Guwahati: 15th August, 1947; a date that not only cuts across the withering pages of history books, glorifying the great Indian struggle, an event of freedom, and above all birth of the largest democracy in the world, but also an event celebrating the unification of all tribes, caste, sub-castes of India under one umbrella, with each person enjoying their respective democratic rights.
The formation of the Indian landscape as we visualize today, was not an overnight exercise. Many components, detailed understanding, negotiations of each group and sub-groups of this part of the sub-continent, made this sublimation a lengthy process. Hence it is a formidable case to examine the nature of nation making and its consequences.
The northeastern region is the hub of multiple tribes and communities. The northeastern region is the hub of multiple tribes and communities each having their distinct identities with their own historical past. Today, the region is lagging behind other parts of the country in terms of infrastructure and economic development due to myriad reasons. In addition, we encounter many separatist and militant movements from different quarters of the region such as Nagaland, Assam, Manipur beginning with Naga insurgency in 1950s. The methods adopted by the Indian state to tackle such situation of unrest, is marred with stories of widespread human rights violations couple with militant violence. Armed Force Special Powers Act remains as an instrument of military force asserted by the State which persists up to the present.
The heterogenous nature of North East reflects in the multicultural and multiethnic society. Although North East has political differences and issues with the state but the heterogeneity and diversity in the region is also marred with stories of violence and conflicts among different ethnic groups within the region. There exists both and inter-state and intra-state ethnic conflicts and insurgency spread across northeastern states.
Nagas in Manipur backed by NSCN (IM), demand for integration of districts having Naga population with Nagaland. While Meities militant groups emerged such as UNLF, PLA, PREPAK aiming to make Manipur independent. Kukis also began asserting their identity with militant organizations such as KNA and UKLF demanding for a Kuki state or Kukiland. These conflicts and insurgency have made the situation in Manipur unstoppable both politically and socially. In Nagaland, NSCN demanding for an independent Nagaland broke into two groups namely (IM) and NSCN (K) due to internal ideological differences.
NSCN (IM) draws support from Naga tribes of Manipur and allegedly assisted with arms and ammunition by China and Pakistan and the NSCN (K) comprising of mostly Konyak Nagas operating from bases in Burma fighting for Nagas (all Naga tribes) independence demanding a separate Nagalim or Greater Nagaland. Amid such difference Indian State has taken drastic measures to bring the situation under control using AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act leading to a large scale human right violations.
Assam had been facing the wrath of violent clashes due to majoritarian policies starting from 1960s with the Bengali language movement in the Barak Valley Region (Bengali majority area) against the imposition of Assamese as the only official language in Assam. The situation turned bloody as violence by Police led to deaths of people and the movement died down once Bengali was given the status of official language in the Cachar district.
In 1979, militant outfits like ULFA emerged fighting for an independent socialist Assam amid growing disturbance and anxiety in Assam regarding questionable increase in population release in electoral list of 1979. This increase in population was attributed to illegal migrants which met with huge outcry in the state leading to relection of 1979 polls. There were also attacks against Muslims infamously known as Nellie Massacre in 1983 with death toll close to 3000. On the other hand, there’s a growing demand of a separate state for Bodos (as Bodoland) since late 1980s by militant outfits like ULT and NDFB with bases in Bhutan. In addition, there are also conflicts between Bodos and Bengali Muslims which touched its peak in 2012 violence.
Insurgency in North East continuous, and prevails still as a never ending problem of the region since the time of India’s Independence. Outfits such as BLT, UPDS and DHD fall under the insurgency movement which is separatist in rhetoric but autonomist in aspiration.
Over these years, the proliferation of numerous insurgent organizations has jeopardized the efforts to bring peace and security to the region. Under the skin of rebellion against the Government, these insurgent outfits indulge in violence creating a fear psychosis among the people. The insurgent organizations created terror in the region relegating human rights to peril.
The long-standing border issue has promulgated a row of human rights violation in North East region. The recent Assam-Mizoram border dispute and Assam-Nagaland border dispute has added to the already existing woes in the region.
As a part of counter-insurgency operations, human rights abuses by the Indian coercive forces in the North Eastern region can recurrently traced to the immunity granted to the Indian security forces under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958.
Since its institution, the Act has received criticism from several quarters over the concerns for the human rights violations in the region. To contain the insurgents and the support that sustains insurgency, the military and paramilitary forces many a time indulge in extrajudicial executions, their acts leading to custodial deaths, custodial disappearance, torture and rape.
The counter-insurgency operations conducted under the AFSPA give the security forces immunity against any legal interference. For instance, under Section 4 of this Act, any personnel of the Indian Army above the rank of jawan can shoot to kill, destroy property, search without a warrant and arrest anyone, who has committed a cognizable offence.
If one may recall, one of the infamous counter-insurgency operations inflicted by the coercive state force occurred on November 2, 2000, in Malom, where 10 civilians were shot and killed by the Assam Rifles. The incident was came to be known as ‘Malom Massacre’.
It was in this backdrop that India’s ‘Iron Lady’ Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike on November 2, 2000. Her demand was the complete repeal of the AFSPA which had been a major cause of human rights abuse.
It is crucial to note that insurgency in North East India comprises of ethnic component. Hence it is imperative for the Centre and the state’s stakeholders to bring onto the problems of insurgency and counter-insurgency on the table, formulating a peaceful dialogue with peaceful solutions rather than taking the aid of arms, ammunition and violence.