“Disturbed Area”

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was enacted by the Indian Parliament in 1958 and came into force on the 11th of September 1958. The act initially came into force to address the situation in Assam but was later extended to some of the other states to counter any threats that may arise there.

The act is synonymous to the term “disturbed area” which in itself is wide and ambiguous and the scope and ambit of the term is undetermined. The act enables the legislative body to confer upon the armed forces the powers of search and arrest should it see fit to do so.

In 1972 the power to declare an area, state or territory, a “disturbed area”, was extended to the Central Government and as per the 1972 amendment the Central Government does not need parliamentary approval or the approval of the legislative body to declare an area, territory or state a “disturbed area”.

While there is no definition of what constitutes a disturbed area (a disturbed area as per section 2 (b) is an area declared by notification under section 3 of the act), it would be fair to surmise that an area could be designated a “disturbed area” if the lives of ordinary citizens in the area, or those going about their day to day business or lives of members of the armed forces and members of the civil service was put at risk, or an area where the general public are subjected to a higher level of risk than normal or risk other than that which would be deemed acceptable and that risk is a result of, ethnic conflicts, riots, protests or a general lack of law and order.

The special powers conferred on the members of the armed forces, under the act, is to help them or to assist them in bringing the situation under control as soon as possible and to contain and prevent the situation from spreading or escalating.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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Can India another afford another era of coalition politics?

Coalition politics by definition is where political parties, often with similar interests, but not always, form a bloc and are represented collectively as an individual entity, as opposed to a conglomeration of various parties, which normally tends to be the case, and usually it is because the major parties, as far as India is concerned there are only two major parties, the BJP and the INC, have failed to obtain a clear majority or a decisive victory.

It not something that is new or unheard of and it common enough, but what makes India different is that it has 29 states with varying interests and while the national aspirations may be the same or similar, the state interests are anything but.

The term coalition itself implies that there has to be some behind the scenes negotiations between the parties who are members of the coalition or who have agreed to be a part of the coalition and that to some extent means that the major parties can’t have it all their own way, i.e. there has got to be some give and take, and with India entering an era of regionalism, the chances of either of the major parties gaining an overwhelming majority, without the help of its local allies, in any of the states, looks modest at best.

The burgeoning of regional parties that are proliferating like wild mushrooms with no clear national objectives in mind, and are limited to regional objectives, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as long those objectives are acceptable objectives, tends to suggest that India is indeed looking at an era of coalitions, one that is more conspicuous than the previous.

Can India afford another era of coalition politics? Well, for starters India hasn’t been dominated by coalition politics for all that long, and most of the parties, with exception of the INC and parties like the Indian Communist Party, only came into existence in the mid 70’s and early 80’s. The BJP itself, despite its at times overwhelming national presence only came into existence in 1980, though it has to be said that the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj have been around for a lot longer than that. Both these organizations, it is not fair to call them parties because they are more focused on social reforms than anything else, but they do act as feeder parties to the BJP, have been around for some time. The Brahmo Samaj was founded in 1828 and the Arya Samaj some forty-seven years later in 1875. The former was founded in Kolkata and the latter in Mumbai.

Coalition politics only became a facet of Indian politics after 1984 and even then, it didn’t have much of an impact until about a decade ago.

Many of the regional parties that we see today didn’t develop organically and their births were to some extent induced by the enactment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) which initially came into force to address the troubles in Assam but was later extended to cover “disturbed areas” in Arunachal Pradesh, Bengal, J & K, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, and Tripura and the sudden sprouting of many of the regional parties that we see today was to some degree stimulated to quell the ethnic and racial tensions there.

At this stage it doesn’t look like there is much of a choice not at state level anyway. Nothing is going to stop the birth and growth of these regional parties, unless of course there are some legal or constitutional changes made and the number of political parties in the country are limited or individuals are prohibited from forming new political parties, but to do that would be to go against the principles of democracy, and for obvious reasons it is something that most people don’t want to see happen.

