MARCH 16-17, 2009, GUWAHATI

The Centre for Development and Peace Studies organised a two-day national workshop on the subject “Can Political Science Be a Tool To Understand and Resolve Conflicts? The Case of India’s Northeast” at Guwahati on March 16 and 17, 2009. The Workshop was supported by the British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata. Here is a report of the Workshop inaugurated by the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh Gen. (retd.) J. J. Singh, and attended by political scientists from around Northeast India and outside, peace and security experts, journalists and others.



Welcome Address: WASBIR HUSSAIN, Director, CDPS

In his welcome address, Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS said that the theme for the workshop was selected with the premise that political scientists, in view of their training, seem better placed to understand and absorb issues relating to peace and security. In view of their academic expertise, they are supposed to understand conflict dynamics and approaches to peace building and therefore can be expected to make their own contribution in conflict transformation or peace-making processes around them. Moreover, if the resources at their command can be channelized and if their expertise can be developed into classroom peace building modules, it can impact directly on the most important segment of our society, the youth, Mr. Hussain said.

Peace making efforts are going on at various levels in the Northeast. The Government itself has been pursuing a political and economic approach to deal with some of the conflicts. But, the results have not always been encouraging. Civil society initiatives to keep peace processes on track have succeeded in states like Nagaland. But, in states like Assam, the civil society has not been able to broker peace, say between insurgent groups like the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the government. To break such a stalemate, an active segment of people like the political scientists can contribute their bit in sensitizing the youth or even lending their expertise in keeping civil society initiatives on track.

Mr. Hussain said that today a global demand for academic and professional training has been felt in view of the overlap between development and coexistence work in societies in conflict. Such training, he said needs to cover some of the following: (a) understanding of the theory and practice of conflict and development work, (b) knowledge and skills necessary to undertake and engage in development and aid work under conditions involving violent conflict, (c) familiarity with the theory, policy and practice debates taking place among development, aid and coexistence institutions, (d) understanding of best practices in developmental, conflict-ridden and disaster-affected societies through case studies and lessons learned analyses, and (e) analytical tools used in determining the effectiveness of aid and development programs while simultaneously attempting to contribute to the coexistence needs of divided societies.

The broad themes identified for the workshop are Understanding Conflict Theory and Dynamics, Role of Media and Civil Society, State Response to conflicts, the Constitution and Judiciary etc, he said.

Key Note Address: Dr. AJAI SAHNI, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi

In his keynote address, Dr. Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management spoke on the theme “Conflict Resolution: The Social Sciences as Force Multipliers”. He said in what has been widely described as the information age, in which knowledge is increasingly regarded as the principal source of wealth and power, it is indeed astonishing that we should ask such a question: ‘Can Political Science be used as a tool to understand and resolve conflicts?’ The answer is simple and inescapable: not only can political science be used towards that end (resolving conflict), the costs of not employing this discipline are unacceptable. The critical question, indeed, is why political science in particular, and the social sciences in general, have not been applied to secure a better understanding and more efficient resolution of contemporary conflicts, and how can this be remedied.

Dr. Sahni said that a historical amnesia, the near complete absence of institutional memory, continues to afflict much of the Indian security establishment and its perspectives and understanding of the country’s overwhelming wealth of experience – both of success and failure – in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist campaigns. Since the commencement of India’s first insurgency soon after independence – in Nagaland in 1952— there has been a continuous succession of ‘wars within borders’, culminating in the multiplicity of contemporary irregular conflicts and movements that have come to afflict, in various degrees, an estimated 271 of India’s 630 districts. Astonishingly, the literature on these many internal wars is minuscule; and strategic and tactical assessments of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaigns, negligible.

There has been no systematic effort to document and analyse the enormous cumulative experience of campaigns since Independence. Despite the fact that a long history of both successes and failures across theatres, as well as in the specific theatre of their current deployment, could yield a wealth of wisdom, of strategic and tactical best practices, there has been no attempt in this regard. These problems are further aggravated by policies of task allocation and transfer that do not value continuity of experience. As a result, there is little opportunity for the development of long-term perspectives and a knowledge base that may help in an authoritative and informed assessment of emerging or ongoing emergencies.

