Independence Day – View from the other side of the coin
As the country watched in horror after terrorists exploded bombs in Ahmedabad and Bangalore ahead of Independence Day last month, a small village in far north-eastern Manipur had just finished a symbolic ritual in its efforts to end its grief over a crime purportedly unleashed by state actors.
Friends, families and human rights groups observed the last rites of 24-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi, four years after she was allegedly raped and killed by personnel of the Assam Rifles paramilitary force. By performing the rites, they broke a pledge not to conduct the ceremony until their demands for punishment of the guilty and the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the state were fulfilled.
Like the Manorama Devi episode, excesses by security forces (I won’t add the word “alleged” because I have personally experienced it, being kicked, punched and shoved in the face with the nozzle of an SLR rifle while walking back home one night after attending church service), coupled with a sense of government neglect continues to alienate citizens of less-developed areas like the northeast and Naxal-dominated regions of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.
Lack of economic opportunities is also a key factor in the proliferation of militant groups – in Manipur alone, there are reportedly 30-odd militant groups operating – perhaps joining an underground group is just another form of employment?
In other parts of the country, there are many who feel alienated because of their ethnicity, or religion. Muslims face profiling even in cosmopolitan cities (I know of a good friend, a senior journalist at that, who was unable to find accommodation in posh south Delhi. Landlords he approached told him they don’t rent to Muslims). Allegations of innocent people being framed and tortured by police following terror attacks have also been reported by newspapers.
The diabolical bombings in Bangalore and Ahmedabad also appear to have been carried out by home-grown extremists with a grouse against the state, trying to justify their actions with atrocities committed against a particular community.
Some time ago during a media event, I was trying to explain the security situation in the northeast to a senior journalist over dinner, when he suddenly stopped me in mid-sentence. “That’s the difference between people who come from your region and the rest of us,” he said, continuing “When we talk about the army, we just say ‘the army’ or ‘our army’, whereas you, wittingly or unwittingly, call them ‘the Indian army’, as if they were some foreign occupying force.”
I never realized it before, but he was right. And as a journalist trying to maintain an objective perspective, I have since taken care every time I have a discussion on the subject, But there are many others who, wittingly or unwittingly, still use that phrase – perhaps a manifestation of an underlying sentiment.
Sixty years after the country gained independence, many things have changed for the better, and we can afford to be proud of the nation’s achievements, our democracy (chaotic as it may be), and the many great men and women who have brought us to where we are.
But there is always the other side of the coin, and the truth is that there are many who feel they have been deprived, who still don’t feel like celebrating their independence.
When the tri-colour flutters and the nation erupts in celebration on August 15, some places in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir will probably observe bandhs, with the possibility of bombs exploding, as it has been the case in previous years.
In his address to the nation last year on Independence Day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had a “vision of an India that is undivided despite diversity…. where every citizen feels proud to be an Indian.” Are we there yet?