Monday, November 29, 2021

Militancy woes resurface


The Statesman

Churachandpur, a district in Manipur became central topic of discussion overnight on the 13thNovember, so much so it was trending on Twitter. The new-found fame however was not something the local people could rejoice for; the trend, unfortunately, relates to the highly condemnable killing of Seven People- an Assam Rifle Commanding Officer (CO) along with his wife and son, in addition to 4 jawans. The attack which a valley-based proscribed outfit, the  Revolutionary People’s Front/People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) have jointly claimed responsibility for, has drawn flak from all quarters. Taking to Twitter, the Prime Minister has in no uncertain terms expressed his condemnation of the incident and the Home Minister assured that the perpetrators will be brought to justice soon.



Many observed that the attack was meant to attract the attention of the Central Government; to proclaim, “we exist”. The attack appears to be carefully planned to make major headlines. Some may ask,  ‘why would a Manipur-based militant hitherto camped in Myanmar would feel the need to announce their presence in India now?’  One among the many reasons could be to send a message before the upcoming Manipur state Assembly election in 2022, where each militant group would want to give diktat on their terms. Reports are doing the round suspecting China’s involvement in the attack. It is no secret that China has close ties with a few militant groups of the North East and had in the past orchestrated various plans to unleash security instability in the North Eastern Region. Earlier,  Indian Intelligence had revealed how there exist an unholy nexus between some Militants from Manipur and the Tatmadaw, wherein the militants aided the Burmese military in controlling Burmese civiliansdesirous of leaving the trouble-torn country.  The militants in return are believed to be accorded a base by the Military Junta in Myanmar. The recent attack on Assam Rifles appeared to be carried out by the very militants sheltered by the Tatmadaw. In carrying out a carefully planned attack, one of the worst against security forces in Manipur in recent times, PLA and its cohorts MNPL could be obliging partiesthat have sheltered themtragically groups who find pleasure in India’s loss.


The selection of the site of the attack is another interesting fact that may escape the eyes of the masses and even seasoned observers. Manipur may be a small state situated in the nook corner of the country, but it has diverse cultures and ethnic composition.  Churachandpur district is predominantly inhabited by the Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes and the area has designated camps of Kuki-Zomi Militants who have Suspension of Operations (SoO)with the Government. The attackers, both non-SoO, infiltrating from across the border, after executing their plan could flee far and wide but the local tribal civilians are left with an execrable prospect of bearing the brunt of the repercussions. Fingers will also be pointed at the militants under SoO with the Government and it is here that the wisdom of the Government is required to understand that there are forces that want to disturb its initiatives of the peace process in the region. 



Militants being killed by security forces or Security forces being killed by Militants in Manipur, albeit rare in recent times do not come as an absolute surprise to many, considering the engagement of security forces to curb militancy issues in the region for decades now. The recent attack on Assam Rifles by the Militants in Manipur however sent shockwaves across the country; social media went wild, demanding the punishment of those involved in the attack. The uproar is understandable since it involved the death of a woman and child, which makes the militants no better if not worse than ‘the forces’ they have been accusing of years of terrorising innocent civilians. For the first time, militants belonging to North East has been referred to by the intellectuals, Media personnel, and the Government as terrorist; only the militants are to be blamed for this new development. The press release by the People’s Liberation Army,  stating that they were not aware of the presence of the CO’s family- a women and a minor, finds few takers. Statementssuch as, ‘the Assam Rifle CO has violated protocols by taking his family along in a military operation,’ no matter how true it sounds cannot be a justification for the killing of innocent people.


The security forces will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned to award a befitting reply to the attackers. Here, it is important for the security forces to delicately handle the issue by having the ground knowledge of which group is for and against talks and peace processes initiated by the Government. Militancy issue in the state, post the signing of SoO and ceasefires by the Government with a few militant groups has considerably improved over the years. Uncalculated moves now can cast back Manipur to its darker days of militancy woes, reminiscent of the 1990s and early 2000s.