Speaking on the reluctance of the intellectual class to conduct research on conflict related issues, Dr. Sahni maintained that academicians have been reluctant to ‘soil their hands’ with research in troubling subjects, and the limited efforts in this direction have been deeply flawed. By and large, academics have not committed themselves in sufficient measure to the documentation and study of issues relating to terrorism and insurgency. To the extent that there has been some academic writing, it has chosen ‘safe areas’ – such as discourses on the definition of terrorism, the ‘root causes’ of terrorism, and the distinctions between terrorism and ‘liberation struggles’; or politically correct ‘meta-issues’ – such as human rights and political violence – that do not demand engagement on the ground or unpleasant field research in the affected areas, or fractious interactions with uncooperative civil and police bureaucrats. Current scholarship appears to be insulated from the more demanding and crucial aspects of the conflicts, and from the areas of risk. There has been little effort or courage to challenge received wisdom or settled orthodoxies – except in the language or idiom of another such orthodoxy.

Governments and their various agencies, on the other hand, Dr Sahni maintained, have failed to establish internal mechanisms and institutions to carry out these necessary tasks of documentation, analysis, assimilation and dissemination of counter-insurgency and conflict resolution experience in various theatres. While several institutions with the requisite mandate do exist within Government, their state of health and the availability or profile of human and material resources for mandated tasks remains poor. More significantly, they enjoy little prestige within the official hierarchy, particularly in comparison with ‘executive’ posts and departments, and have generally had no more than marginal impact on official policy or practice.

Dr Sahni added that in the absence of a coherent body of official or open source documentation and analysis, the national discourse on terrorism, insurgency and other patterns of major political conflict, has remained polarized and overwhelmingly moulded by political and partisan sympathies, rather than any information or understanding that reflects the realities of the ground. It has been muddied, moreover, by a polemical, rather than practical, obsession with the most extraordinarily obtuse dichotomies that have dominated the largely incestuous debate on conflict: ‘law and order approaches’ vs. ‘addressing root causes’; ‘military solution’ vs. ‘developmental solution’; ‘criminals, extortionists and brigands’ vs. ‘our children’ or ‘our brothers and sisters’; ‘terrorists’ vs. ‘freedom fighters’. These conceptual opposites have done little to inform or shape policy, but have imposed a measure of paralysis on the state’s institutions, constraining the evolution of effective strategies to confront and neutralize India’s multiple insurgencies.

Dr Sahni maintained that the success or failure of any enterprise depends substantially on the measure of clarity that attends its conceptualization and execution. The responses to major contemporary conflicts, including terrorism and insurgency, have been greatly inhibited by an absence of clarity, enormous confusion over the concept, a partisan debate, and deliberate obfuscation by at least certain entities.

He further said that no real scientific progress can rely purely on conceptual paradigms or theoretical science. This is as much the case with the hard as with the social sciences. In the hard sciences, real progress depends as much on developments in pure theory as it does on the material and applied sciences, on engineering and technological advances, and on applications, right down to the levels of technicians who assist in the transfer and dissemination of technologies to the end user. Each link in this chain, from the conceptually highest to the lowest levels of application, is integral to the outreach of the benefits of science to mankind. To the extent that the social sciences have distanced themselves from this model, focusing overwhelmingly on the meta-theoretical levels, and on secondary analysis, rather than on the primary datum of experience and on the imperatives of policy and practice, they have marginalized their relevance and are, as a result, themselves poorer, even as society and governance has been deprived of informed and objective feedback that is integral to efficient and, crucially, democratic functioning.

He called for a re-dedication to reality, to the study of the specific circumstances in which movements of political violence emerge, and in which they end; to the creation of vast and over-lapping data-bases on conflicts; and on the documentation of specific strategic and tactical initiatives that have succeeded or failed, and the circumstances within which they have secured these outcomes.

Inaugural Address: Gen J J SINGH (retd) , Governor, Arunachal Pradesh

Gen J J Singh (retd), Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, in his inaugural address said that the academics are in a better position to appreciate conflicts and work towards their resolution. What is, however, necessary, is to channelize the resources and experiences they have in the right direction, he said.

The Governor appreciated the fact that a group of intellectuals and journalists in Assam have called for an end of the independent Assam theory. He said that progress and prosperity cannot be achieved without peace and the people must join together both in thought process and action, to promote peace, progress and prosperity. He further said that India would be a central actor in the new world order, which has been underlined by intellectuals of the western world. India’s economic progress is an indication of the important role it would assume in the international scene. India is a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, he said. It has shown the world the lessons of democracy. The elected representatives while laying down the policy in this country, provide space to the stakeholders—the scientists, the practitioners, thereby not just enriching the policy making exercise, but also inculcating the minds of the young, who are our future leaders.

