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SACW | Dec.1-5, 2007 / Pakistan: Codepink / India: The Religion of Force, Nadigram, Assam, Kashmir

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire | December 1-5, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2472 - Year 10 running [1] The Battle for Democracy in Pakistan: (i) Politics of boycott (M B
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2007
      South Asia Citizens Wire | December 1-5, 2007 |
      Dispatch No. 2472 - Year 10 running

      [1] The Battle for Democracy in Pakistan:
      (i) Politics of boycott (M B Naqvi)
      (ii) Codepink activists from the US who came to
      Pakistan arrested and being deported
      (iii) India's and Now Pakistan's emergency:
      Indira and the Islamists (Shikha Dalmia)
      [2] Nepal: Rising communal tensions fuelling
      displacement - rights activists (irinnews)
      [3] Bhutan/India: An appeal to the poets,
      writers, theatre artists and other
      intellectuals (Anand Swaroop Verma)
      [4] India - West Bengal's Left Govt. Must
      Re-shape: No to no say and to violence in
      (i) The Religion of Force (Dilip Simeon)
      (ii) Report of an Independent Citizens' Team on
      the Current State of Affairs in Nandigram
      (iii) Time for the Left in India to do a serious
      rethink, else it will perish (Praful Bidwai)
      (iv) Second Statement by Chomsky, Tariq Ali et al on Nandigram
      (v) The Truth of Nandigram - CPI(M) in Lok Sabha
      + Mending fences (Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay)
      [5] Assam, an Indian tragedy (Sanjoy Hazarika)
      [6] Kashmir: Demilitarisation process -
      Relocation of troops in civilian areas is no
      [7] Announcements:
      (i) Ramachandra Guha on 'the Beauty of
      Compromise ' Himal Annual Lecture (New Delhi, 4
      December 2007)
      (ii) Celebration of Human Rights Defenders (Colombo, 6 December 2007)


      [1] Pakistan:

      The News International, December 05, 2007


      by M B Naqvi

      Opposition parties are making a spectacle of
      themselves. All Parties Democratic Movement,
      minus JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has decided
      that January 8 election should be boycotted. The
      reason given is that it is unlikely to be free
      and would only perpetuate Mr Pervez Musharraf's
      rule. Behind Musharraf looms Pakistan Army, whose
      new Chief was his confidante. The PPP Chairperson
      will contest the election, with a fig leaf of
      doing so under protest. Anyhow, both JUI of
      Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP are sure to contest
      the election.

      The need for united opposition arises from the
      fact that the ordinary citizens do not enjoy all
      the civil liberties the way western people do. In
      democracies, people's right to civil liberties is
      respected by courts, governments, political
      parties and all state agencies. In Pakistan
      self-perceived strongmen have ruled
      autocratically whether they were democratic
      governments of PPP or PML-N or a General's

      Take the case of treating the judges of superior
      courts. PPP's record is not a bright one;
      remember the harassment of Justice Sajjad Ali
      Shah and his family. Mian Nawaz Sharif's goons,
      led by a Cabinet Minister, stormed the Supreme
      Court and the judges had to run for their lives.
      What General Musharraf did on March 9 was a tad
      less crude than what had happened in 1997.
      Factually, there is a strong element of
      commonality between major parties and the Army

      Army flaunts faith in Pakistan ideology and makes
      others follow it despite its vagueness. It shares
      the value system of feudals. It is a thoroughly
      conservative force dedicated to keep the society
      as it has always been. Now look at major parties:
      PML-N, PML-Q, PPP or take the innards of smaller
      nationalistic parties that often pass for being
      left-inclined. Their leaderships belong to or are
      descended from feudal class. Socially they are as
      conservative as any Muslim Leaguer.

      All these parties have an unwritten agreement
      with the military to leave the fundamentals of
      social system untouched. Society with all its
      inequities must remain as it has always been.
      This is how the attraction of offices under the
      leadership of a General or even a former General
      is stronger than the facts about fundamental
      rights and democratic norms. These parties
      implicitly accept the apologias to the west that
      these strongmen make about 'doing things their
      own way'. Pakistanis are supposed to be quite
      different from western people; they can be beaten
      by the police and other law enforcing agencies.
      They can be made to 'disappear', 'writ of the
      government has to run' and so forth in the name
      of Pakistan ideology.

      Even the conduct of a PPP government or the life
      within the party is autocratic. The same applies
      to PML-N; the other day its central body left the
      final decision about election participation to
      Nawaz Sharif alone. Their acquaintance with
      democratic working of parties and governments has
      been more theoretical than real.

      Fact is since the two main parties (JUI and PPP)
      would participate, all others would follow suit.
      They cannot leave field alone to others. The
      sight of other parties' members becoming
      Ministers of government(s) alone is unacceptable.
      'If A can get a ministership or chairmanship of a
      parliamentary committee, why cant my party allow
      me to do the same', a feudal argues. While there
      is a case for unity because people should have
      the freedoms a democracy guarantees, so is a case
      for disunity: the lure of offices has been strong
      enough to overcome the appeal of democratic norms
      and methods. After all, participating in a
      military-led government is seen as doing no great
      harm to society or their own standing. Since,
      their ideas on social matters remain undisturbed,
      what is wrong in participating, in winning
      ministerships and being happy. Which is a basic
      case for disunity.

      Sad fact is that Army or Army-dominated or
      Army-controlled governments are actually
      acceptable to PPP, PML-Q, MQM and many other
      smaller parties. This is Pakistan's Rightwing
      Consensus and it includes the Army and all the
      other social elite groups. Their relationship
      with the free-enterprise west is historically
      close and ideological; their worldview is common
      with the west. There is however a new
      contradiction to be noted.

      This is emergence of a new middle class,
      especially in the Punjab -- other provinces have
      not seen the process. Only Karachi boasts of a
      middle class that is the matter of what is known
      as civil society. It is relatively affluent and
      educated. It is aware of the denial of political
      liberties, freely available in democracies. Their
      love for democracy is genuine. Today civil
      society is being led by lawyers, who ran four
      months long successful campaign for the
      restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
      They mean to continue the movement until they get
      the restoration of the Chief Justice and other
      judges now under internment. They need democracy
      keenly enough and would not rest content until
      they get it.

      But civil society, luminous as it is, is
      politically weak. When pitted against the phalanx
      of the upper classes serried behind military-led
      governments they need the support of either the
      larger mainstream parties or of left parties if
      there had been any. As it happens, there are no
      cognisable left parties.

      Destruction of the left was the achievement of
      the past Pakistan governments. They destroyed
      students movements, banned unions, prevented
      teachers from having effective trade unions. The
      normal industrial phenomenon, trade unions, has
      been all but destroyed. Most of the trade
      unionists have been purchased or co-opted; some
      stragglers are left. The lower social orders have
      no organization; they have no voice. Their
      political clout is today zero.

      The country's alliance with the west enabled the
      CENTO's anti-subversion funds to help destroy the
      left groups, trade unions and students' movement.
      That had happened in 1960s and 1970s. The
      Pakistan that used to talk of social inequities,
      workers, peasants and the Karigars has now
      disappeared. This weakens the middle class no end
      because its natural allies would have been the
      leftists in the fight for all freedoms.

