Experiences on Autonomy in East and North East:

A Report on the Third Civil Society Dialogue on

Human Rights and Peace


By Sanjoy Borbara


Kolkata- 2003



The initiative was made possible by the support and collaboration of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo. This report is the result of the Third Civil Society Dialogues on Human Rights and Peace in East and North East held on April 11-12, 2003, in Shillong, Meghalaya. We acknowledge our debt to all participants in the Dialogue.


October 2003


Published by:

Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group

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Instead of an Editorial

Section One:

The Proceedings

Section Two:

Participants’ Comments

Section Three:

List of Participants


Instead of an Editorial

Dialogues are seldom as structured as one would like them to be. Dialogues are, by some quirky definition, not fixed and (dialogues) are continuously expanding their horizons, possibilities and in the bargain, opening the seams of thought and transforming thoughts themselves. Hence, a dialogue on the issue of Constitutional Provisions for Autonomy is in itself an exercise in reconciling the limitless expanse of people’s aspirations with the pragmatic concerns of governance, as framed in national constitutions. It is, by no means, an easy task.


The significance of such a dialogue focusing on the experiences of autonomy in East and Northeast India needs to be stated at the outset, if only to provide the backdrop against which the discussions took place. East and Northeast India are not just geographical regions in the sub-continent. Together they offer a historical contrast. While East India is part of the densely populated, fertile Indian sub-continent, the Northeast comprising much of the Assam- Arakan basin and ringed by the southern Himalayan Rim, was the sparsely populated crossroad for traders, migrating tribes and warriors. Historically and culturally, the differences between the two regions are many. Yet, there are several similarities as well. These similarities stem partly from the contiguous geographical location and partly from a shared colonial experience.


East India’s population density is among the highest in the world. The region (including Bangladesh) has long been the site of bitter conflicts over resources between strategic interest groups. During the nationalist upsurge in the colonial period this conflict was mainly articulated against the colonial administration and feudal collaborators. Bengal was perhaps the first colonial province in the sub-continent to be “divided” for administrative and political purposes in 1907. The machinations of colonial subterfuge not only divided Bengal but also left behind cleavages within the social structure in the region that would continue to define political struggles for future generations as well. Feudal structures in East India, though not a colonial creation, were used by the colonial authorities in the articulation of a different mode of production and this in turn gave rise to new forms of social relations between peoples. In the post-1947 period, East India continued to simmer in the rural areas, with the conflicts between different classes in the agrarian sector kept alive a process of renegotiation of resource sharing and social relations. The peasant movement in East India has till date remained the fulcrum on which political changes are effected. Yet, it would be difficult to see the peasant struggle as homogenous and linear in its programmes and forms. The peasant uprising in Naxalbari, in North Bengal, signifies the ideological shifts and epistemological break in the understanding of aspirations of the somewhat amorphous masses. One only has to look at the forms that this struggle has taken in other regions such as Bihar, where caste oppression remains a reality for a large section of the agrarian class of landless labourers.


These are not the only issue that emerge in the case of East India. A small but significant portion of the Himalayan Rim is linked to the region. The Darjeeling Hills not only provide an example of how colonial policies dismember composite cultural zones but also show how in the introduction of new modes of production, places with little in common are linked by the logic of markets. It would be difficult to think of Darjeeling as anything other than a tea growing centre and also a tourist port-of-call. Yet, its fascinating history shaped by the transition from a area that was used by semi-nomadic graziers and indigenous tribes, to a hill station linked to the global market by virtue of producing exquisite tea. Hence, Darjeeling’s earliest links to metropolitan capital is signified by the fact that it was made a part of the province of Bengal while culturally it belonged to the Himalayan Rim. This contradictory condition still remains a factor that pulls and pushes the demands for autonomy in the region. On the one hand, there are political and economic realities, where the elite cannot harm the interests of industry and commerce. On the other hand, the same elite is not above using the cultural differences to squeeze out concessions from the administration and industry. 


The Northeast offers yet another contrast. Essentially, the region inhabited by various tribes and ethnic groups, remained one where labour shortages would shape the forms of administration and relations between different peoples. Geographically, small, semi-nomadic groups that often had to raid the adjoining plains for food and supplies during months of scarcity inhabited the hills in the region. Interestingly, pre-capitalist state formations in the region as typified by the Ahom, Koch and Manipuri kingdoms, never really “annexed” the hills and instead developed a system of trade and barter that allowed the people of the hills access to surplus land and labour in the plains. This delicate and sometimes bewildering relationship was punctuated by periods of excessive violence and punitive raids by the state formations in the plains. At other times, a unique relationship of trust and solidarity was formed. Villages and clans in the foothills and plains, continue to receive their “relatives” from the hills. Indeed the vicissitudes of the relationship between the plains and hills deserve more than a small socio-historical footnote, but at this stage one has to recall that the relationship was fundamentally altered by colonial interventions.


Not only did the colonial experience re-alter the relations between the people of the hills and the plains, but it also introduced new forms of agriculture, which linked the region to a ‘world market’. The establishment of the plantation complex marked a radically different period in the political economy of the region. The hills were marked off as “excluded and partially excluded” areas and the forests that sustained many of the indigenous groups were brought under colonial control. The Luit (Brahmaputra) and Surma valleys together contained most of the tea plantations in the region. On the demographic front, indentured labour was introduced in large numbers to address the demand for cheap, pliable labour for the plantations. Moreover, as in other cases where frontiers were created, the colonial authorities also encouraged a policy of immigration, in order to ensure the persistence of ethnic divisions among the indigenous people and settlers. It is against this backdrop that one can assess the post-1947 scenario in the Northeast.


For administrators and politicians in India, the Northeast was actually seen as part of the old colonial province of Assam. The first signs of the complex ethnic aspirations among various groups were seen in two simultaneous processes following the transfer of power in 1947. The first involved the recognition that the region needed special provisions to be granted to the tribal people who were left out of the process of political participation by the “excluded and partially excluded” areas act. The process that was carried out under the aegis of the veteran Assamese politician Gopinath Bordoloi had several intriguing asides, some voiced by tribal leaders and others by Assamese politicians. The constitutional committee was faced with the aspirations of the tribal leaders for greater autonomy, while Assamese politicians wanted more federal powers to be allotted to the state, especially in matters related to finance and immigration. The second process was the politicisation and radicalisation of the demand for a Naga homeland. This ethno-nationalist demand was based on the principle that a people have the right to self-determination and that as a people, the Nagas had asserted that they sought to be free. Without digressing into the minutiae of what constitutes the core of almost all the ethno-nationalist demands in the region, one may say that this is essentially the pattern of political negotiation and mobilisation in the Northeast. This is to say; most political demands for self-determination are centrally linked to the idea of a distinct identity of an ethnic group. The manner in which this identity consciousness is articulated is precisely the subject of discussion.


It is against this backdrop that much of what appears as guarantees of autonomy compatible with the aspirations of given groups of people within the framework of the constitution, or even within international law, can actually be seen as a condensed body of intricate political negotiation. In essence, these negotiations are supposed to appear as processes that lead to further democratisation of society and politics. In the Indian context, this idea was supposed to form the core of the federal ethos of the republican tradition. Hence, provisions like the Sixth Schedule, Article 371 A and even the recent Panchayati-Raj Bill are seen as efforts to ensure the devolution of powers of administration and governance to the grassroots. In each case, legislative, resource mobilisation and executive powers are supposed to somehow address the complex web of people’s aspirations. Yet in the manner in which the filter down, they are leave more questions than answers in their wake. One senses the overwhelming assertion of the concerns of the (centralised) state in losing its locus as the sovereign font of law and administrative processes. Indian democracy is defined by its constitution, inasmuch as it is defined by a particular notion of the rule of the “majority”. Herein lies the crux of the problem.


A peculiar “trade off” begins to become evident when one looks at the manner in which two discourses can be seen in the debate on rights and representation. On one hand, a ‘statist’ view asserted that it was the individual citizen, rather than seemingly amorphous collectives, who were the backbone of the state. This view harked on the tensions between notions of citizenship and that of communitarian collectives and reiterated that the state “was above all gods”.[1] This view that the individual’s loyalties as a citizen of the state supersede her or his loyalty to other identities is constantly being challenged by a second discourse that is articulated against the backdrop of inadequate representation in matter of governance and administration. Central to both discourses are certain principles that govern the quest for autonomy. As Ranabir Samaddar pointed out during the course of the dialogue, autonomy is rarely seen in the context of justice. Hence, it is rare to find an instance where autonomy has sought to work on the principle of restitution, by acknowledging that an injustice has been committed. It is also rare to find an instance where autonomy has included the principle of guarantee, where the main actors are guaranteed that their roles within the process will be respected in letter and in practice. Moreover, autonomy- as framed within a statist discourse- does not address the issue of custodianship of resources in a comprehensive manner. When they do, as in the Sixth Schedule, they seem ineffectual and laden with contradictions that make the principle of custodianship appear more like a managerial policy.


It would be foolhardy to make an extravagant claim that any dialogue can hope to encapsulate the very real and broad issues that make the very substance of negotiation and struggle for democratisation a dynamic process. Autonomy is one such process that needs sustained engagement lest the tensions between the statist discourse and civic expectations leads one (or both) into the subterranean level, where rule of law, principles of justice and quest for realising democratic aspirations become insular processes where the possibility of dialogue becomes impossible. Autonomy after all, is what Samir Das referred to (in the course of the conference) as “…(a) means to an end, rather than an end in itself”. One feels that such a view was the consensus that emerged in the course of the civil society dialogue. This is a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that autonomy is a process that needs constant nurturing and engagement with. Its desired role is to increase the democratic capacities of both the civic and political spaces in any society.


Section One


April 11, 2003.

Inaugural Session:

Speaker: Ranabir Samaddar


Samir Kumar Das, introduced the third series on civil society dialogue on the issue of human rights and peace in the East and Northeast, which was being held in Shillong. He introduced Udayon Misra, who was the Chairperson for the session. Thereafter, Pradip Bose welcomed the assembled participants and introduced the work of the Calcutta Research Group after which the participants introduced themselves.


The session commenced with Ranabir Samaddar outlining his thoughts on the issue. The legal and political thinking in India, he felt, viewed autonomy as something related to exceptional and extraordinary circumstances. Essentially, he felt that autonomy was not viewed as something that inherently leads to greater democratisation, rather, the existing political and legal discourse view autonomy as a tool to govern peoples in the frontier. As such, autonomy was meant for certain categories of people and not something that could be considered to be an integral part of the democratic process. He rooted this condition in the peculiar events of the national movement, leading up to the process of establishing forms of governance in the sub-continent. Federalism was built into the republican ethos of the Indian National Congress. However, this itself was being pulled in different directions, all somehow leading towards more centralisation. The ideology of the Muslim League was not the same as that of the Congress’ inasmuch as they did not believe that a federal structure could be viable in the context of the sub-continent. He further added that the debates around autonomy had another important dimension that was often sidetracked in the convergence of political discourse. This had to do with issues with redistribution of resources like land and minerals.


Samaddar prescribed three principles that ought to be considered in any event where autonomy is discussed. Firstly, he said that the principle of justice ought to play an important role. This would acknowledge that injustice has been committed upon those seeking autonomy and the moment of granting autonomy would engage with processes that seek to redress this injustice. Secondly, the principle of guarantee was cited as an essential element of granting autonomy. This implied that autonomy itself would guarantee substantial rights over resources and processes that seek to control these resources for those seeking autonomy. Thirdly, the principle of custody was cited as an important principle to specify some measures whereby actors have agency over the autonomy granting mechanism. All too often, he said, these principles were left to chance and to the fact that autonomy was posited as a challenge to sovereignty. Samaddar ended his presentation by questioning the possibilities where “sovereign” structures confront “autonomy” in its comprehensive dimensions and said that the tensions between the two structures will eventually present a fertile ground for future political battles.


Commenting on Samaddar’s presentation, Udayon Misra pointed out that the tension between the “sovereign” and the “autonomous” were especially important in the context of the Northeast. Members of the early Assam Legislative Assembly raised pertinent issues related to this tension during the transfer of power. He mentioned the debates initiated by members like Gopinath Bordoloi and Stanley Nichols-Roy, who demanded not only what Samaddar classified as the “horizontal conception of justice” during the course of his presentation earlier but also substantial financial powers. Misra mentioned that the political battles for autonomy were soon taken over by other demands and resurfaced again in the form of the struggle launched by groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Rather than seeing the demand for autonomy as something that “re-emerged” with ULFA, Misra felt that it would be more appropriate to say that ever since the transfer of power in the middle of the twentieth century, a subterranean debate on the nature and forms of autonomy for the peoples of the Northeast continued and took the shape of a coherent seemingly intractable demand.


Misra also outlined the measures taken by the Indian state to anticipate the demands for political and fiscal autonomy and cited experiments contained and inscribed within the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. He located the uniqueness of the provisions of the Sixth Schedule, especially in keeping alive traditional institutions, which have played an important role in mediating forms and events of violence within civil society. Speaking of the role of the Naga Hoho in maintaining a “moral” and “ethical” balance during periods of conflict, Misra wondered if similar institutions based on traditional notions of justice and ethics could have prevented the massacres that happened in Gujarat in throughout the year 2001- 2002.


Referring to the somewhat arbitrary and sometimes violent episodes leading up to the creation of states, Misra also hastened to point out that some provisions contained within the formal state formation event were indeed remarkable. He pointed out that despite the inherent problems and suppressive history linked to the formation of the state of Nagaland, the provisions under Article 371A, that guarantee the Naga denizens the right to control their resources and land, is truly a measure worth replicating in other areas where resource based conflicts are going on. He briefly spoke of the provision being the basis upon which student groups in Nagaland, like the Naga Students Federation, have resisted attempts by mining and exploratory companies from digging for oil. However, Misra also acknowledged that the practices of the Indian state were at odds with such established norms of autonomy. He further added that this was perhaps a reflection of the changing demographic and political face of the Indian state, where the strong assertions of a multi-ethnic society are being tested by the rigours of a centralised, hegemonic polity defined in the discourse of Hindutva. This interplay of political positioning has redefined the concept of self-determination and autonomy itself.


April 11, 2003.

First Session

Speakers: Subhas Chakrabarty; Bhupen Sarma (for C. Nunthara), Gautam Chakma and Udayon Misra.


David Reid Syiemlieh, Director of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (NERC) and professor of history at North Eastern Hill University, chaired the first session of the day. The topic of discussion was “Experiences of Autonomous District Councils in the East and Northeast”. Before opening the session for discussion he mentioned that the demand for autonomy itself is a multifaceted articulation. While some demand autonomy within the Constitution, others wish to go beyond it. In the case of movements like the Gorkhaland struggle, one sees the operation of District Councils and yet this can hardly be considered to be a yardstick, as the Naga people seem to have done without such councils and have managed to retain their tradition. He further added that the modern nation-state has imposed its apparatus on traditional patterns of administration and governance- especially in the Northeast. Hence, he felt, structures like the District Councils that invariably form part of the ‘autonomy package’, ought be questioned with respect to their relevance in each and every context.


Tracing the history of the Gorkhaland movement in Darjeeling that culminated in the formation of the Gorkha Hill Council, Subhas Chakrabarty, spoke of the distinct Nepali identity that evolved in the Darjeeling area, even when it was a part of British India. This sense of a separate identity was bolstered by the emergence of Nepali as the main language in the area. He mentioned that the early demands for autonomy came from a section of the collaborationist elite, who supported the policies of the British government. The plantation economy that sustained the elite played an important role in the articulation of their demands, he said. Furthermore, he added that the idea of self-governance in Darjeeling was to a large extent muted during the colonial period as the area remained outside the reforms introduced in other parts of the sub-continent. Outlining the trajectory of the demands for self-governance, Chakrabarty marked the important milestones, such as the demand for a separate administrative unit made by the Hill men’s Association; the split within the Hill man’s Association that led to the formation of the Gorkha Association that was amenable to the idea of remaining within the province of Bengal (with substantial autonomy) and the brief, almost mystical idea floated by sections of the Communist Part of India of an independent “Gorkhastan”.


In the post 1947 scenario, Darjeeling continued to be within the state of West Bengal. However, as with most cases where autonomy is brought into play in political mobilisation, the idea of a separate and distinct identity remained just beneath the surface of the political process. It gathered momentum in the 1980s with the convergence of demands for autonomy in the dynamics of the Gorkha National Liberation Front-led movement. Chakrabarty then traced the emergence of Subhas Ghising as the font of power within the organisation by going into the details of power play involved in the movement. The formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 provided the institutional framework for regional autonomy in the district. The Ghising-led GNLF controlled the administrative bodies in the council, though Chakrabarty mentioned that while the trappings of power were visible in the display of the council members, their effective powers to govern were seriously checked by the limited role that they have in controlling the resources and revenue accrued from these resources. He further added that the demand for autonomy takes on different shapes, as is evident from Ghising’s frequently repeated rhetoric of raising the issue of a separate state at strategic intervals.


Bhupen Sarma read out C. Nunthara’s paper on “Autonomous Councils in Mizoram”. The paper briefly outlined general notifications of the government of India on the issue of local self-governing institutions. The paper also included a brief history of the Sixth Schedule, which the author posited as an important Constitutional measure for autonomy in the Northeast, especially in the context of Mizoram. The most important aspect that the paper outlined was the manner in which village councils and panchayats functioned within the state of Mizoram. The village councils, according to Nunthara, used to enjoy a degree of autonomy prior to the dissolution of the Mizo District Council. With the granting of statehood in 1987, the bureaucrats and state agents are seen to have free play and this has further eroded the autonomy and powers of the district councils. The most crucial sector where this is seen is in the introduction of different land control and land use policies. The new policies introduced by the state favour individual ownership and village councils cannot do much about the fact that those who have the purchasing power are now controlling land. The paper ended by questioning the relevance of the Sixth Schedule in the hills of Northeast, as it fails to combine regulatory functions with developmental functions.


Gautam Chakma presented the third paper of the session, entitled “Inadequately Protected: Chakmas of Mizoram”. In it, he addressed the issue of human life and conditions under the legal framework of developing nations. He then addressed the case of the Chakma minority group, who he felt are not provided adequate protection from the domination of bigger, more dominant tribes like the Mizos. He said that the inability of domestic law to address the issue of protection of the minorities in Mizoram would have to be linked to the fairly comprehensive conventions on the discrimination of minorities as worked out by the bodies like the United Nations. In doing so, he felt, that one have to address the ultimate need for self-rule, in order to experience human developments in all forms, for any minority group like the Chakmas. He further added that this was essential as the so-called autonomy generating institutions within the district council structures in Mizoram were dominated by Mizos and ethnic minorities could not expect to exercise their full potential for human development within these structures.


David Reid-Syiemlieh then asked Udayon Misra to speak on the Boroland issue. Responding to this request, Misra stated that though he was not adequately prepared, he would speak about the Boro movement in light of the long negotiations between Boro leaders, the government of Assam and the central government. He said that the question of land is central to the Boro movement for self-determination. Furthermore, the land issue itself is intrinsically linked to the question of immigration, he added. Given this backdrop the demand for certain villages to be included within the Boro Territorial Council need to be understood as the balance of population in these areas is very delicate. In some, the Boro people are actually in a minority. Hence, he felt that the whole issue of ethnic autonomy has to be seen using different lenses. He pointed out to the emergence of political formations like the Sanmilita Janagoshti Sangram Samiti (SJSS), that have been formed to protect the lands of other ethnic groups in the newly constituted Boro Territorial Council. The fact that SJSS has not been taken into consideration by the government in its negotiations with Boro leaders has led to widespread conflict, he stated. Focusing on the question of representation within a framework of ethnic autonomy, he said that the SJSS claim that they represent a majority position, as opposed to that of the Boro leaders who would be numerically weaker that all the other groups put together. In this interplay over the question of representation and control over resources, he stated that the larger questions of Boro identity and autonomy have not been resolved.


Summing up the session’s debates, David Reid-Syiemlieh said that the discussions had opened out new questions about the position of minorities within a proposed formation/ imagination of autonomous states for ethnic groups. He further added that such discussions must also be able to reach out to policy makers and others who are engaging with such issues.


Following Chakrabarty’s presentation, Misra asked the extent of powers that were granted to the council and whether the fact that the tea industry was left outside the purview of taxation is a significant factor in assessing the actual strength of the council. Chakrabarty responded that the fact the powers of the council were somewhat cosmetic can be gauged by the fact that major subjects of revenue like tea were not entrusted to them. Syiemlieh then intervened to say that the use of the generic term “Gorkha” Council was unfair as it glossed over the ethnic differences that exist among the dominant Nepali groups and smaller indigenous groups like the Lepchas of Kalimpong. Responding to this, Chakrabarty said that the Lepchas today consider themselves to be a “caste” within the larger Nepali identity and while this is not anthropologically acceptable, it certainly speaks for the political and sociological dynamics of the region. Samaddar then pointed out to the similarities that arose in other situations, where the desire to bring about a “hurried peace” led to the compromise on some of the major demands. Das then observed that autonomy seems to be more like the “means”, as opposed to the “ends” of a movement- as is evident from the fact that even within movements there are contested notions of autonomy.


