Civil Society Dialogue on Peace in the Northeast
Calcutta Research Group
CRG Paper Series 1
© All rights reserved
Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group
5 B, Mahanirban Road
Kolkata – 700 029
West Bengal, India
The publication acknowledges the support of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, New Delhi, and the Foundation for Universal Responsibility, New Delhi. It is brought out as part of a comprehensive report on the first Civil Society Dialogue on Peace (CSDP) in the Northeast held on October 12-3, 2001 in Kolkata.
Section One : The Concept Paper
Section Two : The Proceedings
Section Three : List of Participants
The publication is part of a comprehensive report on civil society dialogue on peace in the northeast held on October 12 and 13, 2001 at the auditorium of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata (CSSS,K). This was the first in what Calcutta Research Group (CRG) proposes to be a series of peace dialogue on issues of its direct interest. While the northeast has always been on the boil right from the colonial times, the clamour for peace is nevertheless very strong in the region. We tried to find out why in spite of such strong sentiments and clamour, peace has always eluded the region under review. The current phase of the Naga peace process is a case in point. It shows how people’s rising expectations triggered off by the prolongation of the cease-fire agreement were about to give way to hapless pessimism and widespread violence. The purpose of the dialogue was not so much to regret our inability to translate such strong popular sentiments into impeccable ‘historical facts’ but very much to take lessons from history and accordingly refashion our cognitive tools in order to establish peace and make it sustainable. If history of the region has relentlessly excised people’s strong peace sentiments from its pages, why can’t we rewrite it in a way that incorporates them? Why should history be composed solely of the so-called ‘facts’? Do people’s sentiments not give unto themselves a ‘history’? The region is still looking for a historian to chronicle people’s peace practices informed by such strong sentiments. Peace for all practical purposes cannot but be a historiographical intervention. For it entails over and above an interrogation of those tools and methods of history, which have hitherto narrowed down our options by keeping people’s peace practices out of its scope, by making us increasingly reliant on the state’s ‘ethnic management’ and consequently making peace elusive over and over again.
CRG’s civil society dialogue on peace in the northeast is in a sense a historiographical intervention. Dialoguing with the dominant modes of writing history is issued from the premise that there cannot be peace without dialogue. A dialogue that gives us an opportunity of engaging ourselves with others, also enables us to appreciate others’ viewpoints, modify them and if necessary, to transform them. Dialogue in simple terms is a strategy of fracturing and de-centering their hegemony. Since it is essentially anti-hegemonic, it also warns us against imposing our hegemony on them. If we have a right to change others through the instrumentality of dialogues, why can’t others have the same right of changing us? There is nothing sacrosanct about our position as peacemakers for history also reminds us that nearly all wars have been fought in the name of peace – whether for establishing or restoring it. Hegemony of ‘peace’ is as much dangerous as peace by hegemony. We define civil society as the springboard of peace, that is to say, a space where dialoguing is constantly carried out and conducted. Any attempt at scuttling or throttling the process at any point of time is bound to reinforce hegemony. Peace by establishing hegemony is both superficial and fragile. It is in this spirit that CRG felt the necessity of organizing a civil society dialogue where all possible shades of opinion could be represented and re-articulated, organized and reshuffled in a manner that guarantees against privileging of any one of them. We look upon civil society as the antithesis of hegemony.
Besides the inaugural session, the dialogue was organized into four different sessions on ‘Struggle for Identity in the Northeast Today’, ‘The Naga Peace Process’, ‘Displacement and Humanitarian Tasks in the Northeast’ and ‘Women in Peace Campaigns in the East and the Northeast’ respectively. While the Concept Paper prepared o n behalf of CRG set forth the norms and ground rules of the dialogue, each session began with a Session Note prepared either by the moderator or any of its commissioned discussants. One of the advantages of such a Note was that it helped in fine-tuning the deliberations and did not allow the discussion to become either wayward or pedantic to point of losing any relevance to our everyday experience. In that sense, the dialogue represented a nice blend of academics and activists. We took particular care in inviting the discussants so that not just academics, but other departments of civil society including the state are fairly well represented. When the state becomes part of the civil society, it has to follow the same ground rules and its inclusion does not mean privileging. All this was followed by a roundtable in which the question of ‘contiguous peace’ was discussed. The question presupposes building up of ever –wider networks of peace across the regions – more particularly, the East and the Northeast. The roundtable gave the participants a precious opportunity of engaging themselves in a free and unstructured brainstorming at the end by generously drawing from the discussions of all the hitherto structured sessions. For us at CRG it provided an excellent feedback, a window as it were to find out what the structured sessions in their combination could or could not achieve. The participants as usual are responsible for the views they have expressed in course of the dialogue.
We thank Foundation for Universal Responsibility (FUR), New Delhi for having agreed to co-organize it in Kolkata. Also, we remain thankful to Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and particularly Dr. Helmut Reifeld, its representative in New Delhi for extending support to CRG and helping us in all possible ways in making the dialogue a grand success. Thanks are due to the designated moderators and discussants as well as the participants who actively took part in the deliberations and enriched them with their candid opinions and insights. We recall our indebtedness to those colleagues at CRG who worked mostly behind the scene during the programme; but for whose work this programme could not have been successful. Our three young rapporteurs -- Dr. Anita Sengupta, Ms. Shoma Ghosal and Ms. Deborah Misao did the excellent job of compiling the report within a short time. We owe a special word of thanks to them. We fervently hope that the publication of this report will go a long way in strengthening the foundations of civil society in the northeast and popularizing the peace agenda in the region.
Samir Kr. Das
October 24, 2001.
Concept Paper on
Civil Society Dialogue on Peace in the Northeast
Samir Kr. Das
Calcutta Research Group
There is a tragic irony in our quest for peace. It is not simply a ‘bad faith’ that has failed us. Not all of us are insincere and wavering in our commitment to peace. The more serious question today is that we live in a world that holds out the potent promise of peace while continuously threatening it and testing it on its margins. As a result the same metaphor of conflict continues to influence and shape our language of peace. Modern world unlike any of the previous stages of human history has organized the earth’s habitable space into a number of sovereign and mutually exclusive states separated from each other by some clearly demarcated, mutually intelligible and absolutely rigid borders. The physical space over which the state establishes its command is also coeval with the nation it claims to represent. The borders of a state are not just lineaments on a map but are enlivened by a nation. The statecentric organization of space imposes on us the abiding obligation of belonging to a nation.
In the modern world, none of us enjoys the right of not belonging to any nation. In a multiethnic country like India, the state expects to bring about ‘internal pacification’ only by making its physical borders coincide with the cultural borders of an imagined (‘fictive’) nation. If the nation is believed to extend beyond what the territorial space of a state encloses (for the post-partition political elite in India was not quite reconciled to the Indian nation that it was left with) the task is to normalize the latter into a nation that the state can claim to be its own. In case the nation appears to be greater than what the logic of territorial space warrants, the state slowly and imperceptibly disengages from it. Thus in spite of the people’s wishes to the contrary, some areas of Berubari (now in West Bengal) supposedly ‘under adverse possession’ of India are skillfully pushed towards ‘the Bangladeshi side’. 1 In short, the state’s nation-building project becomes for all practical purposes an exercise in imagining the nation into existence, in translating the ‘fiction’ into a reality and articulating the multi -ethnic reality into the powerful grid of a modern nation-state.
If the modern world has endowed each state with the culturally bounded space of a nation, it has also charged at least some communities apparently living within it, with the mounting desire of mimicking the state – whether by striving for independence or by seeking an entitlement to its power in different forms. Their assertion of the right to self-determination 1 See for example, the pamphlet entitled Dakshin Berubari Seemanta Samasya O Samadhaner Path (in Bengali) prepared by Dakshin Berubari Pratiraksha ommittee. No further publication data are provided in the pamphlet. symbolizes this desire. Mimesis strangely enough amounts to an interrogation for it is like beating the state by the rules that it has once introduced and imposed on us. Modern world in other words, has also this uncanny ability to make the state’s connection to its borders ‘ambivalent and eternally precarious’. It has no easy way out of this imbroglio.
Peace as the outcome of conflict
Modern world does not recognize the imbroglio that is endemic in it. While it instructs us to situate all our hitherto established systems of knowledge above any kind of privileging, it is epistemologically unable to account for ambivalence and precariousness, to redefine space as an arena of contest and to appreciate the forces that interfere with the state’s attempts at
‘internal pacification’. Since it always defines space in unproblematic and strictly either-or terms, it always looks upon such ambivalence, precariousness and contest as a passing phenomenon that will ultimately produce some final and mutually acceptable results. The modern world’s claim to modernity is thus incarnated in such stable stages of history in which the organized space does not face any challenge. Thus it is not an accident that the advent of modernity has coincided with that of the nation-state. The challenges are interpreted as fleeting moments of aberration in an otherwise organized, settled and sanitized biography of human history.
