(Inaugural speech delivered by Somorendro Thokchom, convener NIPP2015 and CIRCA Manipur, on the 1st North East Indigenous Peoples’ Parliament, 2015, Imphal)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is a matter of great honour to address this august house, which is perhaps the first of its kind in the entire history of the North East. I sincerely hope that this Parliament will open a new chapter in the struggle of the indigenous peoples for their rights, dignity and identity. A collective movement encompassing all the indigenous peoples at the regional level has long been overdue given the ineffectiveness and failure of isolated movements, which in general, are pre-dominantly ethno-exclusivist in character. In fact, there can never be an exclusive solution to the problems faced by a community as the problems of the region are structurally inter-related. This calls for a common approach to solve them.
The Northeast India as we understand today is not a mere political construct imposed on us by external hegemony. It is a civilizational category with concrete historical and cultural foundation. The future destiny of the peoples of this region is bound together not only by history and geography alone but also by their existential realities. This Parliament represents an understanding that the future of this region lies in collective struggle of all the indigenous peoples cutting across narrow ideological and political affiliations. It is also an attempt to serve as a common platform of all the oppressed peoples of the North East to air their collective voice against all forms of discrimination, exploitation and suppression.
British historian, Prof. Arnold J Toynbee (1889-1975) popularized a philosophy of history commonly known as the ‘challenge-response theory’. His philosophy of history postulates that the rise and fall of a civilization depends on its ‘creative minority’s’ response to the challenges pitted against it from time to time. Emergence of challenges is a natural law for every civilization. If the responses succeed and are capable of overcoming the challenges, the civilization prospers and rises. While failure of the responses engenders consequential challenges and they get compounded and multiplied. As a result, the civilization withers and falls. By challenges, Toynbee meant the collection of problems which threatens the very survival of the civilization in question. ‘Creative minority’ suitably signifies ‘the leadership’ in different contexts. A rudimentary knowledge of the paradigm of challenge-response theory will enable us to understand our condition, that is, the challenges we are confronted with and to formulate responses equal to the challenges. This will redeem us from the prevailing marginalization and subsequent national extinction.
The indigenous peoples of the NE are on the verge of extinction. We are afflicted with a plethora of seemingly intractable challenges threatening our existence as communities. Our challenges are both internal and external. Internal challenges are those which we inherit from the primordial past. External challenges are born out of political, socio-economic and environmental changes that we have experienced in the recent past. Both of these challenges make our condition precarious. If our leadership fail to involve themselves in our existential struggles and to come out with appropriate and adequate responses to the challenges posed against us, our days are numbered.
Our present leadership, as the ‘creative minority’, has the sole responsibility of salvaging us from the present predicament. If leaders fail to creatively respond to our challenges, we are doomed. The first step towards our own redemption from the imminent fatal misfortune is identification of the problems we are grappling with. The second one is to bring forth befitting responses, that is, appropriate actions or a process of work to solve the problems. Now we need to re-examine our ‘challenges and responses’.
Challenges faced by the peoples of the NE India
- Demographic Anarchy
The biggest challenge we are grappling with is the demographic anarchy prevalent in our region. Two negative aspects of our demography are prominent. On the one hand, ingress of migrants and immigrants has crossed the saturation level and the inflow is continuing without any form of resistance or hindrance. On the other hand, depletion of indigenous population is conspicuous and easily palpable. Migrants and immigrants constitute around 45 % of our total regional population. This is beyond the manageable limit and our absorptive capacity. Our leadership has to find out a way out from the impending catastrophe, which we are going to face in the near future.
- Economic (under-) development
Next, the most dangerous challenge posing against us is the problem of development of economic underdevelopment. Our NE region is rich in minerals and natural resources. Peoples were also hard working. But we are unbelievably poor. Our Society is modernized only in consumption and luxury, not in production. This disparity between income and aspiration engenders many psychological, moral, social and political problems. We have become psychologically disintegrated and morally degenerated and politically bankrupt. These conditions churn out social anomie. This economic problem, along with the concomitant social anomie, has been fabricated by wrong economic policy practiced in this part of India for more than 60 years.
Next, the most gigantic challenge threatening our existence is the phenomenon called globalization. If viewed from utilitarian outlook, experts claim, all countries gain something from this process. But in our specific condition, globalization is going to be a curse for us. With India’s ‘Look East’ policy, now renamed as ‘Act East’ policy, which heralded the tectonic shift of India’s west-oriented stance towards east-oriented posture, our status will be reduced to that of passive spectators, while outsiders will hog the stage. Considering our present level of development, it is impossible for us to successfully compete with MNCs and foreign entrepreneurs in business and trade. So, globalization is not going to be an opportunity for us as it has been for other countries. A fitting response against this looming catastrophe is a must for our survival.
- Indiscriminate or unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and imminent environmental catastrophe
In connection with the question of economic development, another dangerous challenge is the indiscriminate mining and excessive exploitation of the natural resources in the NE region. The peoples of the region face threats to their survival on account of development projects undertaken by the government in collaboration with MNCs and international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
For examples, the Subansiri lower dam and the Tipaimukh dam pose as Democles’ sword for Peoples of the lower riparian states. In Meghalaya, a large expanse of land is now unusable after open-pit coal mining. Uranium mining, which is most damaging to the environment, is also being carried out in the state. Petroleum deposits in Manipur and Mizoram are of enormous size. Production will be huge. So will the disaster also. Besides, oil fields are contributing their own share of damage to the environment.