The fact that the majority of the militant organisations in the state are engaged in talksinitiatives of the Government and considering thatthe recent attacks were carried out by those based in Myanmar, with the possible support of neighbouring countries,  the attack on Assam Rifles Convoy cannot be a conclusion for the assumption of total security failure in the state. A relook of the operational tactics and threat assessment, keeping in mind the neighbouring countries’ interests to destabilise India, will however have to be effected by the security establishment to ensure such incident is averted in future. As far as punishing the perpetrators is concerned, it is no secret as to where the security forces need to look; the challenge is that they will have to seek beyond Churachandpur or for that matter India. The recent attack on Assam Rifles is sure to be a game-changer in terms of security engagement in the North-Eastern region. Apart fromshouldering the need to award befitting response tothose in favour of violence over talksthe Government can, for the larger good, use this moment to onboard militant organisations to the talks table. 


Unravelling The Shillong Discord



News headlines such as ‘One Militant killed in an encounter or ‘Militant shot dead’ are not uncommon in the North-Eastern states. But the news that carried the death of a surrendered rebel leader, Mr. Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, who was killed in an alleged encounter with Meghalaya Police at his Mawlai residence on ‘Friday the 13th’ of August caused unrest in the otherwise peaceful city of Shillong.


A day after India celebrated its 75th year of Independence, the people of Meghalaya witnessed something extraordinary- hundreds of people from Mawlai Shillong, shouted ‘ long live HNLC’ as the mortal remain of Mr. Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, the former General Secretary of Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, was taken to be laid to rest. Reportedly the slain ex- militant occasionally served as a mediator between the Government and HNLC, a banned militant outfit that claims to represent the cause of Khasi-Jaintia people and aims to free Meghalaya from the clutch of ‘outsiders.’ This incident of people openly supporting the militants and chanting pro-militant slogans at Mawlai, Shillong must be a first not just in the state of Meghalaya but the entire North East, in recent times.


“Every time my friends from mainland India asked me a place to visit in North East India, ‘Shillong’ would usually be my answer without even a second of pause. ‘Meghalaya is not only beautiful but one of the most peaceful states in North East India,’ I’d on the whole opined,” tweeted a user in Twitter. Most people have the same idea about Shillong- different from other NE states like Nagaland and Manipur, which still are categorised as disturbed areas and have long-pending militancy issues to deal with albeit in a much-improved environment. They must be wondering now, ‘What has happened to Shillong?’


The Meghalaya Government is initiating a judicial inquiry into the incident to probe whether the former rebel leader was killed in a fake encounter as alleged by the deceased’s family or in self-defence according to the police’s version. It matters little as to whose version is true. What matters is the death of a person in the hands of people, who are supposed to protect people. Since the matter is now sub-judicial, it will be in the best interest to let the concerned people do their task. However, going even by their version that the person killed had a knife with him, the Meghalaya police will have to come up with an extraordinary explanation as to why ‘killing’ was considered the only option available for self defence. 


What is worrying in Mr. Cherishterfield’s case is the manifestation of how the public has so little faith in the Government and the rebirth of public sympathy for militants. That an incident of bomb blast a few days earlier had many people fuming and even cursing the development- of the emergence of militancy issue in the state again after decades of peaceful atmosphere. A few people however dismissed the incident as being a desperate attempt by some organisation to proclaim their existence and that nothing serious should be attached to the incident. All in all, the public was unsympathetic, if not wary of militants in Shillong and Meghalaya. And all that changed overnight with the death of Mr. Thangkhiew. 


While there are understandable concerns of civilians being subjected to up-teem hardships due to restrictions on account of the pandemic and the curfew and internet shutdown imposed upon them, the move to prevent public unrest does temporarily provide some respite. The Meghalaya government appears to have done its best to manage the mess it found itself. The urgent formation of a committee comprising CSOs, student leaders, headmen, and various stakeholders is a commendable step; there were sufficient pieces of evidence that indicate that the much volatile situation could develop into serious law and order issue. 