      If the idea of a boycott means boycotting the
      election and going home to sleep, it would surely
      leave the field to all others no matter if they
      were opportunists. To be significant, the boycott
      should accompany a fierce popular agitation for
      democratic freedoms, beginning with the
      restoration or the Supreme Court and High Courts
      as they existed on November 2 last and the
      Constitution being rescued from the deforming
      amendments that have been forced by successive
      generals to make the President all powerful at
      the expense of a show boy Prime Minister,
      including what this latest PCO has done. The
      question of provincial autonomy that will satisfy
      smaller provinces can no longer be postponed
      indefinitely. Without an all out political
      struggle, boycott means nothing. It is a silly
      thing if it stands alone as some kind of virtuous


      Dana Balicki 202 422 8624
      In Pakistan 0308-204-2346


      U.S. human rights activists Medea Benjamin and
      Tighe Barry were arrested in Lahore, Pakistan at
      8:30pm on Wednesday, December 4 after attending a
      student rally at the Lahore Press Club. Upon
      leaving the Club in the company of several
      journalists, the car they were driving in was
      pulled off the road. Armed policemen jumped out
      of cars and motorcycles and surrounded their car,
      guns drawn. They forced the driver and
      journalists out, beat passers-by who were looking
      at the scene, and hijacked the car with Benjamin
      and Barry inside. They raced recklessly through
      the crowded streets of Lahore, endangering the
      lives of those in the car and outside. They took
      the two activists to the Race Course Police
      Station. Benjamin was roughed up by a woman
      police officer who was given orders to take away
      their cell phone.

      Benjamin and Barry were never charged with
      anything and no reason was given for their brutal
      arrest. After four hours, a representative of the
      US Embassy appeared. The activists were allowed
      to leave in his custody, but are being forced to
      leave the country on Wednesday.

      "It was a terrifying experience," says Benjamin.
      "I had no idea if we would get out of it dead or
      alive. If they do this to us, who have the
      protection of being US citizens, imagine what
      they do to their own citizens."

      "It is so sad that peace activists would be
      treated like this," says Barry. "We call on our
      government to condemn our abusive treatment and
      deportation. It is one more example of the
      dictatorial nature of Musharraf's government and
      one more reason why the U.S. government should
      stop supporting him."

      Benjamin and Barry are members of the U.S. human
      rights group Global Exchange and the women's
      peace group CODEPINK. They arrived in Pakistan on
      November 25 to learn about and support Pakistani
      civil society. They have been meeting with
      lawyers, students, judges, journalists and
      political leaders. They also conducted a 24-hour
      vigil outside the home of prominent lawyer Aitzaz
      Ahsan, who is under house arrest. Through these
      activities, they have received tremendous support
      and appreciation from the Pakistani people,
      including a Letter of Thanks from the Lahore High
      Court Bar Association extending "heartfelt
      gratitude for showing solidarity with the legal
      community of Pakistan."

      The activists leave Pakistan shaken by their
      treatment but inspired by the example of the
      Pakistani people struggling for democracy.

      Benjamin and Barry will be arriving at New York's
      JFK airport at 8am on Thursday and will be
      available for interviews.


      Wall Street Journal
      November 13, 2007


      by Shikha Dalmia

      The Bush administration has so far taken only
      perfunctory steps to prod Pakistani President
      Pervez Musharraf to lift "emergency rule,"
      reinstate the constitution and hold elections.
      Doing anything more, the United States seems to
      fear, might produce an Islamist victory at the
      polls -- and undermine a key ally in its war on
      terror. In effect, the old foreign policy
      bogeyman of the "fear of the alternative" is back
      in the White House.

      But at least with respect to Pakistan, this fear
      ought to be banished. If anything, the longer Mr.
      Musharraf is allowed to suspend democracy, the
      more politically powerful Pakistan's religious
      extremists are likely to become. Those who doubt
      this thesis should peer across Pakistan's
      southern border and examine what happened during
      India's two-year flirtation with emergency rule
      in 1975.

      Like Mr. Musharraf, India's then Prime Minister
      Indira Gandhi declared emergency after a state
      high court invalidated the elections that had
      brought her to power, on grounds of corruption
      and fraud. But instead of stepping down, she gave
      herself extraordinary powers and launched a
      massive crackdown on every democratic institution
      that India had painstakingly built since its
      independence from the British in 1947. She threw
      leaders of opposition parties behind bars and
      clamped down on the press, threatening to cut off
      the power supply to newspapers that refused to
      submit to her censorship. She also banned
      political activity by grassroots organizations.

      Shutting down these institutions had a perverse
      side effect from which India's secular democracy
      has yet to fully recover: It left the field of
      resistance open to Hindu extremist groups such as
      the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its
      then political front Jan Sangh, allowing them to
      regain the political legitimacy they had lost
      after one of their erstwhile recruits
      assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS was banned
      shortly after the assassination, but once the ban
      was lifted, it decentralized its organization
      further, making it harder for authorities to keep
      track of all its activities. The RSS maintained a
      public face of a charitable social organization,
      but beneath that facade lay a more sinister side
      that engaged in communal sectarian incitement and
      other subversive activities.

      The RSS's quasi-underground character proved to
      be a vital asset after Gandhi choked off all
      regular channels for political organization.
      Unlike the other parties, Jan Sangh was quickly
      able to mobilize the nationwide network of RSS's
      "shakhas," or highly disciplined cadres, and take
      over the mantle of resistance. It temporarily
      suspended its ideology of "Hindutva," or Hindu
      nationalism, to make common cause with what it
      dubbed the "second struggle for independence." It
      played an important role in producing and
      disseminating underground literature chronicling
      Gandhi's excesses, publishing speeches by her
      opponents and reaching out to families of
      arrested dissidents.

      The upshot was that once the emergency was lifted
      and elections called, Jan Sangh declared itself
      the savior of Indian democracy -- a boast that
      its successors like the Bharatiya Janata Party
      still make -- and won a prominent place in the
      coalition of secular parties that ultimately
      defeated Gandhi. This alliance collapsed in less
      than two years, thanks in no small part to Jan
      Sangh's sectarian demands. Nevertheless, as New
      York University Professor Arvind Rajagopal has
      noted, this brief stint in power proved an
      invaluable launching pad for the group's virulent
      ideology and did lasting damage to the country's
      commitment to secularism.

