Rise of armed insurgencies in India
Shahid R. Siddiqi
INSURGENCIES do not emerge in a vacuum. Their underlying causes are invariably found in frustrations of the populace, mainly in political, socio-economic or religious domains, their nature and scope depending upon the grievances, motivations and demands of the people.
India has had its share of insurgencies. An estimated 30 armed insurgencies sweep across the country, reflecting an acute sense of alienation of the people involved and sustained mainly by failure to attend to their grievances and human rights violations by the government. Broadly, these can be divided into movements for political rights (Kashmir, Khalistan, Assam), social and economic justice (Maoist/Naxalites, north-eastern states) and religious
Wikipedia lists 68 major organisations as terrorist groups. Of them, nine are in the northeast (Seven Sisters states), four in centre and the east (Maoist/Naxalites),
seventeen in the west (Sikh separatist groups), and thirty eight in the northwest (Kashmir).
Historical Perspective: By the very nature of its population mix, one that began evolving thousands of years ago with waves of migrants pouring in from adjoining lands at different periods in history, South Asia has never been a homogenous society. The multiplicity of races, ethnicities, tribes, religions, and languages led to the creation of hundreds of sovereign entities all over the subcontinent ranging from small fiefdoms to large princely states ruled by tribal and religious leaders and conquerors of all sorts. Most of these were large, populous and well defined to qualify for nationhood by modern standards.
In its entire history India was never a single nation, nor one country, until united at gun point by the British. During and after colonial rule, such territorial entities were lumped together to form new administrative and political units or states, without, in many cases, taking into account the preferences and aspirations of the people. For them this administrative and political amalgam amounted to loss of identity and freedom. Post-colonial democracy in several instances brought no political or economic advantage either. Thus the artificial nature of the modern state created by the British colonialists and adopted by post-colonial India also triggered violent reactions in different hotspots.
To complicate matters, hundreds of religious and ethnic groups, fiercely sectarian and independent but disadvantaged, found themselves passionately defending their religions, ethnicities, languages and cultures, clashing with stronger rival groups.
This makes it increasingly clear that, unless handled deftly, keeping a conglomerate of nationalities and sub-nationalities together as one nation would be impossible in the absence of a common thread that weaves them together. Besides, some social distortions have also threatened to undermine Indian unity and its democracy.
Caste System: As the concepts of socialism, human rights, equality and dignity of man gain universal appeal, the culture of hate that India’s diabolical caste system creates has divided people into potential warring groups and pushes the lower caste Hindus towards violence. This system assumes more horrific dimensions when higher caste Hindus call it a divinely sanctioned concept that cannot be abrogated by humans. Even the anti-caste activist, Dr Ambedkar, acknowledges that ‘to destroy caste, all the Hindu shastras would have to be done away with’.
For several thousand years the system has treated the lower castes or dalits (or untouchables) as social outcasts and has demanded their abject subservience to the higher castes. Although dalits form a major chunk of Indian population, they mostly remain deprived of the benefits of India’s current economic boom. Even M.K. Gandhi glorified it by saying that ‘caste is an integral part of Hinduism and cannot be eradicated if Hinduism is to be preserved’.
Hindutva: The so-called nationalist philosophy of Hindutva is yet another social distortion that threatens India’s stability. It is actually a euphemistic effort to conceal communal beliefs and practices. Marxist ideologues describe Hindutva as fascism in classical sense. An article in World Policy Journal, fall 2002, states that India is “not only the [Hindu] fatherland but also …. their punyabhumi, their holy land”. To Hindu extremists all others on this land are “aliens”, who do not belong there.
Hindutva is identified as the guiding ideology of the Sangh Parivar, with which right-wing radical parties like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bharatiya Janata Party, Bajrang Dal, Vishva Hindu Parishad and Shiv-Sena are closely associated.
The adherents of Hindutva demonise those who do not subscribe to their philosophy, or oppose it, as anti-state elements or terrorists just as Hindu scriptures in earlier times branded such people as rakshasas. These groups have been ‘red in tooth and claw’ in violently resolving all social, religious and political differences and killing,
raping, burning and lynching those who they consider as ‘aliens’. That they engineered frequent massacres of
minorities, particularly Muslims, is no secret.
Citing ‘ekta and akhandata’ (unity and integrity) of India, they refuse to allow self-rule to 86 per cent Sikhs in Punjab, 80 per cent Muslims in Kashmir, 90 per cent Buddhists in Laddakh, Christians in the north-east of India and to the tribal population of central India
Major Insurgencies: Naxalite/Maoist is India’s most violent insurgency movement after Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged it as “the most serious internal threat to India’s national security.”
The Naxalbaris in West Bengal have historically been forest dwellers, called ‘adivasis’, who have fiercely protected their forests as their home. According to one legend, the gods had punished ‘adivasis’ for killing a Brahman by expelling them to these forests to live like animals, owning nothing. But when mineral deposits worth billions of dollars were discovered in those forested areas in 1967 and the authorities attempted to relocate them, the adivasis refused. The cycle of resistance and reprisals between them and powerful vested interests led Adivasis to launch their Maoist insurgency.
These Maoists have grown into a very large, violent and dangerous group that control an area known as the ‘Red Corridor’ stretching from West Bengal to Karnataka state (southwest). Active across 220 districts in 20 states (about 40 per cent of India’s geographical area) they also threaten urban centres like New Delhi. They reportedly have 20,000 strong standing force and 50,000 regular reserves, and the numbers keep growing.
The seven states of northeastern India also called the Seven Sisters are significantly different, ethnically and linguistically from the rest of India. These states are rocked by numerous armed and violent insurgencies, seeking separate statehood, autonomy or outright independence, mostly for government neglect. These include Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The Tamil struggle continues till date and is gaining momentum each passing day.
The Sikhs have been at war with New Delhi for betrayal on the issue of autonomy for Punjab. Their alienation grew significantly after Indira Gandhi’s military crackdown on their holiest shrine in 1981 that killed 3,000 Sikhs and another wave of killings in the wake of her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards three years later. Although somewhat dormant, Sikh demand for Khalistan continues to simmer.
The Kashmir freedom movement has been hanging fire between India and Pakistan for 63 years. Initially a peaceful demand for the right of self-determination, Indian obduracy in denying it has caused it to grow into a full grown struggle for independence.
Rise of insurgencies in India presents a very disturbing scenario, one that prompted Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, New Delhi, to say that ‘India is at war with itself’. There is a consensus among analysts that this situation seriously threatens India’s stability, and consequently its democracy.
In this backdrop the first secession in South Asia, that of Bangladesh, ironically sponsored by India itself, sends a message to Indian secessionists — with India’s preoccupation with insurgencies, big and small, and with the Kashmir insurgency gaining momentum — that they too stand a chance.
Should then this not be a moment of reflection for the Indian policy makers? With its unification yet to take firm roots and diverse character of its population still not reconciled with its forcible amalgamation, would it not be poor judgment on India’s part to try and trigger fragmentation of its
neighbours? In this lies an imminent danger of the Domino effect taking the whole of South Asia down.