Picking up the thread from the presentation of Nunthara’s paper, Misra pointed out the importance of land and the issue of private ownership in the evaluation of any scheme that seeks to devolve powers. Sarma then added that in the case of the Northeast, the autonomous councils have been a compromise rather than a solution. Misra further said that autonomy of the self and autonomy of the community are both important and in some contexts, it is difficult to idealise traditional patterns, as they sometimes contain the kernel of inequalities. Therefore, he added, it would be sociologically reckless to claim that all tribal societies idealise the community and especially when this idealisation is based on the principle of equality.


Focusing on the point, related to the efficacy of international law and international rights regimes, raised by Chakma in his presentation, Samaddar reiterated his point about shared sovereignty, where to minimize sovereignty would lead to greater autonomy. He raised the issue of ILO conventions that exist despite and parallel to other labour legislation that come under the purview of the constitution. While on the issue of the Indian constitution, Gurudas Das inquired that if the Mizos were functioning under the powers that were derived from the constitution, was it then possible for them to threaten the Chakmas as a group? Responding to this query, Samir Das mentioned that while the Constitution shapes the milieu, it does not necessarily determine it. The whole question of autonomy is devising an autonomous form of sovereign. Unless this is sorted out, autonomy would remain a cyclical event pushed by experiences of exclusions and marginalisation. He quoted the example of the Mizos sought autonomy as they were excluded by the Indians and now the irony of Chakmas now seeking autonomy, as they perceive they are excluded by the Mizos.


Surajit Mukhopadhyay subsequently pointed out that the key ingredient was not being addressed in the discussion. This he clarified was the power of autonomy as an imagined idea and the political dynamics being the space where constantly imagined idea finds grounds to evolve and develop. Reiterating this point, Achumbemo Kikon of the Naga Students Federation pointed out that autonomy is vitally linked to the issue of identity. He further added that in this imagined idea, the notion of a “scheduled tribe” was difficult to accept as it deracinated the idea of a material struggle for land amongst a diverse ethnic population spread over a particular territory. Chakma then clarified the problem by citing the example of the Chakma community in Arunachal Pradesh, who were displaced refugees and those in Mizoram, who were indigenous to the place and drew upon the concept of “non-state framework of autonomy” which was pertinent to indigenous communities within the United States of America. He believed that such a solution could also be applicable elsewhere. Syeimlieh then drew attention to the plight of Chakmas who have been displaced and whose case was adequately addressed in similar movements for autonomy that had been internationalised. Misra intervened to state that the US analogy could not be applicable to minority issues, which are very diverse there. Tapan Bose added by stating that the UN recognition of indigenous peoples is very important and that the US notions of autonomy may help us refashion a non-territorial stance on the issue of autonomy. Responding to this, Kumar Suresh added that one has to differentiate between territorial and non-territorial concepts of autonomy.


Samaddar felt that the concept of autonomy had to be disaggregated, as much of the examples of autonomy happen after the event of disempowerment and autonomy happens after “the danger is over”. Hence, he felt that it is as important to assess failure stories, as it is to celebrate successes. Concluding the discussion on the issue, Tapan Bose said that there were different sets of problems within the issue of territorial/ non-territorial autonomy. The first set relates to divided communities (like the Garos who are spread across Meghalaya, Assam and Bangladesh), while the second set has to do with the creation of borders.


Commenting on Misra’s presentation, Samaddar wondered what could have happened if the reorganisation of Assam had taken place in a different way, where there could be two houses, one of the people and the other of the nationalities. He added that this would mitigate the issue of who is to govern and how the people ought to be governed, to a satisfactory level. Commenting on this, Misra said that the nationality formation process in Assam is very fluid. He pointed out that the expansion of Assamese nationalism has incorporated sections of Muslim peasantry who came to the region as late as the middle of the twentieth century. Under such conditions, he added, notions of indigenousness itself become contested. Raising a question on the issue of nationality formation in Assam, Samir Das said that the text of the Assam Accord on the preservation of cultural identity had considerable difference in the terminologies used in the English, as compared to the Bengali version. He further added that while in the early 1980s Boro identity was linked to notions of a comprehensive “Assam identity”, it remains a fact that in later years the two were divorced. Sanjay Barbora remarked that the autonomy wrested by the current Boro leaders is not an instance of justice based on restitution. It is in fact a trade-off by certain sections that wish to undermine an ongoing struggle for self-determination in Boroland. What the Boro case highlights is the fact that one does not have a democratic framework in India that allows for local level socio-political decisions to live together, to “filter up” to decision-making bodies. This further takes away credibility from a process that is heavily dependent on centralised decisions. Taking a cue from here, Samir Das questioned the notion of autonomy “filtering up”. He asked what consequences would there be if one took this to the extreme logical conclusion, where the right to difference has to contend with the reality of multiple identities. It is here, he felt, that the space for civil society becomes very crucial.


Adding to the discussion, Bhupen Sarma said that he felt that the Boro identity consciousness started on the question of land and that is how it became a political articulation of the common people. He further added that the indifference of Assamese civil society to these issues and subsequent assumption that the Boro were supposed to reflect concerns of the Assamese gentry sharpened the divisions between the Boro and the Assamese. As a corollary he stated that in the case of the Boro demands for autonomy, one also has to consider the plight of other plains tribes such as the Mishings and the Rabhas. Responding to this observation, Barbora stated that during a particular historical moment in the 1960s, all the plains tribes had come together under the banner of the Plains Tribes Council of Assam (PTCA), which today is considered to be the moment when the Boro struggle was born. Shedding more light on the discussion, Misra pointed out that while this is true, it is also worth mentioning that when one talks of ethnic autonomy, one cannot leave out the cleavages within Boro polity and the realities of demographic changes in the historically demarcated area of Boroland.


April 11, 2003.

Second Session

Speakers: Surajit Mukhopadhyay and Achumbemo Kikon


Bhupen Sarma, of the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Development and Social Change, chaired the second session. The topic during the session was “Other Experiences of Decentralisation in the East and Northeast”. The first presentation was by Surajit Mukhopadhyay, who spoke about “Panchayati-Raj in West Bengal and the Quality of Resource Management”. He began by stating that Panchayati-Raj in West Bengal was not necessarily related to the issue of autonomy, as the people running the panchayats in West Bengal are in no way marginalised. However, he said that one has to understand the issue in terms of democratisation and decentralisation of power. This was where he located the question and relevance of autonomy. Mukhopadhyay carried on to trace the ascendancy of the rural population in democratic politics in West Bengal to the coming of power of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] in 1977. He further traced the decentralisation process to the 73rd Amendment, which was further buttressed by the West Bengal Panchayat (Amendment) Law of 1994. These legal “windows”, according to him raised the question of the pros and cons pf development planning both from above and from below. Furthermore, they opened out the possibilities of resources being raised at the local level by panchayats. These measures, he stated, offered an autonomous space by activating rural civil society by mobilising locally and involving rural labour in government projects. These measures helped create local jobs and as such, this process addressed the revitalisation of rural cooperatives. He further went on to speak about the intimate linkages between the cooperatives and the panchayat institutions and added that this linkage resulted in the “easing out” of moneylenders from the rural landscape. Mukhopadhyay further stated that the success of the cooperatives and its role in implementing the tasks set by the panchayats have largely been made possible by network of trust that has been created in the villages.


Speaking about the Naga movement for self-determination, Achumbemo Kikon of the Naga Students Federation, began by drawing attention to the colonial history of enactment of laws such as the Inner-Line Permits, introduced by the British. The interaction between the people of the plains and the Nagas who lived in the hills was severely disrupted because of such laws and present conditions need to be read in the context of this peculiar history. Kikon then traced the formation and merger of the Naga Hills District with Assam during the colonial period, drawing special focus on the memorandum submitted by the Naga Club to the Simon Commission in 1918, which categorically marked out the desire for independence among the Naga people. He further recalled the assurances made by M.K. Gandhi to Naga leaders who had met him in July 1947. Gandhi, he said, had assured the Nagas that if they sought to be independent then no force on earth could dictate otherwise. Following Gandhi’s assurance and armed with the conviction that they were doing the right thing, the Naga Club (having been renamed as the Naga National Council) declared independence on August 14, 1947- one day before India declared herself to be an independent nation. However, he pointed out that the Naga desire for independence was never acknowledged by India and instead the Naga people had to suffer state repression for many years, to the extent that any chance of a meeting point for the Naga people and Indian polity seemed impossible.


Kikon then alluded to the role of the Indian Intelligence apparatus in splitting the Naga struggle in 1957 by forming the Naga Peoples Convention, which he said had no constituency within the Naga movement. The security apparatus headed by people like B.N. Mullick were instrumental in formulating the agenda for the “Sixteen Point Agreement”, as early as 1959. This “Agreement”, Kikon said, pandered to an elite within Naga society and rewarded them with the state of Nagaland in 1963. The present state of Nagaland, he added, is but a mere fragment of what the Nagas claim to their ancestral lands. As an outcome of the formation of the state of Nagaland, a section of the Naga resistance declared a ceasefire in 1964 and negotiations continued well into 1967. Since no settlement was arrived at, the war between the Indian state apparatus and the Naga resistance restarted after 1967. This long war came to an impasse and in 1997 a ceasefire was declared between the government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim. Kikon then reminded the participants that the question of autonomy should be read in the light of this history. He reiterated that at no point in the long history of the Naga struggle was the issue of autonomy ever in question, for the Naga people had always maintained that they were independent. Any move to seek a just solution to the Indo-Naga conflict has to take into consideration several crucial factors he stated. Firstly, he stated that the creation of the state of Nagaland was a mere chimera that only resulted in dividing the Nagas. Secondly, honourable modalities had to be worked out at the earliest in order to extract resources from the Naga-inhabited areas. Thirdly, and crucially, Naga areas had to be integrated and restored to the Naga people.


Reacting to Mukhopadhyay’s formulation on access to resources being a success story for the panchayat system in West Bengal, Paula Banerjee raised the issue of whether the same degree of access to resources was granted to women in rural West Bengal. Adding to Banerjee’s intervention, Samir Das said that while the presence of women in the panchayats was mandatory, the question of their actual empowerment was quite another. As a corollary to Das’ point, Kumar Suresh added that one ought to make a distinction between Panchayati-Raj as an institution of governance and Panchayati-Raj as an institution of empowerment, thereby underlining the inherent limitations of the institution to actually empower marginalised and subaltern subjects. Intervening in the discussion, Ranabir Samaddar raised a few pertinent questions. He asked if one could make any logical links between “autonomy” and “decentralisation”, especially in the context of peasant movements that occurred in West Bengal. Hence, he felt, the issue of introducing institutions of Pachayati-Raj ought to be seen as a process that emerged from the grassroots rather than as something that is handed down from the top. Moreover, Samaddar pointed out that the functioning of Panchayats in the fertile areas of Burdwan is considerably different from their role and functioning in drier areas like Purulia and Bankura. He also questioned the role loans and anti-poverty schemes in the light of the trustee institutions entrusted to ensure their timely payment. He felt that this was more like “policing” rather than “trust”.


Adding to the discussion, Bhupen Sarma felt that the issue of land was not adequately addressed in the Panchayat-Raj system, hence major questions of which class of peasantry benefited remained unanswered. Moreover, he felt that there was a greater need to assess the kind of devolution of financial powers to the Panchayats. Responding to the questions, Mukhopadhyay clarified that the Bargadar movement was important for energising the Panchayati-Raj movement in west Bengal. Hence, he added, the issue of land plays a crucial role for the Panchayats. He also pointed out that financial powers have to be devolved in the larger context of policies. Mukhopadhyay also responded to Banerjee’s question on the issue of women accessing powers within this system and said that even though there are several “women-headed” Panchayats one could ask the valid question as to whether this is mere “tokenism”. He felt that this was actually a question of attitude and unless this was changed, one would be trapped within the sphere of “tokenism”. He further pointed out that while the position of women in West Bengal might be better than their counterparts in Bihar, the manner in which women in Orissa have been able to mobilise the self-help groups has not quite been replicated in West Bengal. He also acceded to Samaddar’s point that this example was limited to the fertile rice-growing areas of West Bengal and that there is a need for other kinds of political movements to get over the differences and difficulties that exist within the present system.


Reacting to Achumbemo Kikon’s presentation, Abdur Rauf asked if the Naga people who run the current state of Nagaland agreed with the version of the struggle put forward by Kikon to which the latter said that it was obvious that the elite who run the Nagaland state could scarcely be expected to acknowledge this history. Kumar Suresh then asked Kikon if it was possible to integrate all the Naga areas in the present day context. Responding to this Kikon said that while existing boundaries exist between different Naga people, such as the Mao (in Manipur) and the Angami (in Nagaland), or the Konyak (in Nagaland) and the Wancho (in Arunachal Pradesh), they are essentially one people, who speak a common language and have a common aspiration for unity. Intervening in the discussion, Misra first asked if the fact that the recent elections in Nagaland, which was not boycotted by the Naga nationalists was a significant event. He also wanted to know if the territorial issue was going to open up difficult possibilities, as mapping itself is a colonial product. Adding to these questions, Tapan Bose pointed out that the Naga case was a typical product of the age of extension of frontiers for economic reasons during the colonial period. He asked if it was worth “drawing more lines” when the focus should be on how to live in peace.


Responding to these questions and comments, Kikon said that the recently concluded elections were to be seen in the light of the ceasefire event of 1997 after which the Indian government hastily imposed an election upon the Naga people in 1998. Naga civil society asked all parties to postpone the elections and all but the Congress agreed. This brought the Congress into power against the wishes of the people. During this time the party came out with a controversial booklet called the “Bedrock of Naga Society” which further alienated the people from the governing party. Hence, even though the Naga nationalist armed groups are not directly interested in elections, this time the people had the benefit of choosing others from the fray and as a result the Congress was defeated.


Surajit Mukhopadhyay then asked Kikon if he could envisage the status of non-Naga people in the event of the formation of an independent state of Nagalim. Adding to this, Paula Banerjee asked whether a future Naga state would simply replicate the Indian state or evolve some governing and administrative principles of its own. Barbora intervened in the course of the debate to point out the importance of political and civic negotiations in the process of formation of new nations. In the case of the Northeast, he felt that too much was being said about the colonial past without assessing the impact of the colonial present which did not allow people the space to have political negotiations without the intervention of an external body. Adding to this intervention, Kikon pointed out that if at all one can talk of the position of other groups in a future Naga state, the other ethnic groups would be given all the citizenship rights that can be given to them, although the emphasis would be to preserve and promote the indigenous Naga way of administration and governance that values peoples sovereignty above all else.


April 11, 2003.

Third Session

Speaker: Gurudas Das

Samir Kumar Das chaired the Third Session. The topic for discussion was based on the paper entitled “Identity and Autonomy in India’s North-East: The Constitutional Framework” by Gurudas Das. Stating that the ‘right to self-determination’ manifests itself historically in the formation of a ‘one-nation state’, the speaker then went on to locate the principle of autonomy within the natural process of state formation. He said that this desire for autonomy was manifest in the desire for people to exercise their rights to difference from others. In order to accommodate pluralistic diversities, Das felt, (some) nation-states have devised a federalist framework of organisation. Such a framework, he believed, created a political space that has a “built-in” elasticity for accommodating the diverse interests of different homogenous population groups. Das believed that the constitutional provisions for devolution of powers to the state government delimit the highest level of autonomy that such groups can enjoy in India. However, he added that aspirations of smaller population groups that cannot be classified within a homogenous linguistic criterion were not similar and that their right to self-determination was accommodated within the constitutional provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Schedules.


Focusing on the importance of the Sixth Schedule in the Northeast, Das also specified the kinds of legislative, resource mobilisation and judicial powers that were incorporated within the provisions. In the sphere of legislative powers, the District/ Regional Councils (under the Sixth Schedule) is empowered to make laws related to land, forest (other than reserved forests), water bodies, regulating shifting cultivation and among a host of other things regulate usury in the villages. In the sphere of resource mobilisation, he mentioned that the District/ regional Councils had the power to assess and collect land revenues, besides being empowered to levy taxes professions, trades, callings and employment, animals, vehicles, boats, roads and other such sectors. The money collected, is credited to a District/ Regional Fund, which is managed and guided by rules and regulations set by the Governor. At the level of judicial powers, the Sixth Schedule provides for a two-tier system of administration of justice at the district/ regional level. At the village level, the village courts are empowered to trial suits between and cases between parties belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. The district/ regional council courts act as a court of appeal of all suits and cases tried by village courts.


Focusing on the North East Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, Das mentioned that the powers of the autonomy enjoyed by the district councils had been weakened (by the Act). Here, the laws made by the newly constituted state legislatures are held in higher value that that of the autonomous councils. He pointed out that this process had not been witnessed in Meghalaya, where the territorial boundaries of the three district councils (Garo, Khasi and Jaintia) added together, exhaust the territorial boundary of the state. Das further laid an emphasis on the internal dynamics of smaller tribal groups seeking autonomy, saying that it was not really prudent to expect that constitutional federalism could look after their aspirations, when the root of their problems lay in the internal dynamics of these (small) groups.


Reacting to Gurudas Das’ presentation, Tapan Bose said that in his opinion, the fact that the governor is the head of the state and that financial power of the Councils rests with state government, meant that the autonomy provisions of the councils had been eroded considerably in the initial moment of their inception. Furthermore, Bose mentioned that identity politics in the Northeast has re-emerged in a very problematic manner as a result of the way in which the aspirations of different tribes were handled by the central and state governments. He pointed out that identity was also an issue in Tamil Nadu and yet one did not see the government of India come up with similar “special provisions”. Drawing attention to the contradictions inherent in the processes and dynamics of the Sixth Schedule, Samaddar said that a moment of negotiation also becomes an object of bargaining and this itself changes the landscape of identity. On the one hand, he pointed out to the reality of ruling/ administering and governing people by law and yet on the other, one sees the realities of murder, killings and violations of the constitution. Hence, he pointed out, that this contradiction exists in the implementation of the Sixth Schedule itself. Intervening in the discussion, Kumar Suresh pointed out that federalism provides a “space” for autonomy, albeit within the institutional matrix.


Responding to the comments on his paper, Gurudas Das pointed out that he was merely trying to focus on the legal and constitutional framework and not on the manner in which the Autonomous District Councils function. He also pointed out that the State’s sovereignty looks omnipotent if seen from the inside, but then someone viewing it from the outside would have serious questions about it. He likened the questions that questioned the right of the State to intervene in the affairs of the community to those that came from a flawed position that saw itself “outside” the state practices. Critiquing this particular formulation, Tapan Bose mentioned that whichever way one viewed the State and its claims of sovereignty, the fact remained that the Autonomous District Councils are essentially ‘paternalistic institutions’ that suffer from all the infirmities of paternalism. Elucidating the point made by Bose, Gina Shangkam drew the participants’ attention to the situation in Manipur, where she said that Autonomous Councils were functioning in the hill areas. She questioned the autonomy exercised by the councils by pointing out that it was largely due to their ineffectiveness that today people are demanding a “union territory” status or a “state-within-a-state”.


April 12, 2003.

Fourth Session

Speakers: Abdur Rauf, Kumar Suresh and Sanjay Barbora (For Hebal Abel Koloy)

Subhas Chakrabarty chaired the fourth session. The first paper to be presented was by Abdur Rauf and was entitled “The Voice of Autonomy in the Publications of West Bengal Minority”. Rauf began by stating that by minority, he was referring to religious minorities, who do not demand any autonomy in the “political connotation of the term”. He then went on to outline the different types of minorities within West Bengal. The Buddhists, he said are among the smallest in number and are centred on Calcutta. They also run an organisation called Bengal Buddhist Association, which in turn publishes a quarterly magazine called Jagajjyoti. Analysing the general contents of the magazine, Rauf mentioned that the general concerns of the magazine dealt with the aspirations of the Buddhist community in matters like personal law. Similarly, he also mentioned the publications of the Christian community in West Bengal and said that periodicals like Mohama, Nabayan and others reflect both a religious and a secular discourse within the community. However, saying that he wished to speak about the largest minority community within West Bengal, Rauf mentioned that he was keen on detailing the kinds of divisions within the Muslim community in the state. He mentioned that though 95% of the Muslim population in the state are Bengali speaking, it is the 5% urban, Urdu speaking elites who play a dominant role in articulating the aspirations of the Muslim community in West Bengal. He further said that these urban elites control the six dailies that represent the Muslim voice.


Rauf also mentioned that the common Bengali speaking Muslims do not have access to the “high brow” media and have to make their presence felt in the weeklies and monthlies that are published from Kolkata and also from the provincial towns. Analysing the contents of what the rural Muslim minority have to say in these periodicals, Rauf outlined a series of issues such as unemployment, social humiliation, and unjust harassments by the security and police that make the Muslim minority feel that they are discriminated against. In response to these fears and prejudices, sections of the community express the need for reservations (affirmative action) in government jobs, educational institutions and are also trying to bring in some reform into their living and social environment. Adding that the community’s response also involved a systematic repudiation of any symbol that can be associated with their Muslim identity.