India is entering a phase where regional politics is gaining ground and the two major political parties are faltering at state levels. However, that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing and as long as the regional parties can be limited to state assemblies, then the federal issues can be ironed out by the two major parties i.e. the BJP and the INC.

In all fairness it is not practical to expect total and complete coverage of all 29 states, and even writers and journalists restrict themselves to specific states, they would have to if they wanted to do their jobs effectively, and that is because of the overwhelming number of issues that each state is faced with and many of these issues have to be addressed at state levels because a majority of these issues involve ethnic and racial interests.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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Protests in Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is currently rocked by a string of protests that have been sparked by the government’s decision to grant permanent residency certificates to six communities that are not included in the Arunachal Pradesh scheduled tribes list. Permanent residency certificates have also been granted to ex-servicemen who are from the Gurkha community.

While some view it as a move to gain some sort of political leverage, the fact remains that there isn’t any reason why any of them, especially if they have been domiciled in the state, should not be granted permanent residency certificates.

A scheduled tribe, as per Article 342 of the Constitution of India, is a tribe that is indigenous to a particular locality (the scheduled tribes list varies from state to state).

It is an important move, given the fact that it will affect the rights of the six tribes and the ex-servicemen to own land and unless they’ve been issued permanent residency certificates, they may not get titles or deeds to land even if they have purchased the land or have occupied the land for a period of more than ten years (it effectively negates or does away with squatters rights).

It may sound harsh, but it does protect the rights of those that belong to indigenous or rural communities. All too often we hear stories of tribes-people who are forced to sell their land because of a bad harvest or a series of bad harvests to some rich developer who has no roots in the state and have to relocate somewhere else as a result. From that perspective, the current laws with regards to ownership of land in the state are not at all bad.

Five of the tribes in question, the Deoris, Sonowals, Kacharis, Misings, and Morans are from Assam or are listed as Assamese tribes while the sixth tribe, the Adivasis, makeup 8.6% of India’s total population, so they are by no means a small community, and granting them permanent residency certificates is especially important because of their perceived links to the Marxist and Maoist movements in India.

To alienate them, or any other tribe for the matter, any further, might push them closer to the Marxists and the Maoists whose influences both the major parties are doing their best to curb.

Politically both the major parties, the BJP and the INC are active in the state, and the state’s only regional party, the People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh which is based or founded on regionalism is content to shuffle between the two major parties with its members occasionally defecting from one party to another.

Loosely translated regionalism means putting the rights of those that come from a specific region or the region that the party represents ahead of others. Regional parties rely on the support of those who share the same ethic, cultural and linguistic traits and this trend is more apparent in the north-east where ethnic conflicts are very real than anywhere else in India and it makes policing these states all the more difficult.

Overall, while there have been concerted efforts at inculcating nationalism, there is a growing trend that points in exactly the opposite direction and regionalism appears to be thriving amidst the two bigger parties and maybe it’s because some of the more isolated communities feel that their concerns and grievances are not being addressed or are not being addressed in the correct and appropriate manner.

The era of a single party dominating the scene looks like it is coming to an end and we are possibly looking at an era of coalitions with some parties going the BJP’s way and others going the way of the INC, which to some extent removes the sting from the scorpion’s tail and now, while the two major parties can push their objectives, the others do not necessarily have to accept them.

Regional parties are quickly emerging as influential players in the Indian political sphere or arena, and though they operate in a limited area and pursue limited objectives or objectives that are only relevant to the region that they represent, as opposed to national objectives or wider, all-encompassing objectives, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam


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The girl from Allahabad – 2

Indira became the prime minister of India in 1966 following the death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on the 11th of January 1965. Both Nehru and Shastri were from the Gandhi camp and they were no doubt inspired and influenced by his non-violent stance and his rather peaceful approach to things.

