Kuldip Nayar on Human Rights Violations in Northeast India

Thursday, May 22, 1997, THE HINDU, Madras, India

A report on the violation of human rights by the security forces in the seven States of the northeast is devastating. Prepared by a member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Baroda, and another of the Saheli, Delhi, the report has shattered the myth of what goes in the name of law and order in the region. The two-member team says: ``Generations of military suppression have taken a heavy toll on the people's lives, livelihoods, attitudes and in fact, the very concept of ``normalcy of life''. It says that in Manipur and Nagaland, which have had decades of a virtual army rule, it is as though the people cannot imagine a life that is not under the barrel of the gun. In most of these States, Assam, Nagaland or Meghalaya, the security personnel line the streets, often dressed in black or jungle fatigues, with a scarf tied across the face to reveal nothing but the eyes.

The report says that at crowded market crossings in Assam, people casually bend to avoid the barrel of the gun, just as one would bend to avoid a basket or a bag being carried in a busy street. The main roads are often nothing more than a series of checkposts, where locals are subjected to the harassment of identification, questioning and even detention without being furnished any reason. Naturally, this causes endless delays, acute stress and makes the basic freedom of movement a dream. In several parts of Tripura and Nagaland, movement is further restricted to particular times of the day when the army escort is available. In addition, countless curfews constantly interrupt ``normal life and routine.''

The report clearly establishes that the Central Government has failed to find political solutions to the problems of the seven northeastern States, choosing instead to resort to extensive militarisation and repressive legislation such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In the bargain, it has distanced itself from social, economic and cultural ground realities and the needs and aspirations of the people. This distancing has also meant that it turns a blind eye to the distinctions between the varied struggles of communities that range from assertions for greater autonomy to the demand for separate states.

``But all of these, and struggles for greater democratic and civil rights,'' says the report, have consistently been dealt with as ``law and order problems'' to be solved by an ever- increasing deployment of the security personnel. ``Consequently, the State and its security forces treat everyone, be they common population, or members of student groups, women's groups, human rights groups and democratic struggles as militants and secessionists to be suppressed by the use of military power.''

Mawphor from Shillong reports that an army operation against the militants in Assam was carried out in the deep forests of Saipung in the Jaintia hills of Meghalaya. However, there were no signs of the militants, either in Saipung or the neighbouring forest of Narpuh. There were only abandoned hideouts _ sensing that the army was closing in on them, the militants had left the forests.

The army is, however, continuing its combing operations to make sure that the militants are not lurking in the deep recesses of the jungles. The forests have also served as a transitory route taken by the Naga rebel leader, A. Z. Phizo, during the height of the Naga insurgency in the earlier years. Intelligence reports say, the old route was used by the insurgents for their movements to and from Bangladesh because of the closure of the training camps.

The most virulent attack has been made by the editor of an Assamese daily from Guwahati. His submission to the Press Council is that press in general and the national dailies and weeklies in particular have remained almost completely indifferent to the ``State terrorism'' imposed on the small but struggling nationalities of the region. He says: ``We in Assam, where the Indian armed forces have killed or maimed for life thousands of innocent youths in the last six years, in the name of curbing terrorism, have reasons enough to believe that the callous indifference shown by the Indian press in general to the cause of numerous small nationalities and its conspicuous silence in the face of military suppression of the national struggles have largely encouraged the present.''

In India, the editor says, it must be realised by all concerned that suppressing the national struggles of the natives of northeast in the name of curbing terrorism means endangering the very foundations of democracy as a whole. The press needs to understand that the question of allowing these oppressed nationalities to live with national honour in their own homeland is the question of protecting the political and democratic rights of these natives.