      Indeed, although Gandhi, like her father,
      Jawaharlal Nehru, was an ardent secularist, after
      she returned to power she assiduously tried to
      build her Hindu bona fides, even accepting an
      invitation by a Hindu fundamentalist group to
      inaugurate the Ganga Jal Yatra, an annual event
      under which Hindus gather in a show of unity and
      collectively march to the mountains to get water
      from the holy Ganges river. Gandhi's gesture was
      significant because it legitimized the use of
      Hindu symbolism for political mobilization,
      something that subsequently produced immense
      tensions and ugly confrontations among Hindus and
      * * *

      A similar political mainstreaming of radical
      Islamist groups might occur in Pakistan if Mr.
      Musharraf is allowed to prolong his power grab.
      In fact, the situation could be worse, given
      that, unlike India, Pakistan has never been a
      secular country and Islamists have always exerted
      considerable behind-the-scenes influence on
      government. They have infiltrated the Pakistani
      intelligence services and are well represented in
      the ranks of the civil bureaucracy. And there has
      always been close cooperation between Pakistan's
      generals and mullahs because of their common
      interest in cultivating Pakistan's Islamic
      identity and playing up the threat that Hindu
      India poses to it. The one government institution
      where Islamists have only a minority presence is
      the Pakistani Parliament.

      But that might change if Mr. Musharraf continues
      to postpone elections and crush political
      opponents. Under such circumstances,
      Jammat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan's oldest religious
      party with ties to the Taliban -- and an
      organization that harbors a long-standing desire
      to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on the country
      -- and its sister organizations might well become
      useful to secular parties such as former Prime
      Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's
      Party. JI and its cohorts command even bigger
      powers of mobilization than Jan Sangh did during
      India's emergency. They run madrassas, or
      religious schools, publish newspapers and have
      sizeable cadres that can be quickly deployed for
      street protests. These resources might prove
      vitally important in resisting Mr. Musharraf.

      "Instead of the secular and religious parties
      working against each other, they will start
      working together," fears Prof. Hasan-Askari Rizvi
      of Punjab University in Lahore. Indeed, the
      Associated Press has already reported that Ms.
      Bhutto is inviting the Islamist parties, many of
      whose members too have been thrown in jail, to
      "join hands" with her. All of this will allow the
      Islamists to mask their real agenda and piggyback
      on a popular cause to win more representation in
      parliament when elections are held. Even if
      secularists like Ms. Bhutto prevail in these
      elections eventually, it will be much harder for
      them to resist Islamist demands if they are
      beholden to them for beating back the emergency.
      In effect, the Islamist reach will not only gain
      in depth -- but legitimacy as well.
      * * *

      If Mr. Musharraf were prodded to call off the
      emergency and honor his commitment to hold
      genuinely free and transparent elections in early
      January, would that lead to an Islamist victory,
      or at least significant gains, as the Bush
      administration fears? Not at all.

      Islamist parties had their best showing in the
      2002 general elections, when they secured 11.1%
      of the vote and 53 out of 272 parliamentary seats
      -- a major gain over the pathetic three seats
      they won a decade before. But this gain was less
      serious than it seems. Most of the additional
      seats came not from Pakistan proper, but a few
      border provinces in the West that were
      experiencing a resurgence of anti-Americanism
      given their deep cross-border ties with the
      Taliban in Afghanistan. More crucially, however,
      Mr. Musharraf banned Ms. Bhutto and leaders of
      other secular parties from running, making it
      hard for these parties to secure a decent voter
      turnout. If free and fair elections were to be
      held today, Prof. Rizvi estimates secular parties
      would win handily, with the Islamists commanding
      no more than 5% of the national vote.

      Islamist victory at the polls is not a real
      threat in Pakistan right now. The Bush
      administration should not allow that fear to
      deter it from applying maximum pressure on Mr.
      Musharraf to hold elections posthaste. The U.S.
      can, for instance, threaten to cut off Pakistan's
      supply of F-16 fighter jets and other
      nonterrorism-related aid.

      India's example shows that even one vacation from
      democracy can be a huge setback for secularism.
      Yet another prolonged suspension of democracy
      will leave Pakistan few resources to beat back
      its Islamists. This is one instance where the
      Bush administration's avowed commitment to
      democracy is not just the more principled -- but
      also the more practical -- way of countering the
      threat of Islamic extremists.

      Ms. Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason
      Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank.
      An appeal to the poets, writers, theatre artists and other intellectuals





      Photo: INSEC
      Displacement in the Terai is increasing due to escalating ethnic tension

      KATHMANDU, 29 November 2007 (IRIN) - Nepal's
      human rights workers are concerned at the
      increasing number of displaced families in the
      country's Terai region where ethnic tension
      between the Madhesi and Pahade communities is
      rising, activists told IRIN on 29 November.

      In the past few weeks alone, over 100 Pahade
      families - at least 500 people - fled their homes
      in Bara, Rautahat, Siraha, Saptari and Parsa
      districts, the most affected areas in the Terai,
      a fertile lowland area of southern Nepal which is
      the breadbasket and industrial hub of the country.

      Whilst the Madhesi are the original inhabitants
      of the Terai, the Pahade are hill migrants who
      moved to the Terai, own much of the land and
      dominate Terai's political life and economy. The
      Pahade make up about one third of the population
      of the Terai, which itself accounts for nearly
      half Nepal's population.

      The two communities have had a long history of
      tensions especially over the control of forests
      and regional politics, but not to the extent of
      communal violence as in the past few months, say

      "There will be renewed displacement and a crisis
      if the current violence is not controlled," said
      rights activist Gopal Siwakoti of the
      International Institute for Human Rights,
      Environment and Development (INHURED).

      Since pro-Madhesi political groups launched their
      protests in a bid to achieve more regional
      autonomy in February, violence has led to ethnic
      clashes and the displacement of both groups, with
      most displaced being Pahades.

      Last week alone, nearly 90 families fled in fear
      of the militant group Madhesi Mukti Tigers in
      Bara, Siraha and Saptari districts, 400km
      southeast of the capital, according to the
      Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a local
      human rights group.

      "Most of the families like ours were constantly
      threatened with death if we didn't leave," said a
      displaced villager Om Bahadur Shrestha in
      Barachettra village of Sunsari District.

      He said Pahade families were being targetted by Madhesi militant groups.

      "All the displaced families, including children,
      are living in very poor conditions," said aid
      worker Hari Bhattarai from the Norwegian Refugee
      Council (NRC), one of the main agencies providing
      support to the displaced.

      Madhesi also targetted

      Rights activists say Madhesi families have also
      been displaced, among them those who do not
      support militant groups.
      ''Most of the families like ours were constantly
      threatened with death if we didn't leave.''

      Madhesis working for the government, media and
      human rights organisations also live in fear as
      they are constantly under threat of losing their
      jobs or being killed.

      The worst affected are middle class families and
      well-off farmers who own large tracts of land or
      have a lot of property. They are forced to pay
      large sums to militant Madhesi groups, activists

      Displaced Madhesi families are now taking refuge
      in safer Terai areas like Biratnagar, Inarwa,
      Janakpur and near the main highway leading
      towards the northern belt of the Terai, according
      to INHURED. Many Madhesi families have moved to
      the capital for protection and better security.

      Dangerous trend

      "This is quite a different form of displacement
      and it is likely that the displaced families will
      never be able to return to their homes," said an
      international aid analyst requesting anonymity.

      He explained the current links between some
      political groups and armed gangs - with the
      latter funding militant activities and supplying
      arms, and the former giving them space for their
      criminal activities.

      "Both of them are working towards displacing
      anyone who disagrees with them - even Madhesis -
      and waging an ethnic-cleansing war," he warned.



