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.