Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

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Fractured World

Demographic change is the most immediate source of conflict in the Far Eastern Himalaya. Unwanted migrants are on the move across the region, in tens of thousands, trailing confrontations in their wake. Mass movement in a traditionally insular area invites linguistic, ethnic and religious strife. Settlement of an alien

Insurgent militiaman in Burma's Shan mountains.

Tea garden life is very un-aboriginal.

HIMAL May/June J995


population leads to battle over resources, particularly land.

South Asia saw its largest migration during the Partition, and the Northeast was not spared. Though not on the same scale, exoduses and influxes continue, of both political refugees and economic migrants. National governments, which have their own political calculations to make, are not necessarily averse to population movements, for they can

Northeast Rebel Rundown


The first to rise against independent India were the )
Ntagaj whose movement is today split into thrbe major
factions. The most powerful is the leftist NSCK UxLby I
Isak Swu and Thenguil&ng Muivah. The" K#izo and'
'Manipuri revoltsfollowed in quick succession; Whereas.: ■
the Naga and Mizo rebels were Christian hillfolk, the:
Manipttri troubles were led by young militants of the
Hindu plains-dwelling Meitei. They had a working :
aUiancewith the Kachin Independence Army in Burma
andat least one group has ties with the NSCN. The Mizo
(also known as the Lushai) insurgency lasted from-1966
and 1986, and in their initial success they captured
several towns Including the capital of MizMam,
Atzawal, and a radio station. The end of Pakistani
support after 1971 led to a weakening of the force, and
by 1980 the rebels were negotiating a surrender. An
accord was signed in 1987 between Rajiv Gandhi and
Laldenga, President of the Mizo National Front. The
Tripura insurgency was a reaction against the arrival of
Hindu Bengalis from Bangladesh and ended after New
Delhi offered more representation for tribals in the:
state legislature and a pledge to stop illegal migration
and land alienation. However, this political
arrangement has not been satisfactory and militant '
activity has resumed, aimed at Bengali settlers and ,
security troops. Assam, which had long been untouched
by violent rebellion and wasalways regarded as part of
the Indian "nationalmainstream", also sawinsurgency
with the rise of the United liberation Front of Asom
(ULFA), which pledged armed struggle for
independence. The organisation fell apart under
sustained military operations in 1991, but is said to be
regrouping in Bangladesh and in parts of Assam. The
most recent rebellion is that of the Bodo, an indigenous
tribe of 1.1 million that lives in pockets along the
northern Brahmaputra Valley. They want a separate
state. An autonomous council was hastily announced
by New Delhi in 1992 but it has not worked. The
militant-minded Bodo Security Force is trying to force
non-Bodos to flee its region with a series of well-
planned attacks on vulnerable targets. - S.H,

be used ad vantageo usly as vote banks, to open up frontier lands to economic exploitation, or as part of pacifi­cation and assimilation policies towards hostile local populationsas evident in the 'Han-isation' of Tibet by the China.

Indeed, the best orchestrated, and ongoing, migratory pattern is to be found north of the Himalayan divide, where people from mainland China are moving all the way into the TibetanheartlandofUTsang,andnot just the outer provinces of Kham and Amdo. The Dalai Lama's aides maintain that the original population of six million Tibetans is being overwhelmed by the Han invasion. The official Chinese figures are far lower: they put the population within the Tibet Autonomous Region {excluding large sections who live in Kham and Amdo) at 2,12 million, and the number of Han Chinese at 79,000 {but excluding the tens of thousands of troo psandChinesecadreswholive without permanent resident status).

Once the migrants or refugees arrive,theimmediatecauseofconflict is the question of land and its control. For host communities whose very cultures are derived from the soil and forests, the loss of land to migrant groups means a shedding of cultural identity. Population movements have affected every state in the Indian Northeast, and in two of them the original inhabitants have by now become minorities in their own landwhich is the fear that impels all Northeasterners to react against migration.

One state whose indigenous inhabitants are now tiny minorities is Sikkim, where the Lepcha and Bhutia were overwhelmed over the course of the first half of the century by an inflow of Nepali-speakers. In was manipulation of the Nepali majority by New Delhi's political leadership which led to the kingdom's merger with the Indian Union in 1973.

The other state where the locals have become a minority is Tripura, the narrow thumb that juts into Bangladesh from the southeast of

Assam. Once dominated by 19 Buddhist and Christian tribes, the state has been swamped by Hindu refugees from Bangladesh since the 1950s. In 1947, Tripura had a population of 600,000of whom 93 percent were from the indigenous tribes. By 1981, the tribes had been reduced toa minority of 28.5 percent, out of a population of 2.06 million. Political power slipped out of the tribals' hands as they were displaced by the settlers. An insur­gency began against the Bengali settlers in 1980 but it had ended by 1988.

Rejected Peoples

Numerous comm uni ties in th is region constitute what political scientist Myron Weiner refers to as "rejected peoples". Count among them the Bangladeshi migrants in Assam, Chakma refugees in Arunachal and Tripura, the Rohingya refugees from Burma now taking shelter in Bangladesh, and the Lhotshampa refugees of Bhutan.