Viewed thus, our solution to conflicts is marked by the same craze for reorganizing the space– albeit according to the same binary principle. The state-community struggle or for that matter, community-community struggle is bound to produce results in favour of either the state or the community or as in the second case, in favour of either of them. The prospects of peace according to this discourse are decided in a game that is admittedly of zero-sum character. Although technically speaking the outcome is always uncertain, the prevailing state is believed to enjoy a pre-eminent position. For one thing, it has the cunning as well as the capability of transforming a state-community conflict into a conflict between communities. The biography of conflicts in northeastern India bears ample testimony to it. Almost all ethnic accords in the region resulted in a certain disintegration of not only the rebel ranks but also the respective communities involved in them. For another, the conflicts between communities
simultaneously deprive them of the ‘pragmatic’ means of communicating with each other independently of the state that always projects itself as a ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ arbitrator between them. It is true that the state’s claim to neutrality and impartiality is vociferously contested in recent years even within its own circles (the official reports on the role of security forces –particularly of the paramilitary forces in ethnic and communal riots are an example). Still it goes a long way in strengthening the plea for organizing the space as one within which the state’s power is supposed to circulate in a free and unhindered manner. Now that the state also feels the necessity of self-auditing in such forms as instituting human rights commissions, bringing out regular reports on its activities and facilitating its exchanges with the human rights community etc., statism is going to outlive its all-too-apparent, everyday failures. The promise of a self-auditing and rights-sensitive state gives credence to the presently existing state. The state lives on the basis of both what it does and what it promises to do.
A slightly different version of the state’s c onnection to space seems to articulate the latter in a more loose and dispersed manner, nevertheless under its own aegis. The nation-space in this version resembles a veritable social mosaic of diverse ethnic communities with their respective spaces etched in it. While the spaces they supposedly occupy are determinate (with such significant exceptions as the border conflicts between Assam and Nagaland or Assam and Arunachal Pradesh), unlike the nation-space they are not mutually exclusive. The constituent states of the Indian Union are not after all sovereign entities. The way India was practically reorganized into several linguistic states points to the composite nature of our nation-space. Even the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADC) confers recognition on the separate identities of particular tribal communities. Sometimes the state effects such ethnic reorganization of the nation-space more through its inaction than any resolute step. Insofar as persistent bouts of inter-ethnic strife result in massive internal displacement and mixed areas increasingly become a rarity, the state takes it to be a blessing in disguise. These unofficially drawn borders are now an integral part of the invisible agenda of instant spatial reorganization that is under way in the northeast. The less the probability of interactions between communities, the more there is the hope that they live in peace. Peace according to this plea lies in segregating the communities. What is important to note here is that the multi-cultural reorganization of space – whether by active official encouragement or not, takes place under the aegis of the state. The state continues to exercise its surveillance over the nation-space. Thus a commentator summing up the contemporary debates on multiculturalism in India concludes that ‘a successful and effective democratic state’ plays a crucial role in reforming the communities and ridding them of ‘oppressive’ social practices and ‘encouraging a variety of non-governmental organizations to move in a certain direction’. 2 The state is the only omni-prescient agency that knows the so-called ‘direction’. Again, state triumphalism is often paralleled by a certain triumphalism of the community. The community’s demand for some kind of an exclusively defined space – whether within the prevailing state or without retraces the same trajectory of the nation-state – this time in the opposite direction? If the logic of state power lies at the center of the coming into being of a nation, the idyllic invocation of a community informs its claim to an autonomous political space. As the community makes its claim to an exclusively defined space it seeks first of all to establish itself as a nation and then bring into existence a state that it can claim to be its own. But it in no way challenges the rationale of the modern state system. It is the same burning desire of making territorial borders coincide with a community’s cultural borders and vice versa that makes both the nation-state and modern communities play the same game and reproduce its rules. The dominant idea of peace is premised on the binary opposition between conflict and peace. Once the space is hegemonized or homogenized by either of the conflicting parties, we do not have any explanation for why at all conflict breaks out excepting saying that such hegemonization or homogenization must have been incomplete in the first place. Similarly, once conflict breaks out, we are left with no way of re-establishing peace other than waiting for its cessation and with it, appropriation and obliteration of one of the conflicting parties within the given space. In simple terms, peace is inconceivable without hegemony of the nation-state. The state is usually taken to be the peacekeeper par excellence. But the dominant idea also envisages certain continuity between conflict and peace for any attempt at establishing peace by way of hegemonizing and homogenizing the space and cleansing it of the rivals is bound to be temporary and fragile. In a multi-ethnic country like India, the nation-space is constantly spinning on its seams. Peace thus is not just the outcome but germination of conflicts.
2 Rajeev Bhargava ‘Introducing Multiculturalism’ in Rajeev Bhargava, Amiya Kumar Bagchi & R. Sudarshan
(eds.), Multiculturalism, Liberalism and Democracy (New Delhi: OUP, 1999), p. 49.
Civil Society as shared space
We envisage a civil society that constantly works against the twin tendencies of hegemonization and homogenization. Viewed in this light, it is predicated on the recognition that space does not unilaterally belong to any of the conflicting parties – state or otherwise. Essentialization of space a la modernity discourse is precisely a challenge that today’s civil society is called upon to guard against, effectively address and negotiate. In simple terms, it is not a mere reproduction of the same space in which rivals encounter each other and change their respective positions. It is actually like creating a new space that is supposed to be shared by one and all. Accordingly, the rules of civil society are bound to differ from the ones that govern the modern world’s agenda of reorganizing space. Let us note that the creation of a civil society is not based on the pessimist proposition that since the conflicts under present circumstances, are irresolvable, it is better that the space that the conflicting parties lay their claims to, can be conveniently partitioned between them. Partition is likely to further spatial homogenization. In other words, we do not look upon civil society as a partitioning center. Nor do we argue that since the conflicts appear to be irresolvable, it is better to leave them as they are. This will convert civil society into a site of contest between parties. Perhaps civil society is not the place where we have the choice of not making moral choice. Freedom of making moral choice also imposes on us the obligation of making it and not to flee away from it. We do not define peace as the natural outcome of contest. Instead, we define it as a shared space where dialogue between parties takes place. Civil society is inconceivable without dialogue. It is dialogue that prevents it from being hegemonized or homogenized by any of the conflicting parties or any of their combinations and factions. Let us see how the dialogical process serves as a guarantee against the twin processes of hegemonization and homogenization and hence is central to the creation and sustenance of a vibrant civil society in the northeast.
First of all, civil society is a shared space in a deeper epistemological sense, in the sense that the parties constitute themselves as subjects only after they enter it and effectively engage themselves with each other in its deliberative process. Hence they cannot be regarded as fully formed subjects before they enter it. Rather their subjectivity is articulated through the very act of sharing and taking part in it. It is by way of joining the deliberative process and dialoguing with each other that an actor can change others and get changed by them. A potential civil society actor (including the state3) has first of all to recognize that the position s/he takes is not so ‘basic’ and ‘fundamental’ as to preempt the possibility of her/his dialoguing with others. A dialogue being a dialogue and not a monologue is not imposition of one’s view on others and reproducing the hegemony that it vows to resist. Civil society in simple terms presupposes the recognition of an imperfect – albeit perfectible self. Edward Said in one of his recently written papers shows how Zionism in its ‘imagined geography’ has ‘routinely excluded’ the Palestinians and feels the necessity of ‘producing a convincing, narrative story with a beginning, middle and end’. 4 Such a strategy will surely go a long way in ‘reclaiming’ the Palestinian ‘land and history’. But one wonders whether the ‘production’ of such a convincing, cumulative and coherent ‘narrative story’ will ever leave any scope for further modification, interpolation or even erasure. Doesn’t it require problematization of the ‘narrative story’? Community’s subjectivity is not a given datum – it is something that gets constituted through the deliberative process both within and without it. As we have said, civil society that is built on the principle of dialogue remains critical of any essentialization of the identity. Viewed from the perspective of civil society, patriarchy of the state complements that of the community for both contribute to the exclusion of their women even if they may
apparently be in conflict with each other. Problematization or de-essentialization of identities is a prerequisite for peace.
3 In their over-zeal, most of the scholars recently debating on the state-civil society relationship in India – in
spite of their sharply incompatible positions, seem to view the state as ‘a constituent part of the civil society’.
However I emphasize, inclusion does not mean privileging.