- Social dis-organization
Now, we have arrived at the dreaded condition of social anomie. A society, that has insufficient productive forces, makes its members capability-poor. A society of ‘capability-poor’ people is also poor in cultural capital. And if the standard of living of such a society is much higher than what its productive forces can afford, such an economic condition creates moral degeneration and, consequently, loss of character. Then such society loses all organizational capacity. There is trust deficit among the people. A trust-deficit society becomes anomic and dis-organized. Unity becomes impossible. As a result, social movements die a natural death. Our society has arrived at such a condition. Our civil society is so dis-organized, undeveloped and weak that it may be safely supposed to have died. This is one of the most fatal challenges we are posed against.
- Governance deficit
Due to critical level corruption in our society, governance is almost non-existent or it has become sheer mis-governance. Our people elect MPs and MLAs, but their leadership is not accepted. Such elected representatives are taken simply as source of money and favour, not as repository of ideas and visionaries for the future. They are hated or feared, not loved or respected. This deficit in governance is a big challenge. Without good institutions, development is impossible. Without leadership, social development and unity are a far cry.
- Policy paralysis
Our education system, including both formal and informal, fails miserably. We have become a nation of (educated) illiterates. There is no hope of ameliorating the condition. Losing hope in the effectiveness of our education system, well-to-do families send out their children to some Indian mainland cities for education. It gives a big economic blow to our society. On the other hand, it is a brain drain from our society, as good students get employment opportunities there and do not return home. At home there is no employment opportunity. Thus, education system failure is a big problem we should tackle for national survival. Social policy is also very conspicuous by its absence in the official policy recipe. Society is degenerating, but there is no policy to stop this slide.
- AFSPA and HR violations
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 has been in force in some parts of the NE region since its enactment in 1958. This was described as ‘a lawless law’ by an MP from Manipur during the parliamentary debate on the enactment of this Act. This is really a ‘lawless’ Act. This is against the prevailing norms of any legal system in the present world. It is said that the Act is soft on the insurgents, but very hard on the public. Our people are now cowed into cowering through prolonged intimidation by Indian security forces. Norbert Elias, in his book, The Civilizing Process, states that fear is the most important mechanism through which the structures of society are transmitted to the individual psychological functions. If this contention is true at least to a small degree and Union Government’s objective is to transform our people from a community having ‘no loyalty to mother India’ to a community that conforms in toto, the Act is a grand success.
- Substance addiction
Drug abuse is also a powerful challenge our society is struggling against. It is generally accepted that more than 30% of our youths are narcotic drug abusers. Starting from No. 4, heroin and opium to cannabis and tobacco, all kinds of drugs are available in abundance in Manipur and some parts of the NE, more easily in towns and cities. The union government seldom does anything effectively except hollow propaganda and advertisement. In league with drug addiction, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS has spread with gusto in our region. Manipur is the highest affected state in the NE region. Nagaland is next. Mizoram is also not far behind. This is a big challenge confronting our society.
- Fragmentation of the body politic on ethnic lines
One of the biggest challenges posing against the NE is the fragmentation of the population of the region along ethnic lines. The region has more than 220 communities, with an equal number of languages. These communities are mobilized and amalgamated into some larger ethnic groups claimed to be nations or nationalities in the narratives of the ethnic communities. But there are clashes of these nationalisms and overlapping territorial claims. Such territorial claims and counter-claims create irreconcilable contradictions among the communities. If this issue cannot be addressed successfully by our leadership, hostilities will continue, compromising the real political strength of the region. If the region is not amalgamated into a unified political entity, our future is bleak.
CIRCA was established with an ideology that mere superficial reformation of the present political system in Manipur will not be able to protect our future. Our interests can only be insured if the Manipur provincial government has autonomous power.
CIRCA believes that if the political status of Manipur is reverted to the status envisaged in the ‘Instrument of Accession’ signed in 1947 by the then ruling King of Manipur for accession to the proposed union of India, our future will be safe. According to the ‘Instrument’, three key subjects like defense, external affairs and communication were to be vested with the Union Government while the rest of the items of governance were to be entrusted to the Manipur government. This is what we, in Manipur, call ‘pre-merger status’. CIRCA has started a campaign of mass mobilization of the people of Manipur for a mass movement for restoration of ‘pre-merger status’ to Manipur. We are hopeful that this mobilization will eventually develop into a mass movement capable of wresting this type of autonomy from the union government, despite hurdles of immense proportion.
This ‘status’ is universally applicable to the entire NE region. Only this form of Autonomy can salvage the sinking ship called the North East India. If all the states of NE region enjoy this degree of autonomy, all the problems afflicting our region will be solved or contained. Only with this amount of autonomy can we beat the challenges we face now.
We propose to the peoples of the NE region to build up a mass movement for such type of autonomy in the entire NE region. If the whole region stands up in unison in a non-violent mass movement demanding this form of autonomy, it will be difficult for the Central government to suppress the same. The basic structure of Indian constitution is to be overhauled. The paradigm of ‘one country two systems’ should be the goal. Conservative elements in the Indian political set-up will stand against it. But the will of the people always prevails.