TODAY -

Social Justice and Democracy in the Northeast India

Khansemphi Raleng *



Since the colonial era, specific legal frameworks were introduced in the Northeast region to protect the rights of the people. These continued even after independence. But the people have been deprived of their basic rights especially when it comes to Armed Force Special Power Act (AFSPA) 1958. Over the years, there have been debates on several critical issues that the people in the Northeast region encounter.

The recent Citizen Amendment Bill, 2016 which raises serious questions on issues pertaining to the migrant population in the region, has ignored the basic problems that people have been facing over decades. This makes us believe that despite Indian democracy, access to social justice in the region remains a critical issue.

Although many laws have been in practice in the Northeast region, this article primarily revolves around two legislations - one which have been implemented for about six decades, and another being the one which is passed in Lok Sabha recently. These are the AFSPA, 1958 and Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 respectively.

The former is one of the draconian legislation in the Constitution of India which was made to fight against terrorism and riots. But it seems like the govern-ment and army use it to discriminate the civilians, use the Act as a tool to take away the rights to life and liberty of North-east citizens. The only way to restore justice to people is either to with-draw the Act or amend it in a way that curbs discrimination.

On the other hand, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 which is expected to change the socio-demographic profile of the region and is likely to affect the whole scenario of indigenous peoples in various spheres which is against the Constitution of the country.

Since the illegal migrants from the neighbouring country are huge in the Northeast states, this bill may impose a great deal of threat to the people of the frontier, and also may do injustice to the people of North-east region of India.

The AFSPA grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces in the so-called 'disturbed areas'. It was passed on 11th, September 1958 and applied to the Northeast states, was also applied to Jam-mu and Kashmir in 1990. The British started the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942 in order to suppress the Quit India Movement.

After that, it was used at different states to deal with the internal security of the country during the partition. In 2015, the Tripura State govern-ment withdrew the Act as there was a significant decrease in the activities of the insurgency, and in 2018, the Act was also withdrawn from the state of Meghalaya (Singh, 2018).

One of the most affected states from the Northeast region by this Act is Manipur, resulting in se-rious social unrest. Singh and Khuraijam (2013) provide an argument as to how the Act has failed to perform its purposes. The Act was imposed in the state of Manipur in the 1960s in the Hill and 1980s in the Valley. Since then, the people of both Hill and Valley in Manipur continue to face human rights violations and protest against the Act.

For examples, Chittaranjan's self-immolation, mother's nude agitation, economic blockage, general strike, Sharmila's decade of hunger strike, an arrest of many human rights defenders social activists are some of the reflections. The rights have been violated in many ways, physical torture being the major one.

There have been incidents of civilian killings, massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape and other sexual abuses, tortures, human shields, arsons, plunders, forced labours, internal displacements and so on. All these took place in the name of countering insurgency. As per rough estimates, one military person was deployed for 16 people in Manipur.

Since the Mizoram Peace Accord in 1986, the state has become peaceful and the problem of Insurgency came to an end. But there was no attempt to remove the Act from the state (Chandra, 2011). The AFSPA has been implemented in Nagaland for several decades now, even after the agreement on August 3, 2015, between the Naga insurgency group NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government interlocutor R. N. Ravi along with the present prime minister.

This however happened after 80 rounds talks and 18 years after the 1997 ceasefire agreement (PTI, 2019). Though the Assam is led by BJP and the laws and order have improved and the insur-gency activities have decreased with eighty-five per cent, the Governor is still extending the time for the Act (Singh, 2018). All these indicate the consistency of the government to make hold off the region despite the improving situation of the respective states.

Devasahayam (2018) states that there were two incidents that made the court to order an investi-gation on cases of murder by the Indian army, the decades of killing Manipuri and the death of three civilians in Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018. The army officers gave a petition to the Supreme Court, that the CBI cannot investigate them and also filled an FIR.

The victims were called "anti-nationals" and asked the court to take initiatives to investigate the victims and even asked to give compensation to the army who are accused in the case. But what the Supreme Court said is very important:
"It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both...This is the requirement of democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties" (ibid).