Speaking about the constitutional rights ensured to Dalits and their real, lived experiences in Bihar in his paper entitled “Constitutional Provisions of Autonomy of the Dalits and the Protection of Dalit Rights- The Experience of Bihar”, Kumar Suresh said that the constitution offered self-rule as well as shared rule for minorities and marginalised groups. In positioning Dalit political discourse within the context of shared rule, Suresh discussed the fact that they are neither a minority numerically, nor do they constitute an ethnic group who are spread over a contiguous homeland. However, Dalit political discourse, taking inspiration from the theoretical formulations of B.R. Ambedkar, saw itself speaking as a societal minority within the dominant Hindu, caste system. Suresh then went on to analyse the role of the affirmative action programmes that transformed the dynamics of the Dalit movement from a discourse of “minority-ism” (alpjan) to that of “majority-ism” (bahujan), which in turn has resulted in the assertion to a Dalit claim “over” the national space instead of a “secessionist” claim buttressed by alienation of the Dalit community.


The existential situation of the Dalit communities in Bihar, however, show that constitutional safeguards are but one small step in the restructuring of society along egalitarian lines. Suresh spoke of the dismal conditions that the Dalits lived in, in present-day Bihar. When compared to their counterparts in West Bengal, the Dalits in Bihar represent the unenviable section of people whose rights are perpetually violated. Suresh spoke of the persistence of feudal relations in rural Bihar, which placed landless Dalits on the lowest rung of the socio-political order. Hence, upper-caste landlords often violate their right to dignity by denying them access to structures of administration and control over resources. In recent years a resurgence of Dalit pride has come about as a result of political mobilisation by Naxal (Marxist- Leninist) groups. He added, that over time the specifically caste dimension of the agrarian struggle in Bihar, has largely resulted in strategic alliances between upper-caste landed gentry and advanced backward-caste groups who have some land and resources. Most often than not, these alliances are directed against the Dalits, who neither have real access to political power, nor do they have access to wealth producing capacities.


Sanjay Barbora read out hebal Abel Koloy’s paper. Koloy gave a brief description of the socio-political circumstances that gave rise to the formation of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Councils (TTAADC) in the state of Tripura in 1979. The TTAADC covers as much as 68% of the total area of the state and has thirty (30) members of whom the governor of the state directly appoints two (2) and the rest are elected. Koloy cited lack of adequate infrastructure, geographical isolation and ethnic problems as the main reasons for restricting the scope and functioning of the TTAADC. He added that to carry out developmental activities, the Council is dependent on the state government for the disbursement of funds. The state government has been notoriously lax in disbursing the said funds and this in turn has not helped the Council in being able to achieve its avowed principles for protecting the rights and resources of the tribal people, let alone allow for some form of genuine socio-economic development in the tribal areas.


In order to have a properly functioning Council for the indigenous peoples of Tripura, Koloy felt that it was essential to begin with the basic tools of reform that the tribal people had been keen on introducing. First, he felt that the Sixth Schedule should be amended to allow for more financial powers to be devolved to the Councils. Second, he felt that to protect the tribal communities in Tripura, additional tools like the Inner-Line Permits, have to be considered for applicability in the areas demarcated as Autonomous District Councils. Third, he also felt that the Home Ministry ought to recommend direct grants from the Planning Commission to the Councils. As his fourth point, Koloy suggested that the funds allotted to the Rural Development departments of the state government, have to be in turn reallocated to the TTAADC. Fifth, he said that the armed police be brought under the control of the Council in the TTAADC areas, as they (the police) had thus far subverted the rule of law and bypassed the authority of the Councils. In conclusion, Koloy said that necessary powers should also be given to the TTAADC in order to enable the Councils to undertake land reforms and cadastral surveys in the areas covered by their jurisdiction.


Responding to Rauf’s paper, Ranabir Samaddar felt that it was also essential to look closely into the manner in which certain government constituted minority bodies worked, in order to have proper understanding of the manner in which these bodies sought to cover-up the real conditions of the minorities. He mentioned the case of the West Bengal Minorities’ Commission. Surajit Mukhopadhyay then added that he felt that it was self-defeating to speak of homogenous mindsets amongst the (religious) minorities, as this would merely add to the discourse of the religious Right that sees aggregated and uniform responses from those it labels as the “dangerous other”. Intervening in the debate on the formation of religious minorities within a larger nationality, Misra mentioned that in the case of Assam it would be difficult to extrapolate a dynamic that excludes religious minorities from the process of formation of a (sub) national identity. He mentioned that many of the people who belong to a part of the “greater Assamese nationality” today, are actually third, second or even first generation Muslim migrants from undivided Bengal.


Seeking clarifications on Misra’s claims, Samaddar asked if such a formulation could be valid even after macabre episodes of violence like the one that took place in Nellie (1983). Adding to Samaddar’s question, Samir Das added that despite the fact that many Assamese Muslim persons took part in the Assam Agitation (of the 1980s), at some point, they felt truly lost and betrayed by the growth of the dominant trend within the movement that sought to isolate target groups on the basis of their religion. Saying that while these events were true and real, Misra maintained that Assamese national formation seems to have displayed greater tolerance and restraint in accommodating so-called religious minorities that can be seen elsewhere. Responding to Sammadar’s point about the functioning of minority bodies set up by the government, Rauf agreed that their role was not to document and redress the grievances of the minorities but to cover up the existing inequalities and preserve a status-quo. He further sought to address Mukhopadhyay’s note of caution by adding that while there is a case to be made about speaking the same language as the Hindu Right, the fact that a certain section of elite seek to “represent” the minorities is something that cannot be wished away. Hence, he felt that the Muslim elites (in West Bengal) who speak of the ‘Muslim Mind’ have very little in common with those they wish to be interlocutors for. There exists a whole world outside this manipulative dynamics that can be considered to be the civic spaces for the religious minorities and the elite have very little access to that, he claimed.


April 12, 2003.

Fifth Session

Speakers: Aditi Bhaduri and Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury


Paula Banerjee chaired the fifth session. Aditi Bhaduri presented her paper entitled “Can Autonomy Satisfy the Quest for Independence? The experience of Palestine”. She began by citing the fact that, the notion of political autonomy refers to the right for a community to govern its own affair up to a certain level. In this context, she stated that Palestinian aspirations envisage a sovereign state and the notion of Palestinian autonomy is a temporary state that would (in the popular imagination) lead to the creation of a sovereign state, alongside the state of Israel. She located the present form of autonomy for the Palestinian people within the framework of the Oslo Accords (1993); the Israeli- PLO Recognition Agreement (1993) and the Declaration of Principles [Oslo I] also signed in 1993. She further mentioned that in the next six years, twelve more agreements were negotiated between the Palestinians and the Israelis and an important interim agreement was signed in 1995 (Oslo II).


Bhaduri felt that the Oslo processes were flawed from the start, as they were not representative of the entire political spectrum of Palestinian political mobilisation and resistance against Israeli occupation. She noted that while the Oslo processes included Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), it was also true that this formation was largely built by exiles and émigrés who had little knowledge about the occupied territories. Assessing the gains and losses of the Oslo Process, Bhaduri said that politically, Oslo resulted in giving the Palestinians a “fragmented” kind of autonomy, although it broadened the Palestinian self-governing authority in West Bank. Nevertheless, it resulted in splitting Palestinian territories into three zones. The first comprised six cities where the Palestinian Council retained control over internal and public security and civil affairs. The second comprised much of the Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank where although the Council retained their authority, the question of “security threats” gave the Israeli army powers that could override the civilian authority. The third comprised the unpopulated areas of the West Bank where the Jewish settlements were located and where Israel retained sole security and civil control.


In addition, the Oslo process did not give adequate thought to the economic conditions of the Palestinians when the negotiations were in progress. In effect, Bhaduri stated, Israel controlled economics, customs, taxes, movement of goods across borders, dictated what and from whom the Palestinians could buy goods, while simultaneously searching for new markets in the Arab world where sub-standard Israeli goods could be “dumped”. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority could not offer any jobs to tens of thousands of youth; hence they ended up working as wage earners in Israel.


In conclusion, Bhaduri said that the Oslo Process and the current crises in South-West Asia show that autonomy cannot be a substitute for independence, especially when stop-gap arrangements fail to address the realities of deadlines and goals that have to be clearly stated prior to the event of both parties (to the conflict) agreeing upon something concrete. In the Palestinian territories, key issues were left out and Israel retained the ability to influence the final status in any event of dispute in the process of negotiating for autonomy. Furthermore, she added that self-rule in the case of Palestinian Authority actually served to aid a few corrupt leaders and left the Palestinian masses out of the picture. It reduced the idea of self-governance to that of “policing for Israel”, she said.


Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury then presented his paper entitled “International Legal Thinking on the Rights of the Minorities”, where he began to trace the genesis of the discourse on minority rights to sixteenth century Europe. He further stated that it wasn’t until the formulation of the Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that even a modicum of protection was extended to minorities within nation-states. He also pointed out that the thrust of Article 27 was to extend individual rights and treat its sum as that of the rights of a “collective” minority. Therefore, rights of minorities appear in the form of crucial interventions rather than as a comprehensive and uniform position within international legal thinking.


Speaking at length about the role of the UN Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in redefining the notions of rights for minorities, Ray Chaudhury commented that the Sub-commission’s study paved the way for UNESCO’s ‘Convention Against Discrimination in Education’ (1960). The Convention had, as part of its text and recommendations, that national minorities be allowed to carry out their own educational policy in each state, with the rider that the sovereignty of the state not be challenged, nor the standard of education be lower than that considered to be the “general standard”. Ray Chaudhury said that considering these important legal landmarks, that two rights of minorities have got explicit recognition in international law. They are (a) the right to exist and (b) the right to be different from the majority people in the state concerned. Looking at the manner in which minority rights appear within the framework of these two broad rights, he traced the genesis of the right to exist to the Genocide Convention of 1948 and made enforceable by post- Nuremberg juridical concern to try “crimes against humanity”. The establishment of international tribunals to try cases of massacres of minorities in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda bear this out to an extent.


The right to be different, Ray Chaudhury stated, has on the other hand now crystallised to a rule of international law, to the extent that it is expressed in Article 27 of the ICCPR. Going back to his earlier caveat on minority rights being viewed as a sum total of individual rights, Ray Chaudhury asked of the possible contradictions between the rights of an individual coming into conflict with the dynamics of the rights of the minority as a “sum total”. Moreover, Article 27 does not address the issue of representation of minorities of same ethnic origin in other states and in a sense, he stated, that Article 27 added little to legal practice apart from guaranteeing equality, non-discrimination, freedom of worship and freedom to assemble. Given the wide variance between legal standards and actual applicability of law, Ray Chaudhury felt that minorities often continue to be oppressed by majorities in nation states. Under such conditions, he felt that Article 1(2) of the UN Charter offers the right to self-determination, which is not the same as the right to secession. However, this itself does not mean that international law recognises the right to secede and Ray Chaudhury felt that there is ample empirical evidence to show that even as the process of decolonisation came to close, it came into direct confrontation with the right to confrontation. Viewing these developments as inherently inimical to the development of a healthy, democratic (juridical) environment for the protection of the rights of minorities, Ray Chaudhury professed optimism that it is in the development of a theory of democratic citizenship that minority rights may find their best answer.


Ranabir Samaddar asked Aditi Bhaduri to share her personal experiences in the Occupied Territories, with the participants. She said that her visit to the region was in winter and that conditions had already become very bad for the Palestinian people. Check gates and stripping were just measure of the presence of the security apparatus of the Israeli state. On the other hand, life for ordinary Palestinians was made worse by the fact that many of them actually had to go outside the Occupied Territories for work. This meant that the security harassment was a daily affair. Policing and surveillance were routine affairs and children especially were traumatised by the constant presence of violence in the daily lives, she added.


Commenting on Bhaduri’s description of daily life in Palestine, Abdur Rauf added that an important dimension that political violence is also a reality that one has to live with in the Occupied Territories and this he said was cause for concern. He also wanted to know if there was any way by which the vast array of international laws and conventions could be used against those accused of genocide in states like India. He stated that he was referring to the recent planned violence perpetrated against the Muslim people in the state of Gujarat. Reiterating his considered position, Ray Chaudhury replied that the fact that Conventions and the discourse of International Law gave precedence to the absolute sovereign state, even as they sought to protect the rights of minorities, presented the dilemma in stark terms. He clarified that while technically it is possible to classify the violence in specific terms within international law, it would be extremely difficult to try these cases on the basis of international law, as many are not mandatory and binding on member states.


At this stage, Gautam Chakma replied that International Law is of a “higher order” than existing domestic law and therefore it ought to apply naturally in cases where there is a dispute that cannot be redressed by domestic law. Samaddar, while appreciating Chakma’s position said that while such a condition may seem logical to redress injustice also exercised caution in taking this position to its logical conclusions. Pointing to the emergence of a uni-polar world, where international law itself was being twisted, the idea of selectively using the latter in a piece-meal manner could aggravate things further. He also said that in many instances, international law falls far short of expected standards, especially when related to labour, thereby encouraging more inequalities.


April 12, 2003.

Concluding Session.

Speaker: Sanjay Barbora


C. Joshua Thomas chaired the concluding session where Sanjay Barbora presented a paper entitled “Federalising Politics and Society: The Human Rights Dimension”. Barbora began by saying that federalism is indeed a sign of political and democratic maturity of societies. Even in the era of globalisation, the idea of democratic federalism has begun to mitigate some instances of protracted conflicts as in the Basque case, he mentioned. India’s experiences with federalism might seem to suggest that the process is leading to further democratisation of society but in reality, even the constitutionally granted forms of autonomy have not led to democratisation in India. Focusing on the Northeast experience with federalism, Barbora said that these were but cosmetic changes in a colonial structure designed to keep people in a state of servility. He said that despite the formation of several states from the erstwhile province of Assam the conflicts over identity and control over resources remains a stark reminder that the state’s methods are geared towards “controlling” rather than “resolving” conflicts. He drew attention to various instances where autonomy or statehood had been granted in the region to drive home this point.


He said that the human rights movement in the region has always questioned the idea of the existing model of federalist experimentation in India. Majoritarianism is rooted in the fabric of Indian polity, especially in its parliamentary manifestation. This contradicts the very notions of representation, he added. Drawing further on this line of thought, he added that the creation of endless numbers of states that have to depend on the centralised state structure, only strengthens centralism and does not begin to address autonomy in a sense where it (autonomy) can be said to deliver justice. Barbora added that the existing constitutional safeguards might be likened to sops that have been offered by a ruling elite to the indigenous people. These provisions fall short of the international human rights standards; he felt and added that they have not seen an epistemic change since their inception in the nineteenth century. He reiterated that top-down efforts at extending autonomy, which does not address the basic issues of justice and democracy would only reduce the chances of peace in the Northeast region in particular and the sub-continent as a whole.


Gurudas Das felt that it human rights activists begin with the presupposition that the state is against the people and contrary to this, India’s policy (especially in the Northeast) was accommodative and geared towards the protection of tribal rights. He compared the tribals in the Northeast with those in central India and felt that the reason that the former are in a better position is because they have enjoyed a degree of protection under a federal system. He also added that non-state actors couldn’t manage society. At this point Barbora corrected Das, saying that human rights organisations do not see the state as the enemy of the people; instead they see the state as the legitimate authority that has to promote and protect human rights. Reacting to the points raised by Das, Tapan Bose pointed out that ethnicity in the Northeast is very different from that in Central India. He said that in the Northeast, it is a political category and has historically evolved in conditions very different from other places in India. Hence, to equate the tribal from Madhya Pradesh and the Naga and then point to the role of the state in preserving the latter’s identity, is a trifle misleading and off the mark he felt. Bose felt that one needed to think beyond the current impasse of hegemonic national concerns to something that appreciates regional, more pluralistic concerns.


Samir Das then asked if autonomy was simply a matter of constantly redrawing boundaries within the same Westphalian system, where territory gets divided to absurd and unviable lengths. He further posed a polemical question as to what would happen if all the ethnic groups in the Northeast were to be given their autonomous homelands. Barbora felt that autonomy was not just a matter of redrawing boundaries, where the logical end could be hundreds of small territorial units. Instead, he stated that autonomy ought to create institutions and structures that allow greater participation and recognition of local political and cultural negotiations between peoples. Such a system would allow for more democratic understanding of territories and boundaries between regions, peoples and nations, he felt.


Section Two


Autonomy for Darjeeling: History and Practice

Author: Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty

After the cession of Darjeeling in 1835, General Lloyd and Dr. Chapman were sent to explore the country and after receiving their report it was decided to adopt Darjeeling as a sanitarium. In 1839 Dr. Campbell, the British resident in Nepal, was appointed the Superintendent of Darjeeling.  Under his able guidance Darjeeling attracted an increasing number of settlers from the neighboring states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan as also from the plains and the population grew to about 10,000 by 1849.[2]


Darjeeling remained under the non-regulation scheme of administration before the passing of the Indian Council’s Act of 1861.The Act abolished the distinction between the regulation and non-regulation provinces and districts. An Act of 1870 restored the pre-1861 position and the governor-general and the Lt. Governor were now empowered to legislate by means of executive order for the less advanced districts. Darjeeling, under the act of 1870, was to be under the non-regulated scheme. The Act XV of 1874 converted Darjeeling into a scheduled district. Such districts were kept outside the purview of general laws prevalent in the rest of the country. Such laws could be introduced either in part or with modification with the consent of the Governor-general-in-Council in consultation with or on the recommendation of the local authority. A large number of acts relating to land-tenure, inheritance, transfer and sale of land etc. were kept out of operation in the scheduled districts. Darjeeling now shared this special status with four other districts of Bengal. This position continued till 1919, when the Act of 1919 changed the nomenclature of ‘scheduled district’ to ‘backward tract’. Art. 52 A (2) of the Act stipulated that the governor of the province under the direction of the Governor-General would have their sole responsibility of administering such ‘backward tracts’. The governor was also to decide if any law passed by the provincial legislature was to have effect in such areas.


The Government of India Act, 1935 changed the term’ backward tracts’ to ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas. Here again it was stipulated that: “ no act of Federal legislature or of the provincial legislature shall apply to an excluded area or a partially excluded area, unless the governor by public notification so directs, and the governor in giving such a direction with respect to any act may direct that the act shall in its application to that area … have effect subject to such exceptions and modifications as he thinks fit.” In the case of a partially excluded area the governor had to consult the council of ministers but in the case of an excluded area his discretion was final. Darjeeling now became a ‘partially excluded area’ within the province of Bengal. After independence, Darjeeling continued to be a district of west Bengal, though there was a demand for inclusion in Assam.


This brief outline of the evolution of the administrative structure in the district of Darjeeling provides enough evidence of the anxiety of the colonial administration to preserve the separateness of Darjeeling and to emphasize their distinction from the people of the plains. The ostensible reason was the unique ethnic and linguistic character of the majority of settlers in Darjeeling, though in reality British policy was inspired by strategic considerations relating to a frontier district, However, their aspirations for self-determination or at least self-government in the hills remained frustrated as Darjeeling, by and large, remained outside the reforms introduced elsewhere.


Demands for autonomy or, at least, some form of local self-government, gradually grew in Darjeeling. In  1907, on behalf of the hill people of the district of Darjeeling a memorandum was presented to the British government demanding a separate administrative unit for the district. It was a rather inchoate demand without the meaning and the content of the ‘separate administrative unit’ clearly delineated. It is, however, significant that the separate identity of the ‘hill people’ was sought to be asserted through a form of self-governance. The fact that the district, as a non-regulation district, did enjoy a separate status was quite forgotten. It is possible to see the memorandum as an expression of some unformatted aspirations of the ‘hill people’, but that such a separate identity was constructed and asserted is significant for this study.


A more formulated demand came in 1917 when a deputation of the representatives of the hill people led by S.W.Laden La and Kharga bahadur Chhettri waited on Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State and Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy.  In the meeting they demanded a separate and independent administrative unit comprising Darjeeling and the Dooars portion of the Jalpaiguri district. There was even a suggestion of creating a North eastern Frontier Province including Assam Dooars and hill territories to the east of Bhutan.


The move for the presentation of the memorandum was made by the Hillmen’s Assocation (founded in 1917). It is interesting to note that the Kalimpong Samiti, the Gorkhas under Bhimlal Dewan and the People’s Association, Darjeeling opposed the exclusion of Darjeeling from Bengal. They also expressed the view that the continuation of the scheduled district status would result in perpetual backwardness of the district. Among the supporters of this view were Dr. Parasmani Pradhan and Dal Bahadur Giri.