4 Edward Said, ‘Invention, Memory, and Place’ in Critical Inquiry, 28(2), Winter, 2000, pp. 175-192..
Secondly and as a corollary to the first, while the dialogical process keeps one from absolutizing one’s po sition, it does not at the same time propose to sanitize the civil society by denying one the crucial right to articulate one’s identity. It is not a ‘non -space’ like, the transit lounge of an international airport, a highway or a supermarket in which people meet each other and are governed by certain culturally neutral protocols and conventions. In other words, these are not the places where people are supposed to play out their cultural identities. Civil society is very much a space where individuals are entitled to enact their identities as members of their respective communities. Accordingly the recognition of their mutual differences is what prevents any one of them from taking on a hegemonic character. Incorporating the communities into the so-called ‘nationalist mainstream’ in the name of building the nation will prove to be as much fatal as any exercise in severing the organic links with their culture and consequently making them dry and vacuous. While the right to cultural specificity is indispensable to the formation of a civil society, the antinomy between conflict and peace still encourages us to cling to a two-world theory of peace according to which zones of conflict are strictly separated from zones of peace. Since conflict is like a virus we will do well to keep the east quarantined from the northeast. The now-cliched analogy of a huge truck called, India grandiosely rolling down with one or two deflated tyres naturally comes to our mind. Such pigeonholing of civil societies of the east and the northeast or for that matter of other regions not only restricts the scope of the dialogical process but perpetuates the cultural stereotypes of ‘tranquil’ east and ‘turbulent’ northeast. Cultural specificity of the civil society actors cannot be an argument for keeping it restricted to one region and reproducing the commonplace stigmas and stereotypes. Forces of globalization have actually given us an opportunity of establishing ever-expanding horizontal networks across regions and re-negotiating the terms of our cultural specificity. Thirdly, since civil society endows us with the right to difference it also acquaints us with the diverse peace traditions of the region, its historically honored modes of resolving conflicts and arriving at consensus and most importantly, of coming to terms with others whether inside or outside the region. Some of them may have been permanently lost for reasons not unknown to us. Some may have undergone dramatic changes so much so that it is no longer possible to associate them with the communities that had once followed them. The point is, dialogue gives us an opportunity of deliberating on the alternative peace traditions in a world that is not only ridden by conflicts but increasingly dispossessed of the alternative cognitive means of their resolution. Right to difference is a tribute to the experimentation with alternative means of conflict resolution and peacemaking. Civil society gives us a wide field to experiment with them. The question is not so much to find out ‘one best way’; it is rather to realize on our own that there may still be something better than what we consider to be ‘the best’ before joining the civil society. The important point is the realization that the cognitive means available elsewhere may be better than the ones we have currently at our disposal.
Others do not make us realize it. The responsibility of making moral choice comes with this right to ‘discover’ on our own what is morally right for us. Only civil society as a dialogical space celebrates peace as a moral right. Our right to moral choice is indispensable to peacemaking.
The Inaugural Session
12 October, Friday
4.00 – 5.30 PM
Moderator: Professor Pradip Bose
Welcome Address – Professor Pradip Bose
Address – Dr. Helmut Reifeld
Introduction of Participants
Address on behalf of CRG (Concept Paper) – Dr. Samir Kr. Das
Keynote Address – Professor Ashis Nandy
Vote of Thanks – Dr. Rila Mukherjee
The session began with the welcome address of Professor Pradip Bose. In his address, he referred to the activities of CRG since its inception in December 1995 and drew the participants’ attention to some of the programmes that it is about to undertake in the near future. He ended up his address by welcoming all those who had come to participate in the peace dialogue. Dr. Helmut Reifeld of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, New Delhi recalled KAS’s long-standing and albeit fruitful partnership with CRG and pointed out how this programme was the product of an excellent understanding and cooperation between these two organizations. He looked forward to many such collaborative programmes in future. Dr. Samir Kr. Das prepared the Concept Paper on behalf of CRG. His paper (see, Section One above) made a plea for greater civil society interactions as a means of resolving conflicts in the northeast.
Professor Ashis Nandy in his keynote address pointed out how ‘most terrifying cases of bloodbath’ have taken place amongst communities that ‘know each other’. It is the proximity that according to him has created the problem in our times. Citing the example of the city of Cochin that has the impressive track record of about two thousand years of coexistence of diverse communities, he pointed out how their ‘mutual dislike’ was instrumental in maintaining inter-communal peace. He pushed the point a step further by making a strong plea for communities’ ‘right to distance’ and putting a stop to all forms of dialogue between them. The communities in other words, have a right ‘not to be friends’.
He began his discussion by referring to two ‘fundamental contradictions’ in our political culture: On the one hand, insofar as the security matters are concerned we continue to ‘trust’ the state notwithstanding the common Indian distrust for it in all other matters. On the other hand, those who defy the state and try to set up an alternative to it seem to replicate ‘exactly the same model’ of the modern nation -state. Besides, three ‘additional responsibilities’ that the states in South Asia are seen to have vested themselves with, have further contributed to their ‘seductive charm’: One, states in this region act as ‘the principle of rationality’. Two, they also represent ‘the principle of progress’. Since they are the repositories of progress, they are supposed to ‘pull the people from primitivism to progress’. Three, the states are the pacesetters of social change. The communities define themselves as ‘forward’, ‘advanced’ or ‘backward’ in accordance with the principles set forth by the state. As if the communities have no other way of describing and measuring them excepting the ones given to them by the state.
He feels that in a country like India, identities are ‘telescopic’. Here, the people’s ‘natural style of functioning’ seems to suggest that they have ‘multi -ended’ and ‘ fuzzy’ identities. In such circumstances, the constant attempts at imposing mutually exclusive and ‘well-bounded identities’ on them create problems.
Dr. Rila Mukherjee on behalf of CRG proposed the vote of thanks.
Session I: 12 October, Friday
5.45 – 7.15 P M
Struggle for Identity in the Northeast Today
Moderator: Professor Udayon Misra
Discussants: Mr. Keviletvo Kiewhuo
Mr. E. Deenadayalan
Dr. Lipi Ghosh
Politics of Identity and Nation Building in Northeast India
The title of the dialogue program is fascinating and fulfilling indeed. It is perhaps the most appropriate time to talk about the possibilities of human rights and peace in Northeast India. While we talk about human rights and peace, we need to identify the areas where these are violated. This session is meant for the discussion of issues pertaining to the question of identity. We know that a civil society is built on the principle of dialogue and it remains critical of any violation of identity of any community. As a historian, I would like to present before you the cultural background to the process of identity formation in colonial and postcolonial northeastern India. Language is a common medium and a strong factor in consolidating the identity of a particular group of people. Maintaining a heritage through language means maintaining all the symbols, ideas and ideologies of a human group and its civilization. Similarly, religion and religious tradition are another important factor. Finally, these two phenomena taken together encourage the communities to search for a political space whether within the prevailing state structure or without it.
India is indeed one of the several Asian countries in which people live side by side encompassed by one state structure. ‘National integration’ apparently involves greater uniformity of social, cultural and religious systems of different peoples residing in one state. However, in spite of the surface integration, the question is -- what is the true picture? Can all groups inside the Indian society assert their respective identities and define themselves in terms of their ethnic allegiance, language and religion of their own? In a cultural and historical sense, Indian civilization is a classic illustration of adaptation by numerous minority groups. In Tagore’s language: "Dibe Aar Nibe Milabe Milibe Jabe Na Phire, Ei Bharater Mahamanaber Sagaro Tire" (quoted verbatim in Bengali). The poet speaks of assimilation of people in the huge ocean of Indian culture without return to their own narrow cultural identities. But unfortunately what we see in reality is not adaptation but one-way imposition of Hinduized and Sanskrit based Indian Culture. D.D. Kosambi too considers the integration of tribes into the mainstream as the essential characteristic of Indian history. Observers like Weidmann also think that during the last three centuries, the pace of integration of the tribal groups has in fact quickened.
Now let us take the northeast India as a test case. It is fascinating to note that people here trace their origin to Aryan and Dravidian stocks as well as to the Austro-Asiatic and Mongoloid ones. Migration of various races of people to the northeast did not take place at one time. It took place gradually through different periods of history. In fact, the geographical location of the region is such that it has rightly been called the ‘meeting place of two great world civilizations of India and China’. The region is surrounded by Tibet and Bhutan on the northern side, China on the northeastern side, Burma (now Myanmar) on the southern side and West Bengal and Bangladesh on the western side. It had been receiving various races, languages, cultures and religions from different directions. The Austro-Asiatic group was perhaps the first racial group to inhabit the region. The Khasis and the Jaintias of Meghalaya belong to this lineage. The Mongoloids came from the south and southwest China. The Negroids are believed to be the ancestors of the Nagas of Nagaland. Among the Mongoloids, the Bodos have a large representation among the tribes living in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. The Meiteis of Manipur are also supposed to be the descendants of the Mongoloids because of their physical appearance, while linguistically, they have close affinity to the Aryans. The Tripuris, Reangs and other tribes of Tripura also represent mixed racial composition. The 110 scheduled tribes of Arunachal Pradesh also represent mixed racial composition, although a majority of them belongs to the Mongoloids. In Mizoram too Lushais, Hmars and others belong to different sub-groups of the Mongoloid race. A majority of those who live in the Brahmaputra and the Barak valleys happens to be Aryans or non-tribals. There are however important tribal pockets inhabited by the Bodos, Karbi- Dimasas, Kacharis and Tai-Ahoms (all originally belonging to the Mongoloids). In these valleys, a sizeable number of Dravidians migrated from south and eastern India. The Muslims, like other migratory groups came to Assam at the beginning of the 13th century. Finally, the Aryans were a well-organized and powerful people and perhaps the late entrants in the northeastern region. The Aryans of the Assam valley were migrants from eastern India in the fourth century BC. Historically speaking neither Assam proper nor the entire Northeast India was part of colonial India. Only as a result of British colonization, northeast India became part of British India. Thus Assam proper (Brahmaputra valley) was colonized in 1826. The British extended their reign to South Cachar in 1832, Khasi Hills in 1833, Jaintia kingdom in 1835 By 1843 Khamti kingdom of Sadiya and by 1854 Matak kingdom of Barsenapati were merged with British dominion. In 1874 Assam was made a separate province with some areas of today’s Bangladesh and the seven hill states of today’s northeast India. The annexation of the Naga Hills was however completed in 1889.