      It is matter of shame for all of us that while
      the neighboring country Bhutan is continuing with
      the autocratic monarchy and its repressive
      activities with the help of world's largest
      democracy India, the intelligentsia in our
      country has maintained silence over the issue
      whereas the Indian media, time and again, keeps
      on praising the monarchy in Bhutan. We are
      repeatedly told by the media that the tiny
      populace in Bhutan is prospering, the country is
      unaffected by the environmental degradation and
      cultural pollution and so on. During the last
      couple of years, Indian media is full of news
      praising the King for his liberal attitude by
      arguing that he himself wants to end the monarchy
      to usher in the democratic system of governance.
      The media keeps on telling us that the King of
      Bhutan wants to join the modern world because he
      feels that continuing with monarchy in the
      present scenario is suggestive of a regressive

      The same media never told us sternly that this
      'peaceful and environment friendly' King, in 1990
      with the help of his army, had expelled 1.5 lakh
      citizens of his country, run bulldozer over their
      hamlets, destroyed their orange and cardamom
      plantations and unleashed a reign of terror and
      oppression on elders, women and children just
      because they were asking for the establishment of
      minimum democracy and respect for their human
      rights. Media never bothered to tell us that in
      the drama that is being enacted in the name of
      the countrywide elections scheduled for February
      2008, neither political parties banned for last
      20 years and termed illegal (Bhutan People's
      Party, Bhutan National Democratic Party, Druk
      National Congress) nor the people living in seven
      refugee camps run by UNHCR inside Nepal's border
      for last 17 years have been permitted to
      participate. The total population of Bhutan is
      around seven lakhs and expelling 1.5 lakh people
      out of this tiny population has been an incident
      never witnessed in the history of any country.
      The most surprising thing is that India is the
      only country in the subcontinent extending
      support to the King of Bhutan. He was even
      invited by the Indian government as chief guest
      in Republic Day parade two years back.

      India has contributed significantly towards the
      plight of Bhutanese refugees. These refugees had
      brought out some pamphlets and organized peaceful
      demonstration demanding a minimum democracy in
      1990. The centre of this movement was southern
      part of Bhutan which is close to the Indian
      border, particularly the West Bengal border.
      Although the King of Bhutan had imposed ban on
      the entry of television in his country, but how
      could this neighboring region of West Bengal
      could remain uninfluenced by the movement related
      activities which are the very soul of life in
      West Bengal. People from South Bhutan came to
      India for educational purposes and they had to
      pass through West Bengal. Apart from that, due to
      lack of connecting roads in mountainous Bhutan,
      people had to take the road which passes through
      West Bengal in order to reach the other parts of
      Bhutan. Since southern part of Bhutan was
      primarily inhabited by Lhotsompas, a Nepali
      speaking Bhutanese community which constituted 90
      percent of the Southern Bhutanese population, the
      King charged them with creating disturbance. When
      the people of Sarchop community from east and
      north Bhutan were also expelled, it became clear
      in the long run that this movement was not
      confined to the Nepali speaking community alone.

      Teknath Rizal, advisor to the Royal Council set
      up by the King wrote a letter to the King
      requesting that he must humbly pay heed to the
      people's complaints. But instead, the King put
      Teknath Rizal behind the bars. He was forced to
      suffer unbearable pains for 10 long years. He was
      released in 1999 when the King's officials
      realized that he could die in prison due to
      illness. He is now living an exiled life in Nepal
      and leading the anti-monarchy struggle. Rizal
      hails from Lhotsompa community.

      On the same lines, the popular leader of Sarchop
      community Rongthong Kunley Dorji was arrested by
      the monarchy and charged with supporting the
      demand of minimum democracy. The King seized his
      property, put him in the jail where he was
      subjected to severe atrocities and was finally
      kicked out of the country along with his family.
      He was arrested by the Indian police on his
      arrival to India in 1996 and was put in Tihar
      prison for two years. He is currently on bail and
      the Indian government has imposed various
      restrictions on him. He is also leading the
      anti-monarchy struggles. He is the president of
      Druk National Congress. India has always given
      refuge to the pro-democracy activists of various
      countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan,
      Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, Tibet and Nepal.
      Keeping this in mind, India's discriminatory
      attitude towards pro-democracy forces in Bhutan
      is surprising.

      India's role in this regard is both shameful and
      significant because when the helpless Bhutanese
      citizens arrived inside the Indian border after
      being expelled from their own country, Indian
      security forces forcefully loaded them in trucks
      as if they were livestocks and dumped inside
      Nepal border. Those who resisted were beaten up
      severely. With no choice left they stayed in
      Nepal. Later on India laid its hands off from the
      issue. Whenever Government of India was requested
      to hold talks over the Bhutanese refugees issue,
      it raised its hands by saying that this was a
      bilateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan. Bhutan
      shares border with India, not Nepal. Any one who
      leaves Bhutan will obviously enter India first.
      It is a known fact that India has itself created
      this problem for Nepal. Nepal being a small and
      weaker state cannot force India, which has
      repeatedly ignored its request to resolve the
      refugee crisis.

      In the last 17 years, whenever the Bhutanese
      refugees tried to return home risking their
      lives, they were stopped at Indo-Nepal border at
      Mechi bridge by the Indian security forces. When
      they tried to proceed further, they were beaten
      up. The most recent incident in this series is
      that of May 28, 2007 when one refugee was killed
      in police firing and hundreds of them were

      I had organized a conference on the Bhutanese
      refugee issue in 1991 along with friends from
      Nepal and India. At that time, a booklet entitled
      'Human Rights in Bhutan' was also published. Many
      distinguished people including Justice V.R.
      Krishna Iyer, Justice Ajit Singh Bains and Swami
      Agnivesh participated. In order to create a mass
      consensus on the issue, an organization named
      'Bhutan Solidarity' was formed towards the end of
      the conference and Justice Krishna Iyer was made
      its patron. I was asked to take the
      responsibility of convener. A study team from
      this organization in 1995 prepared a detailed
      report after a tour to the refugee camps. I tried
      my level best to contribute in resolving the
      issue till May 2006 in this capacity. From June
      2006 onwards, MLA from MP and young farmer leader
      Dr. Sunilam is holding the position of convener.

      As per UNHCR, the total number of refugees in the
      camps of Nepal is One lakh six thousand. The
      survey carried out by Bhutan Solidarity in 1996
      revealed that more than 40,000 refugees are
      living in India (West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal
      Pradesh) and they have not been given the status
      of refugee by UNHCR. As per 1950 Friendship
      Treaty between India and Bhutan, government of
      India refused to give these people refugee
      status. They too are living in worst conditions.

      A team from 'Bhutan Solidarity' visited the
      refugee camps again in August 2006 and found that
      40 percent of the refugees were in the age group
      of 17-40. They are losing patience after the
      failure of many peaceful attempts to go back home
      and feeling that this problem can not be resolved
      through peaceful means. They have also been
      inspired by the Maoist people's war in Nepal and
      this thought is getting concretized in their
      minds that justice will only prevail through the
      barrel of the gun. In spite of being aware of
      everything, Bhutan government and government of
      India have maintained an indifferent attitude. It
      seems as if both the governments are waiting for
      the refugees to take the violent path which will
      give them an excuse to unleash repression.

