Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

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In search of citizenship: Chakma children of Tripura.

repression but because life was becoming too difficult to manage in isolated farms and hilltop hamlets.

There are today more than 110,000 Lhotshampa refugees, both in the camps of Jhapa and scattered across Nepal and neighbouring areas of India. Kathmandu has been roundly outmaneuvered by Thimphu in bilateral talks that have gone on for three years. The Bhutanese government has managed to rid the countryofa seventh of its population, and controlling the remaining Lhotshampa will be that much easier.

The process is the same every­where: mass movement into a lightly populated region from regionsof high density. The cycle consists of displacement, migration, settlement, identity loss, resentment, leading to violence on the settlers and counter-violence by settlers. It is not true, however, that conflicts have always been between hill tribals and invading plains folks from outside the region.

The fratricidal confrontation between the Kuki and Naga tribes is a case in point. Over the course of the past three years, more than a thousand Kukis and Nagas are known to have been killed in increasingly violent attacks and counter-attacks on each ot her. Th e bitterness between the two sides, too, is 1 inked to migration, Kukis settled t raditional Naga lands several decades ago, and the memories linger.

Strategic Compulsions

It is strategic compulsions that drive rulers of nation states to seek control over distant communities and to s nuff out the insurgencies and agitations which resist such control. No one has much time for critical questions relating tohuman rights,the sweeping powers given to the security forces, and inherent disharmony between communitiesoftheperipheryandthe central governments.

Why do nation states attach such importance to these peripheral areas? In one phrase, it is fear of disinte­gration of the nation state, which can never be allowed, for no national leader wants to be accused of having dismembered the motherland. Another reason is the vast natural bounty of these places: the oil, gas and other minerals, the timber, hydropower, fertile soil, and the biodiversity.

Men in uniform and those from security agencies swarm over the region. India, for one, justifies their presence not merely because of the insurgencies it faces but the presence of tens of t housands of well -equ ipped Chinese troops on the other side of the mo untai nousborder.The strategic importance given to the Northeast can be seen in the fact that large state of Arunachal Pradesh does not have a single civilian airport. Meanwhile, the military helps in the expensive task of airdropping food and consumer goods to scattered civilian communities.

It is not just Central neglect and lack of vision that is holding the Far Eastern Himalaya back. The extensive and deep-rooted insurgencies also

have a role. In all cases, the earlier convictions and total commitment to independence from the nationa state no longer hold good. Often, the violence-for-violence's-sake ethos among the insurgents coupled with the rigid stance of government keeps moderates from finding a voice. Many in surgent s stay on to fight in the ju ng le simplybecausethey know of no other way. Also, new equations have developed in these wooded hills of the Far Eastern Himalaya. Drug smuggling has become one of the major sources of funding for the guerillas in the woods, which fuels insurgencies and maintains the circle of violence. Meanwhile, much of the halo of the insurgents has dimmed. Many are feared, even among their own people, as ruthless figures who will kill if the price is right.

The most enduring conflicts are in India's Nagaland and Manipur, and inBurma between Rangoon's generals and the Kachin and Karen, whose rebellions have lasted half a century. In the Northeast, the Naga and Bodo of Assam present the biggest challenges to the state security apparatus. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Bodo Security Force have esta­blished common training camps and often work together to ambush security forces.

The trend for the future is clear: an increasingly sharp delineation between areas of governance by the state and ungovernable areas where the political vacuum is filled by powerful dissident groups like the NSCN and the Bodo Security Force. The Indian state has failed to ensure stability in parts of Manipur and Nagaland, and to a lesserdegree along the northwestern edge of Assam where it touches Bhutan. As a result, the NSCN controls parts of Manipur, especially the Ukhrul and Sena pat i districts;it levies taxes, recruits people (often forcibly) into its army, and harasses businessmen.

Likewise, the Bodo Security Force has the ru n of parts of Kokra jhar District of Assam, and uses the forests


May/June 1995 HIMAL

of southern Bhutan as a hideout. The Bhutanese are disinclined to act against the Bodos because they are outgunned, and several operations mounted by the Indian Army with King Jigme's permission have failed to flush them out. In recent months, theNSCN seemstohaveexpandedits base and madeinroadsinto the Naga-dominated district of North Cachar hills, ambushing troops and engaging in major gun battles. It has access to funds through the fear it inspires among the tea planters, who pay protection money much as they did to the ULFA when it held sway between 1988 and 1992.

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