Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

Concern for the Northeast

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Aseries of reports in recent weeks in thelndian press indicates that . concern for the Northeast situation is :at a; heightened ley el among Indian policy-^makers.

The Chief of Army Staff GeneralShankar Rbychowdhury said on ^February in Guwahati that a "Northeastern coordination council of security forces" should be formed immediately to tackle the; insurgency problem. 'He Said the Inter Services IntelligenQeOSI)of Pakistan was providing support to the rebels, but refused to elaborate. The situation in both Kashmir and the.Northeast was assuming the dimensions of an external aggression, anditwould be short-sighted to treat it merely as a law and order situation. .Withthe NSCN (Mui vah group) extending its activities to Nagajand ?and parts of Assam, it was necessary to look at the entire Northeastern region as one unit as far as security was concerned. , Earlier, General Roychowdhury had stated that the insurgency problem in the Northeast was as sensitive as the terrorist activity in Kashmir,, with external forces playing an equally disruptive role.

On 29 April, the Union Home Secretary K-

stated in Shillong that: "self-Imposed isolation" of the pepplejpf the Northeast punctuated with "some extent of negligence ©f the Centre" was the main cause of the prevailing uncertainty. An "action-oriented coordinated and concentrated'5plan was requiredi to solve the burning probelms in the region: there was a need to boost the morale of the police force by providing them with bask facilities, and the Northeastern Police Academy should provide proper training. Other than in Nagatand; the insurgent groups of *^^ie region had no ideology and represented nothing but "lawlessness". The media, meanwhile; should'highlight genuine problems of the region without projecting only the (negative aspects. While there were some genuine grievances of the people of the region, it did not mean that one should "retreat from the spirit of oneness with India".

A study prepared by the 1993 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officials titled Umierstatuting Ethnic Unrest in: Indian :• Werfyheries1994, which was released on 2 May> asserts that political parties are responsible for fuelling ethnic unrest in the Northeast. The paper also points the finger at the absence of development, exploitation by outsiders, and absence of! policy decisions. Among other things, the paper states: "The central leadership of mainstream political parties has manipulated ethnic

symbols;.. The; frequent imposition of President's rule has also reinforced'the: imperialist imaige of the Centre.,. The political bosses have failed to establish psycho^motional links with the historically insulated population... The influx of 'outsiders' has altered the demographic pattern and reduced the local population toa jTiihbrity:.. External material and moral support has sustained ethnic movements in border areas;.." To contain external interference, the study suggests that India improve its bilateral relations with its neighbours. The IAS officials suggest "a single-jnindiSci devotion to economic development" in the Northeast, stating that "the population should derive meaningful benefits from economic activities rather than being exploited by them,.. Ethnic violence is the manifestation of a. deeper malaise in the system and can hardly be: contained by military or political action."

Qn5 May intiuivahati, the Union Finance Minis ter Manmohan

Singh stressed the need for "serious analysis of the underlying causes of unrest and insurgency in the Northeast so that the developmentpnt>ce$scouldbeacceleratedintheproperdirecHoni It would be a ttagic mistake to regard the problem created by secessionist foreesas meretya^w and order situation, he warned, and s^id "the design and style of a social, economic and pol stical evolution of a good society must fully take into account the multi­ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious characteristics of the societies of the region..." Subsequent to identifying the root eausespfdMcontent.intheNortheast/'wecahand we must evolve imaginative approaches to deal with them," said: the Finance Minister, who represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha. In view of the pluralism and diversity of the societies of the Northeast, special arrangements had to be made in the form of autnomous district councils with powers to protect the interests of tribal communities, their social customs and customary laws, The quality of public, administration must be" toned up, and civil servants should have an incentive to serve in the Northeast rather than treating the region as a-"punishment posting". The proposed Northeast Development Bankshould beable to provide the regional economy with a much-needed boost, he said.

The Finance Minister was giving the keynote address at a regional conference organised by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. Sonia Gandhi,Chairperson of the Trust, toldthe gathering that both Indira Cahdhi and Rajiv Gandhi had deep interest in the peopleof theNortheastand their "aspirations,concerns, problems and hopes..."


May/June 7995 HIMAL

surges across into Tripura in 1978, again in the early 1980s,, and most recently in 1989. While New Delhi and Dhaka have been engaged in talks and there has been some repatriation, about 50,000 refugees remain in camps on the Ind ian sid e, u nw illing to belie ve Dhaka's assurances of security. It is not even clear that the two countries are genuinely interested in solving the problem; for Indian security agencies, particularly the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Shanti Bahini remains a pawn in the power game.

Rohingya, Bangladesh plays host to its own 'Chakma situation' in thecaseofthe Rohingya. Over a period of a quarter century, first in 1978 and then in 1992, the Burmese mil ita ry has swept into the Muslim dominated Arakan Province in drives against Rohingyas. These Arakanese are regarded as not sufficiently Burmese as more Islamic than nationalist. The Burmese authorities, who are predominantly Buddhist, have claimed that many of those in the Arakan area are not reaily Burmese and that they have illegally crossed over from Bangladesh.

The Rohingyas' low-level rebellion has existed for decades but not much information is available, other than that the government crackdowns were vicious. The military regime in Rangoon has always been wary of the Muslim population for having independent leanings. Its actions have led to two waves of refugees into Bangladesh, totalling more than 200,000 Rohin­gyas each time. Not surprisingly, Rangoon claims that those driven out are Bangladeshi, a charge the Rohingya strongly deny. Efforts to repatriate them have not succee­ded, although lately Burma has agreed to international monitoring of a future repatriation process.

For all their genuine grievances, the Rohingya too have been enmes­hed in regional geopolitics. The troubles with the military and the Rohingya is seen by many as part of the larger confrontation between

Burma and Bangladesh, which views with unease Beijing's military assist­ance to Rangoon. There are credible accounts of Rohingyas ..receiving military training from Bangladeshi intelligence and military agencies.

Lhotshampa.ThestoryofNepali settlement in Bhutan is less than a hundred years old. Encouraged by the Bhutanese Governor of Western Bhutan, in the late 19th century Nepalis from the over-populated hillsofthehomecountrymovedinas labourers and farmers. Over the decades/ they prospered and their numbers grew in settlements and jungle clearings along the Dragon Kingdom's southern border. These frontiersmen and women who helped create today's rich farmlands and orchards came to be known as the Lhotshampa, the people of the south.

Whenacensusin 1988 turned up many more Nepali-speakers than the authorities had expected/ Thimphu's fears of the being overwhelmed by a Nepali swamping and going the way of the Chogyals' Sikkim were heightened. In an interview in 1993, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk,

Bhutan's absolute monarch, said that as many as 113,000 had been identified as illegal migrants in a newly calculated national population of 600,000. The anti-royalist agitation in Nepal which reduced the once-absolute monarch King Birendra to a titular head of state, also clearly worried Thimphu.

Like elsewhere intheNortheast, the fear of losing their 'Drukpa' identityledtheBhutaneseauthorities to engage in a fierce anti-migrant reaction. Unlike the other comm­unities of the Northeast, who are battling the establishment, however, here it was the Government itself, representing the dominant comm­unity, that oversaw the process with the resources at its command.

As the pressures grew in southern Bhutan, the first refugees fled into the Jalpaiguri tea belt of India, and from there transited to eastern Nepal's Jhapa District. The first surge of exiles, of about 35,000, might be called true "political refugees": terrorized, famished, and very sick. Those who came later constitute a amorphous category, for it seems that they departed not becauseof political

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