India's insurgencies

Published : Feb 10, 2012 00:00 IST

From a textbook perspective, the authors survey the several kinds of armed conflicts in the country.

AT the beginning of Maoist and Other Armed Conflicts, a rather interesting definition of armed conflict is thrown at us: it is a contested incompatibility between two sides, one of which is the government, resulting in at least 25 battle-related deaths in one year. According to another definition, armed conflicts must involve a certain protocol called conventions. However, since conventions are avoided by the state in most cases, these conflicts are alluded to as militancy, insurgency and even terrorism. In my view, Hannah Arendt's much-quoted aphorism may be apt: Power and violence are opposites; where one rules absolutely the other is absent. Violence appears when power is in jeopardy.

From an extreme textbook perspective, the two authors survey several kinds of armed conflict, citing approaches, models and problems. The four areas of conflict they examine are the ones in north-eastern India, the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, the Khalistan movement in Punjab and the Maoist insurgency in central and western India. I decide to read about the latter first as it is the most topical and fastest-growing movement in India. Naxalites, often referred to by the state as a virus, are engaged in fighting for social and political inclusion, justice, minimum wages, the right to land and the eviction of multinational corporations. Anger and alienation have divorced them completely from the Indian state.

As the authors put it: The Maoist ideology is based on their simplified interpretation of Marxism and Maoism that argues that the Indian state is capitalist and exploitative; it is led by a comprador bourgeoisie and semi-feudal landlord class; is an agent of American imperialism and should be overthrown by a people's revolution, where only Maoists can lead. The Maoists do not believe in the Constitution, which to them seems partial and biased; they are increasingly upset about globalisation in the form of memorandums of understanding, extensive mining, and depletion of forest land. Jal, jungle and zameen are their primary aspirations. But contrary to expectation, it turns out that the Maoists are not popular. It is argued that their levels of wages are even more paltry than those offered by the state. Caught between Maowadi and Khaowadi (corrupt police), the people have no option but to bank on the former.

The Kashmiri insurgency, on the other hand, arose immediately after Partition in 1947, exacerbated by the state's rejection of the demand for a plebiscite. The hanging of Maqbool Butt of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1984 and the rigging of the elections in 1987 against certain Muslim candidates escalated the militancy in the area. As militancy in the Valley increased, the traditional identity of Kashmiriyat' was gradually reconstructed.... [T]he conflict and demands for separatism gradually challenged the secular traditions of the valley. The schism between the Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits became greater than ever. When Jagmohan, the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, declared that every Muslim in Kashmir is a militant today and that the bullet is the only solution for Kashmir, secularism was thoroughly undermined and replaced by militancy, abetted as it was by Pakistani aid.

In Punjab, the insurgency of the 1980s is traced to the 1973 Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which was about sanctioning greater autonomy to Punjab, the issue of Chandigarh as the capital, and the fair and equitable distribution of river waters. This led to a full-blown demand for a separate State, Khalistan, with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at the helm. Bhindranwale used terrorist methods and had a militarist ideology and organisation, and attempted to create communal tension. The agenda was to drive Hindus from Punjab and create a communal situation that would bring Sikhs living outside Punjab back to the home' state.

Thereafter, President's Rule was imposed upon Punjab. This culminated in Operation Blue Star in 1984, which sought to flush out all the terrorists from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Bhindranwale was killed, and the backlash led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in that same year. Communal assaults on Sikhs followed, mainly in Delhi, and many of them were killed. And though militancy was wiped out from the State, Punjab still bears the wounds of the 1980s, chief among them being encounter killings and secret cremations of the innocent.

As opposed to Punjab, the conflict in the north-eastern States has lasted for decades. Calling it a national liberation struggle, the cadre of the movements in these States regard themselves as freedom fighters. These are revolts by indigenous peoples who do not accept the homogenising Indian nation.

Such is the story of the Naga movement, which has been pressing for sovereignty for all Naga peoples since the British were engaged in settling India's future. In response, the Assam Rifles, a special army, was in 1954 marched into what is Nagaland today, and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was exercised thereafter. The government exercised its own muscle through the use of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2001 (POTA), which ruthlessly suppressed civil liberties, leading to even more militarisation among the people. Similar atrocities upon civilians, such as the formation of Salwa Judum, a vigilante group in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, have been evolved to counter Maoist forces.

The sub-nationalisms in Manipur, Assam, Tripura and Mizoram are also about resisting the pan-Indian ideology of the nation. Their struggle for self-determination arises mainly from an animosity to the outsider, identified as Biharis and especially Bengalis: The insurgencies of the Northeast... are built around ethnic or tribal identities that exalt their collective identity and build stereotypes against other communities that are then demonised and constructed as the enemy other'.

Gender and armed conflict is a theme of one of the later chapters. Machismo remains a large part of armed struggles where men are called up to protect home and motherland and, by default, women. Lacking in theory and abounding in statistics, this part of the book focusses on the ways men and women have been stereotyped. In areas of insurgency, women themselves exalt masculinity, wishing for sons rather than daughters, and thus perpetuate and accept increased violence.

Yasin Malik, leader of the JKLF, states: Such romanticising legitimates the militarisation, violence and a macho conception of power that undermines social institutions and de-politicises movements. Many women, however, challenge these stereotypes only to come to the unfortunate conclusion that despite their active participation they are deemed subordinate. One has to agree with Mary Mellor that such feminism involves women only to the extent of listening to their male colleagues and licking envelopes.

The book is largely factual, with never a hint of the authors' own bias and position on the issue of armed conflict. Are they pro-state or pro-insurgency? Where do their sympathies lie? Even though the book proposes to powerfully critique national security approaches for resolution of armed conflicts, except for the concluding chapter, which considers solutions, the book leaves one asking for more.

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