The Governor emphasised that terrorism must be fought decisively, as nothing can justify violence. However, he said that the army functions with the principle of ‘iron fist with velvet glove’ to carry the civilian population along with its efforts. The terrorists, however, will have to be neutralised and eliminated. There can be no soft corner or kid glove approach towards them.

He further said that the Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine, developed during his tenure as the Army Chief , does not speak of a military solution to insurgency. The problem needs to be tackled in a four-prong manner: while the military can bring the condition of violence under control, the political, social and economic prongs must play their role in resolving the conflicts. The forces must try to win the hearts and minds of the people.

The political science teachers in this region must take a lead role in formulating theories that not just explain the situation and can be applied to the regional problems, but must also be understood by the students.

The Governor said that the government and security establishments have been adopting different approaches to bring terrorism under control with the overall objective of achieving peace. At the same time, we must provide opportunity for the rehabilitation of the terrorists and give them a chance to restart their lives. At the same time, those who have been involved in heinous crimes must face the due process of law. He appreciated the fact that some people are working towards bringing the terrorists to the path of dialogue. He said that an entire generation has lost its youth in the Northeast due to insurgency. This trend must be stopped. Such Workshops will help us sensitize various segments of the society.

Gen. Singh further said that we have the potential to make the Northeast an economic powerhouse of the country through capacity building. While nature has been generous to the region, we must try and end the regime of ignorance and isolation in this part of the country. People of the region can engage in the production of organic food, orchids, bamboo based products and tourism. All these can generate jobs for the young people. We must provide them financial empowerment and avenues to make money. We also have a responsibility to make the local youth get employment- not by creating them in the government sector in the private sector as well.

The Governor added that the Vision 2020 document of the North Eastern Council (NEC) has specified goals for the region. However, the document will not achieve its objective unless we make an attempt to implement the provisions. He ended his speech by saying that there is a greater need for an interface between the academic and intelligentsia with the government. Such collaboration can provide the government the early warning system that can be used to control the spread of chaos in the region.

The inaugural address was followed by an address by the guest of honour, Mr Simon Wilson, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India.

Address by Mr SIMON WILSON, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India

In his address, Mr Simon Wilson said that the United Kingdom (UK) works for a safe, just and prosperous world, and, in this context, conflict is certainly a threat to all development activities and needs to be addressed urgently. Conflict is not just a bane for India’s Northeast but a problem of gargantuan proportions around our planet.

Mr. Wilson said that according to estimates, more than one billion people, including about 340 million of the world's extreme poor, are estimated to live in fragile states, with extreme poverty, and without reliable and stable basic governance and security. By 2010, it is estimated that half of the world's poorest people could be living in states that are experiencing or are at risk of violent conflict. But conflict has a darker shade than mere instability, he added. Around half of all child and maternal deaths occur in fragile countries and people in these countries are three times more likely to be affected by HIV/AIDs. In 2007 alone, the number of people displaced by conflict was estimated at 26 million globally, the highest number since 1990.

As in any conflict, it is the innocent who suffer the most, Mr. Wilson said. Rape, sex slavery and trafficking of women and girls are too often the weapons of war. Millions of children are left hungry without access to any basic amenities. According to estimates, more than 300,000 children in more than 20 countries are today being forced to take up weapons and fight wars - subjecting them to horrific violence and lifelong psychological scars.

According to Mr. Wilson, these statistics, and the human suffering behind them, suggest that conflict resolution and building sustainable peace are the toughest development challenges of our time. And these challenges have become even harder because of the global economic downturn. While the only resolution to conflict is perhaps economic growth and stability, the role of the political science teachers is crucial in achieving this objective, he added. The gathering would find solutions to the problems and shape opinions and policy in the days to come, he hoped.

He, however, cautioned that the challenge to the world is not to focus solely on those failing states that are seen to be of strategic importance. It is also important to help them build a lasting peace and promote development. This means an integrated, international approach to conflict prevention and resolution, bringing together the military, diplomats and development agencies. Thus, tackling conflict and building strong states requires reform of international institutions, such as the United Nations, which means bringing in new players in various ways in our attempts to prevent and address conflicts. As the world attempts to design a new economic model, it means finding ways to rebalance future growth, so that no country is left behind. And, for sustainable conflict resolution, it means breaking down the old barriers between different agencies to work more seamlessly from military peace-keeping to successful peace-building.