While both men were able administrators, and were more than capable of governing the country in times of peace neither were suitable candidates to govern in times of war and could be blamed at least partly for India’s relatively poor showing in the first Indo-Pakistan war (1947 – 1948) or the war of Kashmir, the Sino-India War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Despite the fact that almost little or no territory changed hands in all three wars there was a significant loss of lives.

Things however were vastly different in the Liberation War of Bangladesh 1971. The Nixon administration fearing a rise in Soviet influence, primarily due to affairs in Afghanistan where the Soviet Union was gaining a firm foothold, encouraged their then allies to send supplies to Pakistan and were prepared to overlook or ignore the 1971 genocide of Bangladesh.

It is also worth adding that in the aftermath of 1947 it was obvious that India needed to bolster its defense capabilities and that to some degree explains the BJP’s success in recent times i.e. the willingness to spend extensively on defense. This coupled with the fact that there have been significant improvements in indigenous defense systems and the BJP’s willingness to maintain the trend has helped increase the BJP’s popularity. As far as the average Indian is concerned there are certain sectors that he or she wants to see significant improvements in and defense is one of them.

Indira was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi at an early age and was no doubt familiar with him, his work and his teachings but she could never be described as a leader in the Gandhi mold or even as a leader who was in the Nehru or Shastri mold for that matter and despite having served under both of them – she served as her father’s personal assistant and following her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed the minister of information and broadcasting by the Shastri government, she was nothing like them. She was also appointed the president of the congress party in 1959 and served in the capacity for a year.

There was nothing in her past to indicate that there would be a gradual move away from democracy towards a more state based economy, but that was in effect what happened following the 1966 elections, when the congress party won the elections, albeit by a smaller number of seats and Indira became the prime minister of India. I suspect that the move towards socialism was spurred on not by a sudden fixation for communism but rather a need to address the countries more pressing problems i.e. poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality. Despite the constant criticisms that are hurled at it, socialism does in fact advocate for a more equal distribution of wealth.

As soon as she was appointed the prime minister of India, Indira showed a boldness that would take many of her congress allies by surprise especially those that were expecting a docile leader who would accede to all their wishes because her actions clearly told the congress party that she was prepared to throw party politics out the window.

I am not going to say that she didn’t create a class of hyper rich, I think she did but not intentionally. It happens with nationalization i.e. when ownership is transferred from the private sector to the state and then back to the private sector it tends to create a class of hyper rich people who have a monopoly over certain sectors.

She also entrusted certain key people with the development of certain sectors for example the iron and steel sector and pioneered the growth of the Tatas, the Birlas and numerous other multinational companies like them.

In 1969 Indira nationalized the fourteen largest banks in India and while her popularity with the congress party especially its president was going downhill, her popularity among the regional parties was growing especially the DMK and that started the south’s long-standing love-affair with Indira.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam


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Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF)

Sikkim is the least populated stated in India, and one of the more manageable states, in terms of political presence. The landlocked Himalayan Kingdom, post the British pullout of 1947 and prior to formally becoming a part of the Indian Union, retained some measure of autonomy and while India dealt with all matters relating to foreign affairs and the military, the internal governance of the state was left entirely in its own hands with almost little or no central government intervention.

Sikkim became an Indian state on the 16th of May 1975 and post its amalgamation with India it has remained trouble free, and it would be fair to say that the transition has been one of the smoothest to date.

The state is bounded by Tibet in the north, Bhutan in the East, Nepal in the West and West Bengal in the south and south-east. It appears to be, on paper anyway, one of the most politically manageable states in India, and if one intended to stand for elections, as far as India goes, Sikkim would be, one of the better bets.

The two dominant religions in the state are Hinduism and Buddhism, there appears to be very little between them. Sikkim is also one of the most environmentally conscious states in the subcontinent, with an emphasis on being environmentally friendly.