A Brief History of Identity Formation
In pre-colonial period, until the advent of the colonial powers, the people living in northeast India, especially the tribes of the present day border region acted as buffer communities and shared ethnic and cultural affinities with the tribal people across the present day Indo-Myanmar and Indo-Bangladesh borders. At that time, most of the tribes were not conscious of their ethnic heritage and their consciousness was rather limited to their family, clan and village. Each group wanted to retain its traditions and customs and was permeated by a strong desire to improve its status. The way different tribes have developed their present day identities is an interesting phenomenon itself. But as the colonial penetration became much deeper and many-sided, the economic condition and cultural position of the minorities got relatively degenerated notwithstanding the extension of political rights to them. In the colonial period, the region was not completely integrated into the politico-economic system of the colonial state. It rather remained isolated from the central political system of the mainland. The colonial rulers, at the beginning, resorted to the policy of non-intervention in dealing with the tribals. In other words by and large colonial presence was minimal in all parts of northeast India excepting the Brahmaputra valley. The fact was that those areas at that time had nothing to contribute to the British treasury. So the colonial rulers deliberately kept the hills isolated from the colonial administration. However, Christian missionaries had a big role to play. Facing the opposition in the plains they did their best to bring the tribal people into the fold of Christianity. Historically, the tribals were animistic in their faith. From the middle of the nineteenth century, believers in animism had embraced Christianity more than Hinduism. Again from the beginning of twentieth century, Christianity became synonymous with the tribals of the hill areas as a large number of tribal population came to be converted into Christianity. Thus ultimately Christianity became the dominant trait among the hill people except in Arunachal Pradesh. It is the Christian missionaries who contributed significantly to the process of modernization of the tribal belt.
It should also be noted here that there appeared a paradox at a later stage when the British policy of non-intervention was replaced by a policy of direct intervention. Such a policy was resolved in order to quell the opposition of the tribals to the colonial extension of commerce to their lands. Ultimately, most of the tribals were brought under British territorial administration. As a result, the tribals became gradually an integral part of colonial administration and politics.
Situation in the plains was quite different from the hills. Within a few decades of the establishment of British rule, Assam’s economy was transf ormed into a colonial economy with growth of tea industry as well as enhancement of cash crop production in agrarian sector. Assam was not rich in its population resources. The colonial government encouraged the immigrants and there also began a natural inflow of immigrants from neighbouring Bengal. The ethnic situation became very dismal because of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the colonial rulers. The ethnic and religious ideas were jumbled together by the British rulers to prove the incompatibility of the Hindus with the Muslims. In other words, communal ideas were planted into the hearts of the people. Thus, the question of communal representation in the legislature developed and it ultimately led to the division of the region. In effect, the pre- British experience of ethnic homogeneity was replaced by emerging communalism.
The Plains versus the Hills
The colonial intervention had a profound impact on the post-colonial northeastern India. At the time of independence, with the exception of the Brahmaputra and Surma valleys, this region was far behind the rest of the country in education, political awareness, administrative development and economy. Following independence, the tribal leaders, raised the demand for autonomy to preserve their tribal heritage. Free India offered a measure of special protection to the tribals in the Constitution but in the rapidly changing context of national life, they were catapulted from relative isolation into the whirlpool of competitive politics, and economics. As a whole, the result was their familiarization with new ideas of independence and democracy and they were taken to a brave new modern world. What was remarkable in the process was that the region started undergoing an astounding transformation. Organized kingdoms and clans used their identities to defeat their neighbours.
Against such historical background of state intervention, there developed two things -- first a universal insistence on maintaining the ‘cultural’ identity of one’s particular social unit and second, to get a proper political space within the state system. The new electoral system and such institutions as Assemblies, Parliament and District Councils in tribal areas were all unprecedented elements in the region. A new notion of autonomy in sharp contrast to the colonial master-servant relationship has developed. The state whether in the plains or in the hills assumed the new responsibility of being the medium for fulfillment of people's aspirations. Thus it appeared larger than the family or the clan and hitherto dormant aspirations surfaced with great force and flooded the state system with various demands.
In the hills the Christian missionaries succeeded in spreading their tentacles and in a way submerged the indigenous tribal culture. After independence, however, there has been a gradual reversal of the situation. There ensued conflicts and confrontations between traditional tribal religious and cultural systems and Christianity. In some areas there are instances of compromise. Thus tribal festivals are observed with both traditional tribal and Christian flavours. Christianity to some extent played a negative role in developing the concept of nation building in India. It rather helped create a separatist tendency among some hill tribes who are not even willing to remain within India. In fact at the beginning of independent India, a very small but distinctive group of western educated elite emerged among the hill tribes as a result of their exposure to Christianity and western education. These groups motivated social and political changes in their respective societies. This elite class was extraordinarily conscious of their distinctive ethnic identities and they vociferously articulated their identities in the post-colonial society. Thus Ethno-Nationalism arose among the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris etc. The creation of the linguistically reorganized states paved the way for co-optation of newly emerging elite into the post colonial Indian political system. The perpetually disturbed situations in northeast India helped the tribal elite push forward their narrow class demands in the name of community identities. The partition of the country stopped migration of Muslims from East Pakistan under government patronage to the plains, but illegal migration continued unabated and this created a new problem. Islam, today is a significant political factor in the region. With the spread of education among the Muslims, bloc voting and exercise of franchise rights have become usual features of minority politics in northeastern India. The migrant Muslims have played a major role in giving the Assamese nationality its much needed demographically and linguistically dominant majority status since independence. Culturally too, the migrant Muslims have accepted assimilation into the Assamese society taking to Assamese language and many social traits. So, here Islam instead of any confrontation plays an important role in developing Assamese identity.
However throughout the plains the over-zealous attempts of the Assamese to project their cultural identity alienated a few tribal pockets of Assam valley and it ultimately gives birth to discontentment among the Bodos, the Karbis, the Dimasas, the Ahoms and many others. Although a section of the Assamese tries of late to ascertain that the tribal content of their society is very central, in reality we find just the opposite. As a result, there exist separatist movements like Bodoland movement. the Karbi agitation and the Ahom revivalism.
The overall picture reveals that identity formation is a historical result and language and religion are two forceful elements that had an important role to play in politics. However situations in the hills were different from the plains. Thus, Nagaland and Mizoram are defined as Christianity-influenced zones with their own linguistic identities, while Assam, Manipur and Tripura are treated as Hinduism-influenced, again with their own languages. Arunachal Pradesh is somewhat different from all of them. However, the present social vacuum leads the communities to find out their respective political spaces. We may conclude with the observation that the overall spirit of secularism was always in the air of northeast India. So, in future too, it may be hoped that it will act as an enduring force in binding the society together. Civil society is very much a space where individuals are entitled to enact their identities as members of their respective communities. Accordingly the recognition of their mutual differences is what prevents any one of them from taking on a hegemonic character. I sincerely hope that this dialogue will be a stepping stone towards developing peace, bringing the forces of integration into main focus.
Professor Udayan Misra initiated the discussion by pointing out that the use of the term "northeast" is itself problematic as the region represents a varied cultural mosaic and has never considered itself to be one compact unit. One has to recognize that there are many different communities in the region and the dynamics of each single movement have to be taken care of, if any solution is to be achieved. For example New Delhi according to him, suffers from a strong misconception that by coming to an agreement with the ‘most powerful insurgent group’ (that is, National Socialist Council of Nagalim-IM), it would be able to solve the problem and that the situation could be improved. It has failed in appreciating the complex nature of the problem. The positive fallout of the multifarious identity movements in the region has been that the civil society organizations have gathered strength and it is no longer possible to ignore them.
Mr. E. Deenadayalam, Dr Lipi Ghosh and Mr. Kevi took up these issues for detailed discussion. Mr. Deenadayalam, in particular emphasized the need for appreciating the indigenous systems of culture and thought in the region. He also drew the participants’ attention to the problems associated with the failure in acknowledging the multifarious identities and classifying the
claims of these communities as a simple "law and order problem". ‘Repressive legislation and militarization by the state’ have resulted in political restrictions and widespread violence. He feels that with regard to cease-fire, there are possibilities of constructive engagement. Dr Lipi Ghosh examined (vide, Session Note above) the history of identity formation in the region and how in the post-independent era, political competition transformed these identities and led to the emergence of ethno-nationalism. The last presentation by Mr Kevi, emphasized that since ‘the Federal Government of Nagaland’ had existed even before the integration of Naga Hills into the Indian Union ‘all areas where Nagas are settled’ must come under Nagaland. The Naga identity movement according to him, started only after World War I, when the Nagas were taken by the British as soldiers and porters, that is to say, when they came to know of the existence of the colonial state. In Manipur, the Nagas are not advancing their claim over the Imphal valley. They are only making their claim over areas where they are settled, that is, in the hill districts of the state. This last assertion led to debates on the present emphasis on ethno-genesis of various communities in the region and how far this could actually lead to a solution of the present problem. Some of the questions raised at the end of the session were: if the Nagas claim every part of ‘Naga inhabited area’, then what about the other groups living in them and willing to assert their ethnic identities? Will the Bengalis have the same right in areas outside West Bengal? How can there be a talk of peace when the Naga insurgents continue to impose ‘taxes’ on vehicles passing through Nagaland? In his response, Mr. Kevi clarified that the ‘Naga claim’ to ‘Naga -inhabited areas’ does not mean that non -Nagas will be asked to leave these places.