Mr. Wilson maintained that the United Kingdom has a close relationship with India on counter-terrorism and both countries are working to draw practical lessons from the UK’s experience of terrorist attacks on mass transit systems. He said that both countries preserve their values and ambitions and prevent conflict and wherever conflict exists, attempt to resolve it. He expressed his pleasure of being able to support this initiative by the CDPS to engage academics from the political science stream to look at conflict and debate resolutions relevant to this part of India. His congratulated the CDPS for working towards the challenging task of formulating a peace curriculum for schools, colleges and universities in the Northeast. “This is a difficult but noble challenge – it is only through awareness of the futility of conflict that mass opinion can be mobilised to stub out this menace”, he added. He hoped that the Workshop will share knowledge, experience and ideas and hopefully identify concrete steps to a peaceful future.

Mr Prasanta J. Baruah , Joint Secretary (Hony.), CDPS, delivered the vote of thanks.


In the second session, chaired by Prof. Apurba K. Baruah of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, three presentations were made.

Presentation I: Dr. Swaran Singh: “Can Political Science be a Tool to Understand and Resolve Conflicts?”

Dr. Swaran Singh, Associate Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who also represented the WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace), New Delhi, made a presentation on the theme, “Can Political Science be a Tool to Understand and Resolve Conflicts?” He started his presentation with a definition of ‘conflict’ which in its broadest sense involves “collusion of interests, understandings, values and behaviours, which can be expressed in a range of violent and non-violent ways.” Even when expressed through violence, it can be both physical as well as latent or invisible.

He said it is generally believed that conflict is natural, inevitable, necessary and normal. Dealing with the question whether all conflicts is political in nature, Dr. Singh said that though not all conflicts fall in the domain of political science or politics, an unresolved protracted conflict can become the subject for political institutions like courts or the legislatures. However, the efficiency of these channels and theoretical paradigms depends on actual experience and learning from their interface with real conflicts.

Dr. Singh said that like all other disciplines, political science seeks to empower students to develop conceptual understanding and skills in defining and understanding all political phenomenon, including political ideas, institutions and process of political participation, decision-making and so on. Ideas like justice, equality, liberty remain the medium of articulation of conflict while institutions like political parties and parliament provide platforms to express those conflicting formulations in order to evolve their more refined and effective versions. However, this often leads to processes of participation and decision-making becoming clogged with deadlocks, thereby becoming inefficient and turning several latent conflicts into manifest and violent ones.

While prima facie, Political Science mainly involves study of theory and practice of politics, the focus on conflict studies, and more specifically the discipline of conflict resolution, mainly wishes to highlight the irrational aspects of conflict and underline positive conditions necessary for resolving conflict projects. Dr. Singh said through his presentation he is seeking an answer to the question whether Political Science can be a tool to understand human conflicts and whether Political Science should be privileged as a tool for understanding conflicts and probably resolving conflicts.

Dr. Singh said that contributions of conflict resolution to the study of Political Science also need to be underlined. Especially, sub-fields like political theory, international relations, public administration, governance have all been enriched by the inter-disciplinary approach and innovative approaches of conflict resolution studies. The political conditions have transformed following the end of cold war and 21 st century has witnessed the rise of new political actors—civil society, policy networks, NGOs and so on—as also new issues and challenges few of which can be either understood or resolved within political boundaries of Westphalian model of state. This is where conflict resolution lends hope in enabling political science in creating space for new forces.

He concluded by saying while political science can be privileged as being a tool for both understanding conflict, yet, given the evolutionary nature of conflict, political science needs to constantly evolve to remain an effective tool for understanding conflict. At the same time, political science must also remain open to co-option by and ideas from other disciplines, especially conflict resolution to ensure its efficacy and efficiency in understanding and resolving conflicts.

Presentation II: Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University: Understanding Conflict Theories And Dynamics with reference to India’s Northeastern Theatre

In the second presentation of the session, Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta, Reader in Political Science, Gauhati University, and Coordinator, Peace and Conflict Studies Centre of the University, spoke on the relevance of conflict theories in the conflict theatres in Northeast India. In this context, he spoke at length on the communal clashes that took place between the Muslim settlers and the Bodo and non-Bodo population in the Udalguri and Darrang districts in western Assam in 2008 and examined critically the conflict transformation model that was put in place in those districts during and immediately after the riots.