 That Mawlai Headmen refused to participate in the peace committee until the police personnel involved in the killing of the ex-rebel leader and their resolve to govern on their own is worrisome. Unfortunate more than the decision to excommunicate the Government itself is the prevalence of such an environment which warranted such development. As opined by many people, the best thing would have been for the Meghalaya Police to not kill Cherishterfield but since that is now not possible, the Government should avoid covering it up with another mistake- denying the family and people of Meghalaya the whole truth that happened. 


The Meghalaya Government could salvage some faith by sincerely co-operating the judicial inquiry, revamping its policies on policing and involving CSOs to find an amicable solution. Another area the Government should have a relook is the chain of command in the home ministry, where the concerned minister itself is allegedly not taken into confidence for the operation on that fateful night. And ifreports of the HNLC withdrawing from peace talks post the killing of Cherishterfield are true, it will take a sincere commitment on the part of the Government to find ways to regain its lost image as being a trustworthy authorityIn the effort to re-establish Shillong to its original name and fame asbeing an educational and tourist hotspot that routinely attracts thousands of people from far and wide, the most important step would be to ensure that peace and tranquility bloom once again in the Scotland of the East. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

75th Independence Day: In Search of True Freedom

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     File Photo PTI /Outlook India

As the clock stroke past midnight on the 14th of August 1947, India gained not just its political independence but also its economic independence from the clutch of foreign rule. The story of India’s successful non-violent struggle has inspired many thoughts and movements across the globe, and it is one achievement that every Indian should feel proud of it. The Prime Minister has in January rightly appealed to people to write about freedom fighters and events associated with India’s independence. It is important that we remember the men and women who have the generous concern and the brave commitment to sacrifice their prime days for our today. 

We have come a long way from those days of channelizing our main resources, thoughts, and energies for the development of the primary sector and eradicating extreme poverty. The transition of India from being an entity composed of different princely states with individual interests to a country that not only stands united today but fought patriotically as one against external aggressions is no mean achievement by any yardstick. Today, our significant advancement in science and technology, defence, literature, medicine, and the economy at large has captured the world’s attention so much so, India today is regarded not just as an economic powerhouse but also a responsible world leader. That India’s ambition to be part of the UN’s permanent seat garnered overwhelming support from many countries is a testament to the fact that we are no longer a country with a begging bowl. It is however prudent to ask Is India's growth inclusive. If India lives in its village, as Gandhiji had said, the progress of the nation should thence be measured by the condition of the villages in India. The question which then arises is- “Are our villages self-sufficient today?”

Renewed focus on Subhash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army is a heartening development, as freedom struggle, in as much as we would love it to be, is not just about Gandhiji and his followers. Also noteworthy is the little yet significant development in the acknowledgement of tribal movements in the North East, long ignored in mainstream narratives of India’s freedom movement; that native writers had to undertake painstaking efforts to rewrite the forgotten stories from scratch notwithstanding, several articles and books have appeared on the subject in recent times. However, taking the opportunity to evaluate the progress we have made so far, and more so the challenges faced, there are some glaring unfortunate developments and the lack of concrete remedial initiatives thereof that is worth contemplating today.

The fact that hundreds of years of exploitation in the hands of the British have finally ceased for good is a momentous occasion worth celebrating in any sense. Sadly though, a country formed on the underlying principle of non-violence has seen domestic violence right from the moment it was unchained. 75 years later, even as our achievements in many fields deserve applause, social freedom is still elusive to us. 

We still have certain sections of our society that have witnessed countless exploitations and discrimination. What will freedom mean to those thousands of families living in the slums of Mumbai and to the hundreds of thousands of Adivasis who are subjected to social stigmas even today? They may be free of exploitation from foreign force but are facing the same hardship if not graver from their countrymen, and there is certainly no guarantee that the latter is milder to tolerate. Social divisions such as -Hindu- Muslim, North-South, and the high caste-low caste exists below our artificial portrayal of a socially unified Indian, which manifested into unfortunate incidents on many occasions. In the words of Dr. B R Ambedkar, ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’

The issue of social disparity is an issue as old as our civilization. The British made good use of it to further their agenda of divide and rule. Seventy-four years after the British left, it remains ever fertile to seeds of discord. It is a collective failure on the part of those running the government thus far and no political party can claim to have no responsibility for it. If the present government has received flake for introducing controversial bills in parliament like the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the Instant Triple Talaq Bill, the governments before have been accused of failing to address social disharmony efficiently, if not ignorant of it altogether. 