The state has a literacy rate of 83% and is ranked 13th in the all India literacy index. Despite the troubles with cross-border insurgents, and ethic divides which tend to boil over at times, some of the north-eastern states have managed to maintain higher than average literacy rates, and the drop-in population or the smaller population might have something to do with that.

The two major parties in India, the BJP and the INC are active in the state and as far as regional parties go, the biggest regional party in the state is the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) which maintains a healthy margin, it controls 22 of the 33 seats, in the state assembly, and it has one seat in the lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha) and one seat in the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha), so it is fair to say that the party doesn’t really have much sway or influence outside the state but that doesn’t really make much of a difference and as long as it can govern the state effectively, which at times is too much to ask, the bigger parties can iron out central government policy.

The party has been in power since Sikkim was accorded the status of becoming an Indian state and very little has changed in terms of governance or governing styles and the state rarely makes the headlines, which tends to suggest that whatever it’s doing, it seems to be doing it rather well.

The SDF brand themselves or label themselves as democratic socialists and in its most simple form democratic socialism means that the population collectively owns and controls the means of production, in most instances that means that production is controlled by the state, and the end result is distributed proportionately, usually in the form of underlying social welfare, with emphasis on housing, education and health care, which coincidentally are some of the more pressing issues that need to be addressed in the subcontinent, among the population.

The party however does not seem to be in the good books of West Bengal’s power woman, Mamta Banerjee, the founder/leader of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), which is listed as one of the minor regional parties in the state. The AITC having firmly established itself in Bengal is seeking to widen or broaden its support base, and is branching out to other states in India, and the party is seeking to make its fervid and fiery brand of politics more palatable nationally.

Take nothing away from them, Bengal is a difficult state to take control of especially in light of the Communist Party of India’s, both Marxist and Maoist, extensive influences there.

The source of the troubles is the spate of unrests in Darjeeling which has resulted in tourists abandoning Darjeeling for Sikkim and an outflow of income derived from tourism which has hit businesses especially those centered around the tourist industry quite hard.

Matters were further exacerbated by the Sikkim Chief Minister’s (Pawan Chamling) support for Gorkhaland, something the AITC is at present for obvious reasons, opposed to. The matter has been the subject of heated debate since it first came up in 1907.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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The girl from Allahabad – 1

This is my first attempt at writing something that remotely resembles a biography and the person I have selected is none other than the iron lady of India, its second longest serving prime minister and perhaps the most complex person to serve as the prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi.

Of all the prime ministers of India, I am most fascinated by Indira and unlike most prime ministers who served in times of peace, she was one of the few women prime ministers who served during a war – a war that India was never expected to win, and if it wasn’t for her tenacity, India in all probability, would have lost the war.

At the onset, I have to admit that it is impossible to cover her whole life in an article or a series of articles because it was a long and illustrious career and her tenure as prime minister spanned more than a decade. Her first tenure lasted for ten years and her second tenure for four.

The events that we will be looking at here will be the events that piqued my interest as a young boy reading the New Straits Times between the age of 10-14 and we will look at the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, the death of her son Sanjay – a death that rocked the nation and a death many believe was an assassination, the subsequent fall-out with her daughter in law Maneka, who remains the only member of the Nehru dynasty who is not associated or affiliated to the Congress Party of India. Maneka who has had a long and illustrious political career herself serves with the BJP and finally the events that led to Indira’s death.

The events that I have mentioned here are by no means complete or comprehensive and for anyone who wants to acquire an insight to the life of India’s iron woman, it is best that they get a copy of her biography (there are a few in the market).

I read one of her biographies many years ago and to date I have never really managed to grasp the depths of it. Her life was by no means simple.

Indira was India’s third prime minister; her father Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first and longest serving prime minister and Indira was his only daughter. Indira in fact was an only child and being born in one of the most politically influential families in India, it would be fair to say that she would have come to terms with the intricacies and the subtleties of Indian politics at an early age.