      I feel that the Bhutanese refugee crisis can be
      resolved in a peaceful way provided the
      intellectuals of India raise their voice and
      stand behind them in solidarity with their
      struggle. The area which relates with these
      refugees is politically very sensitive. Assam,
      Arunachal Pradesh and Jhapa, close to West
      Bengal, have been experiencing violent movements
      since long but the arms here are not in the hands
      of revolutionary forces, but in the hands of
      separatists, anarchists and state sponsored armed
      groups. In this scenario, if the Bhutanese
      refugees take to armed struggle, their voice will
      be lost and it will pave the way for their
      repression. In nutshell armed struggle waged by
      the Bhutanese refugees to solve their problem
      will prove to be suicidal at this stage.

      Monarchy in Bhutan is at the weakest stage. As I
      said earlier, it is supported only by India. It
      has somehow sustained itself by giving offerings
      to the high officials of Ministry of External
      Affairs and a crop of selected journalists. This
      is the reason why every Foreign Minister- be it
      I.K. Gujral, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh or
      Pranab Mukherjee- has 'off the record' given same
      argument that the Indian support to Bhutan is
      only due to India's 'geo-political compulsions'.

      In the last couple of years, US policy has been a
      fiasco in Nepal. Despite US disliking, the
      political parties of Nepal and Maoists reached a
      12 point understanding in Nov 2005, signed a
      Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Maoists entered
      the parliament and they even joined the interim
      government. Inspite of all this, Maoists are
      still listed as 'terrorist' in the US records.
      Having seen utter failure of its policy in Nepal,
      US has now shifted its focus on Bhutan since it
      wants to consolidate its position in South Asia
      by hook or crook. US had announced last year that
      it will undertake to settle 60,000 Bhutanese
      refugees on its own and assist to settle 10,000
      each in Australia and Canada. This announcement
      revealed many things. Firstly, it tried to create
      a divide among the refugees. Secondly, it tried
      to prevent the ideology of violence taking an
      organized form among them and lastly, assured the
      King of Bhutan that it will help him get rid of
      the mounting problem of refugees. This is what US
      aims at. While this proposal seems to be
      providing some relief to the King at the same
      time the debate on this proposal has for the
      first time in 17 years generated violent
      conflicts among the refugees. It is interesting
      to know that hardly 10 percent refugees are in
      favor of US proposal. One more incident is
      noteworthy. King of Bhutan Jigme Singhe Wangchuk
      had announced to abdicate the throne voluntarily
      in 2008 in favor of his son Prince Khesar Singhe
      Wangchuk. But suddenly US came in picture and
      through its efforts got the process completed
      much earlier, that is in May 2007 itself. Prince
      Khesar is now the King of Bhutan and US has full
      faith in him.

      The objective of writing this letter is to inform
      you about the plight of Bhutanese refugees and
      government of India's position in this regard as
      well as to appeal you to give a serious thought
      on the possible ways to resolve the problem. This
      problem can surely be resolved peacefully and a
      terrible bloodshed can be avoided in this region
      if the intellectuals, human rights activists and
      active pro-democracy people of Indian political
      parties think seriously over this issue. If our
      endeavour fails to bring change the government of
      India's attitude of indifference, then the
      movement of Bhutanese refugees taking a violent
      turn can not be termed as illegitimate. But I
      have strong feeling that even a small effort on
      our part can bring a peaceful solution to the

      Your suggestions on this issue are invited so
      that we can sit together in the near future and
      find out a way in the coming days.


      Anand Swaroop Verma
      Q-63, Sector-12, Noida - 201301
      Phone: 0120-4356504, 9810720714
      email: vermada@...
      Date : September 14, 2007




      www.sacw.net - December 3, 2007


      by Dilip Simeon

      The practice of violence, like all action,
      changes the world, but the most probable change
      is a more violent world - Hannah Arendt

      After Nandigram, the most important concern in
      political debate ought to be the issue of
      violence - legitimate, illegitimate, formal and
      informal. I doubt whether this debate will take
      place, because the ground shared by enemies is
      embarrassing for everyone and by mutual consent,
      remains unspeakable. Still, certain disquieting
      facts stare us in the face. Avoiding their
      implications will take us yet again to the zone
      where we focus on "who started it" - an infinite
      sequential regression that explains nothing and
      satisfies no-one.

      Political violence is always ugly, but thus far,
      the state has held the monopoly on legitimate
      force. The more a state relies on outright force,
      the more brittle and shaky its hegemony. This is
      true for empires such as the British, the Soviet
      and the American, as well as for national
      regimes. A connected issue is the maintenance of
      'irregulars' or vigilantes. These political
      para-militaries (not to be confused with the
      state's paramilitary apparatus) represent the
      stabilisation of informal violence; and their
      deployment is a grave symptom of the decline of
      state legitimacy.

      The opposition cannot deny that a number of
      supporters of the CPI (M) in Nandigram were
      forced to leave their villages. It is an abuse of
      democracy to engage in armed confrontations and
      force one's opponents to vacate their homes.
      Certain parties intervened there more with the
      motive of augmenting their political standing
      than to fulfil popular aspirations. However, on
      the issue of land-acquisition, democratic norms
      demanded that the villagers be consulted prior to
      making plans for their eviction. With the
      outbreak of conflict, the government was bound to
      maintain peace whilst looking for a solution.
      Instead, there were cases of intimidation,
      leading to the alienation even of left-wing
      cadre. The matter was compounded in March, when
      the police confronted the opposition with the
      help of an informal militia. This use of an
      extra-constitutional force was illegal. The
      government is entitled to use legitimate force to
      maintain civic peace. It does not have the right
      to despatch anonymous armed men to thrash its
      opponents. But this is exactly what it did. The
      second week of November saw a blatantly partisan
      administration neutralise the police and give
      free rein to vigilante groups. All constituents
      of the government bear responsibility for this.
      Arson and murder have taken place. Now that rape
      cases have been registered, the comrades could
      ask themselves whether this is a price worth
      paying for the 'new sunrise' in Nandigram. Is
      rape, too, a coin that needs to circulate?

      There is a long-standing fascination with
      militarism in Indian politics. Savarkar's
      favourite slogan was 'Militarise Hindu-dom!'
      Freedom fighters saw themselves as an Army,
      Netaji Subhas was drawn towards uniforms and
      military dictators. The RSS has maintained itself
      in para-military format since its inception, and
      the communist tradition has tended to glorify
      'People's War'. Two decades ago the Khalistanis
      organised 'commando forces', and took titles such
      as 'Lt General'. Islamist guerillas see
      themselves as warriors of the Almighty. The
      North-East is teeming with generalissimos. A more
      immediate kind of informal violence has appeared
      in landlord armies such as the Ranvir Sena, and
      groups such as Chhatisgarh's Salwa Judum. We
      could call it 'security outsourcing' in today's
      managerial jargon.