Dr. Mahanta presented the findings of the team he had led to the conflict theatre. The team found that both Muslims and non-Muslims had suffered during the riots. Rumours played a catalytic role in both the districts and also in the southern Karbi Anglong district in similar clashes earlier, adding to the sense of fear and revenge among the population. While, both the Bodo and non-Bodos population heard about the arrival of 40,000 Muslims from other areas and incidents like the alleged hosting of Pakistani flags in the area, the Muslims had heard of the killings of Muslim population. The Bodos appeared to be politically more organised and mobilised than the Biharis, Adivasis and other groups. The team also found that unlike the politicians and the leadership, among the common people there is a wish for reconciliation among the different communities. The role of the government, however, has not been found to be consistent, Dr Mahanta asserted. Similarly, the operation of relief camps has not been satisfactory. He said that while dialogue between communities is important, it must involve all stake holders including mass-based organisations like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). In addition, there has to be a process of training in human rights, conflict transformation for the administrators and peace makers.

Dr Mahanta said that while all conflicts are not terrorism, it needs to be remembered that suppression of conflicts is indeed a compromise of dignity. Procrastination and bureaucratic machinations is the latest approach of the Indian state he said and added that the Indian state has decided that suppression is the best method of conflict resolution. He cited the worthlessness of the extension of ceasefire agreements with different outfits. The state appears to have decided to manage conflicts rather than resolving them.

He further complained that the state does not give space to civil society and essentially believes in a top down approach of conflict resolution. The Indian government invests heavily in the region without working towards human development. Effective conflict transformation can work only with mutual understanding, he suggested. It may not be wise to end conflict if the element of justice has not been considered, he concluded.

Presentation III: Dolly Phukan, Dibrugarh University. An Alternate View To The Earlier Two Presentations

Ms Dolly Phukan, Lecturer in Political Science at the Dibrugarh University, Assam, made the last presentation of the session, giving ‘An Alternate View’ to the earlier two presentations. She presented a feminist perspective of the conflict in the Northeast by detailing the impact of violence on women and children.

She said that because of the armed conflicts, women, children, elderly persons and the disabled have been worst effected. Besides, the fact that in the societies in Northeast India gender inequalities are deeply inherent, women’s condition becomes more vulnerable during these conflicts. The ongoing armed conflict prevalent in Assam has intensified the violence faced by women, which takes the form of sexual, mental or physical abuse, killings and clashes. Although all the members of communities are affected, the impact on women and girls is far greater because of their status in society.

Dividing her presentation in three segments: pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict, Ms. Phukan said that during the pre-conflict situation, there are increased mobilization of soldiers or army which leads to increase sexual harassment and loss of privacy even within the four walls of the house (which is considered so-called safe zone) due to frequent checks and sexual abuse. During conflict situation, women face psychological trauma, physical violence, causalities and death. Forced displacement from the homesteads due to ethnic clashes is also a gendered experience where women find the process of displacement itself more traumatic than men. Moreover women have special medical needs in war and conflict situations such as extra nutritional requirements and food during pregnancy and breast feeding. Besides that, women victims of sexual violence naturally increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and also face the risk of unwanted pregnancies. After the conflict situation, in the reconstruction and rehabilitation policies of government, women are often excluded from formal discussions. Moreover women’s unequal access to media also leads to under -recognition of women’s concerns.

Ms. Phukan emphasised that women’s participation in the peace process should not be seen only in the context of women as victims of war and conflict, but as women playing a proactive role in the process of peace negotiations, peace building and post conflict activities following any peace agreement.

Conceptualising peace, gender and conflict in the context of Assam, she said that the conflict situation has led to atrocities like sexual abuse of women both by the insurgents and state actors, immoral trafficking, missing women and girls, forced prostitutions etc. Cases of girls missing from various places in Assam like Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Kamrup and Guwahati are being reported.

She concluded by underlying the need to conduct research with a gender perspective. It is important to understand the difference between women’s and men’s perspective of peace. The role of women in peace building needs to be investigated and highlighted as a part of gender analysis of peace support operations in order to develop effective strategies for incorporating gender perspectives in peace initiatives, she said.


The three presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following.