Session II: 13 October, Saturday
9.30 – 11.00 A M
The Naga Peace Process
Moderator: Mr. Subir Bhaumik
Mr. Pradip Phanjoubam
Professor Girin Phukon
Naga Peace Process
This session wishes to take up for discussion the entire ramification of the Naga peace process, one of the longest peace process in the history of any conflict that's found no success. In this context, may I make it clear that I don't believe the Shillong Accord or the present ceasefire has increased the chances of peace as far as the Nagas and India is concerned. If the Speakers here have views to the contrary, they are welcome to place it but would have to justify what they say. I am ,for once, not saying that the present ceasefire with both factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN is unjustified. For all the good wishes and efforts of the NGOs, there can be no lasting peace without both the national government, the state government(s) and the rebel groups agreeing to a settlement. So it was in the fitness of things that the two sides began negotiations in 1996. But the slow process of negotiations has left much to be desired and the extension of the ceasefire to neighbouring states and the trouble it generated has raised serious doubts about the peace process. The NSCN (I-M) has this week made serious accusations of ceasefire violations by the Indian government. We are not in a position to ascertain how justified the allegations are but the fact they are been made with so much force indicates all is not well with the Naga peace process. As moderator, I wish to make three quick observations before I set out the canvas for exploring certain aspects of the Naga peace process that is believed to be crucial for its success.
I would argue (a) that in the initial phases of the Naga armed movement the Indian government , instead of initiating peace moves ,rather tried to divide the movement by playing up the moderate-extremist divides. The signing of the 1960 accord actually foreclosed chances of a genuine and long lasting settlement of the Naga problem because it clearly sought to isolate the Naga National Council and ultimately split it. (2) the ideal time for the NNC to drive home a settlement on best possible terms for the Nagas was in the late sixties when the Indian state was desperate for a settlement in the aftermath of the Mizo rebellion, the Naxalite uprising in 1967 and the spread of ethnic rebellions to other parts of the Northeast. I have strong reasons to believe that anything short of outright sovereignity - and even a Bhutan - style protectorate solution - was being considered for Nagaland. By sticking to the demand for sovereignity, the NNC missed the most opportune moment for driving home a good bargain for the Nagas. (3) The NSCN will take into account the aspirations of the other battling ethnicities and struggling nationalities when it negotiates for a settlement of the Naga problem. This need not be elaborated but should be evident after the post-Bangkok declaration scenario. Having made these brief observations, I would identify the areas we wish to touch in today's session. 1. Scope of the Naga Peace Process : we will have to explore whether it is justified to include all Naga armed rebel factions in the peace process , the negotiations and the final settlement and whether it would be necessary to include other rebel groups from neighbouring states into the process since the Naga settlement may , rather is likely to, have a direct effect on these states. We should also explore the desirability to include the concerned state governments and bodies such as the Naga Hoho, since the Hoho may be more representative than the NSCN (is it!) 2. Key Issues : the negotiations may get territory -centered in view of the present controversies , so will it not be desirable to bring in key issues like levels of autonomy that India can offer and the NSCN can accept. We need to take up how the key question of whether it is desirable to maintain territorial status quo or whether it is important to incorporate Naga-dominant areas of other states with Nagaland is at all desirable. It must be examined whether there is need for a FRESH FOCUS to the negotiations. 3. Transperancy : is key to successful dialogues in democracy but it has been felt that the present Naga peace process , atleast the NSCN-Delhi negotiations are taking place in far too much secrecy and that may be causing undue misgivings in many quarters. 4. Ceasefire : is crucial to maintaining the ongoing spirit of the negotiations and ways must be discussed on how to make a success of it . If our learned participants keep their discussions focused on these areas that I have highlighted, I will be most grateful. But I am certainly not a tigh-jacket moderator and will other issues to be raised if the Speaker can justify its relevance.
Mr Subir Bhaumik in his opening remarks (see, Session Note above) set the tone of the discussions by pointing out that the Naga peace process, has wider ramifications for the entire northeast and therefore it would be necessary to examine the scope of the process in some greater detail. He also emphasized that there was urgent need for transparency in the process if it was to be successful. Dr. Ngully emphasized that the Naga movement, which is essentially one for claiming back the land and culture for its people, has been identified by the state as "Naga insurgency". According to him, there is not a single Naga family, which has not been touched by the conflict. Describing the problem as ‘fundamentally political by nature’, he made a plea for ‘arriving at genuine solutions through negotiations and dialogues based on mutual respect and dignity’. They were ‘shocked’ by the vehement opposition to the peace process, notwithstanding its many visible limitations. For him, ‘sustainable peace’ requires more than just negotiations, it requires an extension of the peace process to the people at large and their democratic participation in it. He recalled the contributions of such eminent leaders as Mahatma Gandhi, J. P. Narayan and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who unlike many other leaders of their time realized the democratic content of the movement. However, the fact that the Naga issue could not be considered in isolation was evident from the two presentations that followed. Mr Pradip Phanjoubam emphasized that in a region where concepts of homeland were overlapping, the resolution of one homeland (that of the Nagas) would never be workable without the resolution of all the other homelands. When there is an overlapping of the concept of homeland, what common ground does one choose to settle the disputes? This clearly indicated the necessity of settlement of internal disputes prior to a declaration of peace. This was also illustrated by his reference to the harassment of Manipuri drivers who are forced to pay ‘road tax’ to Naga groups in Naga -dominated areas. The politicization of Naga identity also came up for discussion in course of the following presentation by Professor Girin Phukon. The existence of different "clans" among the Nagas and of internal conflict among these various groups was noted. It was also pointed out that the GOI was conducting its negotiations with one group and ignoring others leading to a conflict situation. Peace process at one place sometimes jeopardizes that in another. In order to have peace, the Naga insurgent groups must drop the demand for sovereignty. Dr. Phukon also noted that one of the major hurdles that the peace process has been facing is the fact that insurgency has become ‘a small industry’ in a region where unemployment is high. Unless this is appropriately dealt with and there is an end to insurgency there cannot be a resolution of the problem.
The general discussions that followed illustrated that while the Naga demand for sovereignty appeared ‘non-negotiable’, other communities within the region felt threatened by the restructuring of boundaries that would inevitably result from this. Dr Ngully clarified that the Nagas share a concern for others. The need for dialogue on issues that are perceived differently by different groups (for example what is road tax for the Nagas is extortion for the Manipuris) was evident in course of the deliberations. An interesting aspect of the discussions was the recurring focus on the legitimacy of nationalisms and the claims of "national groups" – a reminder that peace is being negotiated with the state and among various groups within the national framework. Dr Ngully admits that though they have no alternative blueprint for development at the moment, they call for development that will be sensitive to environment.
Session III: 13 October, Saturday
11.15 AM – 12.45 PM
Displacement and Humanitarian Tasks in the Northeast
Moderator: Dr. Sankar Sen
Dr. Gina Sangkham
Dr. C. J. Thomas
Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Roychowdhury
Displacement of Affected People and Humanitarian Tasks
in Northeast India
C. Joshua Thomas
The post-colonial phase all the seven States in northeast India has been experiencing displacement of population of different dimensions. On the one side it received a steady flow of migrants and refugees from the neighboring countries, such as, Bangladesh, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, fleeing political, social, economic, ideological and environmental persecution and uncertainties. However, from the 1990’s anot her problem that has been engaging the attention of social scientists and policy analysts is that of internal displacement. In this note we would like to dwell on the displacement of the affected people, the causes for the displacement, the status of the displaced persons, the humanitarian tasks or the response of the government and the local and international agencies towards the displaced persons. Although the population displacement in Kashmir has been studied and known by the academic community both in India and outside the country, yet the displacement in northeast has gone virtually unnoticed. Only recently there have nearly half-a-dozen works on displacement in India with special reference to the region. Some notable studies include: the international conference on ‘forced migration in South Asian region: displacement, human rights and conflict resolution’ organized by the Centre for Refugee Studies, Jadavpur University on April 20-22, 2000; ‘Northeast India’s Hidden Displacement’ by Ruiz A Hiram (2000) of the United States Committee for Refugees; international seminar on ‘Displaced People in South Asia’ organized by the IDPAD during March 2 -4, 2001; the national seminar on ‘human movement and settlement: dimensions of displacement in northeast India’ organized by the ICSSR-NERC Shillong during July 2001 and the seminars on ‘internally displaced persons’ in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura organized by the ICSSR-NERC in Guwahati, Itanagar, Imphal and Agartala. The above mentioned seminar proceedings and the report have brought to the focus that displacement of population within the borders of their state has become a pervasive feature of the region in the post-cold war era.
The World Refugee Survey (2001) reports that some 20-24 million are internally displaced within their own countries. At the end of the year 2000 more than 2,90,000 refugees and some 5,07,000 IDPs are found in India. USCR’s report says that an estimated 1,77,000 persons of various ethnic communities are displaced in several states of northeast India. Before we enter into substantive discussion on displacement, let us see what is the explicit meaning of IDPs. For instance, The United Nations guiding principles on internally displaced define the IDPs as: …persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or place of habitual residence, in a particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situation of generalized violence, violation of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border.