In 1929 the Hillmen’s Association submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission demanding; a) Darjeeling be taken out of the list of ‘backward districts’, b) at least three seats in the provincial and central legislatures be reserved for the hillmen of Darjeeling. The Hillmen’s Association seemed to have been swaying between two ideas: to remain in Bengal with special safeguards or to leave Bengal. In 1934 the Hillmen’s Association again submitted a memorandum to Sir Samuel Hoare, the Secretary of State and Sir John Anderson, the Governor of Bengal demanding both reforms and special safeguards. Later in 1935 the Hillmen’s Association, under the signature of its president Laden La, submitted another memorandum to the Secretary of State demanding the total exclusion of the district from Bengal and its conversion into a separate administrative unit, of the type of Coorg. These demands were not conceded and Darjeeling continued to enjoy a special status within the province of Bengal.  In 1942, in a memorandum to Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State, the Hillmen’s Association demanded Darjeeling’s separation from Bengal and its constitution as a separate administrative unit under the governor-general with a Chief Commissioner at its head.


D.S.Gurung, though associated with the Hillmen’s Association, soon distanced himself from the organisation.  He opposed the idea of separation from Bengal and instead put forward the demand for autonomy of the district. He also wanted to mobilise the people for political action. Gurung took the initiative to form an alternate political organisation and convened a meeting of the representatives of various social service and literary organisations and prominent individuals as the President of the Gurkha Association.  Gorkhas from other places of the country also joined the convention. The convention took the decision to form  a political party- the All India Gorkha League – with Gurung as its president and Randhir Subba as its secretary. The original constitution of the party referred to Nepal as the motherland of the Gorkhas, but in 1948 the clause was deleted. The AIGL sought the protection of the culture and political rights of the Indian Gorkhas and of the Nepali language and demanded recognition as citizens of India. It demanded regional autonomy for Darjeeling within the framework of an Indian province rather than separation.


D.S.Gurung was elected to the Constituent Assembly, but after his death in 1948 his brother filled up the resultant vacancy. Thus on the eve of independence the AIGL became the focal point of Darjeeling politics so far as the demand for autonomy was concerned.


After independence, Darjeeling continued to be a province of West Bengal. The question of a separate identity for Darjeeling had not been resolved. Indeed, demands for autonomy gathered momentum. All the political parties agreed on the need for autonomy, but the contours of such autonomy were not clearly defined. It was left for the GNLF to launch a violent movement in the 1980s to ultimately settle the issue, for the time being, at least.  


The DGHC Act ( Act XIII of 1988)[3] provided the institutional framework for regional autonomy of Darjeeling.  A separate Mahakuma Parishad was set up for Siliguri, but the municipalities and the panchayat institutions in Darjeeling were brought under the general supervision of the DGHC. The older Hill Development Council and the District Planning and Coordiantion Committee were also merged with the DGHC.


The DGHC has a general council and an executive council. The general council consists of 28 elected and 14 nominated members. It is strange that a provision was made for the nomination of one-third of the members. The nominated councillors may include the MPs, MLAs and chairmen of the municipalities in the area. Members of the S.C and S. T. and women may also be represented. An amendment of the Act in 1994 provided for the nomination of three of such members by the Chairman. This provision may have proved to be satisfactory for all concerned. Yet, one suspects that it is a reflection of the anxiety of the state to exercise effective control of the council through the principle of nomination. It may be noted that such a provision is absent in the Tripura Autonomous Area Development Council. The general council will elect a Chairman and Chief Executive Councillor. The Chairman will nominate a vice-chairman and 13 executive coucillors. The government from among the nominated councillors will nominate two executive councillors. Mr. Ghising did express an apprehension that the nomination of the executive councillors showed that the ‘state government is hell bent to exercise control over the council from outside’. He called the nominated members ‘watchdog of the state government’. The decisions were still taken on the basis of consensus as far as practicable, according to Ghising. The Chairman is virtually the chief minister of the hill areas of Darjeeling.


The exercise of regional autonomy is dependent on the powers and functions of the council as much as on the resources available to it. The act of 1988, as amended up to 1994, transferred 20 subjects to the jurisdiction of the council. Besides, the state government may by notification place under the control and administration of the general council any other matter. The council shall also be responsible for i) formulation of integrated development plans for the district and ii) implementation of the programmes for the development of the hill areas.


Initially, the functioning of the council was not smooth as the chairman complained of ‘a lack of political will and commitment on the part of the state government to implement decentralisation at DGHC level’. He even submitted a memorandum to the Union Home minister asking for the formation of Appraisal Committee consisting of the representatives of the central and state governments and of the DGHC to review the issue of transfer of power. The West Bengal government denied this allegation and suggested that the difficulties in implementation were caused by the lack of an adequate staff. A committee under the chief secretary of the state was formed to ensure a smooth transfer of power. There was indeed some reluctance on the part of the employees of the state government to be transferred to the DGHC, but this problem was later largely sorted out.


Some of these problems relating to personnel were addressed by the 1994 amendment. The government will appoint a principal secretary in consultation with the chairman. He will be the chief executive officer of the council. Other secretaries will be made available to the DGHC by the state government. The executive council may, with the approval of the government appoint officers and employees for the functioning of the council. It was also empowered to frame regulations relating to the conditions of service of these officers. The council was given the power to make appointments of employees in the ‘C’ and ‘D’ categories. The state government would still be able to exercise some control indirectly through the principal secretary who is an IAS officer of the state cadre.


Adequate financial resources are a sine qua non for effective functioning of the council. There are three principal sources of finance: assigned revenue, shared revenue and grants-in-aid. The last would mean state and central assistance. The DGHC is also charged with the formulation and implementation of the development plans for the areas under the jurisdiction of the council, often in collaboration with the agencies of the state and central governments. The DGHC fund is derived from the following sources: normal and special central assistance, centrally sponsored schemes, central fund for tourism, state plan assistance, development grants, employment generation funds, non-plan assistance, salary and contingent grant of the state government, establishment fund sponsored by the state government, locally accrued revenues from levy, tolls, fees or rents, and sharing of royalties from forest etc. Since the DGHC can hardly be expected to generate a significant amount of revenue from the sources assigned to it, it had to depend largely on grants from the central and state governments.


There had not been a steady flow of fund from these sources initially. For example, central assistance for tourism was not available between 1988 and 1991, but the grant for the next three years had been 6 , 10 and 5 lakhs of rupees respectively. Such grants were arbitrary and not based on the needs of tourism in Darjeeling. Likewise, allocation under state plan varied from 15 crores for 1991-2 to 32 lakhs for 1992-3. There is also the problem of meeting the growing non-plan expenditure. But this is a problem faced by the central and state governments in India and is not unique to DGHC. Yet, finance proved to be the major irritant in the relationship between the state government and the DGHC. The state government on its part complained about the non-submission of utilisation certificates. Auditing also proved to be a bone of contention. These problems were gradually sorted out and something of anequilibrium exists for the present. It is the perception of the state finances minister Dr. Asim Dasgupta that finance does not pose a major problem now, Differences have been settled and the flow of funds has been satisfactory. As a result the DGHC has been able to pursue its development efforts.


Yet, some basic problems remain. One of them is the perennial financial constraint. This is likely to produce frequent conflicts. The DGHC does resent that two of the most lucrative sources of revenue-tea and timber- remain outside its ambit. Second, the relationship between the district administration and the DGHC also remains somewhat undefined. Law and order is under the state and the district magistrate is in charge of this. This is where the DGHC has no control. But as the representative of the state government in the district, the DM exercises a general supervisory authority and this might lead to clashes over jurisdiction. Such dichotomy has been seen to be affecting the running of the tourism and municipalities and panchayat departments. Third, “ Institutional arrangements under the Act (of 1988) embodies elements drawn from constitutional provisions of Autonomous state (Art 244A) and sixth schedule without any improvement whatsoever. There exist a number of areas, which are not clearly defined…The Autonomous district councils under the sixth schedule are vested with law making powers subject to the assent of the governor, but such power has been denied to the DGHC. In other words, DGHC remains as a contrived structure not with adequate finances and functions”.  Finally, there was conflict over the holding of elections to the panchayats, but this was also resolved, clearly revealing an willingness on the part of both the parties to live and let live.


After more than a decade of functioning the DGHC, it may not be unfair to suggest, has been able to overcome the hiccups and some sort of modus vivendi between the state government and the council has been achieved. It would have been natural for this experiment to take some time to acquire roots, but given the political will to achieve this it would be realistic to expect it to survive, even flourish.  The long quest for autonomy has met with success. The Gorkha identity and its association with Darjeeling have been established by the name of the council.  The three elections to the DGHC have returned the GNLF members with an overwhelming majority. Between the national and other regional parties, only CPIM has been able to retain some foothold in the council. The united front of some other parties failed to dislodge the GNLF in the last elections. Long-term success of the experiment would depend in the ultimate analysis on the political will of all sides.



Autonomous Councils in Mizoram

Author: C. Nunthara


I. Introduction

It may be recalled here that the Constitution of India had given almost unlimited powers to the State Government in respect of local-self governing institutions.  It may establish or abolish these institutions. The States had absolute authority over devolution of powers and functions. This discretionary power has been used to centralize power at almost all levels. The Seventy-third Amendment to the Constitution was to put an end to this.


Hidayatullah (1979) called the Fifth and Sixth Schedules “Constitutions within a Constitution”. When the province of Assam was instituted in 1874, some parts were administered under Scheduled District Act. These were the Backward Tracts which included Lushai Hills (Mizoram), Naga Hills (Nagaland), Garo Hills, the North Cachar Hills,  the British portion of Khasi and Jaintia Hislls, and Eastern Frontier Tracts of Lakhimpur, Balipara and Sadhyia. The Backward Tracts were part of larger entity called Excluded Areas.  In course of time the term backward tracts was replaced by what was considered colourless expression excluded areas.


After India’s Independence the Excluded Areas were to form Autonomous District and Autonomous regions. Mizo Hills fell into this category and therefore under the Sixth Schedule provision. The Sixth Schedule provision itself is very elaborate, and has undergone tremendous changes since it was first enacted. The Changes were made through Constitutional amendments, Parliamentary legislations, Presidential Orders and Central Government Notifications. This paper tries to highlight the situation after reorganization of Northeast India in 1972 and the impact of the annulment of Mizo District Council. It is not the intention to give an analysis of the working of the newly formed Autonomous Councils in the southern corner of Mizoram.


II. Sixth Scheduled

The Sixth Schedule divided Tribal Areas in Assam into Part A and Part B. Part A included United Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Lushai Hills, Naga Hills, North Cachar Hills and Mikir Hills. Part B included North Eastern Frontier Tract including Balipara Frontier Tract, Tirap frontier Tract, Abor Hills and Misim Hills and the Naga Tribal Areas. But the Tribal Areas after 1972 reorganization of Northeast India as described as Part I, Part II and Part III has been drastically changed. Part I relates to the territories of Assam where as Part II concerns the State of Meghalaya and Part III the State of Mizoram as follow:   


Part   I     :   (i)  the North Cachar Hills District (ii)the Mikir Hills.


Part   II    :   (i)  the Khasi Hills District

                   (ii)  the Jaintia Hills District and
                   (iii)  the  Garo Hills District


Part   III   :   (i)  the Pawi District

                    (ii) the Lakher District and
        (iii) the Chakma District


The names of the Pawi District, the Lakher District, and the Chakma District in Mizoram came by the Mizoram District Council (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order,1972. The name Mizo District was ommitted by the  Government of Union territories (Amendment)Act,1971 (83 of 1971). It therefore dissolved the Mizo District Council and the Autonomous Regions in the southern corner of  Mizoram became Autonomous Districts.  The Government of Union Territories  Act,1963 and the Sixth Schedule were suitably amended.. Thus, in so far as Sixth Schedule is concerned, it now strictly governs only, unless otherwise consitutionally amended, the areas shown in Part I in Assam, Part II in Meghalaya and Part III in Mizoram.The constitutional status of village councils in Aizawl District, Mamit, Kolasib,  Serchhip and Champhai Districts are  ill-defined.


The District Councils and Regional Councils make laws, the topic of which are prescribed in para 3 of the Schedule. The law when made has to be approved by the Governor in order to have an effect whatsoever.  District Councils and regional Councils are empowered to constitute village councils and village court. The village councils function to the exclusion of any court in the State. The appelate power over these village councils are with the District Councils and Regional Councils. No other Courts except the High Court and the Supreme Court has any jurisdiction.


In pursuance of paragraph 11 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, The Lushai District(Village Councils) Act, 1953 was passed and received the assent of the Governor of Assam on November 19,1953, and subsequently published in the Assam Gazette on December 9,1953. Section 1(2) of the Act states “it extends to the Lushai Hills District except the areas under the jurisdiction of the Pawi-Lakher Regional Council”.  Section 23 of the Lushai Hills District (Village Councils)Act,1953 has given vast power to the village councils to make rules. In addition to this power, the Administration of Justice Rules, 1953 had given certain judicial functions to the village councils. In exercise of the power conferred under paragraph 4 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, the Lushai Hills District, with the approval of thye Governor of Assam, made the Lushai Hills Autonomous District (Administration of Justice) Rules, 1953. Section 6 of the Rules conferred the establishment of village courts. Under the Sixth Schedule, the District Councils and the Regional Councils are empowered to establish, construct or manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, cattle ponds, ferries, fisheries, roads, road transport and water-ways in the District. Thus, the District Council as well as the village councils had been empowered to look after their own affairs.


However, this has been changed after the Assam reorganization(Meghalaya) Act,1969(55 of 1969). After the changes are notified by the President after consulting the Governor of the concerned States, Governor makes the rules on all matters including the transfer of appeal and proceedings.  The village councils try only such suits and cases which are not excluded from their  jurisdiction by the rules made by the Governor and  any laws made by the District Council or Regional Council is repugnant to any  provision of   law made by the State Legislature, the law or regulation or rules made by the Councils to the extent of repugnancy will be void and the law made by the Legislature will prevail in Meghalaya  and Mizoram. The Governor, therefore, has the overriding power to annul any  Act or resolution of  a District Council if it is likely , in his opinion, to endanger the safety of India or is likely to prejudice public order and may take such steps as he thinks necessary, and he may even  resume all or any of the powers of the Councils. Thus Roy Burman(1995) observes, “those who are aware of the socio-political cross-currents in North east India know that the Sixth Schedule in its present form has reached a road block in the harmonious functioning of the State Government and the Autonomous District Councils”.


Under the Sixth Schedule, the Autonomous District Council was the authority to design the nature of devolution of power and degree of decentralization of power at the village level.  In Mizoram, Tribal Areas as described in Table Part I, II, and III includes only the Chakma, Lakher and Pawi Districts.  Under the circumstnaces, villages councils in  those areas under the erstwhile Mizo District Council have been  have been under the supervision of Local Administration Department of Government of Mizoram. In this way the State Government is directly controlling the affairs of the village councils through bureaucratic channel and State political channel.  


III. Autonomy

The Indian masses had been subjected to  ruthless exploitation  by the imperial rulers and their Indian allies. This  seem to have been continued even after India’s Independence because of a policy of centralization followed by the framers of the  Constitution and subsequently by the ruling elites in Independent India.  Many studies shave revealed this  fact. The only way  to end this according to Ghosh (2000:2) is “when every villager recognizes his  own strength and  becomes conscious that he is the maker of his own destiny”.The need for a decentralized polity based on democratic principle was recommended by Mahatma Gandhi. For him, it concerns empowerment of the people at the grass-root level. Mahatma gandhi, thus, built a philosophical foundation for restructuring the Indian polity on the principle of decentralization and democracy.


However, what we have in India is observed by Kothari (1988:188) as “ a half-hearted democratic framework, a centrally monitored  federal structure, an all-India offialdom, that overpowers representative bodies at all levels and centralizes relations between them and a highly centralized party hierarchy”.  As such  panchayats which came into being as a sonsequence of Balwantrai Mehta Committee report did not survive except in Gujarat and Maharasthra. The panchayat movement got new momemtum after Ashoka Mehta Committee report in 1978. But  except in West Bengal, they  again did not survive. Experiences all over India have shown that the States are reluctant  to encourage to panchayat institutions. The State Government instead tends to expand  its bureaucratic netrwork. Thus, the bureaucracy, controlled from the State capital, occupied administrative space. This is the situation existing today in Mizoram.


Ther village councils in Mizoram used to enjoy a somewhat high autonomy in village administration including judicial matters before the dissolution of Mizo District Council. However, the situation changed drastically with the emergence of  Union Territory of Mizoram in 1971 ans subsequent statehood in 1987, and the revocation of Mizo District Council. Bureaucrats, as State agents, have feree play in the functioning of the village councils. Local Administration Department and other functional departments are infiltrating in the affairs of the the village councils. Village Council members are complaining that the State Government, through its  bureaucratic representatives has given them more responsibilities than they can handle, and without attendant powers and authority.


The functioning of village councils in Mizoram  is, thus, a very peculiar one. It is different from Panchayati Raj institutions elsewhere in India and it is a variation of village councils under Sixth Schedule provisions. Withour the intermediary channel of the District Council or Zilla Parishad, it has lost its autonomy and viability. If Panchayati Raj institutions are considered  agencies of the State Government especially in regard to regulatory functions, village councils in Mizoram are truly agencies of the State Government at the level of developmental functions and to a lesser degree also at the level of regulatory functions. The State Government can dissolve village councils at any time without consulting the rural people.


Before abolition of cheifship, the traditional sanction of the chief’s proprietory right was made explicit by the flesh-tax given to the chief even by  members of otrher villages.  Such traditional sanction, strictly observed by the people, illuminates the territorial proprietorship of the village land  by the Chiefs.. The chief kept the communal nature of the village land intact.  The village councils under the Sixth Schedule provisions guided by the Autonomous District Copuncil, inherited the proprietory rights of the traditional chiefs. But the termination of Mizo District Council and the intrioduction of different land control and land use policies  by the State Government gradually favour individual ownership of land, and the village councils virtually lost their autonomy  and authority on land, and  there is nothing much it can do about it. The land which came into the market find its way in the hands of town dwellers who have the purchasing power.


All  these indicate the level of supervision and control of the State Government in the functioning of village councils.  In order to meet the hrowing aspirations of the people for  autonomy and  democratic functioning, structural changes in the institutional arrangement is called for.

The relevance of the existing Sixth Schedule provisions for the hill areas of Northeast India  is very much questionable. The needed institutional arrangement will have to somehow combine autonomy in regulatory functions as provided initially in the Sixth Schedule provisions and autonomy in developmental functions as provided in the Seventy-Third Constitutional Amendment. This probably could be a model for many other States as well.


  1. Ghosh, Buddhadeb, 200 Panchayati Raj: Evolution of the Concept, New Delhi: Institute of Social Sciences.

  2. Hidayatullah, M., 1979 The Fifth and the Sixth Schedules to the Constitution of India,Guwahati: Ashok Publishing House

  3. Kothari, Rajni, 1988 State Against Democracy;Humane Governance, New Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

  4. Roy Burman, B.K., 1995  Panchayati Raj and Tribals, New Delhi: Institute if Social Sciences

Federalising Politics and Society: The Human Rights Dimension

Author: Sanjay Barbora


“…Things fall apart,

The Centre cannot hold”


-William Butler Yeats


For a change, William Butler Yeats’ own mysticism reveals what is now a universal phenomenon in the politics of creation of modern, post-colonial nation-states. In our rather short history as a contested post-colonial society, the citizens of India have at different points in time echoed the Irish poet’s lines, in Nagamese, Assamese, Kashmiri, Tamil and a host of other tongues-some that are comprehensible to the structures of power and some that are bewilderingly incomprehensible. In the fifty-odd years of its existence as a nation, India has presented itself to be a “federal nation” to the world. States, divided every now and then on ethnic and/ or linguistic lines seem to give one the impression that perhaps India is a place where structures of democratisation and federalisation are in place and that all is well.


Unfortunately that is not the case. In a country that is supposedly a federation of state, the extent of centralisation of control over resources is enormous. The whole political structure is aligned towards the reduction of autonomy for subjects of the state- especially those situated in the “frontiers” of the nation.[4] Some scholars have gone to the extent of terming India’s federal structure as a kind of “cosmetic federalism” that precludes the option of renegotiation of existing structures (Baruah 2000).[5] That, is the truth and in many ways, the façade behind which this state makes claims of being a democracy.


The erstwhile province of Assam, itself a colonial structure par excellence, was the almost the training ground for testing the magnitude of experimentation with federalising society in a post-colonial situation without really having changed the relations between the centres of power and those at the margins. As such, the colonial province was reorganised several times in the 1960s and 1970s to seemingly accommodate ethno-nationalist assertions for tribal homelands. Observers see this in two possible combinations. Some see this as pandering to ethnic mobilisation while others see it as the “just” outcome of legitimate demands by people.


There is a small question of technicality that throws the whole formulation into a tailspin. If indeed the Indian state were so dispensed, i.e. to hand out homelands at the drop of the proverbial hat, then one has to find plausible answers as to why there is so much violence attached to the process. More centrally, why does the creation of tribal states and homelands not reduce the events of conflicts? As a corollary to this question, one may also ask as to what are the mechanisms that assure parity to the subalterns in the frontiers?


