace building has clearly not been adequately recognized in our country,” she said.
She opined that the military strategies have to be re-thought and re-formulated, as there is a shift from a phase of high violence to minimal violence.
Radha Kumar further added that it has become evident that the three regions of the state are increasingly becoming diverged from each other. “There was no policy made for bridge building whether by the government or civil society and that remains a big hole,” she said.
Apart from this, she argued that water politics and the control of development of water and energy resources can bring a decent degree of coordination between the valley and New Delhi.
She insisted on formulating a policy that could collectively look after all the issues. “We have not seen a policy that seeks to tackle the basket of issues together in a coordinated manner so that one adds to other’s effect for a peace process, which could lead to a satisfactory result.”
The third panelist in the “Kashmir Conundrum” session was Suhasini Haidar. A journalist by profession, Suhasini spoke about the media and its allegiance with Kashmir. She said that in early 1990s,Kashmir got a lot of coverage. “Kashmir could have become the trigger for a war between nuclear rivals. Nobody wanted to see where this one could lead”, she said.
However, Suhasini Haidar argued that with the ongoing Indo-Pak talks, the threat of nuclear war has faded and this can be used to focus on the core issue of Kashmir problem. “Demilitarization is a very real concept,” the CNN-IBN editor said. She further said that the fact that the J&K Police is now going out there and keeping law and order instead of the paramilitary forces is a momentous change.
She said that the government should look for the development of the state particularly in the Srinagar city. “Srinagar may be the most beautiful place on earth but it is in shambles. Its infrastructure is out of date. India shouldn’t wait for a tragedy to start the reconstruction and urban renewal of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Suhasini maintained that the Kashmir issue isn’t now as important for an ordinary Pakistani as it was before. “Kashmir has faded not from the mind but as a burning issue for an average Pakistani student. And when asked if something is going to change for Kashmir, most of them say no,” she said.
Castigating the government for failing to recognize the nature of protestors and protests, Suhasini said, “It was easy to say that it was Pakistan driven. They refused to recognize that despite the numbers that came out on streets and despite the fact that they outnumbered the police force quite a lot, nobody picked up more than a stone and yet a 120 young Kashmiris died most of them shot above the waist.”
Asserting that development was not a solution, Suhasini said, “If jobs were the real problem, then take a closer look at the kids who were out there — 15-20-year-old boys who were in college, others were doctors and engineers, they didn’t need jobs.”
She also said the discontent among the people of Kashmiris mainly due to the mistrust. “The Home Minister stands up in the Parliament and says, ‘We are going to review AFSPA’ (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), then please explain why two years later, we’re still not able to review AFSPA?”
The other point she raised was that the government has failed to reach to the non-violent separatist leadership. Towards the conclusion, she said, “The status quo of Jammu and Kashmir is not acceptable to me as an Indian or as a global citizen because the condition of the average Kashmiri is not good.”
After the panelists spoke, a brief question answer session was held. The day-long symposium was concluded by a vote of thanks by Prof. Adnan Farooqui of the Department of Political Science.