From the above definition of the UN we can categorize three types of IDPs –
1. Conflict-induced IDPs
2. Natural disaster/calamity-induced IDPs
3. Man-made or development-induced IDPs
It should be noted that in some cases there are overlapping of all these categories. Though IDPs are often ejected from their land and homes, and very often forced to live in relief camps, they find themselves in situations that are very similar to that of refugees. But they are not treated as refugees as unlike refugees, they have not crossed any international border. Therefore, they are not entitled to the protection guaranteed by the international community for the refugees. Hence, in certain situation, the status of the IDPs is worse than that of the refugees in the absence of international protection.
Causes of displacement in northeast India
Northeast has remained a strategically crucial and politically sensitive region for India since Independence. It has been surrounded by five countries and is connected with the rest of India through a narrow, 33-km corridor at Siliguri point. However the conflicts in the northeast and their resulting displacement receive little attention within India, let alone outside the country. Once known simply as Assam, today the northeast is divided into 7 states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In contrast to the main body of India, much of the northeast is sparsely populated. It is also ethnically more diverse: of the 430 recognised tribes in India, some 200 make their home in the northeast. In a sense the peripheral location and its resultant under-development and distorted political response to underdevelopment have made the societies in the northeast perpetually vulnerable to various kinds of violence, conflict and displacement. Apart from natural disasters like earthquake and frequent floods that cause displacement in the northeast, government policies and development projects, ethnic clashes and migrant population are the major causes of internal displacement especially in the last two decades. Of these again the ethnic clashes and migrant population to the region from outside the country are the most important contributors to this great humanitarian problem. The government policies, some of which are well intentioned, sometimes cause internal displacement. For example, the massive relocation of the Mizo population during the regrouping of Mizo villages by the Indian army to quell insurrection unleashed by the Mizo National Front caused internal displacement of vast magnitude. In Arunachal Pradesh the well-intentioned government policy of liberating the Sulungs (now called Puroiks) from the age-old social system of bondage has caused internal displacement of a section of the Sulung people for want of proper, consistent and continuous rehabilitation programmes. Apart from state induced development projects like the Dumber Hydel Project that uprooted and displaced at least 5000 tribal families in Tripura, another major cause of displacement in the northeast is ethnic clashes and cleansing. The group rivalries push away a group, which fails to face the challenge from another group. Conflict-related displacement is generally caused by battling ethnicity who see ethnic cleansing as part of their strategy to justify the creation of separate administrative entity. The recent Santhal-Bodo conflict and the Karbi-Anglong conflicts between tribals and non-tribals in Assam, the Mizo-Reang conflict in Mizoram, the tribal and non-tribal conflict in Tripura, etc., have given rise to a large scale IDPs resulting in camp-life for many till date. Another major source of displacement in the northeast is the take-over of land by migrating communities. The best example can be given from Assam where illegal migrants not only in the unreserved plains but also in the reserved tribal blocks have grabbed land. This kind of displacement has been feared from the large sections of Chakma, Hajong and Tibetan refugees of Arunachal Pradesh who have started grabbing land even in reserved forests like Namdapha National Park in Changlang district. The number of illegal Bangladeshi migrant has also been increasing in the state, which has already caused a problem in states like Tripura and Assam. Apart from these, the Indian government’s economic and political neglect of the northeast, the resulting underdevelopment and local people’s sense of political exclusion and powerlessness have also contributed significantly to tensions and displacement.
The displacement of affected people
The intensity of displacement and the conditions of the displaced vary from State to State in northeast India. We would like to discuss the principal situations of internal displacement in three States: Assam, Manipur and Tripura.
1. Assam: We can see under 3 different headings the displacement in Assam:
I. Conflict-induced displacement in Assam:
b) Post-colonial identity movements
c) Assam movement (1979-1985)
d) Bodo movement
II. Development-induced displacement in Assam:
a) Power sector
b) Oil sector
c) Industry sector
d) Growth of urbanization
III. Displacement: The future perspective:
a) The Reliance Assam Gas Cracker Project
b) The Pagladia Dam Project
Formerly a princely state, Manipur has become one of the principal sources of displaced persons in northeast India. Perhaps it is only place in the world where not only the common people but also the members of the legislative assembly are internally displaced! The state has seen different types of displacement and some of which are:
a) Displacement caused by development projects like the Loktak Hydro Electric Project
b) Displacement caused by natural calamities, such as, floods, fire etc
c) Displacement caused by security forces
d) Displacement caused by ethnic strife: it has caused numerous displacement of people from their ancestral homes: (1) Kuki-Naga Conflict, (2) Kuki-Paite conflict and (3) Meitei-Pangal (Muslim) conflict e) Displacement of Nagas in the Imphal valley caused by the Naga peace process
Tripura too was a princely State like Manipur that subsequently joined the Indian union and is now under the grip of internal displacement of the following types:
a) Riang unrest and State repression
b) Development-induced – Dumber Hydel project
c) Riot-related development – the June riot of 1980 at Mandai
d) Insurgency-related displacement
Condition of the displaced
It has been reported that more than 200 thousand displaced persons were living in 78 refugee camps located in Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts of Assam during April 2000. It was reported in the Assam State Legislative Assembly that all the displaced persons are leading a dehumanized life in makeshift unhygienic relief camps. At present the Santhals constitute the bulk of the displaced persons in the said districts of Assam. The conditions of the relief camps are pathetic and inmates do not get adequate food. The displaced children are deprived of education for years together. There is no safe drinking water at all and no provision for medical aid. Many died because of starvation and malnutrition. Some have sold off their children out of poverty and helplessness. Immoral traffic along the national highways too becomes a cause of concern. The State government’s rehabilitation package is still uncertain and whatever it has done is ruefully inadequate.
In Manipur the conditions of the displaced persons are very poor. The non-existence of formal relief camps should not mean the non-existence of displaced persons there. Various relief camps set up by the government immediately after the displacement could not provide even the basic necessities. Hence displaced persons prefer to stay outside the relief camps. Most of the displaced in Manipur are displaced not only once but also twice and thrice. The same is true of Tripura too.
A. Response of the Union and the State governments in Northeast: Often both the Union government and the various State governments in the northeast are mere passive observers than active participants in alleviating the needs of the displaced persons. Even after years of endless ethnic conflicts, its causes have not been addressed till date. And by not taking appropriate steps to prevent future displacement, both the Union and the State governments are leaving the door for the problem to escalate. Till today, no formal structures, or mechanisms to deal with the issues of internal displacement have come into existence. Distributions of blankets, essential commodities and ex gratia payments and setting up of camps, though inadequate, seem to be the main policy of the State and the Union governments. This is only one-third of the job. No concrete steps have been taken to rehabilitate the displaced persons neither in their original villages nor in other places. The Union government has not sent even a Union team to assess the ground realities. Its only involvement so far has been to provide States minimal funds to assist the displaced persons. The negative response of the State and the Union government both before and after the conflict has resulted in the escalation of atrocities of all sorts. For instance, in the state of Manipur, the Indian government was bent on utilizing the conflict to discredit the NSCN-IM in the international forum so as to prevent their entry into UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization) as could be seen from the documents of the government. Apparently, not being satisfied with systematic campaign against NSCN-IM through documentation of series of events, the government made another scathing attack on NSCN-IM on the question of violation of human rights in a separate document called `the NSCN saga of violence continues’. However, nothing worth has been done for the dis placed people in Manipur.
The latest case in Manipur in connection with the extension of cease-fire beyond Nagaland and withdrawal of the same after strong opposition from the affected States is evident that the Union government is not having any specific and definite policy towards the northeast. The Indian government’s policy of divide and rule among various ethnic groups has been amply evident once again. The issue was used to discredit NSCN-IM, the Indian government is now using the cease-fire issue to create confusion and divisions not only among the Nagas but also among other ethnic groups in the States in northeast. B. Response of local and international agencies: The responses of the local actors, such as, NGOs, civil society groups, religious organizations and even the insurgent groups and the tribal self-help organizations are sporadic and their resources are usually meagre to meet the needs of the displaced persons. International community plays virtually no role regarding displaced persons in the northeast. UNHCR cannot visit the region. However, a few international NGOs play a certain role but with local staff. The works of some of the international NGOs such as, the World Vision, NECORD, need special mention as they do relief work among the displaced people. Recently the well-known Oxfam (India) initiated a project on conflict mitigation. Under this
project they asked the ICSSR North Eastern Regional Centre to organize a workshop to study the various conflicts and displacement of population in northeast India. Moreover, the Oxfam also undertook a study in interacting with the displaced woman of Manipur and Nagaland with the women in Kashmir. Utilizing the academics and the activists in northeast should encourage the similar studies and discourses.
Displacement of people in northeast varies from State to State. The Indian government lacks a defined policy regarding internal displacement, which results in its ad hoc response. Therefore the need of the hour is to have a coherent policy for internal displacement and refugees.
