role in human rights and peace in the northeast
By Dr. N Vijaylakshmi Brara
The Situation: There are hardly any avenues for the young people in the
Northeast. Economically it is one of the most backward areas. We have
no industrial development, no infrastructure. It is subsistence economy.
There is a trend, where the rich are getting richer while the poor are
becoming poorer. Begging, which was unheard of even 2-3 years ago is showing
its dirty heads. Corruption is rampant. The rich who are getting richer
are mostly the ministers and bureaucrats. There are allegations of siphoning
off the centrally sponsored developmental funds and taking of bribes.
Every government job has a price tag. There is no bargaining. In the rush
to get government jobs, families sell off their paddy fields and pay bribes
and hence get further impoverished.
The solution is not that simple and straightforward. There is a complex
political situation here. No part of a democratic system can function
where, along with a strong growth of demand of national identities, there
are high indices of corruption at high levels and where the army, that
seems to outnumber the local population, is telling you by the butt of
their gun, "Hey! You are Indian", and suspecting each and every
civilian of the region of conspiring against the Indian Union. For a true
democracy to survive, especially at the grassroot level, two things are
very important: people should not have any fear and they should genuinely
feel themselves an integral part of their country. We know that Democracy
and Human Rights are synonymous. But how do we remove the fear? How do
we make ourselves an integral part of this country? And in the Manipur
context, how to make different ethnic groups feel part of each other?
Do we keep on churning out hen and egg theories of peace first and then
development or development first and then peace, and land up nowhere?
The Naga complain in Manipur:
The Nagas have been socially discriminated against by the Meities since
the time of the kings. There was and is specific term used for them -
Hao, which has derogatory connotations. Economically discriminated; when
they were ordered by the king to do loipot; most tough and menial jobs.
In the present times, the valley utilizes most of the development funds
while the hills get neglected. Politically they do not have enough representation
in the Assembly, therefore in spite of a Naga being the longest serving
chief minister, the interest of the Nagas get drowned by the voice vote.
Many more Nagas have been killed and humiliated than any other ethnic
group by the security forces. Emotionally, therefore, the Nagas have not
been able to align themselves with Manipur, where when one says a "Manipuri"
one automatically means a "Meitei". You ask a Naga as to where
he is from and he will say "I am from Manipur" and never "I
am a Manipuri". The question of identity therefore raises its head
from this premise.
The Meitei complain:
We have been brothers since immemorial. How can Nagas be now separate
from us? And there are no Nagas in Manipur; we have only Thangkhul, Mao,
Marings, etc. Economically they say that they are as under-developed.
Besides the Imphal town the other Meitei dominated areas have similar
problems as that of hills. No schools, no medical facility. No communication
and no connecting roads. Politically they say that they have been struggling
together against the discriminatory practices of the central government
and the virtual seize by the armed forces over their entire state. The
Nagas should not separate themselves from this common struggle.
Would these questions of identities and nationhood be met with such emotional
zest had the youths of both the communities had the employment opportunities,
other avenues and a developed infrastructure. Would there be assertions
of such non-compromising stands if there were no excesses by the security
Women in Manipur have understood such problems. Among the Meities we have
the "Meira Paibis" (the torch bearing women). They hold Mashaals
and roam in the locality to keep a watch on drunkenness and drug-abuse.
They make a human wall in cases where innocent local youths are forcibly
being taken away by the Armed Forces in the name of insurgents. They are
the only one who can dare to warn and scold the people in under-ground
movement for their accesses. Everybody is cautious of them. They dare
to get lathicharged, to sit for hunger strikes and even go to jail for
a right cause. So are the women's groups in the hills. The Naga Mother's
Association and the Kuki women's association are the guardians of their
respective tribe. They played a pivotal role during Naga-Kuki clashes,
where barbarism got unleashed in its naked proportions in the name of
ethnic cleansing. It was at that moment that NMA and Kuki women went long
stretches in the hills (sometimes walking 3-4 days continuously) to meet
their respective under-ground outfits to tell them to stop killing each
other. Manipuri women's groups are the Watchdogs of their society. They
are the MOTHERS. Like any other mother they can go to any extent to safeguard
the lives and interests of their children - their society. These women
have such tremendous organizational skills, which cannot be compared with
any other group in the world. The mothers rather than any other social
group desire peace. It is their children who are killed in any act of
various ethnic groups. If they join hands in seeing and acting upon the
peace initiative for the whole region, it will definitely leave its impact.
Most of these women are also competent self-employed weavers, traders,
and farmers. They should be brought to the level of policy makers to draft
a development program and a path for the entire region.
The voices of these mothers are heard. If they shed their ethnic loyalties
and come together only as Mothers, not a Naga mother or a Kuki mother
or a Meitei mother peace and development will not be far. Unless there
is peace, Human Rights and Civil Liberties are neither safe nor possible.
We should call the mothers. They should be targeted and focussed by the
social planners and activists who are interested in this region. When
they speak the society will listen. Human Rights activists have to work
towards these objectives as a pre condition of establishing an atmosphere
of "Human Rights for all."