Dialogue  January-March, 2011, Volume 12 No. 3

Editorial Perspective

North-East India: Multiple maladies

North-East region of the country is beset with multiple maladies defying remedies. The problems, rather than getting solved, are being piled up despite a perception that things are better following the engagements with the Naga insurgents and the ULFA..

The problem of illegal migration, as Shri Harekrishna Deka’s paper in this issue reveals, persists in spite of the decades long agitation for solving the same. Assam Gana Parishad leaders, whom the people empowered hoping that they may solve the problem, forgot the issue; remained busy in in-fighting and the pursuit of power and privileges. Unfortunately, the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have become so powerful due to politics of vote-bank that even Supreme Court’s intervention in nullifying IMDT Act has become ineffective. Foreigners’ Tribunals have failed to cope up with the problem. It needs mention that the Gauhati High Court has reprimanded the Centre and the State Governments for not making “serious efforts” to detect and deport foreign nationals from Assam and wanted to know from the government what purpose the Foreigners’ Tribunals had served. The Court has asked the Centre and the State Governments why people despite being declared as foreigners by Foreigners’ Tribunals, do the “vanishing act” before they are deported.     

There is rampant corruption in almost all the States of the region. The papers of Sarvashri Dhirendra Nath Bezboruah, H.N. Das, Sunil Kaul, Amiya Sarma and others, based on their presentations in the workshops organized by the Astha Bharati in Guwahati and New Delhi, amply illustrate the same. It needs mention that the terrorist outfits of the region get their due share in the plundered/pilfered resources either through extortions or through other means. Creation of Nagaland led to the demands of smaller administrative units –smaller States and regional councils in the region. This led to re-0rganization of North-East India. The process did not stop even after that. Autonomous District Councils have been created  even in smaller states like Tripura and Mizoram. There was demonstration the other day for carving out a new state for the Eastern Nagas by bifurcating Nagaland. Rabhas of Assam are  agitating for Autonomous Council under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. Unfortunately, ethnicity-based demands for empowering the people ends up in empowering the leaders. The new set up becomes an instrument for the fulfillment of their unending appetite for power and privileges. The people are pushed to the margins.

Ethnic demands in the Brahmaputra valley led to the creation of Autonomous Councils for various tribal communities, such as the Bodos, Mishings and the Rabha- Hasongs. This move has made the ‘title communities’ as privileged’ ones. As almost none of the villages coming under these Councils are ethnically homogeneous; the villages have mixed population and many communities, therefore, there is ethnic tension and even the attempts towards ethnic cleansing at some places. Gait, in his History of Assam, has given racist twist to the history of the region. Other colonial writers did the same. They, however, did not succeed in breaking the social harmony of Brahmaputra Valley in particular and the region in general. Unfortunately, we have done what the Britishers could not do by mishandling the North-Eastern affair. The signals that (i) violence  and (ii) social divide pay is never countered by us.             

Violent communal and ethnic clashes have become a part of the North-Eastern syndrome. Such clashes have taken place so regularly and frequently during last few years that it hardly surprises any body now a days. The first major ethnic clash in the region took place some decades ago in Tripura, in which scores of innocent lives were lost. More than hundred persons were killed in ethnic clash between Karbis and Dimasas during 2005 in Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts (now Dima Hasao) of Assam.  40 Jeme Nagas and 26 Dimasas lost their lives in the ethnic clashes around Haflong during March to July 2009; it is reported that 500 houses were burnt during that conflict. There was loss of life and property during the year 2003 also in the North Cachar Hills due to ethnic clashes. Ethnic clashes in Bodoland area between Bodos and immigrant Muslims and also between Bodos and Santhals are well-known by now. The year 2011 started with terribly violent communal clash between Garo and Rabha communities of the bordering villages of the East Garo Hills district of Meghalaya and Goalpara district of Assam in which 27 persons were killed and 1550 houses were torched, rendering about 50,000 people of 32 villages homeless. The victims were temporarily put in 32 Rabha camps in Assam and six Garo camps and two Rabha camps in East Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya. Majority of the victims of the present conflict have been the Rabhas. It needs mention that ethnic clashes are not only restricted to the state of Assam. A large number of Reangs (Brus) displaced from Mizoram have been lodged in six refugee camps in Kanchanpur sub-division of Tripura and their deportation back home is getting delayed. As reported (Assam Tribune, Jan. 6, 2011),  Mizoram wants to conduct survey on Bru refugees before their repatriation, whereas the refugee organizations, including Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) want all lodged in the refugee camps, irrespective of the fact whether they lived in Mizoram before 1997 or not, to be taken back and settled in Mizoram..