It is true that the post-colonial Indian State failed miserably to resolve the issues raised by the various identity movements in northeast India. In a sense, the State has virtually abdicated its responsibility towards the victims of these movements. Most of the victims are tribal and marginalized groups. Thus, in the absence of an effective intervention from the civil society, conflict and violence have become chronic and all pervasive in the northeast. If the present situation continues without any effective intervention, the whole of the northeast is likely to experience more conflict-induced internal displacement of population.
In view of the separate Ministry on North East at the Union government with Mr Arun Shourie as the Minister, the government of India should take up the issue of displaced persons with seriousness. The Centre has provided very little financial assistance for the resettlement of the displaced people. A comparison with the rehabilitation package extended to the displaced persons of Kashmir will not be out of place at this point. In Kashmir, which has more than 3,50,000 as displaced people, the government of India has extended a significant package. Whereas for the displaced people of northeast not even one fourth of the rehabilitation package extended to Kashmir has been provided. Government of India considered northeast as a priority area and asked all its departments to reserve 10% of its allotted budget for the development of the region. In spite of all these promises the condition of the displaced people in the northeast is miserable.
In view of the above mentioned facts the following three steps may be taken into consideration:
1. the government of India should increase the quantum of its financial allocation for the IDPs in the northeast and proper/periodic evaluation mechanism of the fund utilization should be introduced;
2. the Union government should address the causes of the various ethnic conflicts in northeast, which will arrest the future displacement; and
3. till date there is no concrete data base on the number of internally displaced people in the northeast and therefore a study-cum-survey should be undertaken by the government and this project may be entrusted to an independent research organization.
Session IV: 13 October, Satuday
2.00 – 3.30 PM
Women in Peace Campaigns in the East and the Northeast
Moderator: Professor Jasodhara Bagchi
Dr. Paula Banerjee
Ms. Khesheli Chishi
Professor Asha Hans
Ms. N. Vijayalakshmi Brara
Professor Meghna Guhathakurata
Professor Mukul Mukherjee
Women’s Interventions for Peace in Northeast
I would like to start with a legitimate question and that is why privilege women’s experiences? Most of the works analysing intra-state conflicts in the Northeast do not deal with women’s engagement in it. Yet women are not just affected by conflict
but also help to shape its results. In the case of Northeast women are particularly visible in peace campaigns. So for the purposes of both theory and activism it is necessary to analyse women’s negotiations with conflict in the Northeast, especially
their interventions for peace. Also the diversity of women’s interventions for peace in the Northeast gives new meaning to Joan Scott’s contention that “politics constructs gender and gender politics.”5 I seek to identify the roles women play in peace building in the region. Information on women’s contributions to peace in the Northeast is extreme ly scattered. On the basis of examples taken from the peace activities of women’s groups in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland I seek to make a comparative analysis of what these women mean by peace and how do they intervene for it. I discuss strategies that lead to successful interventions for peace by women. It should be recognised that in most of Northeast women are marginalised in institutional politics. The situation of women in the three states discussed is no different.
From 1980 onwards no women has represented Assam in the Lok Sabha. In the 1996 Assembly elections only two women were elected from the AGP who does not even bother to practice tokenism where women are concerned. There is a growing alienation of women from institutional politics. In Manipur there is a woman’s bazaar known as Nupi Keithel where women meet, sell their ware and discuss problems of the day including politics. Manipuri women are no strangers to politics. Yet none of the known political parties have any special focus on women in their manifesto. Naga women are extremely independent yet in electoral politics the record of Naga women is hardly any better than women from the other regions of the Northeast. There are no women in either the Assembly or in the parliament. Sometimes women are given token representations but very often they become invisible.
5 Joan Scott quoted in “Viva”: Women and Popular Protest in Latin America, ed. Sarah A.
Radcliffe and Sallie Westwood (New York and London, Routledge: 1993) p. 217.
However, as the post ceasefire situation reflects women are neither silent spectators nor mere receptors of politics. The peace movements if not led by women, are overwhelmingly supported by them. It is the Naga women who went down to Assam to talk peace when most other civil society network had failed. Women, as in most other regions in South Asia dominate the peace movements in sheer numbers in Northeast.
How They Organise Peace?
There are different ways by which women organise for peace in the Northeast. Women’s peace organisations can largely be divided into three different groups. There are women’s groups that organise sporadic issue based peace movements. There are others who try to collaborate with different interest groups and organize peace movements. The third group tries to take an independent stand and negotiate with both the armies, the state and rebels. During and after the army atrocities in Nalbari and North Lakhimpur in 1989 and 1991 respectively, a number of women’s groups for peace sprung up. Opposition from all quarters forced these women to withdraw from active campaigns.6 Sometimes, they negotiate with the security personnel to release women who are detained for questioning. There are a number of Bodo women’s groups that organise issue -based peace marches and protests. The Bodo Women’s Justice Forum is a group that concerns itself with issues of peace and human rights. The Bodo and the Assamese women’ s peace movements portray that in situations of chronic hatred and violence women often organise on the basis of specific issues. The Assamese women’s “ten -day protests” fall within this genre.
In Manipur such an issue based protest movement by women forced the All Manipur Student’s Union to verbalise a demand and petition the state to stop gang rape of women. Sometimes strategically women who organise these protests remain anonymous so that they do not become targets of hate crime. The best examples of this genre of peace movement can be found among women’s groups in Manipur. An interesting phenomenon about women’s peace movement in Manipur relates to their close association with different interest groups. They often assume the face of protest against established hierarchy. Thus, Manipuri women in huge numbers protested against the government declaration of ceasefire outside of Nagaland and were the visible markers of that protest. One of the best known women’s organisations for peace in Northeast is t he Naga Mother’s Association (NMA). Membership of NMA is open to any adult Naga women irrespective of whether she is married or single. Members can join through the women’s organisations of their own tribes. The NMA has rendered valuable service for the cause of peace. Apart from peace initiatives the NMA has worked for social regeneration. NMA’s greatest achievement is that most Naga women’s organisations are its collaborators. The members of NMA also collaborate with the Naga Women’s Union of Manipur . The rallies organised by NMA are always well attended by other Naga women’s organisations. The NMA however is not the only women’s group. There are other women’s groups such as the Tangkhul Shanao Long (TSL) which operate both in Nagaland and Manipur. Yet where the NMA becomes 6Interview with Renu Debi, a spokesperson of Matri Manch, 29 December 1998, Guwahati exceptional is in its ability to negotiate for peace and not get identified with any interest groups. The women’s groups often agitate for other political agendas within the peace movement. From April 1994 the Moyon women’s orga nisation included a number of political demands in their annual resolutions. They called for equal right of women to inherit property. They also began an agitation for women to be in decision making bodies. No other Naga tribe in Manipur has given their women the right to vote in their Legislative Councils.7 Among Assamese women’s movement for peace there is
one group that has successfully negotiated for the empowerment of women. The members of Chapar Anchalik Mahila Samiti organise frequent meetings for women’s legal awareness.8 This group has had substantial influence on the lives of women in Dhubri. Although women’s literacy rate is extremely low in Dhubri, women’s sex ratio is one of the highest in the state of Assam. There are 950 women to every 1000 men. In 1961 the sex ratio was only 895 women to a thousand men.9
Women and the Politics for Peace:
Women’s initiatives are not just determined by but also determine wider social movements. The numerous Naga women’s peace groups and some peace group s in Assam and Manipur have successfully maintained their independent stand. Women’s peace groups in Nagaland have achieved enormous success. There are a number of reasons for the success achieved by the Naga women. The Naga women have been able to situate their political manoeuvrings within their traditional roles. The Naga
women also successfully mix social work with their political actions. Whenever they face political opposition they shift their focus and work on issues of health, deaddiction and rights of women. The same is true for Chapar women in Assam. Even in a state where women’s political initiatives face rigid opposition the Chapar women have portrayed that under the guise of social work women can negotiate spaces in the public sphere.
The experiences in the Northeast portray that if women are successful in defining peace making as women’s job then they are not severely challenged. The experiences of Nagaland show that through peacemaking women are able to negotiate spaces in the public sphere. Women’s negotiations for peace have the potential to change the situation of women even in traditional societies. However, in conclusion one must restate what Kumari Jayawardena said in her path breaking commentary on feminism and nationalism: Women’s movements do not occur in a vacuum but correspond to and to some extent are determined by, the wider social movements of which they form a part. The general consciousness of society about itself, its future, its structure and role of men and women entails limitations for the women’s 7Interview with Gina Shangkham, President MSR, 11 September 1999, Dhulikhel.
8For an extensive reportage of one of their meetings see North-East Echo, 20 June 1997.
9Sex Ratio 1901-1991, Census of India 1991, Assam movement; its goals and its methods of struggle are generally determined by those limits.
10This is also true of women’s movement for peace. Women in Northeast do not operate in vacuum and often their success or failure is related to civil society’s ability to democratise itself.