      There are distinctions to be made among
      paramilitaries. Some are inspired by Heavenly or
      Historical goals, others have more prosaic ends.
      Some are ideological, others pragmatic. Our
      upper-caste establishment refers to Jehadis and
      Naxalites as 'terrorists'; but doesn't see the
      Bajrang Dal or Shiv Sena that way. They're only
      'ultra-nationalists'. It objects to the violence
      and lawlessness practiced by the former, but
      winks at mass-murder and revenge-attacks by its
      own vigilantes, as in 1984 and 2002. Often
      political violence is enacted in the name of the
      oppressed - those who espouse it like to appear
      as the injured party, even when they are chief
      ministers. A binary division in the political
      ethos takes place, wherein we are moved to tears
      by the plight of our preferred victims, but
      impervious to the suffering inflicted on others
      by 'our' side. This gives rise to surreal
      spectacles such as Mr Advani's declaration of
      never having witnessed such barbarity as he saw
      in Nandigram. Indeed. The victims of his cohorts
      in Gujarat still await the smallest gesture of
      human sympathy from this statesman, whose trip to
      West Bengal was unhampered by the administration,
      unlike Medha Patkar's movements. Some citizens
      are more equal than others. Yes, we all make
      distinctions of one type or another.

      But there remain some things in common between
      these formations. They all look upon, and wish to
      convert civil society into a war-zone. Their
      emotional universe is peopled by warriors and
      martyrs, and history for them is a long march of
      dead heroes. War is glorious, and bloodshed
      brings out the best in man. I submit that the
      best is close to the worst. One symptom of the
      mental disorder called sociopathy, is the absence
      of pity. It is a sad feature of India's political
      life that so many sociopaths have found their way
      to its commanding heights. And they are no less
      diseased who possess the capacity to order
      brutality from afar, but never get blood on their
      own hands..

      During the Cold War, it was a commonplace that
      democracy and socialism were antithetical to each
      other. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, it
      has become clear that it is precisely capitalism
      that cannot co-exist with democracy. And as one
      gives way to the other, attacks on democracy will
      increase. The SEZ policy is an example of the
      suspension of constitutional rights, already
      battered by religious fanatics and imperialists.
      Evidently, capitalism can manipulate every form
      of social oppression, from gender inequity to
      caste and race, as a means of enforcing a
      congenial environment for itself. Capitalist
      development will never terminate social
      injustice, rather, it will feed upon and
      perpetuate it in hybrid forms. Extra-economic
      coercion is the social capital of modernity.

      Meanwhile, instead of defending what freedoms we
      have, the so-called people's warriors abet the
      above process by attacking democracy in the name
      of a unilateral claim to represent peoples
      interests. May one expect the freedom of speech
      in their liberated areas? This October, the
      Maoist party murdered 18 persons in Jharkhand.
      Did their victims have the opportunity to plead
      for mercy? It verges on the surreal when
      executioners demand democratic rights. Theirs is
      another kind of suspension of politics and of
      socialist ethics. Ironically their programme
      calls for yet more capitalism, on the argument
      that the capitalism we already have is not the
      genuine variety. In a certain mental universe,
      all we may look forward to is one or other brand
      of communist-administered capitalism. Maybe more
      people will turn to God for assistance.

      Democracy can only survive if democratic freedoms
      are valued and extended to the home and
      workplace. This cannot be done via the culture of
      militarism and violence. As Gandhi said in 1909,
      what is obtained through fear can be retained
      only as long as the fear lasts. The comrades who
      wrought the new sunrise in Nandigram have lots of
      work ahead.

      o o o


      30 November 2007

      Kavita Panjabi, Anuradha Kapoor, Rajashri
      Dasgupta, Saswati Ghosh, Shyamoli Das, Swapna
      Banerjee, Trina Nileena Banerjee, Shuktara Lal,
      Sushmita Sinha, Shubhasree Bhattacharya and
      Sourinee Mirdha


      o o o



      It's time for the Left in India to do a serious
      rethink, else it will perish. The excesses of one
      single year have led to this situation, writes
      Praful Bidwai

      THE INDIAN LEFT has in a single year managed to
      do through its own actions what all its opponents
      could not accomplish over eight long decades:
      namely, damage its credibility as a force which
      speaks for the underprivileged, the excluded and
      the wretched of the Indian earth, and which
      upholds the values and practices of inclusive
      democracy. This is starkly evident in the two
      major states where it rules: West Bengal, and to
      a lesser extent, Kerala.

      In West Bengal, 2007 witnessed forcible land
      acquisition for a car factory in Singur, two
      planned episodes of armed violence in Nandigram,
      starvation deaths among long-unemployed
      tea-garden workers in Jalpaiguri and dirt-poor
      Adivasis in Purulia and Bankura. Besides, there
      were food riots in nine districts against corrupt
      ration shop-owners linked to the CPM, Rizwanur
      Rehman's mysterious death amidst a
      party-police-business nexus, and the expulsion of
      writer Taslima Nasreen in place of a principled
      defence of her fundamental rights to the freedom
      of belief and expression.

      2007 was no ordinary year. It marked 30
      continuous years of the Left Front's rule in West
      Bengal - a tenure unmatched in India and probably
      in the world. Nowhere else have Communist parties
      been mandated in free and fair elections to rule
      a country or province the size of West Bengal
      (population 80 million) for three decades. This
      is a tribute to the relevance of Left-wing
      politics.In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front
      came to power with an impressive majority, but
      now faces a bleak prospect primarily because of
      serious infighting within the CPM, and pressure
      from party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan to
      follow pro-rich neoliberal policies, which are
      alienating the vast majority. The stench of
      scandal hangs heavy in Kerala, with lottery
      scams, sweetheart deals with shady businessmen,
      and expropriation of Adivasis. In the next Lok
      Sabha elections, the LDF may well lose the bulk
      of the seats it holds.

      Nationally, the Left parties, comprising the CPM,
      the Communist Party of India, the Forward Bloc
      and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, are set to
      shrink in their parliamentary representation, and
      more crucially, their moral and political
      influence. The CPM is likely to be worst
      affected. This could reverse the one-and-a-half
      decades-long trend under which the Left survived
      the international collapse of Soviet-style
      socialism, retained much of its moral and
      intellectual capital, and in many cases, extended
      its influence - defying the tendency towards a
      decline of Left-wing politics and a surge of the
      Right in most parts of the world, barring Latin

      Neither the Left, nor the CPM in particular, has
      a strategy to resolve the ideological, political,
      and organisational crisis it faces. The plain
      truth is the Indian Left is less and less able to
      articulate a vision of social emancipation and
      present alternatives to corporate-led
      globalisation with all its enormous economic
      imbalances and social distortions. The Left must
      rethink - or perish. The Left's achievements must
      not be underrated. The greatest include land
      reform, an unblemished record of communal harmony
      and peace, stable, relatively clean governance,
      panchayati raj institutions, and above all,
      politicisation and empowerment of the masses. No
      other political current can claim to be such a
      principled upholder of democratic traditions and
      values. If the Left didn't exist in India, we
      would have to invent it!