If one looks at the formation of states like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya one sees a common pattern emerge in terms of the dynamics of power and powerlessness and state responses to the same. In all three instances, cultural differences from mainstream societies are offered as the basic tools for mobilisation by a section of society within the areas in question. However, there is a sub-text to this articulation. The hills of Northeast India had suffered immense economic losses and remained underdeveloped due to colonial intervention. This condition was central to the creation of frontiers. Hence, the contradictions of a social structure such as this is often articulated within a cultural discourse and sporadically raise the thorny political and economic dimension of impoverishment and marginalisation. The state’s responses are in themselves managerial and their capacity to mitigate the antagonistic relations is somewhat bizarre.


  Consider the fact that the creation of the state of Nagaland came after close to a decade of brutal military actions against Naga citizens. The Naga nation itself was dismembered and parcelled out in the end and the conflict continued. What then, was the creation of the state of Nagaland all about? Was this what Naga nationalists were struggling for? More importantly, does the creation of the state of Nagaland add substantial autonomy in matters related to resource allocation and political participation, to the Naga people? Consider the formation of the state of Mizoram and the story is almost identical though in reverse order. The Mizo famine and the subsequent secessionist struggle, culminating in the celebrated peace accord is a well-rehearsed story. What is often conveniently forgotten in the reminiscing is the fact that the Mizo struggle promised much to all the Kuki-Chin peoples who resided in the southern tip of the Arakan Yoma ranges. While the state of Mizoram is celebrated as an “island of peace” in the region, one has to only look at the un-kept promises of other Kuki-Chin people who live in the neighbouring states of Assam, Manipur and Twipra. The state of perpetual siege and turmoil in these areas, following development induced displacement, may then be seen as the price that a people have to pay for peace. Meghalaya was perhaps the most painless instance of the creation of a state on the basis of the demands of its indigenous populace. Three decades down the line and this experience has not lived up to its promises and the demands for an absolutist solution articulated in terms of rights for the indigenous peoples of the state are threatening to overtake the political discourse.


On each count there are problems in the manner in which the state has responded, as also the consequences of the experiments with federalisation of civil society. For the sake of a more focused discussion the problems are stated thus:

Federalisation of civic and political structures is of immense importance for any society. Progressive regimes ensure that this process is not a mere mockery of the spirit of empowerment at the economic, social and political levels. The extension of power to govern to marginalised groups can be the basis upon which one can speak of a future for the peoples of the Northeast. There is urgency in the human rights movement to ensure that this process starts from the people, who have suffered more than five decades of militarisation. Any “top-down” effort will invariably have to contend with the prophecy of yet another Irish poet/ mystic/ nationalist:


“…They think they have pacified Ireland, but the fools…little do they know that while we cradle these graves, Ireland un-free, shall never be at peace”

-Padraig Pearse, 1914.

(Speaking at the funeral of yet another Irish revolutionary, O’Donovan Rossa)


Formation Of Nagaland State And The Quality Of Autonomy

Author: Achumbemo Kikon


‘a nation can never  be free  when un-free nations surrounds her’


For administrative convenience, the British established Naga Hills District in the year 1866, which later on merged with Assam in 1874. It should be understood that the British desperately tried their best to bring the whole Naga Territories under their domain but due to stiff resistance by the Nagas they could not succeed in their attempt to subjugate the Naga People. Nevertheless, the British could somehow manage to establish sizeable portions of the Naga Hills District approximately 10% of the total area of the Naga territory. In 1880 under the Frontier Tracts Regulation II, Naga areas, which the British could not conquer were kept as backward area. With the passage of time they discovered the uniqueness of the Naga way of life and slowly realized that Nagas are a race which is very different from the rest of the world as the purest form of democracy is being practiced by the Nagas. Interestingly, the term ‘backward’ was later on modified under the Govt. of India Act 1935 and renamed it as excluded and partially excluded areas (which came into effect on 1 April 1937).


With the formation of Naga Club in 1918, the Nagas position was consolidated whereby the Naga Club represents the sentiments and voices of its people. To assert its inalienable right to live independently without any outside interference and domination, a memorandum was submitted in 1929 to the Simon Commission stating that, ‘Naga areas be left out of the proposed reform scheme’.


Prior to Indian independence an agreement called the 9th point Akbar-Hydari agreement was signed which guaranteed the Nagas rights to determine its own destiny after ten years. However, the Indian nation which came into being on 15th August 1947 claim that they cannot execute an agreement which has been inherited from the British administration.


Left with no option the Nagas declared its independence on 14th August 1947 (one day ahead of Indian independence) under the banner of Naga National Council. Ignoring the sentiments and aspirations of the Nagas, the Indian Govt. adopted repressive policies and suppressed the Nagas with its military strength. Therefore, to prove to the world that Nagas desire for an independent homeland is genuine and un-compromisable a Naga plebiscite was conducted on 16 May 1951 whereby 99.9% voted to reassert its position to remain free from all sorts of domination. This was followed by boycotting the 1952 and 1957 Indian general election.


The visit of the first Indian Prime Minister Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru and Burmese Premier Mr. U Nu in Kohima in 1953 was infact the finest opportunity for the Nagas, Indians and Burmese to address the contentious issue of arbitrary division of the Naga territory and random demarcations of the boundaries by the colonial administration. Unfortunately, for reason best known to the Indian authorities, Nagas  were denied of the opportunity to make either a statement nor submit a Representation to express its feelings and aspirations wherefore, the Naga people walked out to register its protest against the denial of the opportunity. Indeed, it was due to the repressive measures of the Indian Govt. and the Armies which has compelled the Nagas to take up arms to defend its freedom and resist the occupational forces.


There was fierce fighting between the Naga resistance group and the Indian armies and the whole situation went out of human control as tension mounted. In order to subside the conflict a group of people were handpicked by the Indian intelligence bureau and formed the ‘Naga Peoples Convention’ (NPC). Basically the intention of forming the NPC was to mediate between the Naga resistance group and the Indian Govt. to bring them to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the members of the NPC went beyond their assignment and later on turned into negotiators. In 1959, the convention drafted 16 points and submitted to the Indian Govt. in the form of Memorandum. Basing on this memorandum the present State of Nagaland was born as the 16th State of the Indian Union. It is to be noted that the present State of Nagaland was never created out of any agreement nor with the expressed consent of the Naga People as a whole and the Naga resistance group in particular. Therefore, it can never be termed as 16-point agreement; it is precisely a demand by few vested interested people with instigation by the Indian intelligence. With the creation of the State, an Article 371 (a) was incorporated in the Indian Constitution to safeguard the religious, traditional, customary practices of the Naga people so also to protect the natural resources. However, in reality these provisions are never implemented. In fact, the creation of the State has increases the burden of India as Crores of rupees, which has been pumped-in for developmental projects, has been siphoned off by few individuals who are at the helms of affairs. And it is this group of individuals who are interested to keep this conflict going so that the central Govt. continues to send money in the guise of law and order, insurgency related fund and peace activities. The Indian intelligence bureau are the major share-holders in all this related funds and this amounts are never audited in any form.


The creation of the State has divided the Naga homeland forcing them to disintegrate the land and the people as the rest of the Nagas were kept under the State of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and the major chunk of the Naga territory lays in Burma. Nagas does not enjoy any special autonomy out of the creation of the State rather it only aggravated the grave situation that has been created due to forced occupation of our land. To us, the  Autonomy within the Indian Constitution does not arise and it is not applicable at all in the Naga context as it is not what we have struggled and fought for. In our context, Autonomy means and implies complete withdrawals of the ‘Occupational Forces’ and leaves the Nagas alone to decide its own destiny.


The on-going peace process vis-à-vis political talks between the Govt. of India and the Naga Representatives needs to be strengthened by every right thinking individuals/groups as will as by every peace loving people. We also admit that, our movement has inspired our neighbours and many struggling group in this part of the region to assert their rights for self-determination. We are hopeful that an honourable settlement to the Naga Issue will be an inspiration too for our neighbours to resolve their issues peacefully. Nevertheless, this can be possible and realized only through the co-operation and support of everyone including the Indian Civil Societies.


Identity And Autonomy In India’s North-East: The Constitutional Framework

Author: Gurudas Das


The aspiration of a population to determine its own destiny by itself has long been recognized by nations and legitimized by the traversed history of human civilization. The doctrine of right to self-determination is an acknowledgement of this aspiration. The urge for self-determination arises out of historically evolved distinct identities of different population groups that gave birth to different socio-economic formations. The fullest manifestation of this ‘right to self-determination’ may be observed in the formation of  ‘one nation-one state’. The coincidence of national boundary to that of state boundary in such cases precludes the problems of autonomist demands arising out of multiple identities. However, the natural process of state formation, where state emerges at the end of the tunnel of tribe-nation continuum, has been hindered due to the empire building projects of the forces of imperialism.  The struggle against imperialism has led to the replication of '‘modern state structure'’in transitory social spaces. The processes of adoption and adaptation of the modern state structure mainly followed the principles of territoriality rather than the identity boundary. In most cases, anti-imperialist struggles galvanized a social space cutting across identity boundaries and aspired to replace the local imperial territorial boundary with an independent state boundary. Thus emerged the states with many nationalities incontradistinction with ‘one nation-one state’.  While the former, i.e., states with many nationalities/sub-national socio-economic formations, in the parlance of political theory, is often referred to as ‘state-nation’, the latter ,i.e., one nation-one state, is labeled as ‘nation-state’. It is the first category of states, where pulls and pressures of pluralism are more pronounced.


In order to accommodate the pluralistic diversities, the state-nations have devised a federalist framework of organization. This framework has created a political space having built-in elasticity for accommodating the diverse interests of different homogeneous population groups. The federalist framework, thus, limits the extent of the right to self-determination of the population groups having distinctive identities. The constitutional provisions for devolution of powers to the state governments delimit the highest level of autonomy that these groups can enjoy in India. The unit-state-structure, having all the three organs—executive, legislature and judiciary, like union-state-structure, provide enough political space for the sustenance and growth of group-specific socio-economic and cultural goals. Although the adoption of linguistic criterion for the identification of groups for federalist solution to the problem of right to self-determination has largely fulfilled the aspirations of distinctive large population groups, the same could not be applied in case of the smaller groups as well as groups whose identities are in flux. In order to accommodate their right to self-determination a generic identity has been conceived of under the nomenclature of ‘Scheduled Tribe’ and a political space has been reserved for them under the constitutional provisions of Fifth and Sixth Schedules.


Identity and Autonomy: The Fifth Schedule    

The fifth Schedule is meant to protect the interest of the smaller tribal population groups who are placed within the larger unit-state-structure. It provides a limited platform by way of formation of ‘Tribes Advisory Council’, which can articulate the aspirations of their respective communities so that these issues are taken care of while framing the laws pertaining to their welfare and advancement. Neither the Council has any executive power nor does it enjoy any legislative or judicial powers in administering the justice within the scheduled areas. The legislative power is vested in the hands of the Governor and the Council has a duty to advise him on his desire. The Governor is empowered to apply his discretion regarding the applicability of any law passed by the parliament or state legislature in the scheduled areas. In consultation with the ‘tribes advisory Council’, he can make laws for the scheduled areas  (i) prohibiting or restricting transfer of land, (ii) regulating the allotment of land, and (iii) regulating the money lending business. The President should assent to all these regulations.

Thus, the Fifth Schedule envisaged protecting the tribal interests, albeit in a limited scale, without assigning any concrete right to self-determination. As far as the question of preservation of identity is concerned, protection of tribal homeland, by way of creation of scheduled areas, is considered to be the key towards this end.


Identity and Autonomy: The Sixth Schedule

The degree of autonomy under the Sixth Schedule is far larger than that of the Fifth Schedule. In fact, the Sixth Schedule provides some sort of ‘proto-state-structure’ to the areas under its jurisdiction. It has been suitably designed to take care of the autonomy aspirations of the smaller tribal groups in the north eastern states of India. The Schedule provides for autonomous District Council as well as Regional Council having powers on all the three vital areas of autonomy viz., executive, legislative and judicial.


Legislative power

The District Council\Regional Council is empowered to make laws, for areas under its jurisdiction, relating to (i) land, (ii) forest (other than reserved forest), (iii) water bodies (for the purpose of agriculture), (iv) regulation of shifting cultivation, (v) village or town committees, (vi) village or town administration, (vii) appointment or succession of chiefs or headmen, (viii) inheritance of property, (ix) marriage and divorce, and (x) social customs.


Apart from these, the District Council can manage and make laws in order to regulate the money lending as well as trading activities of the non-residents\non-tribals. It is also empowered to make laws relating to primary education, dispensaries, markets, cattle pounds, ferries, fisheries, roads, road transport and waterways in the district.


Resource-Mobilization powers

The District Council/Regional Council has the power to assess and collect land revenues.

It enjoys the power to levy and collect taxes on land and buildings as well as tolls on persons. The District Council is also empowered to levy and collect taxes on (i) professions, (ii) trades, (iii) callings and employment, (iv) animals, (v) vehicles, (vi) boats, (vii) entry of goods int6o a market for sale, (viii) tolls on passengers and goods carried in ferries, (ix) the maintenance of schools, (x) dispensaries, and (xi) roads. Apart from these, the District Council is entitled to get a share of royalties accruing to the state annually on account of extraction of minerals. All the revenues collected in course of the administration of a district/region are credited to a District/Regional Fund. The management of this Fund is guided by rules and regulations set by the Governor.


Judicial Powers

The Sixth Schedule provides for a two-tier system of administration of justice at the district/regional level. At the village level, the village council/village court is empowered to trial suits and cases between the parties all of whom belong to schedule tribes. At the district/regional level, district/regional council/court is empowered to act as a court of appeal in respect of all suits and cases triable by a village council/court. 


The Sixth Schedule, thus, has created a space for the tribal communities of north east India where they can enjoy autonomy in ordering their respective social fields in accordance with historically evolved group specificities. The degree of autonomy provided to district/regional councils in terms of devolution of executive, legislative and judicial powers enables these institutions to protect the economic and identity interests of the tribal population groups.


Identity and Autonomy: State vs District Council

All the matters on which district council is empowered to make laws are also enumerated in the State List. In order to ensure the autonomy of the district/regional council, the Sixth Schedule provides that no act of the state legislature shall apply to any autonomous district/region unless the district council adopts and approves the same.


Apart from the matters on which the district council has legislative power, Governor has the discretionary power in deciding whether the laws made by the state legislature on other matters will be directly applicable to the autonomous districts/regions or not. Even the applicability of the laws made by the parliament in these areas are also put under the discretion of the Governor, in case of Assam, and President, in case of other north eastern states. Thus, the district/regional councils have been provided with effective shield so that larger bodies cannot undermine their autonomy.


Thus, as far as the Indian constitutional framework is concerned, both the state and district council derive their power directly from the constitution. The district/regional councils are in no way subordinate to the state. They are coordinate bodies having distinct operational sphere and separate constituency of population to deal with. This horizontal authority structure is, however, integrated vertically through the practice of governance that has been developed along side the constitutional practices. In view of the narrow resource base, district councils are mostly depended on grants-in-aid. The central grants-in-aid for them is routed through the state government. This mechanism provides a leverage which is being often used toe the district councils the line of the state governments. It is this financial dependence and the use of this dependency that remain as a major bone of contention in the relation between the district council and the state governments.  In fact, the movements seeking replacement of the district councils by autonomous states are largely the expressions of frustrations arising out of this dependency relation.


Autonomy and the North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971

The North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, has, inter alia, weakened the autonomy of the district councils of Meghalaya. While the Act has created the state of Meghalaya out of the erstwhile districts of Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Assam, it has accompanied with a substitution in the provision of the Sixth Schedule, which has empowered the state legislature to make laws on matters, which constituted the domain of exclusive interest of the district councils. Moreover, if any provision of law made by the district council is repugnant to that of the state legislature, then the law made by the district council shall, to the extent of repugnancy, be void and the law made by the legislature shall prevail. This constitutional provision has largely weakened the relevance of the institution of district council in Meghalaya. However, this provision has not been extended to other north eastern states where the Sixth Schedule is applicable. This has been made applicable in Meghalaya, perhaps, because of the fact that the territorial boundaries of the three district councils added together almost exhaust the territorial boundary of the state, and hence little is left under the command of the state which can be used in advancing the collective welfare of the people.


Identity and Autonomy: The Socio-political Dynamics

The process of identity formation among the smaller tribal population groups in north eastern India is still continuing. In some cases generic identities are paving the way for the emergence of specific identities. The process of fission is bringing new identities into the fore and powerful movements are being launched to assert themselves. In most cases, these movements demand accommodation within the framework of the Sixth Schedule. Apart from these, autonomy movements are also arising out of assertion by the hitherto dormant identities. The empowerment of one group of people encourages the others to press for autonomy. Thus, the dynamics of identity formation and the demand for autonomy are interlinked. Although the federalist framework of the Indian constitution is flexible enough to accommodate the demand for right to self-determination of the smaller tribal population groups in the north eastern region, the problem lays with the real-politik of decision making. It is, indeed, a hard choice between opening up of the Pandora’s box and recognizing the legitimacy of right to self-determination.


Besides grappling with these entry-level identity movements, the Indian federal structure is also under stress from movements seeking higher level of autonomy. In north east, this may be discerned from the demands for shifting the accommodation from the Fifth to the Sixth Schedule, and then from the Sixth Schedule to unit-state-structure.


The problem of administering justice to these demands does not lay with the federalist framework of Indian constitution, but partly with the internal social dynamics of the groups themselves whose identities are still in flux , and partly with the dilemma of real-politik decision-making by the practitioners of power politics.



The smallness of the size of tribal population groups asserting for self identity, the smallness of the territory of their homeland, competing nature of territorial claims, shifting nature of group loyalty coupled with ambitious nature of autonomy demands—all stand on the way of their attainment of right to self-determination. The identity movements, therefore, need to come into terms with the bulky nature of the institutions of autonomy. If some of these issues can be sorted out, the gap between the constitutional provisions and the problem of getting accommodation therein will be, to some extend, smoothened. Moreover, if the dependency syndrome that exists in the relationship between the two autonomous institutions, viz., state and district council, is addressed properly, the aspirations for higher level of autonomy, which is difficult to justify at times given the smaller size of the constituency of the movement, may be contained. A juridical means, if made available, as an alternative to political means, for the attainment of autonomy, this will, no doubt, take care of the gross violation of the human rights that occur in the process of legitimisation of the right to self-determination.


Constitutional Provisions of Autonomy of the Dalits and the Protection

of Dalit Rights - The Experience of Bihar

Author: Kumar Suresh


The establishment of a democratic political order in India after independence was a major achievement because it was based on the premise of inclusion of all and exclusion of none. But this premise of inclusion was not intended to be homogenizing and assimilative. It was rather accommodative. The effort was made to reconcile the identity of the new "nation state" with the autonomy of the groups and communities. Though the reconciliation between the two contradictory demands have not been a happy experience over the five decades of constitutional engineering and complex institutional matrix, it has left space for reconstructing the agenda of autonomy for group and communities. How can autonomy guaranteed constitutionally or otherwise be actualised for a just plural society and federal polity remains a major problematic. If different ethno-linguistic groups and minority communities claim for autonomy and self-governing rights, these fall well within the constitutional and federal dispensation of self-rule combined with shared rule. However this federal principle of self-rule and shared rule applies only in the case of federal autonomy to the territorially organized groups and communities. In case of territorially dispersed groups and communities as in case of certain religious communities or dalits autonomy presupposes a different meaning and context. In this case autonomy primarily gets restricted to the function of identity maintenance of the community, protection of certain rights guaranteed by the constitution and representation and participation in the socio-economic and political life of society as equal partners without any prejudice and discrimination. It is the second context in which the discourse on autonomy in case of the dalits be positioned. The dalits do not constitute a minority group in terms of numerical inferiority nor do they constitute an ethnic group in etymological terms for they do not have demand/claim over a territory as their exclusive homeland. It is the aspect of discrimination and exclusion from socio-economic and political life that situates dalits as a minority group. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as a leader of the dalit community had set out his claims of dalits as a minority group before the Simon Commission. He observed,  "


…We claim that we must be treated as a distinct minority, separate from the Hindu community. Our minority character has been hitherto concealed by our inclusion in the Hindu community, but as a matter of fact there is really no link between the depressed classes and the Hindu community…. The untouchables and touchables may have grown and may form a part of one culture or religion but, if, therefore, they were to be considered to be parts of the same 'society' then the term 'society' will lose all its meaning and this will give rise to confusion … Though the caste and the outcaste belong to one culture they belong to different societies … it would be a … foolish to say that because they have grown up as a part of the Hindu culture the caste and the outcaste make up one society".


