Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Manipur and Orissa, Whither Democratic Rights?

I had some pretty dismal thoughts last night when I was thinking of how little accountability the ruling elite of India feels towards the less privileged, marginalized, non-mainstream sections of society. My thoughts were in the context of what I read about the agitation against forced eminent domain and appropriation of tribal land in Orissa to build a steel mill by the Tatas. Yes, the very bizarre matter of a government acquiring land on behalf of a private company is commonplace in India.

And now, I read the shocking piece on Anthony's blog of Manipuri fishermen being used as human shields by the Indian Army in its operations in the state. About Manipuris growing up thinking of human rights violations by the police and the Army as a normal part of existence in the Indian democracy. I shudder to think that such repression could be considered normal. That we allow the institutions of the state, for such are the police and the Army, to operate with such lack of accountability. As long as the Indian mainstream, the elite, the privileged is not staring down the barrel of a gun, all's fine on the North-eastern frontier I guess.

But, despite all the dismal thoughts, there's a very faint glimmer of optimism that I always try to carry within. To convince myself that we've come at lease some way in our fledgling democracy (for such is what we are still). That the impunity with which eminent domain was used to take away land for the other major dam projects, the mines and steel mills of Jharkhand will not be repeated in quite the same way. At least, not without a fight, as the tribal agitation in Orissa shows.

And so it will be for human rights violations in the North-east. These stories are making their way into mainstream Indian media, slowly but surely. Information travels faster these days, and the Manipuri police and the Indian Army in Manipur should be very, very afraid. Nothing is unwitnessed, nothing unreported. And we've already started asking the uncomfortable questions. About why a woman picked up for questioning was raped and murdered. Why, in the name of securing their lives, the Manipuri people are being asked to give up basic liberties and even their dignity at times. Why the Army thinks nothing of using defenseless civilians as human shields.

Such is the trouble with democracy for the rulers, the ruled ask questions.


Blogger Soumyadip said...

The regular unrest in Manipur, the killing of students in Meghalaya, Assam and tribals in Orissa finds scarce mention in the media and the highest legislative body of the country. Whereas everyone went crazy when workers clashed with police in Gurgaon. Unless we come out of our metro-centric mindsets the unknown India will continue to boil.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Anil said...

It is an unfortunate reality that the rest of India is emotionally and culturally out of touch with the North East. An Assamese friend of mine in college once asked me and some other friends to name the seven north-eastern states and their capitals, needless to say all of us failed (I couldn't remember 3 capitals, others did worse).

2:35 PM  
Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Sorry to play the DA (devil's advo... just in case) but every story has two sides. What does come out in the 'bleeding hearts' stories in the so-called mainstream media are always from the perspective of the traditional underdog. What is not seen or perhaps not rightly understood is the other side. The Army is almost always vilified by people but what is not understood are the conditions and pressure they are forced to work within. Hostility by the locals is almost always a given but what comes as a bonus, especially in pockets of insurgency, is FEAR, where the man is not sure when he'll get blown him up to pieces. And the best part is he gets no sympathy from the media, coz officially he can't talk.

5:31 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Soumyadip, that is indeed the worst part. That the highest legislative bodies seem so supremely unconcerned.

Anil, that is so true. The levels of ignorance about the Northeast even among the educated in the rest of India is appalling.

Dhiraj, I do agree that a nuanced understanding of issues is desirable. But the issues here seem transparent enough to me. What the Army is doing is illegal, under Indian and international law. Those responsible should be held accountable.

The solution to the extreme conditions the Army faces is better training, better safety equipment, better relations with the community and better intelligence. Not the use of Indian citizens as human shields.

1:54 PM  
Blogger anthony said...

I sympathise as much with the soldiers in the Indian army as with the soldiers with the millitants. The soldiers are but normal human beings. And they do work under extreme conditions, a constant fear. Agreed, but it is their act I am vilifying and not the army per se. I have a lot of friends in the armed forces and have nothing against them. But when they do certain acts which are not Human, then I disagree. More so since they are on the right side of the law. and whoever thinks that the locals are againts them. It is just that the locals are trapped between the muzzles of two guns. It is like drawing a line and getting beaten if you cross and getting beaten if you don't. My sympathy lie not with the Millitants they are fighting but with the locals they were using.

And when they FEAR that they don't know where the next bullets will come from, they don't have the right to put same fear into the minds of civilians, if they consider the civilains to be Indian citizens. We are not in Jaffna for god's sake or in the jungle. When I wrote were mostly what happens to the civilians and when they do what they do the civilians, hostility is expected. but of course we can't even dare to be hostile. So dear Dhiraj, take a trip down NE and see how it is.
Thnx for the link swati. Happy new year.
if the army is wronged against, belive me we will stand up for them too. We are a very humane race dear..

1:21 AM  

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