      In West Bengal, Operation Barga gave 2.3 million
      cultivators tenancy rights, and accounts for more
      than one-half of the total The state also
      witnessed a 210 percent increase in literacy and
      a halving of infant mortality. Urban poverty
      ratio declined to 14.8 percent, well below the
      national average (25.7 percent).

      However, the Front's record in some other
      respects is poor, as the official Human
      Development Report (2004) admits. Public spending
      and access to health services have stagnated.
      Some indicators - immunisation, antenatal care,
      nutrition among women, and number of doctors and
      hospital beds per lakh people - are below the
      national average. West Bengal has not opened a
      single new primary health centre in a decade.

      RURAL POVERTY decreased between 1983 and 1993-94
      at an annual rate of 2.24 percentage- points. But
      the decline has slowed down to 1.15 points
      annually. To compound matters, W. Bengal has the
      lowest rate of generating work under the National
      Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme - a mere 14
      person-days per poor family, against the national
      average of 43, in place of the promised 100 days
      a year.

      Worse still, according to the National Sample
      Survey, "the percentage of rural households not
      getting enough food every day in some months of
      the year" is highest in West Bengal (10.6
      percent), worse than in Orissa (4.8). An alarming
      indicator is the number of school dropouts in the
      6-14 age group. At 9.61 lakh in West Bengal, this
      figures is even higher than in Bihar (6.96 lakh).
      Of India's 24 districts which have more than
      50,000 out-ofschool children, nine are in West

      Yet another dark spot is the Front's failure of
      inclusion in respect of the religious minorities.
      Muslims form 25.2 percent of the state's
      population. But their proportion in government
      employment is an abysmal 2.1 percent, even lower
      than Gujarat's 5.4. This represents, sadly, the
      downside of the LF's record of protecting the
      minorities against communal violence.Clearly,
      West Bengal has a long way to go before it can
      become a model. Regrettably, its leadership's
      priorities have shifted towards elitism. It now
      obsessively promotes industrialisation at any
      cost, at the expense of peasants and workers. It
      has set its mind upon neoliberal projects like
      the Singur car factory and Special Economic Zones.

      The results of the neoliberal orientation were
      evident in Nandigram in March and again in the
      first half of November, when the CPM forcibly
      "captured" two blocks, over which it had lost
      control. The bulk of Nandigram's people -
      including many CPM supporters - got disenchanted
      with the party because it tried to impose an SEZ
      on them, earmarked for Indonesia's Salim group -
      a front for General Suharto's super-corrupt
      family.The SEZ plan was tentatively abandoned
      under popular resistance, led (but not
      exclusively) by the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh
      Committee (BUPC). But the CPM started a campaign
      of intimidation of ordinary people, turning
      thousands into refugees, and resulting on March
      14 in a murderous attack on villages, accompanied
      by arson, loot and rape. The attempt failed.
      CPM-BUPC clashes continued in recent months, and
      pressure grew to call in the Central Reserve
      Police Force (CRPF). To pre-empt CRPF
      intervention, CPM cadre launched their second bid
      to capture" Nandigram, turning it into a "war
      zone". The rest is history.

      Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya presents
      the violence as a spontaneous clash between two
      organisations, in which the BUPC was "paid back
      in the same coin". In reality, this was a clear
      case of abuse of the state police, and its
      subordination to the CPM. The CPM treated its
      political adversaries as another country's enemy

      This does not argue that the BUPC does not have
      goons in its ranks. It certainly does. But their
      power could not have matched the clout of armed
      CPM cadre backed by the state. Nandigram- II was
      a grievous blunder, which betrayed the Front's
      own core constituency. No argument about
      "provocation" by the opposition, or a
      "conspiracy" between the Right and the Extreme
      Left, can justify the gunning down of innocent

      Unfortunately, the CPM leadership has learnt few
      lessons from Nandigram. It remains obsessed with
      GDP-ism and boasts that Bengal has the highest
      growth (8.55 percent) of all states. It has ruled
      out any rethinking on neoliberal policies. Even
      CPM general secretary Prakash Karat says: "We
      have to adopt industrialisationŠ. we have to
      compromise. Industrialisation cannot be achieved
      without the help of capitalists like the
      Tatas."This approach is creating a rift, for the
      first time ever, within the LF and threatens to
      weaken its greatest collective strength: unity.
      The approach could eventually turn the Left into
      an elitist, Social Democratic entity favoured by
      the rich and middle classes. That cannot be the
      future of the Left as a viable and relevant
      plebeian force.

      The CPM must decide whether it should fight for
      radical social change, or merely manage
      capitalism Chinese-style, however honestly. If it
      chooses the second option, it will go into
      historic decline. It must also make a decisive
      break with the undemocratic organisational
      culture it has inherited, which punishes
      dissidence and encouragesa "my-party-
      right-or-wrong" attitude. Unless the Left
      undertakes ruthless self-criticism, it can't
      effect course correction.

      Source: Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 47, Dated Dec 08 , 2007

      o o o



      [December 4, 2007]

      We are taken aback by a widespread reaction to a
      statement we made with the best of intentions,
      imploring a restoration of unity among the left
      forces in India -a reaction that seems to assume
      that such an appeal to overcome divisions among
      the left could only amount to supporting a very
      specific section of the CPM in West Bengal. Our
      statement did not lend support to the CPM's
      actions in Nandigram or its recent economic
      policies in West Bengal, nor was that our
      intention. On the contrary, we asserted, in
      solidarity with its Left critics both inside and
      outside the party, that we found them tragically
      wrong. Our hope was that Left critics would view
      their task as one of putting pressure on the CPM
      in West Bengal to correct and improve its
      policies and its habits of governance, rather
      than dismiss it wholesale as an unredeemable
      party. We felt that we could hope for such a
      thing, of such a return to the laudable
      traditions of a party that once brought extensive
      land reforms to the state of West Bengal and that
      had kept communal tensions in abeyance for
      decades in that state. This, rather than any
      exculpation of its various recent policies and
      actions, is what we intended by our hopes for
      'unity' among the left forces.

      We realize now that it is perhaps not possible to
      expect the Left critics of the CPM to overcome
      the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they
      have come to feel towards it, unless the CPM
      itself takes some initiative against that sense
      of disappointment. We hope that the CPM in West
      Bengal will show the largeness of mind to take
      such an initiative by restoring the morale as
      well as the welfare of the dispossessed people of
      Nandigram through the humane governance of their
      region, so that the left forces can then unite
      and focus on the more fundamental issues that
      confront the Left as a whole, in particular focus
      on the task of providing with just and
      imaginative measures an alternative to
      neo-liberal capitalism that has caused so much
      suffering to the poor and working people in India.


      Michael Albert, Tariq Ali, Akeel Bilgrami,
      Victoria Brittain, Noam Chomsky, Charles Derber,
      Stephen Shalom

      o o o



      by Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay



      Hindustan Times
      November 30, 2007


      by Sanjoy Hazarika

      As Assam lurches through a cycle of hatred,
      violence, suspicion and ethnic division, with the
      state government an impotent observer despite its
      talk of action and ministers scurrying from one
      press conference to another, the question that
      needs to be asked is not just how did this happen
      or what can be done, but also what it means in
      the larger context of Assam's complex social
      milieu and India's policies.