  • There is need to clearly differentiate conflict management from conflict resolution.
  • The analysis of conflict presented by the speakers looks simple, but it has to take into account factors like religion, especially in cases like Nagaland, where religion has been used in the conflict situation. Even though the Church participated in influencing the outfits to come forward for peace talks with the government, it has gone back to a shell after the conflict has eased with several rebel groups entering into a ceasefire with the government. It is found to be reluctant to intervene to end the fratricidal clashes between the factions.
  • The goal of conflict analysis should be to understand the intra-community conflict.
  • The feminist perspective must be broadened to include the role played by the Naga Mothers’ Association in Nagaland which also was invited to Sri Lanka and Jammu & Kashmir to share its experience.
  • The papers must narrate how teachers can play a role in training the students and imparting a culture of peace in the minds of students. There is a need to take up empirical research on violence. The role played by political parties also needs scrutiny.
  • Land remains central to the conflicts in the Northeast. It is a symbol of collective and not just a resource. Any understanding of conflict has to take into consideration the centrality of land.
  • Jihadi activity in Assam is over-emphasised. There is a need to have more objective analysis of the conflict situation.


The third session of the day was chaired by Dr. Rajesh Dev, Lecturer in Political Science at the Women’s College in Shillong. Three papers were presented in this session.

Presentation I: Ms SHWETA SINGH, Lady Sri Ram College and WISCOMP, Delhi: Peace building: The Strategic “Why, What, When and How” of Theory and Praxis

The first presentation of the session was made by Ms Shweta Singh who teaches in the department of Political Science and Centre for Conflict Transformation and Peace Building at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. Ms Singh also represented WISCOMP at the Workshop.

Ms Singh said that today’s conflicts represent a divorce from ‘Clausewitzean’ image of War and the new pattern of conflict in the 1990’s has been its journey from inter-state to intra-state. As a result, according to estimates, in 2005, all armed conflicts were being fought within states, not between them, the primary issue of contention being autonomy/self government for certain regions or groups. At least half of the current wars have to do with redefinition of territory, state formation, or control of the state. Thus, “Ethnicity” or “Religion” have become the buzzwords. The majority of wars and protracted conflicts are still located in the South (South Asia and Africa). While there is a decline in inter-state conflicts and use of armed forces, still there is increased feeling of fear and insecurity, she said.

She set out to answer two fundamental questions in her presentation. Most wars since 1945 are within states of what intellectual and policy relevance are concepts and practices derived from Cold War experiences. Therefore, is there a need for a new/complementary approach to address Conflict, Security and Peace given the analytic frameworks that have traditionally explained wars between states - and prescribed policies to prevent it are largely irrelevant to violent conflict within state?

Defining conflict as a state of relationship between parties, who have real or perceived, incompatible goals, needs, values or aspirations, she said ‘Overt’ conflict happens when the parties use words or actions (violent or non-violent) to express their incompatibility and ‘Latent’ conflict happens when the incompatibilities are not expressed openly. She outlined Conflict Management, Conflict Prevention, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Transformation and Peace building as the key tools for engaging with conflict. She emphasised on peace building that seeks to prevent, reduce, transform and help people recover from violence in all forms, even structural violence that has not yet led to massive civil unrest. At the same time, it empowers people to foster relationships at all levels that sustain them and their environment.

She further said that peace building needs to occur before, during and after violence and there is a need for variety of actions in each of the time frames. During the pre-violence period, when the structural forms of violence often exist, early warning response projects, advocacy and other forms of strategic action can be undertaken. During times of direct violence, programmes to address the needs of both victims and offenders, building relationships, role of peacekeepers, and long term capacity building programmes assume significance. In the post-violence period, societies need to disarm and reintegrate armed people, address traumas and rebuild infrastructure. Capacity building programmes can help develop ongoing peace and human rights education, create opportunities for social and economic development and channel research funds into creating democratic structures that are culturally based. She concluded by saying that peace building is a dynamic social construct and peace can not be merely seen as a stage in time or condition.

Presentation II: Dr. A K Baruah, NEHU University, Shillong: “Political Science Research capacity in Northeast India”

The second presentation of the session was made by Dr. Apurba K. Baruah, a professor at the NEHU, Shillong. Elaborating on the capacity for research on Political Science in the Northeast, Dr. Baruah said Political Science research in the region never really took off. The students of Political Science have been mute witnesses to the political developments of the region. Except a few scholars trained largely outside the region, the quality of research carried out by political scientists in Northeast India are of such quality that although these enabled people to get degrees from universities, they have neither generated international or national debates nor have influenced decisions of important political forces be that governments, political parties or mass movements.

