The Public Law and Policy Discussion Group on Thursday held a talk by Professor Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Milia University. He is a known expert on issues relating to the North East and the neighbouring areas, having conducted extensive research and authored three books on related subjects.
Prof. Hazarika opened the session with the first ten to fifteen minutes of a much larger film which was evidently about the situation of conflict in the North East, the film itself being called ‘A Measure of Impunity‘. He then recited a poem about the wonders of the region and the beauty that lay therein.
He highlighted how there could well be a situation where the nature of the conflict which actually exists on the ground could very well be starkly different from the story of it that is painted to the rest of the country, or the world. These facts find their way to people’s knowledge through movies like the aforementioned.
The Professor then went into a narrative about the history of the region, from the 1947 9-point Accord signed between the Naga National Council and the then Governor of Assam, to the referendum conducted by the NNC and the subsequent enactment and enforcement of the Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 by the Centre.
He also spoke about the effect that such conflict has had on the people there and their daily lives – he recounted one woman’s description of how it had become a reflex action for her to duck down on the floor whenever someone banged the door, and another of a man who now starts having panic attacks whenever he hears the sound of an approaching jeep.
Conversation about the atrocities carried out are coming to light fifty years after the events themselves. Families have been divided and children have grown up (or indeed not) not knowing their parents. The policies adopted by the centre, those like needing a special permit for entry into the region, carried on from the days of the British Raj, have served to create a situation of distance and concretized the same.
Prof. Hazarika also touched upon the Bangladesh-India immigration issue, and pointed out that while those invested in the communal politics of the region are using this issue to whip up polemic and create an anti-Muslim atmosphere, 80% of the inflow of population from the neighbouring country consists of Hindus. He used this to explain how facts are distorted to suit the political agendas of those seeking power, and support from the different ethnic and religious groups in the area. The real problems are ignored, as evidenced by Assam’s high infant mortality rate.
As an illustration of the kind of lines that a high level of State police enforcement creates, Prof. Hazarika explained that the AFSPA created four levels of citizenship in its application – firstly, those in uniform who are given powers by the Act, secondly those outside who remained unaffected, thirdly civilians who are left completely vulnerable, and lastly the police who in the heightened presence of the armed forces started giving themselves powers without any legal backing thereto.
Someone in the audience asked what the answers to these problems were, to which the response was that before we come to the solutions we need to have some kind of understanding about the problem. This traced back to the point he made earlier about there being so many unknown truths and obfuscations of the same, that the most important thing at this point was to understand the problem in the first place. “There are no full answers”, he surmised.