While the economic impacts of the unprecedented onslaught of the pandemic are surely felt by many countries and it will be incorrect to measure India’s growth development based on current situations, the prevalence of extreme poverty, loss of livelihood and the aforementioned lack of social freedom is a concern India cannot overlook in its effort to portray the India shining image; this should be a commitment irrespective of which party rules. For India to therefore effectively play a role as a world leader, it has to focus on its domestic issue. We might have comparatively fared better considering our Independence is not even a century old. But seventy-five years surely could have placed us in a far better position than we are at present. 

Independence Day is indeed a day of remembering our freedom fighters and celebrating their achievements. But most vitally, it is a day when we the people of India should celebrate our freedoms. Some of the unfortunate events that have happened post-independence would have left our freedom fighters surely in tears. It will be a befitting tribute to our freedom fighters to ensure that the freedoms they have fought and laid their lives for, are thriving and blooming today in the world’s largest democracy. Happy Independence Day!

Friday, August 6, 2021

Comprehensive settlement needed for N-E disputes

 The Statesman (Click here to visit )

PC: The Statesman

The 26th of July will go down as a turning point in the history of India’s interstate relations; five policemen lost their lives, and many were injured as a result of police firing between Assam and Mizoram.

Border disputes are not uncommon, but it is the warlike confrontation between police personnel of the same country that is regretful and alarming.

The run-up to the incident and the question of who is responsible is a mystery, the answer to which will vary depending on who is asked.

That Mizoram sticks to the inner line of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873 while Assam clings to the 1933 inner line has been a bone of contention between the two states for quite a while now. A day after the incident, a press release by the Assam Government stated that Mizoram started constructing a road by destroying a forest reserve and set up a police camp in Lailapur, Cachar District, Assam.

The release added that a team of Assam officials had visited the place to request the Mizoram authorities to maintain the status quo but were attacked by miscreants and visibly supported by Mizoram police, who would later open fire at Assam police using automatics and light machine guns thereby killing five Assam police personnel on the spot.

A press statement by the Mizoram Government refuted Assam’s claim by stating, “Around 200 (two hundred) Assam armed Police led by IGP, Assam Police accompanied by DC, Cachar, SP, Cachar, and DFO, Cachar came to Vairengte Auto-rickshaw stand at around 11:30 a.m. today i.e., 26.07.2021.

They forcibly crossed the duty post manned by CRPF personnel stationed there and overran a duty post manned by 1 (one) section of Mizoram police personnel.

The Assam Police also damaged several vehicles that were travelling along the National Highway between Vairengte and Lailapur.” The statement by the Mizoram Home minister further stated that unarmed civilians were assaulted and lathi-charged and tear-gas was used by Assam Police to which Mizoram police responded.

“The Government of Mizoram strongly condemns the unjustified act of the Government of Assam in this intrusion and aggression into the territory of Mizoram,” the statement added.

A day after ordering the checking of all vehicles originating from Mizoram to Assam for possession of illicit drugs, travel advisories were issued by Assam Government on the 30 July.

“The people of Assam are advised not to travel to Mizoram as any threat to the personal safety of people cannot be accepted,” the directive said.

The Mizoram Government on the other hand issued an order stating that during the last 10 years, huge quantities of illicit drugs have been seized in Mizoram which were smuggled from Assam.

It added, “The issue of drugs trafficking can be better solved by better communication between the states and flow of drugs can be better halted by co-ordination between district police on the opposing borders instead of threatening and harassing innocent civilians without any reasons at all.”