Dr. Baruah presented the findings of a Social Science research capacity report that was prepared in 2001. He lamented that in spite of the fact that over the years a large number of Ph.D. dissertations have been produced, methodologically most of those are so weak that even the empirical information generated by these studies become unreliable. A neglect of theoretical and conceptual issues restricts the research findings to a journalistic level. Research at this level has also been repetitive.

Moreover, most of the Universities of the region have been dominated by particular ethnic communities in the sense that the aspirations of the communities and the most influential opinions in such communities determined the agenda of teaching and research not through articulation of social values but through pressures exerted by ethnic movements. The most glaring example of this is to be seen in the case of Nagaland.

Dr. Baruah further said that Political Science undoubtedly is the most popular social science discipline in the region. It has the largest number of students at Post-graduate and Ph.D. level. But quality wise, it is one of the poorest. One notices that the mainstream Political Science in Northeast India seems to follow the tradition of historical research in the region with of course much less accuracy of facts.

He further said that there is a need for a different index for evaluating the Social Science research in the Northeast. There are a large number of edited volumes but only rarely are they the results of collaborative research. Very often seminar papers are put together without much editing to bring out such volumes. Social science research, in this region, has suffered as a result of lack of accountability, lack of collaboration, lack of funding and also due to lack of interface between the NGOs and the academic. There is no evidence of NGOs drawing young researchers from academic institutions because such NGOs do not have strong presence in the region.

He concluded by saying that there seems to be no interference from the state either at institutional or individual level so far as research is concerned. But ethnic assertion and communal feelings seem to pose threats to independent research.

Presentation III: Dr. John Sema, Nagaland University: “Peace Processes: Study of Best Practices in India’s Northeast”

The third presentation of the session was made by Dr. John Sema, Professor in Political Science at Nagaland University. Underlining the need to have peace in the region, Dr Sema said that peace is the only way for the region to develop. This can be achieved in three ways, he explained. First is by reducing conflict, second by deriving maximum advantage of such a situation and third, by working on the state of latent peace.

He said that the peace process in Mizoram succeeded because the state had only one militant outfit. After the outfit decided to come overground, the problem of insurgency got over. However, the Nagaland situation is different. Even after the launching of a peace process, rivalry between the two rebel outfits is creating problems within the state. It is also possible that any accord signed by the Government of India will not be acceptable to the other faction. He questioned the rationale of the government to continue the peace process with both the outfits, without working towards establishing peace between the two factions. He lamented that the outcome of such a policy is only negative and it will not contribute to the prospects of peace in Nagaland.

Emphasising the role of the civil society, Dr Sema said that the intervention made by the civil society organisations predates the official efforts at establishing peace. However, the government does neither recognise their contribution, nor wants to involve them in the peace process. Without the participation of all the stakeholders, the peace process is bound to fail. Curiously, the Government of India will be the biggest gainer in case of such a failure. Thus, the stakeholders must unite and take a decisive course of action.

He concluded by saying that the civil society organisations can bring about an end to the present stalemate in Nagaland.


The three presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following.

  • Perspectives of conflict are always different. For example, land cultivation rights of an Assamese and that of a Bangladeshi immigrant are different.
  • There is a need to analyse the role of the state in perpetrating conflict.
  • Conflict theories do not always explain the ground situations. Ethnic conflict has broken out in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district thrice since 2003. The lack of communication between the various communities is a factor behind the violence.
  • The teaching models are restricted to class room context. For practitioners it would be different. To integrate justice into such a curriculum would be a challenge as justice in conflict situations would be dependent on the ‘entry point’.
  • Peace building paradigm is not antagonistic to state structure. The dispelling of the state is not an option.
  • Peace building is not about theorizing, it is a strategic special network, in terms of actors, paradigms. It has a multiplier effect and has relations to the goals that one is trying to achieve.
  • Right moment for intervention is very important for conflict resolution.
  • The Nagas lost their golden chance to gain the maximum in the 1960s, when the movement was the strongest.
  • Our university system does not encourage research at the under-graduate level. It is especially poor as there is no effort to teach research methodology to the students.
  • Intolerance for dissent is a critical factor behind the lack of quality research work in the Northeast. None of the communities are open to new ideas. A number of Naga scholars have been silenced by the civil society groups in that state. The word tribal has become political.

The day ended with the screening of a documentary ‘Aathwas’, produced by WISCOMP, New Delhi, on the state of conflict and peace building in Jammu & Kashmir.  



The first session of the second day of the Workshop was chaired by Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS. Two papers were presented during the session.