India is one of the most difficult countries in the world to govern, not only because of the size of its population but also because of its diversity and each of its 29 states often demand separate attention and it is more often than not difficult to appease all the parties in the mix, but despite that Indira managed to keep a lid on things. This coupled with India’s external foes make governing India challenging to say the least.

Indira was a Kashmiri Pandit or a Kashmiri Brahmin and she was born in Allahabad a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a state rich in history but not without its share of unrest. Even at birth Indira could never be described as the contemporary Indian because Indians today are normally associated with states like Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana or Bengal and places like Mumbai and Delhi from the western perspective of things anyway.

The young Indira could aptly be described as the orthodox Brahmin girl and she was without doubt conservative but that was only to be expected given the strict upbringing most Kashmiri Pandit girls have.

Indira however was very, very intelligent, and I remember reading somewhere that she loved reading and she was very knowledgeable and that she’d even read works like the arthashastra, something that most people don’t read. So it is fair to say that even at a young age, well before being elected the prime minister of India, the concepts of conflict and war were not alien to her and she was to a very large degree or extent able to accept conflict and war for what it was, and that would have no doubt helped her during her tenure as prime minister where she would have had to face conflict and war over and over again.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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Order granting Assam Rifles sweeping powers of search and arrest put on hold

The government has put on hold its order allowing the Assam Rifles to search and arrest anyone in the north-east.

The order, issued three days ago granted the Assam Rifles, a counter insurgency and anti-guerilla type outfit comprising of slightly over 64 thousand members and some 49 divisions sweeping powers of search and arrest and empowered the Assam Rifles to arrest anyone in the north-east to counter the threat of insurgents operating along the Indo-Myanmar border though we were made to understand that all detainees must be produced at a police station within 24 hours of their arrest.

The order was issued by the Central Government following the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from various districts. Any member of the Assam Rifles, regardless of rank, was under the order allowed to arrest anyone in the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

Among the top tier parties in India with a larger support base than most parties and a party that has a bigger national appeal than many of the other parties and is not limited to a specific state, region or territory is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose core supporters come from the schedule castes, schedule tribes and other backwards castes and while the party doesn’t have a manifesto per se or has opted not to release one, it represents the rights of those who do not belong to the upper class or castes and while people outside India may have difficulties coming to terms with the caste system, it does play a role in Indian politics. Caste based politics is an ugly facet of Indian politics and representatives do get elected on the caste ticket especially if they represent the dominant caste in a specific area or constituency.

In addition to state interests and national interests’ politicians in India sometimes also have to contend with caste based issues and this can at times lead to heated debates in the political arena but it is not as bad as some people make it out to be. Most Indians these days realize the mistakes that they have made in the past and are working towards overcoming caste related obstacles and likewise most parties realize that in order to either acquire or hang on to the reins of power they need support from all sections of the community and both the BJP and the INC are working towards building a broader support base and are wooing supporters from all sections of the community, regardless of caste, race or religion.

Despite the fact that there have been numerous reports on caste biasness, the official stance has always been to give more privileges to the less fortunate especially when it comes to education and employment.

The government strategy for many, many, years has been to give preference to those who belong to backward castes but that mechanism can sometimes break down at regional levels and it is almost impossible at times to steer away from caste based issues especially when there are politicians who choose to play up on those issues.

The BSP is not without its internal divisions but that is only to be expected. Any party that has a large and diverse following is bound to have internal divides.

The party was founded in 1984 and has been around for some time. Its founder Kanshi Ram was born in the Ropar District of Punjab to a Sikh family. He also founded the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees’ Federation (BAMCEF) in 1971 and the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti in 1981 which was the predecessor of the present BSP to raise awareness among Dalits on caste based issues and the role of Dalits in the wider political spectrum.

Caste issues or biasness is not only prevalent among Hindus but it is also prevalent among Sikhs. He died in 2003 (18th September) and was succeeded by the incumbent, Mayawati, who has served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh four times and can be described as a veteran politician who still has a very strong following in Uttar Pradesh.