“Shri @AmitShah ji…kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now,” tweeted Mr. Zoramthanga, Chief Minister of Mizoram, as he shared a video of what appeared to be an altercation between a group of civilians and police personnel. He also shared footage of a Mizo couple being allegedly harassed and their vehicle vandalised. Assam Chief Minister quickly retorted by tweeting: Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib (Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won’t listen nor stop violence. How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest @AmitShah @PMOIndia”.

A series of tweets from both the CMs continued, each justifying the acts of their police personnel and each accusing the other of violating norms. Thousands of users reacted to the tweets, which further increased the hype on social media so much so that hashtags such as #AssamShotFirst #ShameOnAssam #ShameOnMizoram were trending on Twitter.

Even as the war of words between Assam and Mizoram refused to die down, the Assam Police has summoned the Mizoram SP and six officials.

The notice issued by DSP Kalyan Das was served to Kolasib Deputy Commissioner H Lalthlangliana, SP Vanlalfaka Ralte, Additional SP David JB, Vairengte SDO (Civil) C Lalrempuia, Vairengte SDPO Thartea Hrangchal, and India Reserve Battalion Additional SP Bruce Kibby. The notices asked them to appear before the Dholai police station Investigating Officer on August 2.

Mizoram responded by revealing that an FIR was lodged on 26 July at Vairengte Police Station. The FIR named Sarma IGP Anurag Aggarwal, DIG Cachar Devajyoti Mukherjee, DC Cachar Keerthi Jalli, DFO Cachar Sunnydeo Choudhury, SP Cachar Chandrakant Nimbalkar and OC Dholai police station Sahab Uddin.

They have been ordered to appear at Vairengte Police station in Mizoram. But later, in what could be termed as a huge development for the improvement of relations, both states decided to drop all FIRs registered with regard to the incident of 26 July.

The Assam- Mizoram border dispute has the grave potential of disintegrating the cohesive regional relationship politically, socially, and economically harboured by states for long. Border disputes have emerged between Assam and Meghalaya and Assam and Nagaland. The Mizoram CM has said that the border dispute will not come in the way of the North-east being “one”.

However many are already skeptical of the fate of the North-east as an entity with common interests. The North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), for which BJP and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma shoulder key responsibility is poised to lose its credibility and acceptability in the absence of a lasting solution to the border disputes.

The present border fiasco, if not amicably handled, could see Dr. Sarma lose his standing as a regional leader and be seen only as a state leader. And, unless more pacts such as the one between Assam and Nagaland signed at Dimapur, Nagaland on 31 July, are arrived at, the North-east as a family of eight sisters will not be a happy family.

Considering the contesting claims of the parties and the complexity of the issue, the foremost priority in working out a solution should be the institution of an independent Interstate boundary commission.

After a careful consultative study, the commission should formulate a solution that considers concerns of all stakeholders. One option could be the utilisation of disputed lands by the Union government after compensating both the states.

Alternatively, the option of compensating one state and awarding land to the other or awarding the disputed land to both the states equally could be considered. Whatever be the solution, once worked out and accepted by the states, courts could play the role of guardians and take serious note of any arbitrary acts.

If there is one reason Assam and Mizoram have to resolve the matter, it is because there is no alternative. Two states in the Union cannot target each other violently. It is important for both states to accept that any conflict-resolution measures would involve compromise and sacrifice for the larger good.

The present chestthumping stance of not ceding even an inch of land adopted by both states has to be given up.

The intervention of the Ministry of Home affairs by ordering Central forces to man all areas of disputed land until a lasting and amicable solution is reached should be respected in letter and spirit in the interim.

The Union government should use the opportunity to settle once and for all the boundary disputes between different states in the North-east. There is absolutely no sane reason why Indians should kill themselves when enough precious lives have been sacrificed for the freedom of India and in its defense.