The discussions began with Dr. Paula Banerjee noting that most of the works analyzing intra-state conflicts in the Northeast do not deal with women’s engagement in it. Yet women represent the face of peace campaigns in Northeast and so their experiences are of particular importance. Although women do actively participate in the formal political system in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur they are visible in informal spaces represented by grassroots peace organisations. Dr. Banerjee identified three techniques by which women actively intervene for peace in the region. They sometimes coordinate issuebased movements demanding peace. Such movements are sporadic and women suspend it as soon as there are attacks. Such suspensions are strategic and they reorganize themselves whenever newer issues emerge. In other cases women orchestrate movements upon receiving active support from partisan groups in the conflict. In the third instance women organise under the banner of wider social concerns. They sustain their movement through innovative social strategies but retain an independent voice by refusing to be identified with any partisan groups. By retaining independent voice women acquire legitimacy for their efforts in peace building. Through such strategies women sometimes make inroads into formal political space. Dr. Banerjee was of the opinion that women’s experiences in peacemaking is often influenced by the society that they live in. Women’s efforts acquire a modicum of success only when supported by efforts of other civil society organisations. But that does not mean women do not have agency. Their activism transforms not just the peace movement but also contains the potential to transform their own positioning within the society. Women’s initiatives are therefore not just determined by but also determine wider social movements.
Ms. Khesheli Chisi, represented the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA). The association came into being on 14th of February 1984. It is a state level voluntary organisation that upholds the dignity of motherhood. It serves as a common platform for Naga women’s interests and fights against social evils prevailing in the state. When the NMA came into existence its motto was “Human Integrity.” Ms. Chishi said that from its inception the NMA has received tremendous support from the Naga people. It has widened its membership to include all Naga women. The NMA operates through different tribal women’s organi sations. Initially the Naga mothers having experienced the effect of alcohol and drug abuse in their own homes came forward to fight against this menace. They dealt with the problems through “compassion” and “unconditional love.” They opened a rehabilitation centre for drug
10 Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (London, Zed Books:1986) p. 10 addicts at Mt. Gilead Home in 1989. They have also recently started working on an Aids Hospice to allow the afflicted to live with dignity and respect. The hospice is meant to serve as “an intermediary between hospital, home and community based care system.”
The deteriorating political situation inspired the Naga mother’s to form a peace team with the motto “shed no more blood.” The NMA was moved to take this path because the members “deeply felt the loss of life and values.” They believed that killings or acts of fratricide could never bring solutions to political problems. NMA peace team began its activities by holding meetings with tribal women’s organisations. They appealed to women to “come forward and actively play their ro le in making peace.” The team met all Naga leaders and government officials and implored that they show their wisdom and statesmanship by ending violence. The NMA is particularly concerned about the growing numbers of widows and orphans in Nagaland. For its activism the NMA often teams up with Naga Hoho, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Naga Student’s Federation and the Naga Women’s Union. Together they constitute the Action Committee for peace. Professor Asha Hans from Utkal University spoke next. She said women enter movements for peace for a number of reasons. They enter peace movements sometimes to combat existing social evils or they enter it because of personal experiences of violence or even out of solidarity. Dr. Hans asked what role do these women play in the decision making process once the power structures are in place? It is often the experience that women participate in protest movements in large numbers yet once these movements succeed they are pushed back from the political arena. Dr. Hans showed concern about this problem and asked women not to retreat from formal political space. She said cease-fires are important for civil society. It is during ceasefires that movement for peace can be strengthened. Women’s issues are brought to the forefront in times of cease-fire. Dr. Hans was of the opinion that often women’s agency is related to the process of democratisation. Such a process determines how are women positioned in conflict situations? Whether they are passive victims or active agents? Dr. Hans showed concern over women’s push out from formal political process in post cease-fire situations. She asked the participants to think how women can be brought to the forefront of decision-making? She requested the sisters from the Northeast not to give up their positions of eminence in political decision-making. One of the reasons for the present problems in Manipur, according to Dr. N. Vijaylakshmi Brara, is that it is one of the most economically backward areas and there are hardly any avenues for advancement of young people. There are no industrial development or infrastructure and corruption is rampant among government officials leading to unrest among people. “In the rush to get government jobs families sell their paddy fields and pay the bribe and hence get further impoverished.” People are constantly living in fear and so democracy remains a distant dream. Dr. Vijalakshmi is of the opinion that to fashion any kind of solution for the present problem one has to give women primacy in decision making. She spoke of the Meira Paibis or the torch bearing women of Manipur. They hold mashaals and keep a watch in the neighbourhood where local youths are sometimes forcibly taken by armed forces in the name of curbing insurgencies. “They are the only ones who can dare to warn and scold the people in underground movement.” Dr. Vijayalakshmi is of the opinion that when in Northeast there are groups such as the Meira Paibis and the NMA they should get together and try to put a stop to unleashed barbarism. It was women’s agency and their ability to intervene for peace that played a pivotal role in stopping Naga-Kuki clashes. For peace in Northeast it is essential for mother's to rise above ethnic loyalties and act as guardians of peace. She concluded by saying that any groups interested in peace in the Northeast should “call the mothers,” because when they speak society listens.
Sometimes ethnicity can prove to be a great divider even within the women’s movement. Speaking of the Hill Women’s Federation (HWF) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and their alliance with the majoritarian women’s movement in Bangladesh Professor Meghna Guhathakurta stated that initially this alliance worked.
Women’s groups in Bangladesh were the first civ il society group to let HWF protest under their banner. However, once the CHT Accord was signed women’s groups no longer encouraged protestors from CHT to speak in their platforms. In that situation ethnicity proved stronger than gender and divided women’s groups in Bangladesh. She was of the opinion that women’s movements can achieve success only when women are able to transcend boundaries of ethnicity, religion and race. She also spoke about how the signing of an accord can prove to be an experience to marginalise women from decision-making. Speaking of women’s experiences in Mizoram Dr. Mukul Mukherjee said that women in Mizoram are the moral watchdogs of their society. She spoke of the achievements of Mizo Widows Association in conflict management in Mizoram. Her experiences were similar to the experiences of women from other parts of Northeast such as Nagaland and Manipur. Most observers agreed that women in Northeast are exceptional in a number of ways especially in their ability to negotiate for peace. There were questions from the floor as to why women are associated with peacemaking only? By positioning women in peacemaking is the panel not essentialising women’s experiences? Professor Jashodhara Bagchi answered this query by saying that by privileging women’s experiences in peace negotiations the panel was not positioning women in peacemaking but portraying how women can exert their agency by working for peace. She said that it is time now to challenge the myth that when women become partisans in conflict only then they are exerting their agency. Women’s activism for peace also portrays women’s agency in politics because negotiation for peace is above all a political activity. The panel agreed that by entering the realm of peacemaking women are sometimes able to appropriate spaces in political decision-making. The discussion following the presentations revolved around the theme that while the informal role of women as initiators of peace was recognized their role in the formal peace process was still to become a reality. The panel debated over how women can be brought to the forefront of political decision-making, how there presence in the informal spaces can lead to their interventions in formal political space for peacemaking. The panel agreed that women in Northeast should deliberate over this dichotomy and try to exert their agency to create a space for themselves within the formal structures of political decision-making.
Session V: 13 October, Saturday
3.45 -- 5.15 PM
Possibilities of Links between Peace Campaigns in the East and the Northeast
Chair: Mr. Tapan Bose
Professor Ranabir Samaddar
Dr. Priyankar Upadhyay
Professor Asha Hans
Professor Udyaon Misra
Mr Tapan Bose initiated the discussion by pointing out that the basic problem with the peace process is that it is state sponsored and hence a by-product of the state’s policy of ‘managing’ insurgency. Peace process thus aims at making the system go forward. It would be necessary to extend the process in order to include the larger struggle for restoration of democracy and social justice for it to be workable. Advocate Kotiswar from Manipur began his discussion by noting the necessity of linkages among various groups in the northeast and a better appreciation and understanding of the various communities among themselves. Only after the claims of each of the communities was critically examined could any attempt be made at reconciling the demands of various groups. In this process of peace, we have to understand the history; we should take up the role of the historian, the anthropologist, and scan the contending claims of communities as different groups are making their claims on ‘unverifiable’ historical events. Then only can we bring about peace. Dr Ranabir Samaddar began by saying that if any attempt was to be made at organizing peace activists it would be necessary to first come to an understanding of the level at which this could be organized. His view that an organization at the level of the state would not be workable and that it would have to be organized at the level of the community was reiterated by Dr Priyankar Upadhyay who added that another alternative could be to make it issue based. He asked CRG to provide the network of resource personnel. The last discussant Professor Udayon Misra differed from the others to note that despite opposition to the state it remains a fact that all the groups have negotiated with the state and that the state has made an attempt to accommodate the various segments within the region. Unlike many of the states of the third world, the Indian state is not authoritarian and there is a democratic space within it that enables people of various segments to share their opinions. Therefore negotiation with the state remains important. Also it is important to understand the peace process in the context of various groups, each with their own concepts of the process, if it is to be workable. Some of the questions raised at the end of the dialogue were of course very pertinent: What exactly do we mean when we talk of peace dialogues and peace campaigns? Can we think of an institutional mechanism to deal with the problem of internally displaced persons in the Northeast? Is it possible to look at the Northeast not as a bounded region but as a gateway to Southeast Asia? Is the present prolongation of cease-fire divisive? As Professor Misra says: “Minority rights are minority rights everywhere; when we talk of a peace process, the entire Northeast has to be included.” How far can the question of identity go on multiplying? The two-day civil society dialogue on peace in the northeast ended up with the vote of thanks proposed on behalf of CRG by Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chowdhury.