The present Garo-Rabha conflict, as per the statement of the Deputy Commissioner of the East Garo Hills district in the media dated January 4, 2011, started after some Garo youths and two Meghalaya police jeeps were allegedly attacked by the people from the Rabha community. According to another media report from Tura, the recent economic blockade by Rabhas to press for their demand for implementation of the Sixth Schedule provisions, attack on a vehicle carrying a marriage party and that on a Church pastor on the eve of Christmas, another attack on a picnic party and burning down of a motorbike provoked the Garos to retaliate and indulge in arson on January 2 night. The authenticity of the said report was, however, questioned in a joint memorandum dated January 15, 2011, submitted to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh by the Garo Rabha Peace Council (GRPC), dully signed by its president Sikram Sangma and Secretary, Jitendra Rabha. It said: 

“But the identities of the marriage party and the pastor have not been disclosed. Again there was a report that a Catholic priest was attacked. But what is the identity of the priest no body knows. Whose motorbike was attacked? Who attacked two Meghalaya police jeeps? Why were the culprits not arrested and their identities not disclosed? Who were the Garo picnickers who looted and burnt a Rabha grocery shop at Harikata village on Sunday night unprovoked? Should the minor incident culminate in the form of genocide? Who are the instigators? Thorough investigation of all these points suggests the involvement of a nexus of the church, terrorist outfits, Bangladeshi Muslims, masked NGOs, pseudo-secularists and human rights organizations, selfish politicians and fanatic Christian elements of Meghalaya.”

GRPC memorandum, as PC Rajkhowa, former Chief Secretary of Assam, in his statement about the incident has mentioned, has accused the “hostile Church” whose “missionary mission is very aggressive and multi-pronged in this area. …The hostile role of the Church was witnessed during the Dimasa-Karbi clash in 2005 and Dimasa-Jeme upheaval in 2009. Similarly, the hostile role of the Church is also experienced in the current clash between Garos and Rabhas. This opinion is strengthened by the fact that altogether 10 mandirs of Rabha Hindus have been burnt down in various Rabha villages whereas not even a single church is harmed.” The attack on a temple of Rabha Hindus on October 30, 2010 in William Nagar “by Garo Christians while protesting against civic polls in Garo Hills” is cited as another example of radicalization of a section of Christians. The most serious allegation against the Church is that it is providing “surveillance service and material help to the two “Christian militant outfits” –Achik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC) and Garo National Liberation Force (GNLF), whose cruel role in the incident is mentioned.

Under such circumstances, even the relief work by the Church is viewed with suspicion as “nothing but rubbing salt on burn injuries of innocent Rabhas and Garos.” Here, it needs mention that the Church, at least a section of the same, sees opportunity in human suffering. An official catholic publication, India and Its Missuons, issued by its American Capuchin Mission monks (1923), discusses the “Spiritual Advantages of Famine and Cholera” under that very heading! It quotes the report of Archdiocese of Pondicherry to his superiors in Europe: “The famine has wrought miracles. The catechumenates are filling, baptismal water flows in streams, and starving little tots fly in masses to heaven.” Again, when a large number of people were killed after the eruption of TNV movement in Tripura, and the entire nation was shocked, Rev. Dr. Rieveh Cunville, an American Church leader and a director of the Bible Society of India, was happy. It was a “nationalist uprising” for him and he hoped that “this political upheaval would make the tribals more receptive to the Gospel.” Cunville hailed tribal assertion  for rights and freedom like those of Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya and observed that “if large numbers are to come to Christ via these Peoples movement, the Tripura Baptist Christian Union  (TBCU) would require aid from other Churches and Missions.”  Niyogi Report of Madhya Pradesh gives ample proof of such attitude.

One reason of the conflict between the Rabhas and Garos is certainly the Autonomous Rabha-Hasong Council. The Garos wanted the change of its nomenclature and non-inclusion of the Garo dominated villages in the same. In the atmosphere of tension, there was violent clash between Rabhas and non-Rabhas earlier also during Panchayat elections during 2008 in which nine persons lost their lives in police firing. However, the conspiracy angle of the present conflict was not ruled out even by the Central team visiting the area during present conflict.  

The Bangladeshi immigrants in Garo Hills and Goalpara have married Garo women and settled in that area. The same thing has happened in parts of Nagaland also. They have taken active part, as alleged, in the present violent clash, keeping a tempting eye on the fertile land vacated by the Rabhas. The sad plight of the persons in the camps due to apathy of the administration is not a new phenomenon, as Sunil Kaul has described about the Santhals in the Camps in Bodoland. The plight of the children without clothes in the winter cold of January, the students without book who were to appear the matriculation examinations within a couple of months, may be easily imagined.

Of course, there are many positive developments also which need mention. The success of communitization programme in Nagaland, as discussed by Shri R.S. Pandey positive initiative of the women of North Cachar Hills in developmental activities, the peace process moving in the right direction, and some other such developments generate hope. There are positive signals from the Hill districts of Assam also. It is necessary that the nation should be kept informed about the positive and negative developments. The National Investigating Agency should be asked to investigate the cases of ethnic clashes/ethnic cleansing and the civil society should be duly informed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 ― B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati