April 24, 2019

The Turbulent North-East India  

The north-eastern part of India is famous for many a scenic trail that winds around mountains and streams. From the ancient times, many tribes have thrived in the area and have retained their cultural identities. Some parts such as Manipur are overtly Hindu by choice and Nagaland has embraced Christianity thanks to missionaries who made their presence felt in the region post independence. AssamMeghalayaTripuraArunachal PradeshMizoram, Sikkim, Manipur, and Nagaland are the states that make up for the region.

Since time immemorial, these folks have been crisscrossing the area for reasons that are common in any society. Since India regained independence from Britain in 1947, several of these states opted to join the union. Some did not. This reluctance by several states caused friction with the Union Govt. The friction caused by opposition to join the Indian Union later expanded into full blown insurgencies.

And then the reasons for crisscrossing patterns which have reemerged have shown a different path. From a few decades the reasons have been to acquire military training and procure arms from across the border from India. Yes, the violence has seen a rise since many years. Casualties have been high and displacements of people in these hilly terrains have caused damage to the physical being and the psyche of the locals. Almost all the states in the northeast have been affected by these violent developments.

Of the insurgencies, the one at Mizoram ended after decades of violence in 1986. From 1966 onwards and till 1986, the armed rebellion demanding a separate state for the Mizo people, took a heavy toll. The demand began with a complaint that the Mizos were being ill treated by the Assamese. Mizos lived in Assam and were a part of Assam state. But prolonged complaints about their ill treatment got them nowhere and hence, their demand expanded into a full-fledged insurgency. It finally ended in 1986 with the Indian govt agreeing to the demands of the Mizos for a separate state within the Indian Union. But Mizoram has dubious distinction of being the only state in India where the IAF bombed its own territory. It was Aizwal, the capital that bore the brunt.

But other states in the neighbourhood of Mizoram have not been so fortunate. Violent upheavals continued in many other states such as Manipur, Assam and Tripura for long and the common man has suffered. The insurgents have constantly been supported by neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Burma. They have been trained and armed by these nations for decades. The agenda especially with the former has been to destabilize India. So for long, all concerned stake-holders played to the gallery.

But since recently a few things changed in the overall situation in the region. A silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds has occurred in the form of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, under whose leadership and guidance some positive developments have taken place.

It was the year 2012. A large number of activists from ULFA, a once dreaded outfit of separatists were rehabilitated. This was in Assam. They were inspired by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s message. They understood the futility of unbridled violence. Later around 700 of them came to the Bangalore Ashram and stayed here for about 3 months. They were taught the fine aspects of Yoga, Meditation and  Sudarshana Kriya under the guidance of Gurudev.  Once the group was made to relax in the Ashram, learn various aspects of yoga and sadhana, they went back to Assam.

Now the onerous task of bringing the group back into the mainstream life, fell onto the lap of the volunteers from the Art of Living. The task was made more difficult since these people were away for long from their families and friends, trying to succeed in a war that was never meant to be won. The violence and the hardships of eking out a life in the thick jungles of the region, had taken a toll. These unfortunate people were hardened by their life styles in the jungles. They found the idea of getting back to normal hard to digest. The 3 months long sojourn had helped them. At least their mental and physical health, showed normalcy. The biggest challenge lay ahead.

The challenge has been overcome slowly. The involvement of Art of Living has helped tremendously.

Former ULFA members Ramen Deka, Maqbool Hussain and Monuj Roy are prime examples of what has gone right with the intervention of Gurudev and Art of Living in an almost futile situation.

Take the case study of Ramen Deka as an example. He was a hardened militant, a young idealist and who had escaped from the law many a time. He lost his dad when he was 2 years old. He grew up surrounded by poverty, his mother and two brothers. ULFA came into their surroundings when he was in the 12th grade. They showed an ideal world, independent and free of socio-economic deprivations he was used to. He joined them.

Four years later in July of 1993, he was caught by the army and was imprisoned for 1 year. The time in the prison only hardened his militant mind. After his release, he returned to ULFA and underwent 3-month long military training in the hills of Bangladesh and Bhutan. His mind was shaky. But he could not come out of his present situation. Much later did things change for him. The rest is history. The entire group from ULFA, which surrendered and went through a 40 day rehabilitation program under Art Of Living. Yet there is some distance to be covered for a complete turnaround in the situation in Assam. But one day with Gurudev’s active intervention, that too will happen.

The other story is of Manipur. Here too a lot of bloodletting has taken place. Militancy probably has been the strongest and most violent here compared to other states. A brief write-up shall tell you the reasons for militancy here.

After about 2 years into independence, on 15 October 1949, Manipur joined the Union of India. This was never accepted by the Manipuri nationalists who always have demanded a separate state for themselves. Union with India was never agreed upon by these nationalists. Hence they went ahead and formed United National Liberation Front, UNLF for short in 1964. Few more outfits came into being later between 1977-1980 including People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLAM). Tensions were on the rise.

Later two Naga groups were formed to take the agenda forward. But soon clashes erupted between these insurgent groups of Nagas, The National Council of Nagaland and The National Socialist Council of Nagaland. This aggravated the already tense situation. And there was the Kuki tribe who went to form their own insurgent group.

Overall with the formation of many groups involved in insurgency, the people of Manipur have been continuously struggling to have a normal live. And there were stories of excesses committed by the armed forces. The civilians have been caught between the rock and the hard place for a very long time.

The main reason behind the unrest was socio-economic. The Manipuris felt that if they had to become an independent state, their chances of overcoming the disparities were brighter. That was not to be. In fact just the other way happened. The unrest and insurgency took its toll and the state of Manipur has remained economically backward.

After prolonged civil unrest, now things are looking up. Once again, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s goodwill is working. Various programs with social impact are being implemented in the state.

The Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh lauded Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for peace work after 68 militants including four women, along with a huge cache of assorted weapons such as AK series assault rifles, surrendered before him.

Prior to this three hardcore militants by the names of Amar Singh, Jeevan Singh and Bunty Meiti who were a part of the first Meitie group of 128 militants from KCPMC Lallumba, laid down their arms on August 6 this year.

So there is a fresh hope on the horizon now. On 7th of September in a few days, Gurudev will be the key-note speaker at a day long conference aptly called “Unity in Diversity” which will be held at Gauhati, Assam. More results, more surrenders are expected following this conference. Please stay tuned..

— Jagdish Keshav


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