Mayawati is an outspoken critic of the BJP, a party that she views as a predominantly Hindu party and at one stage she even threatened to convert to Buddhism if the BJP didn’t change its attitude towards the Dalits, but as we’ve mentioned earlier the BJP is making efforts to widen its support base; it has too if it wants to remain in power.

The party continues to campaign for the rights of Dalits who without doubt belong to the most vulnerable sections of the community and are sometimes threatened with violence. In 2017 for example, a BSP party leader Rajesh Yadav was shot dead in public, and that is an indication of how heated things can get.

The party is currently trying to expand its support base, especially after the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and is willing to join hands with other secular parties if the terms are acceptable. The BJP’s victory as far as the BSP is concerned was largely due to the use of Electronic Voting Systems and the party is currently pushing for a return to paper balloting.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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Dowry

The issue of dowries has long dominated the Indian wedding scene and despite the passage of time there appears to be no respite for girls born in lower income families. Parents who want to marry their daughters off are forced into making payments that are often beyond their means and a failure to do so often leads to abuse and other forms of mistreatment in the hands of husbands or in-laws. In some parts of India and in certain communities’ dowry appears to be an accepted norm.

Approximately 8,000 deaths are recorded each year as being dowry related, some are suicides and others are the result of abuse, often in the hands of husbands and in-laws. The figure however does not accurately reflect the number of deaths and it is fair to surmise that the figure is in reality much higher because many cases of abuse go unreported.

A lot of these women are educated, professional women, who are more than capable of bringing home a decent wage but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in some communities because despite the fact that the wife is able to bring home a decent salary or contribute equally towards the household expenses, she is still required to make some sort of a lump sum payment prior to getting married either in terms of cash, jewelry, chattels or property in order to be bestowed with the title of a good daughter in law.

Sounds like a business? Well in some instances it is. In some communities the prevalent attitude seems to be that a boy can make demands prior to getting married and there are many instances where even when the demands are met; the girl is still abused and mistreated and despite the passage of time and the advent of modern technology and the numerous advances in many other fields, there appears to be no escape for women born in lower income families.

Let’s go back to the basics. Is it illegal to ask for dowry in India? Well according to the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, it is. For some reason or other it is legal in Jammu and Kashmir.

The act goes on to define dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly prior to marriage.

However, it is not illegal for obvious reasons, to give gifts and these gifts could be gifts of cash, jewelry, chattels or property. The act itself isn’t entirely convincing and while it says that would-be grooms cannot demand items of value as a precondition to marriage it does not say anything about receiving gifts and in all instances, it only becomes an issue if the aggrieved party makes or lodges a complaint. If no complaint is made, then nothing else is ever said about the matter and even if the marriage breakdowns at a later date there is nothing to compel the husband to return any items of value that he received prior to the marriage.

Obviously, no one gets married or enters into the ceremony of marriage expecting it to breakdown, but nothing is certain and there are many compelling stories that suggest that the law should somehow make these gifts returnable if the marriage breaks down.

However, the penalty for accepting dowry is quite steep and if convicted the accused can be jailed for a term that is no less than 5 years so the law does to some extent protect women but then again it is a matter of these women stepping up and lodging a complaint but in most instances, many of them just put it down to hard luck.

Likewise, parents can refuse to give dowry but in most cases most parents if they can afford it and some even if they can’t, agree because it is a social and cultural norm and a lot of families are just happy to marry their daughters off regardless of whether their daughters are happy or not.

The way things stand at present, it is not only important to give a girl an education, but it is also important to make sure that there is enough left in the kitty for her wedding and that can be quite strenuous especially considering the fact that education is not cheap, and a good college degree is quite costly. It is a vicious cycle that women in the subcontinent get trapped in.

Is the situation going to get any better in the near future? From all accounts no. With the exception of a handful of writers and the odd rhetoric from aspiring politicians no one really seems to want to address the matter.

 Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam

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The Mizo National Front (MNF)

Indian politics is a like a smoking cauldron filled with varied interests and a successful leader as far as India is concerned is a leader who manages to keep a lid on the cauldron. To borrow a phrase from the arthashastra, a successful leader is a leader who manages to keep the nation intact.

In order to understand Indian politics we not only have to look at the two major parties, Congress and the BJP, but we also need to take a look at the smaller regional communal parties to try and understand their concerns. Communalism remains one of India’s most pressing problems and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Mizoram was a British colony and post the independence of India in 1947, the state was given a choice of being either a part of India, Pakistan or Burma and subsequently chose to join India and became a district of Assam.

The Mizo National Front (MNF) which spearheaded the move for a separate state was formed in 1966 but its roots date back at least 11 years earlier and it evolved from the Mizo Cultural Society which was an organization that was established to advocate for Mizo rights. The most pressing problems at that stage were communal problems but that was superseded by the mautam famine of 1959-1960.

Between 1959-1960 Mizoram was struck by a natural disaster that led to a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions. The bamboo that grew wildly in the state’s dense forests began to flower and fruits of the bamboo plant became food for the rats and that in turn led to an increase in the rat population which quickly spiraled out of control and led to the destructions of crops which in turn precipitated widespread famine.

According to the MNF the government of Assam was warned that the bamboo would flower and that it would lead to famine but the government played in down as tribal superstition and refused to intervene and when the famine eventually did hit, there was widespread anger.

The Mizo Cultural Society changed its name to the Mautam Famine Front in 1961 to not only help with relief efforts but to also demand for a separate state which would at the very least give the Mizos partial self-governance. The organization was founded in 1961 by Pu Laldenga who subsequently, many years later, became Mizoram’s first chief minister. The Mizo Famine Front was later dissolved and changed its name to the Mizo National Front and in 1966 it launched a separatist war.

The combatants were trained by former members of the 2nd Assam Rifles. Pu Laldenga himself served as a sergeant in the army prior to entering civil service and from all accounts the combatants were trained in exactly the same manner that the members of the Indian Army were.

The separatist war started on the 1st of March 1966 with an attack on an army outpost in Aizawl and escalated from there. The war not only involved ground troops but also included air raids by the Indian Air Force (5th and 6th of March).

The Indian Air Force raid, in retaliation to the uprising, on Aizawl was extremely damaging and under normal circumstances the air force may not have been called in but for the fact that on the 24th of January 1966 Indira Gandhi, India’s iron lady, was elected the prime minister of India and she dealt with the situation in the manner that she always did when the security of the nation was threatened, with force.

The question would later be raised as to why the government used such excessive force to deal with its own citizens and New Delhi would deny it, claiming that the raids on Aizawl were in fact routine supply drops.

The ensuing struggle would force members of the Mizo National Front to go underground and the war was fought from hideouts in jungles in and from across India’s borders. It was a desperate struggle that would compel many government and non-government organizations to try and seek a peaceful solution.

Because Mizoram was a predominantly Christian state and still remains so, some 87% of its population is Christian, church leaders, at the request of the then governor, intervened on behalf of the people of Mizoram and peace negotiations were started. In 1974 selected church leaders began to act as mediators in talks between the government and the MNF.

Talks also later began with Rajiv Gandhi who wanted an unconditional surrender but the church argued on behalf of the Mizos. Things went back and forth during which time Pu Laldenga and other members of the Mizo National Front remained underground and finally 20 years after the MNF launched its separatist war, in 1986, a peace accord was signed and Mizoram became a separate state.

The MNF’s armed struggle is a thing of the past. It remains a political party but support for it appears to be dwindling with new parties like PRISM (People’s Right to Information and Development Implementation Society of Mizoram) emerging and contesting parliamentary seats and it is difficult to say how the MNF will fare in the future but things appear to be changing for Mizoram and the state appears to be heading in the right direction.
Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam
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