Militarization, Its Effects On Socio-Economic & Political Life In NE

Heavy militarization in the region has great impact on the governance of the people and food security. In the name of maintaining law and order, the State used military forces to suppress the democratic rights of the people. People are threatened when they raise their voice against any injustices meted out to them by the State and its functionaries. Whoever raises their voice could be deemed as ‘terrorist’ or fighting against the State and are liable to be punished. The State’s imposition of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the region is a clear sign of State’s autocratic control over its citizens. This is the easiest way to run the administration without really delivering the goods to the people. This turned democracy into a mockery. With the imposition of AFSPA, emergency-like situation is created in the region and people literally live under military rule. In the name of fighting against insurgents, the Indian armed forces have used different inhuman tactics such as grouping, relocation of villages, forced labor, surveillance and starvation in the camps. Nandini Sundar, in a heart rendering article, “Interning Insurgent Populations: The Buried Histories of Indian Democracy’ shows how such tactics were being employed and used by State to contain insurgent movements in Nagaland and Mizoram.

Nandini Sundar elucidates that displacement and resettlement were used as a means of counter-insurgency on a large scale in Mizoram and Nagaland. Many villages were totally dislocated and grouped or resettled in another village (grouping centre) with many such villages starting from 1950s. The central logic behind grouping is to isolate insurgents from the general population from which they derive their support, cutting off their food and other supplies. Whatever the overt reasons given for grouping such as ensuring civilian safety and support, what underlies it is the assumption that all people in a given area, whether civilian or combatant, are potentially hostile.

In all, by 1972, over 200,000 people or 82% of the total population of Mizoram was shifted, and the total number of villages came down from 764 villages to 248 villages (including grouping centers and 138 ungrouped villages). Aizawl district was particularly affected, with 95% of the population being moved. Figures are unavailable for Nagaland, but the process was similar. In Mokokchung district, almost every village was burnt, not just once but several times, as a prelude to grouping. Army trucks would come and inform the Gaonbura (village headman) that the village would be burnt. Mongjen village was burnt seven times and Mametong 19 times, before the villagers could be forced to leave. According to UN report this kind of mass forced displacement and forced relocation of people threatens food security.

Starvation deaths were common in the camps in both Nagaland and Mizoram. Being summoned from their homes to be herded in the open fields or in the church or school, were common features. Young men were particularly vulnerable, since any of them could be suspected as an underground worker, and sometimes people would get killed in crossfire, when working in their fields. Many women were raped and molested. Wherever practiced, grouping has led to major civilian mortality, decline in food production, and severe dislocation of the social fabric.

Many original Mizo villages disappeared and the grouping centers became semi-urban. Earlier, land was communally owned, and could be sold only by the community. In every cycle, the village council president (VCP) would allocate land to households for jhum or swidden cultivation. After grouping, this practice was simply extended to include the new households, putting tremendous pressure on the land. The grouping and urbanization eventually destroyed the old land allocation system in these centers, with the VCP selling land titles to rich people from Aizawl. In Nagaland, even though villages survived, the pattern of settlement was permanently altered, from scattered homes spread across the hills, to homes strung along the main road in straight lines. Rape, killings and arson were common feature of dislocation and resettlement through grouping. This strategy is still employed in India. The State of Chhattisgarh is today employing private militias for groupings/the strategic ‘hamleting’ as a strategy of counter insurgency. Anyone who is a tribal person or is from that region is under suspicion and arrested as Maoists.

The hill areas of Manipur did not experience such dislocation of villages and resettlement due to counterinsurgency operation in the area. But often people faced harassment, rape, beatings, killings, arson, etc under the imposition of AFSPA in the region by the State. Whenever there is arm confrontation between the insurgent groups and the military forces, public became the victims. Since the 1950’s the Indian security forces have been carrying out their counter-insurgency operations in Naga inhabited lands. “Operation Bluebird” was the biggest operation in recent times. On July 9, 1987 the 29th Battalion Assam Rifles Post near Oinam village in Senapati District, Manipur was raided in broad daylight by the undergrounds. They walked away with large quantity of arms and ammunition. Nine Jawans (soldiers) were killed and three seriously injured. The Assam Rifles launched “Operation Bluebird” to recover the captured arms and ammunition. The operation lasted till the end of October 1987.

“Operation Bluebird” was carried out in and around Oinam and its surrounding 30 villages of Senapati District in Manipur. Within a few days after the operation was launched where there were reports that the villagers were being subjected to all kinds of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the Assam Rifles. Even in my village, which is around 35 km away from Oinam Village), curfew was imposed for many days. The whole villagers (men and women, young and old) were kept in front of the Chief’s house. All the village authority members were beaten including Catechist and Baptist Pastor. This kind of operation was conducted in many villages of the surrounding Oinam village. The Assam Rifles went from house to house to search and looted homes. For nearly three months, people were not allowed to go to their fields, or to tend their cattle as a result of which lakhs of Rupees worth of agricultural crops were destroyed. Cattles free grazed in the paddy fields and gardens. The Assam Rifles dismantled and burnt down more than a hundred resident houses, several Church and School buildings, hundreds of villagers were forced to construct camps, build roads and carry rations for the Assam Rifles without any payment. 125 resident houses were allegedly burnt; in addition 112 houses were dismantled, 6 schools and 10 churches were dismantled, 7 villages are enumerated where property worth Rs. 50,79,000/- (US$ 101,580) were looted.

In January, 22, 2009, Assam Rifles surrounded the NSCN (IM) Camp in Siroy Village (Ukhrul) for nearly two weeks. To starve the insurgents held up inside the camp, the main water supply pipe-line for the whole village was cut off. The villagers were not even allowed to venture out to the field for the whole period of seizure of the camp. These are but just an ice-berg of what is happening in everyday’s life in Manipur. Many a time, curfew was imposed randomly, people were randomly shot without any warning, women were raped but State armed forces always got legal immunity. The extremity of armed forces’ action is manifested through the fasting of Irom Sharmila Chanu who has been on fast since 2000.