Bangladeshi. In few regions has the impact of population movement been as vivid, painful or divisiveas in Assam. Its wide and fertile valley watered by the Bra hm aputra, the state has long suffered from the depreda­tions of migration, settlement and subsequent conflict. The place of origin for most of the migrants has been Bangladesh, which has a population density of more than 800 persons per sq km—the highest in the world. The corresponding density in the Northeast is 284 for Assam, 262 for Tripura and 33 for Mizoram. The "push" and "pull" factors are obvious.

Even unskilled labourers find a ready market asconstruction workers, porters and maids in the Northeast. Language is the key factor favouring Bangladeshi migrants, for Bengali is widely spoken in Assam and understood in the hinterland. The biggest outflow of Bangladeshis took place in 1970, whena brutal Pakistani army crackdown sent more than 10 million fleeing into India. Most went back, but more than a million stayed behind in West Bengal and Assam.


May/June T995 HIMAL

Influx into Assam continues today, largely due to economic and environmental conditions within a Bangladesh which seems to lurch through an unending cycle of flood, cyclone, drought and famine.

Reaction against immigrantshas exploded several times in bloodshed and rioting. Movements against 'Bangladeshis' have shaken the Northeast since 1979, particularly in Assam, which has taken the brunt of the immigration. The c on flict has been exacerbated by the fact that the migrants and their descendants are predominantly Muslim whereas

the Assamese are largely Hindu. Today, the very word 'Bangladeshi' has taken on a pejorative meaning in Assam.

Attempts to get the refugees to return have only resulted in more tension and violence. Meanwhile, for decades, police and high officialsand especially politicians—have actively encouraged illegal migration because of the profits involved and the advantages of engaging in "vote bank politics".

The price, as always, is paid by innocent people, mo st brutally i n 1983 when more than 4000 men, women and children, mostly Muslim settlers, were slaughtered in a series of pogroms in Assam during an election. The worst killings occurred in rice fields of the village of Nellie, where at least 1,700 were butchered.

Land was the source of conflict: the settlers had taken over—bought or bartered—property from locals even though such transactions were prohibited for non-tribals. However, there was poor implementation of land and tenancy laws, and there were politicianswhodependedonsupport from the Muslim vote bank. Over the years, resentment over dispossession built up in the Lalung tribe, until it finally exploded in 1983.

Although the violence against the Bangladeshi has ebbed, the settlers continue to be targets of distrust and political abuse. Lately, they have

fallen victim to insurgency in the region, with frequent attacks on them by armed members of the Bodo Security Force in west­ern Assam.

Chakma. Population move­ments are fed by remorseless factors. Take the case of the Chakma; they seek refuge in Tripura because they area religious minority, because their rights are being trampled upon, because their lands are being settled by Bengal i-speakers in the Ch ittagong Hill Tracts, and because their loyalty is questioned by Dhaka. Even after decades, in some cases, the Chakma refugees have not been able to settle down in the host region, whether it is Arunachal Pradesh or Tripura.

Chittagong's hill tracts cover 5093 sq miles, or 16 percent of Bangladesh's surface area. Marked by

teak forests, swift streams, and undulating valleys, the area is bounded by Assam to the north, upper Burma to the east, the Arakan of Burma to the south, and Chittagong District to the west. There are 12 major tribes, largely Buddhist, who practice jhumming, or swidden agriculture.

When the Pakistan government completed the Kaptai hydro-electric project in 1964, the reservoir flooded about 40 percent of the arable land in the region and displaced more than 100,000 tribals. An estimated 20,000, mostly Chakmas but also some Mogs and Jajongs, moved across the frontier into Tripura. The refugees were first moved to the Lushai Hills, now Mizoram,and then offered achoiceof three locations by the Indian authorities. They chosetheNorthEast Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now Arunachal Pradesh.

While lightly populated Arunachal Pradesh—which was attacked and briefly annexed by China during the Indo-China war of 1962— has been one of the more quiet places of the Northeast, over the past year it too has become tense. The immediate reason is that the migrant Chakmas already make up seven percent of the population of 700,000. Student organisations have started a sustained campaign to oust the migrants, who have been threatened and intimi­dated, thou sand s fleeing to the relative safety of Assam.

Among the many contradict ions that remain unresolved in the Northeast is the question of nationality. While the Indian Constitution states that any child born in India is a citizen, thousands of Chakma offspring who have been born in Arunachal since the 1960s have not been absorbed by India. On the other hand, if the children are to be accepted, where are the parents to go? The state which they fled does not exist, and the successor state of Bangladesh does not recognise them as nationals.

The larger and more recent influx of Chakmas has less to do with the

Bengali Muslim complaining to Assamesse politician.

HIMAL Mayta? 1995


Kaptai Dam and more with population movements within Bangladesh. The root cause lies in Dhaka's programme to settle the Chittagong hills with Muslim Bengalis from the over-populated delta region. This concerted move to

'Bengalise' the region drew sharp reaction, culminating in an armed revolt in the 1970s by an armed group calling itself the Shanti Bahini. There have been several bouts of conflict in the past 20 years between the Bangla­deshi armed forces and the tribal

nationalists, who have received armed and training support from New Delhi's security agencies.

The Dhaka government's crackdown was been brutal. It devastated culture, kinship ties and tradition, which resulted in refugee

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