The writer is a freelance contributor and author. He is a former development professional and has served as a consultant in the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Why Manipur Government is right in Monitoring Social Media

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The Manipur government’s recent decision to monitor comments and posts on social media is a much welcome move as social media in its unchecked form has the potential to spawn communal hatred in the state causing irreparable damage to the peaceful coexistence among different communities of the state. That Manipur has past incidents of communal conflicts gave a few miscreants the opportunity to flare up more misunderstandings. The state is in such a delicate environment that, a simple quarrel could develop into inter-village and in some cases inter-tribe and inter-community feud. Social media with all its convenience as a platform for connecting people also poses a huge threat of it being misused to invite law and order disturbances.. 


Communal contents

A Facebook comment by one user reads, “ Kukis are Myanmar refugees”. Another commented, “They should be kicked back to Myanmar.” Many more such comments could be found. Putting aside the fact that Kukis have a clear history of residing in their ancestral land in which defense they have fought the mighty British, it is beyond all measures of decency to rebuke a community as refugees. 

That Myanmar today is in a state of chaotic governance post the military coup is a matter of concern for all right-thinking individuals; the country has witnessed gross violations of human rights that compelled many Myanmarese nationals to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. It is a humanitarian call to feel for their cause instead of branding them illegal immigrants and mocking their ill-fated conditions. Mizoram has set a tremendous example, worth emulating in that regard. 

The increase in  incriminating communal remarks has fuelled a sense of alienation and the eventual yearning for a separate system of governance. Having said that, no community in the state is neither completely innocent nor free of being victimised on social media. The Meiteis have had their share of similar attacks on social media; many undesirable comments that targeted their religion, beliefs, and culture have been made against them. These recent phenomenons of targeting communities in social media have polluted the minds of the youth in the state and it is these regrettable developments that make it all the more important for the Government to monitor social media content. 


Religious Divide 

Apart from the alarming rise of communal tones in social media interactions, there has been several irresponsible comments attacking other religions and faith. That Manipur has been a peaceful place tolerant of different religions, where Hindus celebrate Christmas with their friends from the Hills and where the celebration of Yaoshang(Celebrated as Holi elsewhere) has attracted many people from Hills, is now unfortunately at stake thanks to irresponsible social media posts and comments. The fact that most of the perpetrators are not questioned for their deplorable acts further emboldened them which leads to the spawning of their kinds. Social media instigations could be attributed to the few instances of attacks on places of worship in the state. Since the state has a clear demarcation of religious followers- Hindus and Muslims in the valley and Christians in the Hills, such religious attacks contributed largely to the strengthening of the Hill-Valley divide in the state. 


The Concern of Free Speech

While many are appreciative of the Government’s order to monitor social media posts and comments, there are voices that raised concern over its potential to be  misused by the state to silenced voice of dissents. The concern appears to have germinated from recent attacks of journalists and activists over social media posts. Also quoted by a few who are wary of the Government’s order is the Supreme court’s order that struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The recent observation made by the Supreme Court on the arrest of a social activist from Manipur that the “continued detention of the petitioner would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution” is expected to send a strong message to the Government.


Way Forward

The question that naturally arises now is how to strike a balance between the need to check social media contents having venomous potential to disrobe the fabric of peaceful coexistence, and shouldering the profound obligation of the state in a democratic country to safeguard ‘the freedom of speech’ rights of its citizens. Any effort that favours one to the disadvantage of the other could have detrimental consequences causing unrest, thereby defeating the whole purpose of its introduction. The thin boundary that decides content classification should be fair, transparent, and uniform so that there is no room for its misuse. Devoid that, clauses like ‘hurting public sentiment’ could be clearly staged against a person by mobilising a few people and indicting him/her social media post irrespective of the content being mild or severe. While there is no doubt the Government is formulating the directive with the best intention, it cannot shy away from its responsibility of being answerable to its citizen, more so to those who have doubts on its initiatives. And what a better way to answer than to show it in action- of promoting and ensuring peaceful coexistence in the state.

(T S Haokip is a freelance writer and author of the book HILLY DREAMS)

Militancy woes resurface

  The Statesman Churachandpur, a district in   Manipur became  a  central  topic  of  discussion  overnight  on  the  1 3th November, so muc...

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