This kind of policy of the State has resulted in the direct denial of access to food and water for communities that have been besieged and cordoned off, especially under specific cases of severe or total closures—referred as “curfews”—trapping people in their villages and impeding movement. The closures are keeping people away from their jobs and that farmers are unable to reach their remote fields or markets.

The State’s policy of militarization in the area proved counter-productive in that it has produced so many underground groups in the State. These underground groups have great influence in the decision making bodies both in the State and local level. It is easy for candidates to get elected to the State Assembly or district council members if they have good relationship with underground group. The underground members won’t mind using both muscle and gun power to get elected the candidate of their choice. Once a candidate is elected s/he works hand-in-glove with underground groups.

Hence, in Manipur, a parallel Government is run by the elected MLAs and underground groups. This became very problematic with most of the developmental funds and schemes meant for the farmers and poor people divided between them. Almost all the underground groups have their own share in all developmental projects apart from levying various taxes. The militarization of Indian armed forces and underground movement have completely destroyed democratic form of governance at all levels.

The underground groups also involve in local level governance. Most of the intra-village or intra-tribal dispute especially land boundary is settled (or sometime created) by the underground group. Even some cases within the village are referred to them. Interestingly, almost if not all of the criminal cases are tried and settled in the court of underground. With the State completely failing in giving good governance, underground groups became a powerful force in the decision making body. There are cases of underground involving in ‘black market’. Unfortunately, so far, none of the underground groups in the region has brought any viable solution that benefits the common masses.

Frequent armed clashes among the various underground groups and sometime with Indian Army is a cause of great concern especially for the villagers who most of the times became the victims. Such clashes have restricted time for economic activity as the villagers are not free to go to field early in the morning and come back home late. They could be suspected and shot. Women, who are the backbone of tribal economy, are the most affected ones as they could be molested by the armed forces. Militancy leads to loss of human power in agricultural activities. Many youths who are active enough to do works, join the movement leaving behind women and old people to work in agricultural activities. The little savings of the public are also extracted by them as tax in the form of house tax, employment tax, shop tax, vehicle tax, etc.  Millions of Rupees is spent by various underground groups in procuring arms and ammunitions. If that amount is diverted for procuring food items and distributed, there will be food for many to a great extent. It is also a well known fact that this movement has destroyed hectares of forest land which is the main livelihood of the tribal people. Thousands of camps were set up in the forest cutting down trees, bamboos, ropes and other vegetation. They have also killed many wild animals and birds for food. Therefore, there can be good debate whether the underground movement while pursuing political freedom for its people has destroyed the very purpose by destroying people’s rights to govern themselves and their source of livelihoods.

When people protest against any type of destructive development (such as Tipaimukh dam), the state would send coercive forces to suppress such protest movement. Arunachal Pradesh Government has MoUs with big companies of around 300 dams. A big gain for corporates. A great loss for local people. This is how the State works for the benefit of big companies at the expense of tribal people’s livelihoods.  It may not be wrong to assume that the State works in collaboration with the capitalists much against the wishes and security of the local people. The State in collaboration with corporates work to control people’s resources and livelihoods. In the name of maintaining law and order, the state has already deployed hovercrafts in Loktak Lake (Manipur). It has planned to buy more six hovercrafts. What will happen to the livelihoods of thousand fish workers in Loktak Lake? It has planned to press into service speed boats in the upstream of Thoubal Dam and along the Barak River area of Jiribam so that the state armed forces can maintain law and order! Under the new police of the Manipur Government, the State has planned to increase an additional 338 police commandos and 10 posts of village defense force (VDF) (Sangai Express, March 31, 2011).

Ibobi Singh’s Government is waging war against its own citizens. Modernizing police force, raising its number and establishment of VDF is a good employment model: employing half citizen to kill the other half. This is exactly happening in Chhattisgarh under the state sponsored Salwa Judum.  The State in connivance with corporates is all out to take over people’s control over resources and its livelihoods. Lakes, rivers and forests need to be heavily militarized in order to flush out its inhabitants in the name maintaining law and order (or say contain insurgency movement). Then slowly the state will bring in Companies (Corporates) in the name of development. When “Development” comes, local people lost their rights to resources and livelihoods. If they protest, they will be charged as working against the State’s interest and will be sent to jail. If anyone raises voice of injustice or the failure or oppressive policy of the State he/she is likely to be branded as insurgent/terrorist like Dr. Binayak Sen of Chhattisgarh. The excessive uses of force by Government to contain people’s movements and rights have fanned insurgency movement to extremity. Then militancy and insurgency together destroy food security, undermined democracy and local governance.

Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited by the Article 14 of the International Humanitarian Law. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless, for that purpose, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Forced displacement is prohibited under article 49 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and conflicts. The North Eastern States must respect International Humanitarian Law. The State should not fool around its citizens to believe that the state armed forces are for security and development. Whose security are the Assam Rifles or Police Commandos for? We need to, if necessary, take the state to court, for violating basic human rights of its citizens. It would be wiser for the NE States to invest more its financial resources in developing human resources (esp. in education) and in agriculture and its allied activities rather than on spending crores of rupees on modernizing its police forces. It’s the time for our concerned underground groups too to think seriously how far they can deliver the goods to the common masses. We need strong civil bodies and build alliances to air the struggles and rights of million citizens who suffer under the oppressive state’s coercive forces. Together we can bring a better and livable world.

*The article is written by ZK Pahrü Pou

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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