In 2005, a committee headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy of Supreme Court reviewed the Act. The Committee in its report writes that:
"The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars… the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate, and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness" (ibid).

The Act was supposed to fight the terrorism but it seems like the Indian army has used it as a weapon to discriminate the laymen or the civilians. Even though there has been a recommendation from the court and the committee to repeal the Act, the centre has been very slow in the process.

The Citizenship Act, 1955 defines Indian Citizenship and Illegal Migration. In 2016, the central government exempted illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsis, Christians from Afghani-stan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived in India on or 6th, December was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 making those groups eligible citizens and also allow cancellation of OCI if a person violated any law.

There are three important high-lights of the bill which includes the making of illegal migrant of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jainism, Parsis and Christian from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan an Indian Citizen. The Citizenship Bill, 2016 amends the bill of Citizenship Act 1955 and reduces 11 years requirement for citizenship to 6 years for the person from the mentioned religion and the countries. It also amends that OCI cardholders can be cancelled if they violate any law of the Indian Constitution (PRS Legislative Research, n.d.).

The bill kept Jews and Muslims out, which made these illegal immigrants a target on the ground of religion without any reasonable explanation. One of the main purposes of the legislature is to remove inequality but this one tends to show a clear definition of inequality. There are no specific guidelines to as what is called "disaffection" towards the constitution which leaves the ground for misuse of this power (Thakur, 2018).

The question arises whether this bill violates the right to equality to all persons, citizens, and foreigners under Article 14 because it describes a differential treatment to the illegal migrants based on their religion.

So, the other Muslims and Atheist other than the mentioned groups are denied for eligibility of the citizens, which clearly go against Article 26 to 29. The bill does not define the reasons behind the differential treatment on the basis of religion. The bill gives a wide ground to cancel OCI registration where fewer penalties or offences committed after 5 years of registration may also be cancelled.

There have been certain reactions from the leaders towards the Amendment Bill from the eight states of the Northeast. The Nagaland minister Temjen Imma Along urged MLAs "to come together and fight for a common cause" and states that Article 371 (A) and Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873 are pillars and to protect the Nagas from the Citizenship Bill (PTI, 2019).

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio passed a resolution in the assembly rejecting the Bill stating that it will impact "the unique history and status of Nagas under the constitution" and also have the potential of "changing the demographic profile, which will be against the interest of indigenous tribes and can divert them of their constitutionally guaranteed political, cultural and economic rights". As a result, twenty-six opposition MLAs walked out of the Assembly (NTDV, 2019).

India Today (2016) writes that thousand have been protesting in Assam stating that it will threaten the indigenous peoples as it will make a dumping ground for Hindu Bangladeshis and it contrasts the Assam Accord of 1985 (illegal migrants from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported).

In Meghalaya, the president and the Vice President of United Democratic Party said that the party have decided to leave the PJP led party North East Democratic Alliance (Plate-form of non-congress parties) (Lyngdoh, 2019) after seeing the differences in the ideology where BJP wants to pass the bill which the party is against it (Singh, 2019).

Meghalaya is the first state cabi-net to pass a resolution condemning the bill even though there was a BJP representative. Accord-ing to the letter to the Editor Shillong Times, "BJP has failed to understand the process of articulating its Indianness in the region and the determination to pass the bill conveys the seriousness of BJPs to appeal to its core Hindutva Constituency" (Eyben, 2019).

The opposition in Arunachal Pradesh is low comparing to other states but some of the observers found it difficult to understand that the bill can easily be passed despite the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873. The CM of the state mentioned that the state is protected by the Inner Line Permit (ibid).

Despite ruled by BJP, CM is against the bill and the Manipur Civil Society launched protest which leads to temporary bandh on public assembly under section 144, shutting down of internet services. Advisor of Manipur Student Union was arrested in Delhi for alleged sedition in response against the bill (ibid).