Ambedkar's apprehension, observation and claim as set out in his above deposition before the Simon Commission constituted a major item of Constituent Assembly Debates in India. The minority character of the ex-untouchables and tribal groups on account of their exclusion and systemic discrimination was recognized by the Constituent Assembly and they were, after a throughful consideration, accorded a status of a political minority. An elaborate constitutional provisions were made relating to their autonomy, protection and rights.  The affirmative action programme was envisioned as a means of their inclusion in the 'national mainstream'. They were, thus, not only given an array of rights but also recognized as district group for preferential treatment. Infact, the democratic dispensation and protective discrimination policy have substantially changed the language of dalit discourse over the last fifty years. The language of current discourse doesn't start with a claim of minority identity but with a claim of majority as evidenced in the discourse of Bahujan Samaj Party, though it is more of symbolic appearance than of the actual content. And, therefore, there is a dynamic shift from a self-definition of Alpjan (minority) to Bahujan (majority). This is precisely the context that locating dalits in the discourse of nation and minorities appears to be a complex problematic. The gradual change in the nomenclature of ex-untouchables of India from Panchama-Achut to Harijan to Scheduled Caste and to dalit speaks not only of their growing presence in the 'nation' and their assertiveness in the 'mainstream' but also the complex articulation of their identity. The constructed identity of dalit and its articulation has its own dialectics of being 'within' and 'beyond' the Nation. If at one level their claims pertain to the nation and its resources on account of arithmetic calculus of population, at another level the feeling of exclusion from the society and state generates a sense of alienation resulting into a feeling of being beyond the 'nation'. This dialectical relationship between the dalit as a community and nation doesn't transcend Ambedkar's arguments before the Simon Commission almost over the last seven decades. And in this sense dalit articulation is a complex but dynamic one.


The concern of the present paper is not to enter into the discourse of minority characterisation of the dalits but to reflect on the dalit situation vis-à-vis the constitutional provision for their autonomy, protection and rights. Therefore, the paper makes a modest attempt to recapitulate the constitutional provisions relating to autonomy and rights to the dalits. It also unravels the incongruity between the constitutional provisions and actual situation of the dalits. For grasping the actual operational dynamics of the constitutional provisions and policies of the state Bihar has been taken as a case though the Bihar experience has its own specificity, the existing empirical situation in case of dalits can broadly be generalised in other case of approximity.


The Preamble of the Constitution best reflects the vision and intentions of its founding fathers as it establishes equality, justice and liberty as the cardinal principles in regulating the society and state in India and maintaining the unity and integrity of the nation.  It judiciously combines the two basic values of equality and justice.  The nondiscrimination principle of citizenship rights included in the category of fundamental rights ensures equality before law and equal protection of law, equality of opportunity and equal liberty.  The provision of protective discrimination combined with the clauses of group rights, affirmative action and preferential treatment establishes the values of social justice in favour of  deprived groups and communities.


The Constitution ensured equality of opportunity to all irrespective of caste, gender, religion, and one's social location.  It provided opportunity to equal access in the public domain.  It was a major achievement of the dispensation of democratic political order in independent India.  However, the formal disjunction between one's social location and opening up of the opportunity structure in public political domain did not guarantee the equifinality and social justice to the deprived groups of society.  In the case of Indian society, which is defined by structured inequality, the social location of individuals and groups has a strong bearing on his/her circumstances and consequent unequal excess to opportunity structure of the public domain. Since social location of individuals has been a major source of privileges and deprivations and determinant of individual circumstances in India, the deliverance of social and economic justice cannot be based only on the principle of merit and equality of opportunity in the public domain.


This logic of social, economic and political life was well considered by the framers of the Constitution of India.  And therefore, the Constitution of India made specific provisions for autonomy, rights and protection of dalits along with the generic clauses of equality and liberty guaranteed to every citizen in India. Whereas the Articles 14, 15 (1) and 16(1) of the Constitution exclusively establish the equality principle, Articles 15(4) and 16(4) incorporate the principle of social justice.  If Article 14 proclaims equality before law and equal protection of law, Article 15(1) prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, caste, sex, religion or place of birth. The Article 16(1) further provides equality of opportunity to all.  The protective discrimination clauses of Article 15(4) and 16(4) become decisive with regard to protection of rights of socially and economically deprived groups of the hierarchical system.  These Articles follow the difference principle leading to social justice.  Article 15(4) says,  "Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes".  Article 16(4) makes provision that "Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State is not adequately represented in the services under the State".  Both the provisions in the Constitution, however limited in scope, provide condition for the constitutional protection of the rights of the dalits. 


Alongwith these protective discrimination clauses in the Constitution, the Directive Principles of the State Policy may be considered as mechanism of realizing the goal of social justice and social transformation in the direction of just society, especially to the details.  Articles 38 and 46 among others, specifically aim at securing social justice to the deprived sections of population. Article 38 reads that, (i) "the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of the national life", (ii) "the State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst the groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations".   Article 46 clearly directs the State that "the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation".


Apart from these two Articles of the Directive Principles of State Policy, other Articles of the Constitution which include Articles 330, 332, 335, 338, 340, 341 and 342 specifically advance the goal of realising social justice to details in independent India. These constitutional provisions have been made after a thoughtful consideration by the members of the Constituent Assembly who were quite conscious and aware about the dynamics of socio-economic order of Indian society.  Since caste has been the major identity marker and a source of inequality, the constitutional goal of social justice has been channelised through the category of castes (barring tribes and other groups identified for the protective discrimination). The constitution has recognised the cumulative deprivation of large sections of the population generally referred as details who have been systematically discriminated on the basis of caste distinction. The protective discrimination shield thus, been provided to the dalits who have either been excluded from the caste hierarchy of the Varna system or have been lowly placed. Their exclusion and low placement has resulted into cumulative inequality. The protective discrimination policy aims at minimizing the inequality of socio-economic order and opportunities in public life. And thus providing the dalits opportunity to participate in the socio-economic and political life of the country as equal partners. Social justice is an integral part of the constitutional provision relating to dalit rights. The protective discrimination policies ensure the recognition and representation of dalits in the structure of governance. The Article 17 of the Constitution exclusively deals with abolition of untouchability. The subsequent Acts and laws prohibit untouchability and social discrimination. The welfare measure and the policies of the state have been designed in the direction of advancing the goal of social justice to the dalits. However, the gap exists between the constitutionally guaranteed rights and the actual dalit situation. This condition exists in every parts of the country but with a different proportion. An analysis of Bihar experience may be indicative of the incongruity between constitutional design and actual situation.


In real situation of socio-economic life, dalits in Bihar are far behind the other groups of the population. The practice of untouchability and maintaining of ritual distance has not disappeared from the public life in rural areas. Most of the cases relating to them are not reported, but this does not ensure the realisation of the civil rights of these groups. Segregation in residential pattern, predominant occupational pattern, high incidence of poverty and non-ownership/marginal ownership of land are some of the indicators of their perpetual backwardness. Atrocities against dalits are still alarming. Educational backwardness is another important issue of dalits. They are far behind the general population in terms of literacy rate, and enrolment ratio but very high in drop-out rate. Their representation in government services and educational institutions is still not very significant. These aspects of socio-economic life of the dalits speak about their actual situation. As compared to West Bengal in the eastern part of India, dalits are worst sufferers in Bihar. There is perpetual violation of rights to live with dignity, strive for socio-economic equality and participate in socio-economic and political life of society as co-partners not as sub-ordinates or subjugated people. Atrocities against dalits are alarmingly high. From 1977 onwards the incidence of crime against dalits, despite the prevailing laws and constitutional provisions have been rising. As per the Report of the Commissions for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes; 681 in 1977, 1911 in 1978, 2457 in 1979, 1890 in 1980; and 10873 from 1981-1986 cases of crime against dalits were reported from Bihar. Whereas from the year 1992 to 1997 about 1885 cases of crime against dalits have recorded by the CID Department of the Government of Bihar. How much authentic and appropriate are the figures of crime against dalits is difficult to say because in majority of the cases crimes are either not reported or recorded. The major atrocities cases, however, are recorded due to their visibility and official recognition. The major factors behind the atrocities against dalits account for the question of land distribution, minimum wages, working hours, social dignity of the dalit women folk etc. Almost a complete match between economic deprivation and social oppression characterises the dalit situation in Bihar. In fact, Dalits in Bihar are interfaced with compounded and complex problem.  On the one hand they are the victims of overall backwardness of economy and relative closure of the opportunity structure and on the other they are subjected to both economic exploitation and social oppression.  The agenda of democratic nation-building and social transformation in post-independent India has largely failed in the case of dalit.  Consequently there is erosion of faith in the state and its apparatus.  Atrocities against dalits and their exploitation and oppression have led them to a new kind of assertion which does not take only a democratic channel to express the grievances but resort to violence. The mobilisation of dalits under the banners of different naxal groups is significant in this regard which cannot be simply explained in class terms.  It has more to do with the question of social dignity than to mere economic exploitation.  Of course, the economic issues have been important in the naxalite movement.  But the main concern of the dalit and their support to naxal movement has revolved around the resistance to the feudal social oppression, opposition to the sexual abuse of their womenfolk and a sense of identity.  Initially the main issues of dalit mobilisation were economic, relating especially to the distribution of government land, minimum wages, working hours etc. but beneath these there has been a strong urge for social dignity and a rightful place in society.  Disillusionment from the state and the minimal\negligible chances of participation in the political processes have added more and more dimensions to the mobilisation of dalits around the ideology of naxalism. Despite the limitations and drawbacks of the naxal movements and their violent mode of expression they have been successful in mobilising a large section of dalits in south-central districts of Bihar (one of the states/provinces of India) which include Gaya, Jehanabad, Nawada, Aurangabad, Bhojpur and Patna.  In these districts the dalits have suffered worst atrocities and organised violence perpetrated both by the upper castes and the upper backward castes.  But naxal mobilisation has instilled a new sense of confidence, new assertiveness, a sense of defiance to the feudal oppression, and a group based organised retaliation of the dalits.  The womenfolk now feel secured.  The incidents of sexual abuses have largely been reduced not due to the effectiveness of the state but due to the coercive presence of naxal groups, and their retaliatory violence.  The constant fights of the dalits for their dignity (Izzat) have been translated into a reality. Now the upper castes not only maintain restrain in their social behaviour vis-a-vis dalits but also enter into rapprochement with them in terms of enhancement in their wages, reduction in working hours, and extending dignity to their womenfolk. 


However, this is one dimension of the reality of dalit articulation.  In many other cases the upper castes have not been able to reconcile with the changing reality.  They still want to maintain their feudal domination over the oppressed.  The formation of caste based senas (caste armies) in case of Bihar is a manifestion of this fact.  The Brahmarshi Sena, Savarna Liberation Front and now Ranvir Sena of Bhumihars, Kuer Sena of Rajputs, Lorik Sena of Yadavas, Bhumi-Sena of Kurmis are some of the caste senas which have been operated at one time or the other. The passive support of the state cannot be denied in the cases of mass massacres of dalits by the upper castes or their senas in different areas of south central Bihar.  These senas have been instrumental in perpetrating organised violence against the dalits during the last two decades.  In the early seventies and eighties, the upwardly mobile backward castes and intermediary castes had been equally responsible for violence against the dalits.  The reason has been the contradictions of rural socio-economic order in Bihar.  Whereas the upper backward castes - Yadavas, Kurmis and Koeris - have been the major beneficiaries of post-independent socio-economic transformation, the dalits have remained deprived and exploited on all accounts. Therefore, the contradictions between the upper backward castes and dalits have been more prominent in case of Bihar.  This is attested by the fact that one of the first major violence against dalits was organised by the Kurmis in Belchi in 1977.  And throughout the existence of naxalism both the upper castes and the advanced backward castes have worked together against the dalit interests. It is only the decade of the nineties that the backward castes and dalits have come together around the common agenda of 'social justice'.  Though the alliances of the upper backward castes and the dalits can not be seen as a stable pattern due to the persisting contradictions, these alliances have tremendous impact on the power structure of north-Indian society. The electoral politics has also been instrumental in instilling a new sense of confidence during the last one decade. Dalits have, of course, not been major beneficiary in terms of economic gains during this period but their social dignity has been restored.  In this regard Laloo Yadav's contributions cannot be undermined, who brought the dalits into active electoral politics.  Now dalits have also started taking part in the political process.  In many areas they have been able to cast their votes which has resulted into instilling a sense of being important. Even in this regard the role-played by the naxal groups - CPI (ML) - Party Unity, CPI (ML)-Liberation, MKKS, MCC have been significant.  Initially none of these groups favoured their participation in politics but in due course many of them have also started taking part in the election process.  Their participation, in one form or the other, has led to the presence of dalits in arena of politics in Bihar. However, the rights of the dalits as human being remain yet to be realised in the case of Bihar. Needless to add the non implementation of welfare measures, land reform deficiencies and over all backwardness of the dalits are the major indicators of the violation of the rights.


International Legal Thinking on the Rights of the Minorities

Author: Sabyasachi Basu Ray Choudhury


The question of minority rights has received considerable attention in international legal discourse in recent times. Since the 16th century, treaties were being drafted by the European rulers, which guaranteed to minorities within their domain the enjoyment of their traditional religious rights.  For instance, the Treaty of Westphalia, the first treaty to recognize sovereignty of the modern nation-states, granted religious freedom to the German Protestants on the same terms as the Roman Catholics. But, it was not until the formulation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that even a modicum of protection was extended by international treaty.


According to Article 27, “In those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own cultures, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.” It should be noted that, “persons” rather than the minorities to which they belong, are the subject of this Article. Here minority rights have almost been treated as individual rights writ large. In this sense, the minority rights are the sum total of the rights of religious or cultural tolerance enjoyed by individual “persons” or individual “members” of the group concerned. Therefore, it becomes a collective right exercisable on behalf of all members either by the group leader, or by any one member as the representative of the others in the group. In this context, one may also look at a definition of a minority provided by Francesco Caportini, the UN (United Nations) Special Rapporteur in the Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, in 1977, in a report, which views a minority as a “group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of the state – possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characters differing from those of the rest of the rest of the population and slow, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language.”


The UN Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities initiated a study on discrimination in education, and in due course it was decided to ask the UNESCO to consider the possibility of drafting and adopting a convention on the subject. Accordingly, the General Conference of the UNESCO adopted the Convention Against Discrimination in Education on December 14, 1960, and it came into force on May 22, 1962. Article 5(c) of this Convention says: “It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and, depending on the educational policy of each state, the use of the teaching of their own language, provided however: 

  1. That this right is not exercised in a manner which prevents the members of these minorities from understanding the culture and language of the community as a whole and from participating in its activities, or which prejudices national sovereignty;

  2. That the standard of education is not lower than the general standard laid down or approved by the competent authorities; and

  3. That attendance in schools is optional.”

Considering these, it would be clear that, over the years, two major rights of minorities have got explicit recognition in international law. One is the right to exist and the other is the right to be different in their existence from the majority of the people in the state concerned.


The right to exist has primarily been derived from the Genocide Convention of 1948. This right is enforceable according to the post-Nuremberg theory of a somewhat universal jurisdiction to try “crimes against humanity”. This has been reinforced by the establishment of international tribunals to punish the offenders in genocide in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia although it assures a protection against deliberate steps taken by the state to “destroy in whole or in part” a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Therefore, it can hardly protect such peoples against wanton destruction of the environment or culture that sustains them. This also cannot protect such peoples against acts intended to prevent them from “thriving or developing”. It also does not provide redress against a state, which may “accidentally” or “inadvertently” extinguishes a group by neglect or by creating conditions, lead to the dissolution of the group by death or departure from the state concerned.


Nevertheless, the right to exist is considered to be a basic right which protects the people belonging to minority groups against ethnic cleansing by threatening persecution of the perpetrators, if they can be captured, and by inviting the intervention of other states, if breached on a large scale on the basis of the “humanitarian necessity” principle as applied recently in Kosovo. However, such breaches, at some point, might give rise to a right of secession. We shall come to that later.


On the other hand, the right to be different has now crystallized into a rule of international law, to the extent that it is expressed in Article 27 of the ICCPR. But a sensitive question is involved in this context: what happens when the minority rights under Article 27 come into conflict with individual rights. A humanitarian perspective would suggest that the cultural traditions, which infringe basic human rights, could not be defended. After all, the minorities are as capable of breaching human rights as the majorities. Therefore, many would argue that Article 27 could not be considered as a general licence for the minorities to maintain cruel and discriminatory practices.

Moreover, Article 27 does not include any right to representation in communicating with minorities or majorities of the same ethnic origin in other states, or even to enjoy affirmative action programmes. In that sense, Article 27 has added little in practice apart from guaranteeing equality, non-discrimination, freedom of worship and freedom to assemble to the individuals and groups of individuals. This is again qualified by reference to “reasonable needs of the State” to strike a fair balance in its allocation of resources. And the States find it uneasy to admit to the existence of minorities as any such concession will encourage demands for autonomy, and in the long run, may encourage separatist claims. For example, France refused to be bound by Article 27, as “there are no minorities in Greater France”. If one accepts that position taken by France, then the peoples of Papeete, who rioted in protest against the pollution of their culture and environment by the French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, are not entitled to protest under Article 27 because of the stand taken by France.


So far as the indigenous peoples are concerned, Article 27 has been used to help clear away two major roadblocks to their freedom: the traditional doctrines that conquest extinguishes native land claims, and that treaties signed after surrender have continuing validity. It may be mentioned here that, the international legal experts are now more and more inclined to regard the indigenous peoples as one class of minority group with a claim for fair treatment from the state and a majority of settler descendants around.


Let us now come back to the questions of autonomy and the right of self-determination. It may appear that the independence for ethnic minorities has been promised by international legal principles, particularly through Article 1 of the ICCPR of 1966, which announces that: “All Peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” But, minorities may not be considered as peoples. “Peoples” refers to “all” inhabitants of “each” existing state, and the guarantee denotes little more than the right of the population of every sovereign state to determine their own form of government without interference from other states. It becomes clearer when one goes through Article 1(2) of the UN Charter, which declares the purpose of the UN.


According to this Article, one of the purposes of this international organization is “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” Here, “self-determination” does not entail the right to be independent, or even to vote for independence. As Rosalyn Higgins puts it: “International law provides no right of secession in the name of self-determination.” At best, the right to self-determination connotes the right of all citizens to participate in the political process, but this gives power to majorities and not to minorities.


Therefore, a majority may continue to oppress a minority. In such a situation, although secession may be geographically obvious and politically convenient, the UN Charter is clearly against any change to the territorial integrity or political independence of its member states, other than by peaceful agreement. It may be noted that, throughout the period of de-colonization, the right of peoples to reject the imperial rule, by free vote for independence at a UN-monitored plebiscite, was much an article of faith. The ICJ described it as having an erga omnes character. But as the process of de-colonization came to a close, the application of the principle of self-determination came in direct confrontation with the principle of state sovereignty. In fact, in 1995, the ICJ refused to adjudicate the clearest possible case of a breach of the right to self-determination when Indonesia invaded East Timor. There has also been a considerable hesitation in applying the doctrine to other cases, for example to 5 million Palestinian Arabs or even to those 2.5 million Palestinians who live in Golan Heights and the West Bank, annexed by Israel through military conquest in 1967.


Through the UN Charter, the right of self-determination has implied the right of peoples of a territory to decide the status of their homeland through a free and fair election for independent statehood, integration to another state, or through some form of political association with another state like autonomy with it. But its exercise must not involve changes to existing frontiers, other than by agreement between the states concerned. Since states rarely concede territory, an early and sensible resolution of disputes is almost out of question and the dispute usually takes the form of ethnic violence.


When the Arbitration Commission set up by the EC Conference on Yugoslavia was to decide the fate of that dissolving state according to the principles of self-determination, it said that the wishes of the minorities must be denied because they would require border changes opposed by Croatia and Serbia. The Commission refused to carve a Bosnian Serb republic out of the Serb-dominated areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Therefore, as Diane Orentlicher has pointed out: “Through this legal alchemy, international law could claim to preserve a principle that had acquired a potent symbolic power while simultaneously depriving that principle of its power to threaten established states’ ‘territorial boundaries’.” In other words, international law advances not so much by justice as by state practice. As territorial integrity is in the self-interest of each state, boundaries have virtually become shibboleths.


But, in recent times, the debate over minority rights have merged with the debate over the virtues and practices of democratic citizenship – a debate that has been developing independently over the last decade. Let us look at a regional initiative in this regard. The Council of Europe (CE) concluded a Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1995. This framework treaty is not yet in legal force. It contains no special monitoring mechanism apart from an unspecified role for the CE’s Committee of Members. It is interesting to note that, this treaty, rather than endorsing assimilation of all groups into one homogeneous society, endorses the preservation of national minorities. It urges to accommodate the national minorities through public policies on language, state services etc. although the national minorities have not been defined in the treaty.


Therefore, as indicated earlier, apart from the right to exist and the right to be different, the minority groups have very little scope to be ensured of their rights like the majority communities in the contemporary world. So far as the question of autonomy is concerned, this, along with the right of self-determination, may be enjoyed within the given structure of the modern state system evolved since the Treaty of Westphalia. In other words, the issue of state sovereignty reigns supreme over the rights discourse in contemporary international legal system. Perhaps the minority groups across the globe may find some relief through the development of a theory of democratic citizenship in near future. 


Can autonomy satisfy the quest for independence? The experiences of Palestine

Author: Aditi Bhaduri


The term "political autonomy" refers to the right for a community to govern its own affairs, up to a certain level. A nation with political autonomy is only allowed control of local issues, such as education, law enforcement, justice, or community services.


