India Insight

Military personnel who rape in India’s conflict zones should be prosecuted: committee

The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review India’s legislation following the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi last month, released its recommendations on how to make the country safer for women last week.

Among the issues which the panel addressed was a “neglected area” concerning sexual violence against women in areas of conflict.

The committee recommends stripping security forces of special immunity that they enjoy in conflict areas in cases of sexual assault on women, and bringing them under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Special laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which is enforced in  Jammu & Kashmir and the northeastern states, give security forces immunity from prosecution unless sanctioned by the central government.

Human rights groups say the military arbitrarily uses it to violate human rights, which sometimes include sexual assault on women.

In Bangalore, Northeast life interrupted

Perched midway between Bangalore’s Kodihalli and Indiranagar neighbourhoods, the Glitz beauty parlour has been shut for the last several days. There is little surprise in finding out why. A favourite for locals, it normally buzzes with activity every evening. But the six women who run it are from Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, two states in northeast India. #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } People from India's northeastern states sit inside a train bound for Assam at the railway station in Kolkata August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files People from India's northeastern states sit inside a train bound for Assam at the railway station in Kolkata August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files People from India's northeastern states sit inside a train bound for Assam at the railway station in Kolkata August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Files

The people who come from these states, with their proximity to Bhutan, China and Myanmar, often resemble people from east Asia rather than India. Thousands of them, drawn to better-paying jobs in other parts of India, have fled cities such as Mysore, Bangalore and Pune after threats of violence at the hands of Muslims angry about clashes in Assam between Muslim illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Indian Bodo tribespeople that have left nearly 80 people dead and 400,000 interned in squalid refugee camps.

Clearly, the women at Glitz did not believe the central government’s assurances from New Delhi that Bangalore is safe after widespread rumours delivered by text message that their lives were in danger.

Assam ferry tragedy not newsy enough?

On Monday, India’s remote northeastern state of Assam saw probably its biggest tragedy in recent memory, when an overloaded ferry carrying about 300 people sank in the Brahmaputra river, killing at least 103 people.

However, the bigger tragedy perhaps was the minimal coverage it got in the national media. Apart from The Hindu, which had the accident as its top story, none of the leading dailies in the country gave it much coverage beyond a mention on the front page.

Considering that the news first surfaced at around 6 p.m. on Monday, newspapers had ample time to give it more space if they so wished before they went to print, again putting the spotlight on the much-discussed question of whether the northeast is ignored by the national media.

Table laid out in the winter sun

Ever had a lotus stem salad laced with fermented fish, evaporated cane juice cookie, chopped eel spiced with chillies or a plate of fried mountain onion roots?

Okay, they’re probably not on the menu of your average restaurant but to my pleasant surprise all the above and much more were on offer in New Delhi at a cultural event dedicated to northeast India.

The main attraction seemed to be the food — cuisines from all eight states that occupy India’s hilly northeast region. Maybe it was because of their novelty factor (not many restaurants in Delhi offer such dishes) but many people lined up at the food stalls (although admittedly, many were probably just gawking at the unusual dishes on display).

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.

flag.jpgLike 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.

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