TODAY -

Arm to Disarm

By Geoffery *

The decision of Manipur Govt acceding to the demand of arming locals of Heirok & Lilong Chaging (District Thoubal) after indiscriminate killings of innocents during Yaoshang ( Holi) festival ( 24 Mar 08) is welcomed by some and opposed by some.

Each party has its own justification. The outcome of physical arming of people is yet to be seen. There had been number of security forces with different names & aims but this region (NE India) is still seeing no end to violence.

This is where the problem lies. The number & type of security forces may be increased and they may operate for a number of years. But in the end solution lies in the change of mindset of the people and that is the job not for SFs or guns but social activists, media and leaders.

Is arming a right step or will this lead to something like Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh?

Logic of the people demanding arms is: one; it will enhance physical courage of unarmed people, two; this may lead to bringing peace in the area, three; although three not three rifles are not as sophisticated as AK rifles of UGs but it will reinforce the WILL of the people to fight against negative forces.

People who have lost their kins are ready to fight even with whatever as a vengeful attitude. Additional social benefit is constructive employment of some of the youth (as SPOs) temporarily now but can be made permanent later on if required.

Opponents argue: one; arms may be misused, two; it may lead to kind of a civil war, three; more important is resentment by frontal organizations of the outfits against empowering people.

Village Defence Committees (VDCs) have been raised in J&K since 1989. Some of these members have been armed to be part of J & K volunteer force (JKVF) since 2003. Members of JKVF are being paid Rs 2500/- per month and members of VDCs are paid Rs 1500/- per month.

Now it is not only the bastion of males but women are also part of the volunteer force. It may be argued that JKVF members are also targeted but overall it is a successful model. It has reversed the trend of migration due to fear of militants.

Kudos for this go to commitment of volunteers, their training, monitoring, cohesion of this force with SF and Government WILL of empowering people against injustice. Some of the able bodied and keen young men out of these have been successfully recruited in J & K police force.

Another successful experiment in J&K is raising of Home and Hearth (H&H) battalions through constructive employment of ex UGs. Probably this is the reason that Tarun Gogoi, CM of Assam is mooting the idea of similar force (one thousand strong) out of eight thousand or so surrendered ULFA cadres.

But the author is of the view that the recruitment for the said battalion should be a mix of ex UGs and regular youth without discrimination but merit based.

Other model is Salwa Judum in Chhatisgarh that has become controversial for reasons well known to the students of politics. In tribal Gondi dialect it means peace movement that started in June 2005 in district Bastar to tackle naxalism. It has backing of the state government.

But, has it resulted in peace or in a fertile ground of deprivations to be exploited for vote banks? Supreme Court of India has expressed disapproval of constitution of this force. The apex court bench headed by Justice RG Balakrishna wondered, “How can the state give arms to some people. The state will be abetting in a crime if these people kill others”.

In one of the camps (Drona) people from 50 neighbouring villages are staying as part of voluntary militia in Chhatisgarh. Sawam Ayitu, 45, an activist says,” though we are free to move around, we still feel like we are in a prison. We can not go back because naxalites will kill us”. Social life has been very badly disrupted.

Villagers are fearful of sending their children to school, taking up government jobs etc. People are not sure of when they would get back to their lands from these temporary camps.

A seventeen old says,” Jab Tak ye yudh chalega tab tak yahi rehna hoga (we will have to camp here till the war lasts)”. Can a better future be expected of such a movement that has created more fears and insecurities than feeling of freedom?

Out of the two models discussed above J&K model has proved successful. The reasons are not very far to seek. These are; right selection, training for disciplined use of fire arms, monitoring the activities/ progress, guidance, commitment of locals and WILL of the state government for implementation unlike in Chhatisgarh.

Manipur is choosing the J&K model that is why a team had been sent to study the model. But the template needs to be realistically tailored to local conditions that may not be truly the same.

There is a need to change the mindset from vertical (straight jacket) thinking to lateral (innovative, creative, generative) thinking with insight of the problem.

Napoleon had said, “Mind is to physical as three is to one”. Number and type of forces are immaterial and physical arming is no solution without psychological arming with fortified WILL. The will of the people has been firmly displayed at number of occasions (in Assam and Nagaland) when unarmed public has chased out the armed cadres for the sake of peace in the area.

Physical arming is one step short of arming with strong WILL to rout out the militancy. But like water it has to flow from top (leaders) down to the masses (led). Once armed with the ultimate weapon, the doors to explore the hidden potential of progress in this region will open.

"Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open."
- Sir James Dewey




* Geoffery contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The writer can be contacted at jaey_geoffery(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in . This article was webcasted on June 09, 2008.

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