In this context it should be clear that Palestinian aspirations envisage a sovereign and independent state and Palestinian autonomy was just a temporary arrangement leading to that independent state, existing alongside Israel.  Thus “autonomy” was not the actual aspiration of the Palestinian state.


Palestinian autonomy was the result of the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 - the Israeli-PLO Recognition Agreement of September 9-10 1993 and the Declaration of Principles (DOP) (Oslo I) of September 13 1993. Over the next six years, 12 agreements were negotiated. The Interim Agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinians in September 1995 became known as Oslo II.


The autonomy was to be a 5 year confidence building  process “to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on security council Resolutions 242 and 338.” 1


The breakdown of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the outbreak of the second Intifadah in 2000 and the reoccupation of Palestinian territories by Israeli forces reflect the failure of the Oslo process and of Palestinian autonomy.


Why did the Oslo process fail?

The Oslo process was flawed from the start.  While most of the world saw Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as “Mr. Palestine”, he did not, in fact, represent the Palestinian people. Faisal Husseini’s team representing the Palestinians at the Madrid talks was considered to be more representative of Palestinians as they lived in and came from the Palestinians territories.  Arafat’s group, on the other hand, had been operating from outside of the territories for almost 20 years and were not seen to be reflecting “will of the people of the soil”.  Neither was he popular with the Palestinian refugee population outside of Palestine because of past records.


The “Oslo team”, therefore, seemed to have bypassed the “Madrid team”, entering into secret negotiations and concluding accords with Israel, for its own political survival.  The Oslo accords were seen as a great betrayal as Arafat conceded all the territories ceded to the Palestinian state by the UN Resolution 181 of 1948, which Feisal Hussieni’s team was trying to negotiate for, and settled only for the lands occupied by Israel in 1967.


Next, Arafat left out key issues from within the framework of Oslo.  These were Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, borders of a future Palestinian state and Jewish settlements that had mushroomed illegally in the West Bank and Gaza strip, ever since Israel occupied them in 1967.


There was wide spread resentment amongst Palestinians both in the territories and in the Diaspora since the Oslo process was initiated and helped strengthen militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  These had already started functioning in the Gaza Strip since the 1980s, encouraged by Israel as a counterforce to the PLO. 


What did Oslo process bring the Palestinians? 



Oslo resulted in a fragmented kind of autonomy. Providing for a phased transfer of land under Palestinian rule it resulted in “a gradualism, which was not always incremental.” 2


In September 1993 a Palestinian Authority (PA) was established over most of Gaza and parts of the West Bank (Jericho).


The main object of Oslo II was to broaden Palestinian self-government in the West Bank by means of an elected self-governing authority – the Palestinian council.  With the establishment of the Council the Israeli military government was withdrawn and the Civil Administration dissolved. 


The territories were split into three:

Area A comprised the six cities of Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Kalkilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron (with some special arrangements) where the bulk of the Palestinian population in the West Bank was concentrated.  Here the Council had full responsibility for internal security and public order, as well as for civil affairs.


Area B comprised Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, having some 65% of Palestinian population and some Jewish settlements.  Here the Council had full civil authority and was in charge of maintaining public order.  Israel, however, “had overriding security authority to safeguard its citizens and to combat terrorism and this responsibility shall take precedence over the Palestinian responsibility for public order.”3


Area C comprised the unpopulated areas of the West Bank having the bulk of the Jewish settlements in the territories, and strategically important to Israel, which retained sole security and civil control.


In actual fact such arrangement effectively split the territories into what is politically fashionable to call “Bantustans” – clusters of Palestinian populated territories, encircled by Jewish settlements complete with military outposts for the Israeli army to guard the settlements, and bypass roads connecting the settlement to Israel proper and which Palestinians cannot drive on. Apartheid was consolidated by giving Israel the opportunity to effectively create more “facts on the ground” (expand the Jewish settlements and increase the Jewish population in the West Bank, and military outposts for “security”). 


Thus, Palestinian autonomy did not extend to all the Palestinian territories.

Jerusalem, the most emotive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was left for “final status negotiations.”  Palestinians had no control on the city which the Palestinians view as the capital of their future state.  Confiscation of land and IDs of Jerusalemites continued, demolition of “unpermitted” houses remained unabated.  It was said that it was easier for a Gazan to travel to USA than to Jerusalem.


Movement from one area to the other area became extremely restricted for Palestinians, a restriction which did not exist while the West Bank and Gaza strip were under total Israeli occupation. 


Check points were installed at the entrance and exit of towns and cities in Area A which were manned by Israeli soldiers. For the sake of security for Israeli citizens Palestinians had to go through a stringent security check before they were allowed to enter Israel or territories under Areas “B” and “C” from those under Area “A”. 


“At the infamous Erez checkpoint, established in 1994, workers line up from 1 a.m. in order to pass, from 3 a.m., through 5 Palestinian and Israeli screening stations into Israel…….  When there is total closure there is no movement at all…….” 4


“Total closure” refers to the new punitive measure introduced by Israel after the establishment of Palestinian autonomy.  This was blockade and closures of Palestinian cities and towns to deal with Palestinian violence aimed at Israeli citizens, termed “collective punishment” by Palestinians.  A closure in Gaza confined almost 1 million people to the 147 square mile strip, with no exit to Israel, to Egypt or to the West Bank.  “Thus, “Oslo” and “the peace process (became) synonomous with mass internment and suffocating constriction.” 5


The powers itself in the PA’s hands were mostly nominal and decorative.  Gaza, where Palestinian autonomy started functioning was one of the poorest and most densely populated places in the world, a hotbed of militancy.  Yitzak Rabin had once said “If only it would sink into the sea”, and its transfer to Palestinian rule was a headache that Israel had rid itself of.


The PA, therefore, seemed to have settled for a “Palestinian Versailles” at Oslo, doing Israel’s bidding for its personal ambitions.  Life proved to be more difficult for Palestinians under their new found autonomy than it had been under Israeli occupation.


The PA’s rule also proved to be increasingly autocratic, high-handed, unaccountable and corrupt. 


“… Arafat set the tone of his military rule by staffing his government largely with PLO exiles from Tunis and other places. From the outset, a tension has existed between PLO staff coming from outside the territories and political leaders of the territories; …” 6


Elections were not really democratic as the PA stifled the opposition's ability to communicate with the public.


Human Rights Watch documented serious human rights violations by the PA : arbitrary arrest, detention without charge or trial, torture, grossly unfair trials and deaths in custody. In many cases these violations occurred in the aftermath of anti-Israeli violence, and reflected in part U.S. and Israeli pressure on the PA to crack down on militant Palestinian groups. The PA extradited Palestinians, suspected by Israel of terrorist activities, to Israel and this seemed like the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of the local population


“A … point worth highlighting about Oslo II is the way it cemented Palestinian commitment to Israel’s security, …… during Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. … 61 new Israeli military bases were to be established in the West Bank,…” 7


A vivid example of total commitment to Israel’s security and disregard for Palestinian rights, could be seen in the events that took place in Hebron, a city divided between 400 Jewish settlers and 120,000 Palestinians in the wake of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.  In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish fanatic entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, (Ibrahimi Mosque), a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, during Friday Muslim prayers and opened fire on Palestinians inside.  29 Palestinians died and several others were wounded, the direct consequence was a 2 week curfew that was imposed on the 120,000 Palestinians residents of the city, while the 400 settlers were free to move around!

On the other hand, security arrangements between both sides also facilitated extradition from Israel or identification and tracking down by Israeli intelligence those Palestinians, who posed a political threat to the Palestinian Authority. 

Freedom of speech was strictly clamped down on.  Books by people like Edward Said was banned in the territories.  Opposition was stifled. The PA’s style of govt. seemed to be an “imported style” of government, an extension of Israeli policy, now executed by Palestinians.  Security arrangements were seen to serve only the security of Israel and the Palestinian authority. 



The Paris protocol, signed in April 1994, established the interim-period economic relations between Israel and the PA. It established the “customs union” model, which is marked by the absence of economic borders between members of the union.  “The practical effect ……… was preservation of the economic relations that had existed until then, i.e. a Palestinian economy integrated in and dependent on the Israeli economy.” 8


Israel controlled economics, customs, taxes, movement of good across borders, dictated what and from whom Palestinians could buy goods, while simultaneously searching for newer markets themselves in the Arab world.  Mediocre Israeli good were sold to the Palestinians at double or triple times the original price. Palestinian economy was geared towards imports from Israel. Israel had the right to unilaterally establish and change taxes imposed on imported goods.  


The PA had to accept this model as Israel made its acceptance a condition for continuing to allow Palestinians to work in Israel, at a time when the PA was unable to provide employment in the autonomous areas to the tens of thousands of Palestinians working in Israel.


The implementation of projects which needed land were delayed and held up as Israel continued confiscating more and more Palestinian land. 


“The Paris Agreement, the economic protocol written after Oslo…..imposed almost total dependence on Israel.” 9

For its part, the Palestinian authority also indulged in economic corruption. Palestinian expatriate capital put many small local entrepreneurs out of business and were seen to be in league with the PA, who welcomed them back to the territories under its jurisdiction. Corruption flourished at the highest levels.  In 1997 a report generated by the Palestinian Council "found that $326 million of the Palestinian Authority's $800 million annual budget had been squandered through corruption and mismanagement." 10


“The per-capita income of Gazans may have fallen nearly 40 percent since the Oslo accords were signed in September 1993 but members of Arafat's inner circle have enriched themselves through corruption.”11


The European Union, one of the largest donors of aid to the PA, refused to give any more aid to it directly, instead, insisting on giving it directly to approved projects or organizations implementing them.


However, one of the greatest factors that was responsible for the failure of Palestinian experiment with autonomy was the lack of political will on the part of Israel.  While the Oslo accords were based on “land for peace deal” – on UNSC 226 and 338 – the withdrawal of Israel from territories occupied by it in 1967, Israel continued to expand Jewish settlements, illegal under international law, and build new ones. Of course, not a single settlement that existed prior to Oslo was evacuated. This was a direct violation of the spirit of Oslo, but since much in the Accords was not stated clearly but implied, there was no violation of the “letter of Oslo.” Israel argued that no clause in the Accords explicitly called for a halt to settlement activities or the dismantling of settlements that already existed prior to Oslo, as the issue of settlements for left for “final status negotiations.”


Deadlines were not fixed and this gave Israel the possibility of procrastinating, at every available opportunity, the fulfillment of its obligations.  Transfer of territory and funds to the PA, release of Palestinian prisoners were routinely delayed.  While Oslo II specified that Israeli troops were to withdraw from Palestinian territories in three phases starting in October 1996 and ending by October 1997, the territorial extend of the areas from which Israel was to withdraw by the completion of the third redeployment  was not clearly specified.


The second redeployment was delayed to the extent that it was completed only in March 21, 2000.  The third redeployment, of course, has still to start.  Instead of moving on to final status negotiations summits had to be convened to deal with outstanding issues.


All the above only went on to fuel Palestinian angst and frustration, as much as at Israel, so too at the Palestinian Authority.  It generated admiration and support for groups like Hamas, and Palestinian Jihad, which refused to accept the legitimacy of both the state of Israel and of the PA and were seen to be cleaner and more dedicated to the Palestinian cause.  Armed attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, both in the territories and inside Israel increased.  After each attack, Israel responded with closures of the territories under Palestinian autonomy and the result was that Palestinians, most of whom worked in Israel or on the Jewish settlements went without work for days.  Living standards amongst Palestinians continued to fall while the authorities lived lavish lives.  The “land for peace” deal turned into a “peace for peace” one.


“In practice, the Oslo agreements were founded on a neo-colonialist basis, on a life of dependence of one on the other for ever………it assumed ………that, when there will finally be peace ……, there will still be a situation of dependence, of a structured lack of equality between the two entities.” 7 (Shlomo Ben-Ami, A Place for All, Tel Aviv, 1998.)
Prior to the Oslo process the Palestinians had to suffer the yoke of Israeli occupation, after Oslo, they had to suffer the twin yoke of Israeli occupation as well as PA autocracy and corruption.

The Lessons of Oslo: 

The result is the new phase of violence and insecurity that Israel is facing, leading to its economic downslide and political isolation.     


The violence that the Palestinians resorted to in September 2000 was aggravated by Israel’s famously disproportionate reprisals.  This has given Israel the excuse to disregard every clause of the Oslo Accords and finally reoccupy all the Palestinian territories.  But security and peace still eludes it as Palestinian militancy, with intermittent lulls, continues. Thus, both the Israelis and Palestinians have been drawn, for the last three years, into the bloodiest confrontation that the century old conflict has witnessed. 

1.             Declarations of Principles on Interim Self-government Arrangements, Article I, Washington DC, 13 September, 1993.
2.             Bhaduri Aditi, Lessons to learn : Conversation with Hanan Ashrawi, The Sunday Statesman, Accent (Kolkata/New Delhi), 26 March 2002.
3.             The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West bank and the Gaza Strip, Article XIII, Washington DC, 28 September, 1995.
4.             Leon Dan, Gaza: The Human Dimension, Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economoics and Culture, vol. VII, No.1&2, Review Essay, Jerusalem 2000.
5.             Hass Amira, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, Metropolitan Books, New York, 1999.
6.             Leiter Kenneth C.W., Life Under the Palestinian Authority, Middle East Quarterly Review, Philadelphia, September, 1998.
7.             Hijab Nadia, Limitations fot eh Oslo Accords, Essay presented at talks at Brecht Forum, New York Marxist School, February 2001.
8.             Btselem, Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, The Palestinian Economy since the Oslo Accords, http://www.btselem.org, 2000.
9.             Shlomo Ben ami, a Place for All, Tel Aviv, 1998.
10.          Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1997.
11.          Leiter Kenneth C.W., Life Under the Palestinian Authority, Middle East Quarterly Review, Philadelphia, September, 1998.
12.          Shlomo Ben ami, a Place for All, Tel Aviv, 1998.



Panchayat Raj in West Bengal and the Quality of Resource Management

Author: Surajit C Mukhopadhyay


Democratisation of power, its dispersal away from historically created centres and empowering the local is the main focus of the panchayat experiment in West Bengal. The idea when first mooted, was to give the members of the various village communities a certain modicum of agency long denied by the centralised bureaucracy of a state that had found little time to change the colonial administration and its accompanying spirit of a top down development strategy. The 73rd Amendment provided the legal window that this political spirit needed and in West Bengal this was further buttressed by the West Bengal Panchayat (Amendment) law of 1994.


At the ground level this radicalising thrust of politics translated itself into the setting up of various local bodies like the ‘gram shabha’, the ‘gram sansad’ and beneficiary committees which were entrusted with the task of articulating the demands and aspirations of the villages. More importantly these bodies were seen as contributing to ‘people’s planning’ and marking a distinct shift away from the overtly centralising tendencies in matters of planning. This leads directly on to the question of resources being raised and managed at the local level by the panchayats in keeping with the wishes of the local populace as well as the question of autonomy. Autonomy can be conceptualised as the institutional arrangement of space that would allow the local initiative to operate without being stifled by the centres of power that are distant from the theatre of action. Panchayats ideally operate within this autonomous space and therefore for the success of the local government this is crucial as is the question of substantiveness of resources that are made available to these bodies.


The question of resources, without which no plans can be made, is usually seen as centred around capital, technologies and natural stocks. The resources that are social are usually hidden and implicit. By social I mean that which is constructed in and around human agency, discourses that do not necessarily depend only upon technicist resolutions but privilege human initiative and knowledge. More importantly these largely ignored alternatives have in their own ways shown the importance and ability of society to animate technology, capital and such other inert resources. In the running of the panchayats the harnessing of the local populace, that is the empowerment of the local, has unearthed this hitherto untapped resource.


One important consequence of asking locals to decide for themselves can be seen in the activating of civil society institutions – the political parties, mass organisations (and the fronts), local clubs and voluntary organisations. I would like to argue that this political initiative has unleashed the key element needed in the management of resources in the rural areas. This has had its impact in managing other resources like labour, skill, land, irrigation facilities, cottage / small-scale industries that are within the ambit of the panchayats. Recently in several panchayats animal husbandry, poultry farming etc. are being seen as resources that would be beneficial for the economic development of the local populace.


As an example let me cite the manner in which the available labour in a particular rural area is sought to be used. (The methodology of such utilisation of labour / skill is however pre-determined by the panchayat ministry.) If there are 400 workers available and if they can on an average work for 275 days in a year then the total labour power accessible is taken to be 400 X 275 or 110,000 man-days. This computation allows the gram sabha members to calculate productivity and the optimal utilisation of labour availability. Labour power not being harnessed for crop cultivation is then diverted to other activities like cleaning of water bodies, building roads or the making of compost pits. The management of labour is in these cases linked with the several developmental programmes like the Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojna (JGSY), the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), Integrated Children’s Development Scheme (ICDS), etc.


Our research in areas of South Bengal, notably Burdwan shows how the gram panchayats have been managing resources that it has access to. In a village named Natu, in 1994-95 through utilisation of labour not engaged in paddy cultivation, about 100 man-days were created through construction activities. In 1998- 99 through canal cleaning / dredging activities about 700 man-days were moreover created. This ability of the local people to create additional jobs has a larger implication for the rural people. A survey in a village called Kadigacha shows that in 1980-81 46.84% of the households were below the poverty line (BPL) whereas in 2001 the figure dropped to 9.65%. In 1980-81 the job availability figures (in man-days) was 12,250 whereas in 2000-01 this was 18,500.


The wider ramifications of this increase in jobs and by implication income, is reflected in the manner of the increase in literacy in that village. In 1981 30.25% of the village population was literate in contrast to the Burdwan district figure of 42.43% and West Bengal figure of 40.94%. In 1992 when Burdwan district claimed 100% literacy 70.25% of the villagers in Kadigacha were literate and in 2001 the figure was 80.20%.


One of the most interesting experiments in management of resources undertaken by the panchayats is to be found within the co-operative movement. The co-operatives institutionally combine in themselves the economically embedded rationale of accounting as well as the more politically driven ideas of resource utilisation and development practices. The Panchayat Department of the Government of West Bengal had in a directive issued in 2001 asked the panchayats to create and run co-operatives for the development of industrial and agricultural produce where such co-operatives are absent.


The importance of the co-operatives in managing and developing resources in the rural areas of West Bengal takes on added significance when one recognises the fact that such co-operatives were disintegrating due to factors like lack of earnestness on the part of the office-bearers of the co-ops and the failure to recover loans advanced to the members. This created a lack of confidence in the co-operative as an institution and a virtual paralysis of the entire co-op credit structure in the state.


The turn around in the fortunes of the co-ops was made possible by the political control that the CPI (M) in particular and the Left Front in general could generate post 1977. The Krishak Sabha (the peasant front of the CPI and later the CPI (M)) had always seen the co-ops as an instrument of struggle against the influence of the moneylenders and other vested interests in the villages. After the Left Front’s victory in 1977 there was a conscious effort on the part of the CPI (M) to control the decision making bodies of the district co-ops and use it as a complementary institutional support to the larger concerns of the peasant movement.


Having secured the co-ops politically and directed them to the tasks set by larger political considerations - for example the mobilisation of landless and marginal farmers- the Kisan Sabha, the panchayats and the party acted in concert to manage the problems of development through the co-ops. In many cases the co-ops had as the Chairman of the Board of Directors the pradhan of the local panchayat.


The turnaround in political fortunes meant an equally important turnaround in the fortunes of the co-operatives, especially in terms of managing resources and financing schemes that the panchayats would take up. In a study conducted in 1991, we found that nearly the Burdwan Central Co-operative Bank Ltd funded 50% of the District Credit Plan Target. The political move to decentralise administration and empower the panchayats to reflect the aspirations of the local populace has its parallel experience in the co-operatives whose board of directors are elected from among the local populace. Thus an intimate connection between the panchayats (the local government) and the co-operatives (a socio-economic institution) has developed in relation to the demands of resource generation and mobilisation in the rural areas.


The success of the co-ops and its role in implementing the tasks set by the panchayats have been largely made possible by the network of trust that has been created in the villages. This has made it possible for the co-ops to deliver the goods demanded of them – an example of which is the better loan recovery that is evident since the early 1980s. In other words, the quality of resource management is dependent on a happy coming together of institutions and people, in this case made possible by providing the communities with the wherewithal necessary to implement the several schemes that is taken up at the village level.


Experience of Autonomous District Council in the North East India with special reference to Tripura State

Author: Hebal Abel Koloy, Agartala,Twipra.


The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was set up in 1979 under the 7th schedule to the Constitution of India. The Council came under the purview of the sixth Schedule with effect from 1st April 1985 by 49th amendment to the Constitution of India. The areas of the TTAADC is about 7,132,56 Sq.km. which covers about 68 % of the total area of the state i,e,10,491,69 Sq.km. There are 30 members in the TTAADC out of which 2 members are nominated by the Governor while 28 members are directly elected through Adult suffrage but it is to be mentioned here that 3 seats are unreserved out of 30 seats  and in the unreserved seats even non-tribal can contest too.


