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Friday, October 23, 2009

Human Rights in East South Asia, A Focus on the ‘Seven-Sisters’ of India

At a side-event during the 12th Session of the Human Rights Council in October this year, several panelists, seeking to give us a picture of the human rights situation in East South Asia, focused on the ‘Seven-Sisters’. (The 7 tribal states of northeast India, which were incorporated into India despite differences.)
According to one panelist, Meghalaya, one of the provincial states in India, once called the Scotland of the East, has lost its splendor over the years. This can be attributed to illegal migrants, from both inside India and outside, who migrate and cross into Meghalaya every day. Once representing approximately 90% of the population, tribals now equate to about 70% of the population. If steps are not taken to control this “menace”, tribals will face being reduced to a minority due to numerical insignificance. The state, however, is refusing to look at this. The central government looks upon the tribals of Meghalaya in an indifferent manner; this makes them feel as though they are not part of India. Meghalaya was once renowned as the hub of education, but schools have now become commercialized institutions that are too expensive for the people, especially those living below the poverty line. There are also high dropout rates and the basic rights for children, education of those below 14 years old, is just a dream. Moreover, the health system is in shambles. Particularly in rural areas, doctors do not want to work at community health centers due to the dire conditions and lack of facilities. To complete the picture, there are many violations of human rights in northeast India. Crimes against women are rising, children are frequently raped, and torture and murder are an every day occurrence. As a result, Meghalaya is lagging behind in social, economic, and political rights.
According to another panelist, Dipmoni Gayan, Assam was one of the most resourceful of the Seven Sisters. Like in Meghalaya, a major problem in the state is the influx of foreigners. Another major issue is development. Although the government envisions development, it has no proper plan or policy in place in the region. On the whole, the people of Assam are unhappy. Many in Assam have reverted to violence in attempts to confront the government with their plight. As a result, Assam has been facing nearly 51 years of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Moreover, the state of human rights is abysmal. If the army and armed forces commit crimes, the cases that are sent to the state and national human rights commission, however these cases are usually not reviewed. There is the dream of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of power distribution, where the local level has access to power and can invest in for its own community. But, it is too corrupt at all levels for this. It is a dream that has failed.

The current situation in Manipur reflects that of Assam and Meghalaya. A recent statement from the Prime Minister of India confirmed that Manipur is the most violent state in India in terms of the conflict in the region. The central government has a long history of using the military to deal with the problems in the region. As a result, the government encourages the outright abuses on the part of the police. Unfortunately, Manipur is facing a type of “Punjab” solution, a blue star operation to crush the opposition through attacks.


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