      For one, it shatters the dying myth of a
      'tolerant' society in Assam, a myth that died
      many years ago in Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and
      Nagaland with their random bursts of ethnic
      cleansing, at times directed against plains
      dwellers, at other times against fellow
      tribespeople. There is not just one monolithic
      society. The North-east has no less than 220
      distinct ethnic groups, with a number like the
      Monpas and Nagas, Mizos, Garos and Khasis having
      kin in neighbouring countries - whether it is
      Tibet of Myanmar or Bangladesh.

      A state like Assam is home to no less than 20
      ethnic groups, large and small, many of which
      function as exclusive entities, without a role
      for those outside of the specific ethnic group.
      These groups are in different stages of economic
      growth and political mobilisation.

      What needs emphasis is that while the core of
      traditional social structures and practices
      remains intact, these traditions are being
      challenged by more radical voices, especially
      among younger leaders in these ethnic groups,
      particularly among the tea community. This is a
      coalition of tribes, whose forebears were
      forcibly transported to Assam to work on British
      tea plantations. Many died in the course of those
      journeys, as they were moved from the dry
      highlands of Chotanagpur and today's Jharkhand to
      the humid plains of Assam.

      It is one of the largest organised forced
      migrations in pre-Independent India and one of
      the most shameful. Their numbers are large - not
      less than 20 lakh these days, critical to the
      future of most governments. They live largely on
      plantations, in a world apart, where they live in
      free housing (called lines), their food is
      subsidised and their salaries protected. But
      their conditions remain poor with high levels of
      substance abuse, especially alcohol, lack of
      savings and very low levels of education and
      overall health.

      They are slow to react angrily but have conducted
      violent assaults against tea managers and others.
      Most recently, when pro-Ulfa supporters blocked
      highways in Upper Assam last May, forcing
      near-starvation conditions in the nearby estates,
      they scattered the protesters, armed with bows
      and arrows and heavy sticks. In many of these
      incidents, there has been heavy use of raw
      country liquor by the crowds.

      The images of the ongoing confrontations in Assam
      hark back to another era, with bows and arrows as
      well as spears and lathis being brandished. Last
      Saturday's initial outburst by the protesters who
      were demanding ST status exploded against stunned
      and unprepared residents, car and shop owners as
      well as students. For nearly two hours, the
      adivasis, some of whom who were in Guwahati or a
      big city for the first time, ran riot, unchecked
      by the police, many of whom were on security duty
      at the International Tea Convention.

      It was after this mayhem that the organised
      retribution began: residents with assistance from
      local thugs broke up the rioters into smaller
      groups, beat them senseless and, in one horrific
      episode, stripped a young girl and chased her
      before an elderly man, shamed and outraged by the
      incident, gave her his shirt and protection. But
      the images of the young men, smiling, staring,
      and clicking photos with their cellphones while
      this child of 15 was being thrashed and
      brutalised, is an ugly example of the intolerance
      and lumpenisation that pent up angers fuelled by
      growing unemployment and poor governance (Assam's
      jobless numbers are about 30 lakh or one-tenth of
      the population, according to a top economist
      here) have pushed a state, once known both for
      peace and composite culture, to the brink.

      What was a saving grace has been the scores of
      men and women saved by local people, who pulled
      them into their homes away from the mobs, of
      auto-rickshaw drivers who drove the injured to
      hospital. And I know of one case when a scooter
      driver gave a young woman and her child every
      rupee he had after taking them to a safe
      locality. But these stories of silent bravery and
      humanity were forgotten, once the tragic footage
      of the young girl was shown in the media.

      The state government has offered compensation to
      the injured adivasis. But that's created a sense
      of resentment. There has been none for those
      whose shops, vehicles and other property were
      destroyed, who were injured and harmed.

      At one time, Congress leaders held sway over the
      tea tribes, as they are known in Assam. But the
      years have seen their power base rapidly eroded.
      The BJP has made inroads into the region. But two
      groups which have emerged as strident and
      powerful are the All Assam Adivasi Students
      Association, which had organised the ill-fated
      demonstration, largely located on the North Bank;
      the other is the All Tea Tribal Students
      Association, which is based in Upper Assam, in
      the plantations of Dibrugarh and Jorhat. They are
      among those leading the current movement, which
      have changed course suddenly from seeking a
      Constitutional demand to pure revenge against the
      ubiquitous 'other'.

      What is incomprehensible is why the State
      government and the district administrations have
      been reluctant to declare Section 144 - which
      disallows the gathering of more than four persons
      - and take tough measures, including tear gas,
      water cannons (of course, the latter may not be
      available) and known methods of crowd dispersal.

      But beyond the immediate, the situation is
      tailormade for groups like the Ulfa to reach out
      to those most radicalised and angered by recent
      events as well as the trends of the past years in
      the tea community. This is what should be of
      deep, immediate and long-term worry for the state
      and central governments as well as all those who
      have the interest of Assam and the region at

      Such possible mobilisation and recruitment of tea
      garden youth - many uneducated but still with
      high expectations of achievements - into the
      ranks of armed groups can turn Assam into an
      absolute nightmare. Should this happen, bows and
      arrows can be transformed into modern killing
      weapons. Those who are Assamese and not from the
      tea tribes would need to constantly look over
      their shoulders to see if they are safe; an
      atmosphere of fear and terror would prevail,
      which no amount of police or army presence can

      This is as dangerous a portend as what security
      analysts and media pundits keep shouting from the
      rooftops about: Islamic radicalisation in the
      soft underbelly of Assam, the borders with

      The danger can be reduced, if not solved. For
      one, the central government needs to shed its
      head-in-the-sand attitude about not extending ST
      status to the tea tribes in Assam and order a
      fresh look at the issue. Constitutions and
      communities cannot be locked in time warps. The
      adivasis, Mundas, Santhals, Oraons and other
      groups of Assam still maintain the oral and
      musical traditions of the past, though they may
      live on tea estates. Their relocation was a
      horrible historic injustice.

      New Delhi has an opportunity to redeem the past
      by giving them a recognition that is their due.
      The state government needs to go beyond mere lip
      service if it is serious about seeking ST status
      for this group; it needs to stop bracketing them
      as tea tribes (the category does not exist) and
      define them as the tribal groups they are in the
      land of their ancestors. Surely, this can be done
      if the Meenas of Rajasthan can remain an ST group
      when many of them have moved out of their
      traditional areas, discarded their customary garb
      and are powerful in government service.

      Sanjoy Hazarika is Managing Trustee, Centre for North East Studies and Policy



      Kashmir Times
      December 1, 2007



      That the security forces have vacated the Nageen
      Club, occupied and rendered defunct in the last
      two decades, and handed it over to the tourism
      department is good news. The prestigious Nageen
      Club, which would fetch tourists in huge numbers
      prior to the years of insurgency<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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