The main purpose of forming the Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India is to protect and safeguard  the tribal communities in respect of lands, forests, social customs and practices. In order to achieve these aims the Constitution has given ample powers to the tribal people to form their District Council with Autonomous powers to make laws on various subjects applicable to them as enshrined in the 6th Schedule to the Constitution of India. The Sixth schedule was based on the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on the tribal and excluded areas of Assam(Bordoloi Sub-Committee) set up by the Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly.


Lack of adequate infrastructure, geographical isolation and the ethnic problem have severely restricted socio-economic development of the ADC areas. The percentage of people living below poverty line in TTAADC area is much higher than the state average of 73.58 %.The economy is agrarian  basically substance agriculture, mostly based on jhumming(shifting cultivation).Since the area included in the District Council is very backward and undeveloped, it requires mobilization of large resources to promote economic upliftment of the people residing in the area. To execute the various schemes/programmes as chalked out by the District Council adequate financial support is necessary. For this purpose, the District Council is entirely dependent on the plan fund made available by the State Govt. One of the factors which put the Council in a very tight financial position was that the Council had not been able to devote sufficient funds out of their own resources for welfare and development programmes though the District Council under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India has been vested with certain powers as enumerated thereon, which mainly relate to local development such as primary schools, social education centres, markets, cottage industries, village roads etc. In order to cover the expenditure the Council has to depend on the grants-in-aid given by the State Govt. and the shares of royalties  as per the paragraph 9 of the Sixth Schedule. In this respect the Council has to approach the State Govt. for financial aid to meet their budget deficit. The Council has been experiencing serious financial constraint as the State sometimes do not sent money in time and this is more so when there is political differences between the District Council and the State. One of the major contributing factors towards the stagnation  in the economy of the TTAADC was the lack of any major development activities by the Council. The District Council wanted that the State Govt.of Tripura should provide sufficient fund to enable the Council to take up suitable developmental schemes.The State Govt. on the other hand, expected the District  Council to meet the finances for development, at least partly from their own resources. Although the Council has to depend on the shares of royalties collected by the State Govt. but it may be noted that the payment of shares were not in time. The State Govt. instead of paying the Council’s dues regularly, adopted the policy of deducting the Council’s shares for other purposes. This has put the Council in financial hardship. As a newly constituted District Council the collection of revenue is yet to begin. According to the Executive decision of the State Govt.(share of taxes),depending on the assessment of the actual amount of taxes collected from the ADC areas, a fixed percentage of the total tax collection by the State would be assigned to the District Council as follows:


  1. 25 %  of  Professional Tax

  2. 40 % of Land Revenue

  3. 50 % of Agricultural income Tax

  4. 75 % of Forest Revenue.


   The District Council receives fund from the State Govt. under three sources namely:


1.       Plan fund

2.       Share of Taxes

3.       Transfer of funds from various departments of the State Govt.


For Administrative supervision, the TTAADC has created the following  Infrastructure of its own:


Sl.No.        Infrastructure                                                   Number

1.                Zonal  Office                                                       4

2.                Sub-Zonal Office                                                  34

3.                Engineering Division                                            3

4.                Engineering Sub-Division                                      12

5.                School Inspectorates                                           17

6.                Circle Office of Education                                     64

7.                Inspectorate of Social Education                           3

8.               Education Sector Office                                        34


To run these offices the TTAADC has appointed about 8,000 staffs in different categories including 3,286 transferred staffs of Education Deptt.of State Govt.on deputation till date.


The District Council in the true sense of the term, is the instrument by which the tribal people can restrain people from other State to settle in the Autonomous areas. But because of some vested interests the Sixth schedule has failed to fulfill the political aspirations of the tribal people of Tripura. In fact, the provisions contained in the sixth schedule are for protecting the tribal interests but the Council as an Institution is not fully responsible for safeguarding the customs and traditions of the tribal people. It seems that members of the Council devote their time and thought to development work rather than enactment of laws for the protection of land and the codification etc. In all aspects the failure of the District Council was because of political pressure, lack of leadership and common infightings among the members of various political parties, misusing of powers and misusing the funds of the Council. However, the Council members do not appear to have realized that with the formation of TTAADC the status of the TTAADC has been reduced more or less to that of a Municipal Board. Thus the working of the Sixth schedule is defective and has failed to satisfy the aspirations of the tribal people in Tripura as a whole.


In view of the above statement the members of the Council felt that there should be a suitable amendment of the Sixth schedule to the Constitution. They also pointed out some of the issues to be considered for proper functioning of the TTAADC.


  1. Amendment of sixth schedule should be made as early as possible for more administrative and financial powers to the District Council which are absolutely necessary to function effectively. The 73rd and 74th amendment to the Constitution have been effected since 1993 giving Panchayats Bodies more powers for developmental activities as compared to the District Councils.

  2. In order to protect the interest of the tribal community as enshrined in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, it is felt necessary to impose reasonable restrictions on the entry and settlement of communities other than tribal communities in TTAADC area by introducing Innerline Permit in ADC areas.

  3. The Home Ministries should recommend direct grant from Planning Commission and the respective Ministers to the Autonomous District Council for all round development of ADC areas.

  4. It is proposed that all funds from Rural Development of the State Govt. should be placed to TTAADC for proper execution of the works.

  5. It is proposed that the ADC may be vested with necessary powers to control the Armed police  for proper and better co-ordination of security in TTAADC areas

  6. It is also felt absolutely necessary that Chief Executive  Member of the District Council should be appointed as the Vice-chairman of the State Planning Board.

  7. All the Chief Executive Members of the District Councils of the North Eastern Region should be included in the NEC.

  8. It is felt that necessary powers may be delegated to the TTAADC authority for implementation of Land Reform Act in the ADC areas.

  9. Regarding the handing over of the Nine Departments to TTAADC. The State Govt. in R.D. Department have issued a memorandum on 28-03-200(vide No.F.4(1-51)PE/PR/97/18512-629 dt.28-03-2000)assigning powers and functions of Agri. Deptt., M.I.Deptt. Fisheries Deptt. ARDD Deptt., PWD Deptt. including IFC and PHE Education Department, Power Department, Health and Family Welfare, R.D .Deptt. and R.D(Panchayat).In the said memo it has been instructed that the concerned departments shall issue suitable detailed order and instructions indicating operational details. No action has yet been taken in this matter. Necessary steps should be taken by the State Govt. for handing over the above Departments immediately.




  1. S.K.Chaube, Hill Politics in the North East India(New Delhi,1976)

  2. E.Jyrwa, NEHU, “Relevance of the sixth Schedule in Meghalaya Today.” A few points to Ponder.

  3. Conceptualised paper by Tripura Tribal Employee’s Association, Towards Greater Autonomy for Tripura District Council,Agartala,1998.

  4. Memorandum submitted by the Chief Executive Member, TTAADC, Mr. Debabrata Koloy in the Conference on “Problems and Prospects of Working of the Autonomous District Council of the North Eastern Region”dated 11th-12th January 2001.

  5. Memorandum submitted by the Chief Executive Member, Mr.Kripa Mohan Riang to the Chairman of North Eastern Council, dated 22nd April 2001.


The voice of autonomy in the publications of West Bengal Minority

Author: Abdur Rauf


When it is described as ‘voices of autonomy in the publications of West Bengal Minority’ the terminology used here may be misguiding. If by minority we mean Muslims, Christians or Buddhists, it should be noted that they do not demand any ‘autonomy’ in the political connotation of this term. Although it is true that they have aspiration for some special rights to protect their socio-economic and political interest and to preserve their religio-cultural identity.


Buddhists of West Bengal are a very small minority in number. Still they are in the position to assert their existence at least in Kolkata. They have a large temple in central Kolkata and adjacent with that they maintain centre for religio-cultural activities. There they run an organisation called ‘Buddha Dharmankur Sabha’ or The Bengal Buddhist Association. On behalf of this organisation they do publish a bilingual (English & Bengali) quarterly magazine of quality called ‘Jagajjyoti’. Mainly through this magazine Buddhists of Bengal ventilate their urge to unite themselves and also their aspirations to highlight their socio-cultural and political identity. In the personal matter or in the family affair they do not want to be governed by the Hindu law. They demand their own Personal Law. The Christians of West Bengal are a numerically larger Minority than the Buddhists of this state. They do play a very significant role in the educational scenario of this state through some excellent educational institutions organised and managed by them. Almost all of their educational centres are adjacent with the big and beautiful churches. Centring these churches they do publish several literatures mostly to preach their religious message. Other than the church literature Bengali Christians of West Bengal publish some periodicals in Bengali a few of which carry high literacy standard. Such as ‘Mohana’ and ‘Nabayan’ are to be mentioned with reverence. Some of the other periodicals are ‘Bangla Herald’, ‘Jiban o Bani’, ‘Prasanga Alochana’, ‘Prohari’ etc mostly monthly or quarterly.


In these periodicals and magazines Bengali Christians pronounce their anxiety about their security in the all-India perspective particularly in the situation created by Hindu fundamentalist organisations in the north, northwest and central India. In West Bengal also they have local resentments regarding the safety of their Church property. In most cases Churches have very much lucrative prime land real estate property. Sometimes local goons with the political backing become aggressive to grab the portions of these lucrative real estates. Christians of this state are very much worried with this type of grabbing tendency. And they ventilate their worries through periodicals and other literatures of their own.


Actually the Buddhists and the Christians Minority of West Bengal deserve separate attention. To avoid the lengthiness of the paper I want to concentrate only on the largest Minority i.e. the Muslims of West Bengal, particularly on the Bengali speaking Muslims.


The Muslims are nearly about one fourth of the total West Bengal population. Among the around two crore Muslims of this state ninety five percent are Bengali speaking. And the rest are Urdu speaking. But in the political scenario of the state Urdu speaking play the dominant role in comparison with the Bengali speaking Muslims. Reason is obvious Urdu speaking Muslims are mostly urban people. They do live in some particular areas of Kolkata and suburbs in the different ghettos. This type of living condition has some advantages. In any issue related to the socio-political and religious repercussion hurting the sentiment of the Muslims they can assert themselves in a very organised fashion. Moreover they have six dailies in their hand to ventilate their grievances and to motivate their people to come out with the loud protest.


In comparison with them Bengali speaking Muslims are scattered; they are mostly rural people. So in the socio-economic political religious issues, which affect their interest, their reaction in most cases is very much delayed and feeble in nature. They have not a single daily newspaper of their own which can speak for them. The newly developed elites of this community are bound to keep themselves satisfied either with the English dailies or Bengali dailies not organised, managed or published by them. In these dailies sometimes Bengali Muslim elites express their thoughts but with strains, keeping anxiety in their mind that their standpoint may not be entertained or may be misunderstood. A few of them aligned themselves with the Hindu elites ignoring the interest or the real self of the Muslims pretending to be ultra secular. Naturally in their own society they become condemned. They do not represent the Muslims mind in the mainstream media managed by the non-Muslims.


In West Bengal other than some weekly news cum views papers, some monthly magazines and some occasional periodicals there does not exist any large-scale media managed by the Bengali speaking Muslims. In their mostly below standard weeklies and other Periodicals they feel free to express their own self. Here names of some prominent Weeklies published from Kolkata may be mentioned such as ‘Natun Goti’; ‘Kalam’ and ‘Mijan’. These three weeklies maintain regularity in their publications. Other than these three there are several Weeklies Monthlies, which carry news cum views, published from Kolkata and Mofussil towns. Occasional periodicals published by the West Bengal Bengali speaking Muslims are huge in number. The names of a few of them are mentioned here: ‘Aahvan’, ‘Sachetan’, ‘Pragati’, ‘Ikra’, ‘Natun Saogat’, ‘Al Habil’, ‘Naba Pallab’, ‘Apanjan’, ‘Alor Doot’, etc.


In these Weeklies, Monthlies and other occasional periodicals the questions of discrimination in the field of employment, social humiliation, unjust harassment by the security authorities in the different pretext, come up time and again. Muslims feel discriminated wherever they seek government employment or bank loans for self-employment. They voice their disagreement on the qualification question. They put the counter question how much qualifications are required to get job of a bearer or peon, i.e. job of class four employee. Why in this job also Muslims numbers are so few? Reason is simple, the discriminatory or communal attitude of the concerned authority. As an antidote to this discriminatory attitude a section of Muslims are demanding reservation to ensure at least a little portion of Government jobs for the economically weaker section of their community.


They demand reservation in the educational institutions also. In the standard schools and colleges their children get chances to be admitted in a very few cases. For backward social and family environmental background generally their children initially do not develop enough competence to get chances to be admitted in the schools, colleges and universities of quality. So to give chances to their children to attain better efficiency availing the better learning opportunities in the relatively better educational institutions Muslims demand reservation.


The social humiliation is also a burning question, which comes up in the discussion in their own publications by the Muslims. In the several occasions in the predominantly majority community gathering even educated Muslims do not feel free after revelation of their religious identity. Sometimes it is revealed by the use of their vocabularies like ‘Pani’, ‘Abba’, ‘Amma’, ‘Chacha’, ‘fufu’, ‘khala’ etc, which signify that they belong to the Muslim community. In the public places sometimes this type of revealation creates embarrassing situation for the Muslims. Those Muslims who are not willing to conceal their identity wear the typical dress of long Punjabi, Pajama and topi having beard with shaven moustache nowadays often become object of taunts and abuses in the public places. Their urgent mission in the government offices and other offices also often confront with the unnecessary harassments. These are the incidents of social humiliation Muslims resent in the publications run by them.


They also resent unjust harassments by the different security authorities in their medias. This phenomenon has been increased in the recent time after the rising much ado about terrorism and ISI activities in West Bengal being the bordering state. The police and other security authorities are implicating many innocent Muslims in the plea that they are having relation with the terrorist activities or ISI agents. In most of the cases ultimately they do prove nothing. But these communally biased security people are not willing to take extra precaution before implicating some innocent Muslims taking lesson from the experiences of past failures. They just harass them on the basis of hypothetical suspicion. These are the incidents, which are often resented in the publications run by the Muslims.


At the end the incident of the unjust harassment of different private madrasas only on the basis of hypothetical suspicion must be mentioned. It is commonly believed that at least some of the private madrasas indulge in so called jehadi thinking and terrorist activities. But till now not a single madrasa has been found to be declared as guilty for indulging these activities. Still a section of majority community believe, government is restraining itself to take action against any madrasa in the fear of losing Muslims votes. Muslims are very much perturbed with this type of propaganda. They consider it as a motivated attack on their private madrasa education system in the design to destroy their identity as Muslim. A great section of Muslims consider their private madrasa education system a means to sustain their religious identity. Running after the modern education for all of the children of the society they are not willing to destroy their identity. That is the reason they are eagerly expressing their desire to blend the modern education with the Islamic education. In this direction they have already developed several standard educational institutions having declared aforesaid objectives. Now they are urging the concerned authority to give minority status to those institutions, along with that they demand the same status to the government recognised madrasas also. These particular views reflected in the West Bengal Muslims publications may be termed as voice of autonomy indeed.


Section Three


[List of Participants]


Paula BANERJEE                                                                      Sanjay BARBORA

GD-273, Sector- III, Salt Lake City                                               North Eastern Social Research

Kolkata – 700 091                                                                      Centre, Kharghuli Road

Phone: 23347222/23218222                                                        Guwahati - 781004

E-mail: paulaban@cal.vsnl.net.in                                                 Phone: 0361-2602819 (r)

                                                                                                0361-2631960 (o)

                                                                                                Mobile: 0-9864038759

                                                                                                E-mail: xonzoi@hotmail.com


Aditi BHADURI                                                                          Prodip Kumar BOSE

49B, Southern Avenue                                                                363, Parnasree Pally     

Kolkata – 700 029                                                                      Kolkata – 700 060

Phone: 2466-1706                                                                      Phone: 24627252/24512482

Mobile: 9830244549                                                                   Email: prodipbose@hotmail.com

E-mail: aditi_cal@yahoo.com                                                      pkbose@vsnl.net


Tapan Kumar BOSE                                                                   Gautam CHAKMA                     

B-10, Green Park                                                                       University of Tripura       

New Delhi – 110 016                                                                  Suryamaninagar – 799130         

Phone: 011-26867694                                                                 Tripura West, Tripura                 

E-mail: tbose@safhr.org                                                             Phone: 0381-2324459                            

E-mail: gchakma@yahoo.com


Subhas Ranjan CHAKRABORTY                                                 Khesheli Z. CHISHI                   

BB-45, Salt Lake City                                                                 Post Box- 160  

Kolkata- 700 064                                                                        Kohima                        

Phone: 23379786                                                                       Nagaland                                  

Email: subhasranjan@rediffmail.com                               Phone: 0370-2223319                                                                                                                                        

Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chowdhury                                         Samir Kumar DAS        

DA-87 Salt Lake City,                                                                 Flat- B3, 6/8, Central Park

Kolkata – 700 064                                                                      Kolkata- 700 032

Phone: 23373732                                                                       Phone: 24254023/23438755

Mobile: 9830229434                                                                   Mobile: 9830210265

Email: sbrc@vsnl.com                                                                Email: skdas17@rediffmail.com




Gurudas DAS                                                                            Ashok Kumar GIRI        

Deparment of Economics                                                            GD-273, Sector – III, Salt Lake City        

North Eastern Hill University                                                        Kolkata – 700 091

Shillong- 14                                                                               Phone: 23347222/23218222       

Phone: 2233856 (r), 2231631 (o)

E-mil: gurudas_das@yahoo.co.in



Achumbemo KIKON                                                                   Udayon MISRA             

Naga Club Building                                                                     Dibrugarh University      

Kohima - 797001, Nagaland                                                        Dibrugrah – 786004, Assam

Phone: 0370-2244535                                                                 Phone: 0373-2370213    

Email: npmhr1@usa.net                                                             Email: udayon_misra@yahoo.com


Ayan MUKHERJEE                                                                    Surajit C. MUKHOPADHYAY     

28/A, Mohendra Bose Lane                                                         FE-331, Sector- III, Salt Lake City

Kolkata – 700 003                                                                      Kolkata – 700 106

Phone: 25309541/25551523                                                        Phone: 23215277

Email: ayan_india@vsnl.net                                                        Email: surajitm@tathy.com



Abdur RAUF                                                                              Ranabir SAMADDAR     

7, Mehar Ali Road                                                                      SAFHR, Patan Dhoka

Kolkata – 700 017                                                                      Lalitpur, Nepal  

Phone: 22478391                                                                       Phone: 977-1-5541026 (o)

Email: arauf88@hotamil.com                                                      Email: ranabir@safhr.org



Gina SHANGKHAM                                                                   Bhupen SARMAH                     

Broadway Complex                                                                    OKD, Institute of Social Change

Senapati – 795106, Manipur                                                        and Development

Phone: 03878-222099                                                                 K, K, Bhatta Road

            977-1-5544828 (r)                                                           Chenikuthi, Guwahati-3, Assam

Email: nagawomen@yahoo.co.in                                                 Phone: 0361-2458088 (r)

                                                                                                Mobile: 0-9864038580

                                                                                                E-mail: bsarmah@hotamil.com


Malini SUR                                                                                Kumar SURESH           

16-C, Karnaphuli                                                                        Off Add: Centre for Federal Studies

Garden City, Kakrail                                                                   Jamia Hamdard

Dhaka- 1000                                                                              New Delhi – 110 062

Phone: 0088019365269                                                              Res Add: J-204, Neelpadam Kunj

E-mail: malini_sur@yahoo.co.in                                                  Vaishali, Gaziabad- 201010

             sur@ssrc.org                                                                Phone: 11-11-26059674, Ext. 5889 (o)

                                                                                                            11-11-26059688, Ext. 5889 (o)

                                                                                                            11-0120-2778095 (r)

                                                                                                            11-0120-2778095 (r)

                                                                                                Email: kumar_suresh45@hotmail.com


David SYIEMLIEH                                                                      C. Joshua THOMAS

History Department                                                                    ICSSR-NERC

NEHU                                                                                       Nongthymmai

Shillong                                                                                     Shillong – 793014

Phone: 0384-2550189(o)                                                             Phone: 0364-2231173 (o),

0384-2221345 (r)                                                                                    0364-2501817 (r)

E-mail: syiemlieh@hotmail.com                                                  Email: icssnerc@sancharnet.in



[1] G.B. Pant, cited in the Constituent Assembly Debates- Vol. VII, p. 865.

[2] Omalley,op.cit. p22

[3] DGHC Act ( Act XIII of 1988), Corrected up to 1.1.97. Hill Affairs Department, Government of west Bengal

[4] One is referring to the geographical frontiers of the modern nation-state, which is the subject of this paper. However, one is acutely aware of the fact that the nation-building process in India has created an elite core that mimes the dominant ethnic, caste and class character and creates a series of frontiers between those who are desirable and those that need to be excluded. The elaborate system of “gating” in upmarket localities of cities such as Delhi is a prime example of how frontiers are created by dismembering notions of citizenship by other considerations like property, security and wealth. This paper is aware of this phenomenon but wishes to focus on what has happened in the process of harnessing regions and peoples living in the margins of feudal empires into the post-colonial nation.

[5] Sanjib Bauah, 2000