The BJP's State Chief of Mizoram threatened to dissolve the party if the bill was not cancelled. Sikkim's All India Congress Committee had a small condemnation against the bill. Only thirty per cent of the total population of Tripura were the minority who are against the bill as the rest are migrants (ibid).

Despite the problems in the frontier, the central government is not considering the fact that the bill will most certainly affect the region's demographic profile and other serious issues relating to social, economic and political.

The government has made a lot of pacts with few states (from the British colonial era to Indian leaders), promises during campaign for the development of the region, several kinds of permits to protect the people; but all these do not mean much with consistency of the government to make this an Act without any reservations for this region, which in fact will affect the region tremendously comparing to other states of India.

Conclusions

The question arises whether social justice in the frontier of India have become significantly unjust and unfair from what the constitution has promised for all the citizens of India, despite being called the biggest democracy and having the longest constitution in the world.

Along with all the promises and talks made by different political parties of linking and restoring answers and justice from the central to the periphery and to the outside world, India's policies seems to be unmatched with the need of these people. No doubt the government have made steps to find a solution to the flaws but somehow fails and increase the burden for the people.

It seems the only way to provide social justice or any respect or the rights to live, equality, free-dom of expression, is listening to the voices especially of the tribal, consulting their respective states in any decision making and bringing democratic atmosphere in the Northeast region.

Time has come to reconsider and amend laws like the AFSPA and Citizenship Bill which take away the basic rights of the people in the North-east region of India. By finding a better solution other than this Acts, will decrease the political, social and psychological exclusion of people in the region from the rest of the country, which is the only way to start from the scratch to solve the problem of social injustice.

References

o AFSPA (1958). Retrieved from
http://nagapol.gov.in/PDF/The%20Armed%20Forces%20Special% 20 Pow-ers%20Act%201958.pdf

o Chandra, Madhu (2011). Retrieved from
http://www.ifp.co.in/page/items/2723/2723-afspa-failed-mizoram-way-an-alternative/

o Devasahayam, M.G. (2018). The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act - A Genie that Needs to be Bottled. The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. Retrieved from
https://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/current-issues/article24790397.ece

o India Today (2016). What is Citizenship Amendment Bill? Why are people in Assam unhappy about it?. Retrieved from
https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/citizenship-amendment-bill-2016-assam-illegal-migrants-protests-348372-2016-10-25

o Lyngdoh, Rining (2019) Meghalaya's UDP to sever ties with Neda to protest citizen bill. The Tele-graph. Retrieved from
https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/meghalaya-s-udp-to-sever-ties-with-bjp-led-neda-to-protest-citizen-bill/cid/1685065

o NTDV (2019, 26 February). Nagaland Government Passes Resolution against Citizenship Bill. Re-trieved from
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/nagaland-government-passes-resolution-against-citizenship-bill-1999613

o PRS Legislative Research (n.d.). Retrieved from http://prsindia.org/ the citizenship amendment bill 2016/the citizenship amendment bill 2016/the citizenship amendment bill 2016_PRS Legislative Research.htm

o PTI (2019, 24 February). BJP won't sever ties with national leadership over Citizenship Bill. The Economic Times. Retrieved from
http://www.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/nagaland-bjp-wont-sever-ties-with-national-leadership-over-citizenship-bill-minister/articleshow/68139625.cms

o Singh & Khuraijam (2013). Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958: A Source of National Dis-integration. International Multidisciplinary Research Journal, 2(4).

o Singh, Bikash (2013). Assam government extends AFSPA for another six months. The Economic Times. Retrieved from
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/assam-government-extends-afspa-for-another-six-months/articleshow/65594696.cms

o Thakur, Apurva (2018). Why the Citizenship Amendment Bill goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution. Economic and Political Weekly, 53(13), March, 31

o Vivan Eyben (2019). Aftermath of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Northeast. News click. Retrieved from
https://www.newsclick.in/aftermath-citizenship-amendment-bill-northeast


* Khansemphi Raleng wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is currently doing Phd at Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi.
He can be contacted at khansemphikkraleng(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 22, 2020.



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