Presentation I: Mr G M Srivastava, IPS, Director General of Police, Assam:

The Security Perspective in Tackling Insurgency

The first presentation of the day was made by Mr. G M Srivastava, Director General of Police, Assam, on the broad theme of state response to insurgency in the Northeast. Outlining the dangers to security in the Northeast, Mr. Srivastava said that neighbouring foreign countries have always had a negative role to play in the insurgency situation in the region. The narrow Siliguri corridor which connects the region with the Indian mainland provides a point of attack.

India had responded to the need of the hour and had created Bangladesh and by doing so it had challenged Pakistan as well as the CIA, which was against the creation of the new nation. With the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, India lost all the goodwill in that country and that particular development began a new chapter in insurgency in the Northeast, which had seen somewhat limited insurgency movements in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.

Describing the current state of insurgency in the Northeast, Mr. Srivastava said that temporary relief has been achieved in some of the states, but causes that promote insurgency still exist. Factors like multiplicity of ethnicity, alienation, long and porous border, illegal migration, under development and unemployment continue to be factors behind the insurgency movements. He termed the ‘alienation’ factor in the Northeast as ‘perceived deprivation’ as other states of the country too suffer from this.

Mr. Srivastava termed insurgency, porous border, illegal migration, Muslim fundamentalism, possibility of the revival of left-wing extremism, trans-border crime involving cattle, arms, drugs, fake currency as the areas of concern for the security forces. The insurgents continue to engage in large-scale violence and extortion. They demand sovereignty and right to self-determination by simply ignoring the history of the country.

Speaking about the insurgency movement in Tripura, he said that the marginalisation of the tribals as a result of migration from Bangladesh is the main factor. It changed the demography of that state. In 16 of Assam’s districts, illegal migrants have significant presence and they dominate the electoral constituencies. Insurgents continue to receive assistance from the foreign countries and Bangladesh has emerged as the hub for all the anti-India activities. He termed Bangladesh as “worse than Pakistan”.

Speaking on special laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and their impact on the state of insurgency in Manipur, Mr Srivastava said these sustain militancy. Their long enforcement has been used by the militants to elicit popular support. He said that government can consider removing the act temporarily for a period of six months to judge its impact.

He also said that the role of Christianity also needs to be probed. Clarifying that the religion is not at fault, he said that some churches in the region have sheltered militants. A number of insurgent outfits are ‘Christian in their outlook’, the DGP said. He added that the NLFT in Tripura converted many of its cadres. Some of the surrendered militants have even gone to countries like Australia and are working as pastors. The DGP said that the “religion has been misused”.

In Nagaland, in spite of the peace talks there is a parallel government. Militants are collecting taxes, putting people to enormous inconvenience. Blaming the ISI of Pakistan as facilitating the insurgents, he said that the organisation has provided hi-tech explosive training to the militant cadres in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The state response to the prevailing insurgency has been a combination of peace talks, suspension of operation agreements, imposition of special laws and surrender and rehabilitation policy of the Ministry of Home Affairs. His recommendations for improving the state of affairs included intensified counter-insurgency operations, intelligence sharing and a primacy to the state police force in the operations. Diplomatic pressure on the neighbouring countries must be maintained. The media which glorifies the militants needs to be ‘managed’. There has to be continued peace initiatives. To prevent the movement of militants, border needs to be fenced on a priority basis. He said that coordination between 4Ps (Police, Press, Public and Politicians) is a pre-requisite for improving the situation. Violence needs to be stopped at any cost and the militants need to know that the guns of the government are stronger, he concluded.

Presentation II: Dr Akhil Ranjan Dutta, gauhati University: Why Does The State fail to Tackle Terror And Insurgency? Perspective from India’s Northeast

The second presentation of the session was made by Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta, who teaches Political Science at the Gauhati University, Assam. Speaking on the failure of the state to tackle insurgency in the region, Dr. Dutta said that the post-colonial discourse on terror monopolized by the Indian state is parochial and regimented. As a result, it fails to understand the complex and diverse roots of ‘terror’ in a region like Northeast India. He observed that the mechanism that fails to understand the roots of terror cannot explore appropriate devices to fight terror. In contrast, the ‘regimented’ devices have become the rallying points of new terror—both from the end of the state and also from the end of those forces engaged in fighting the state.

He identified geo-political setting of the region and the Indian state’s obsession with ‘territorial integrity’ in the region, the nation-building paradigm of the Indian state, development paradigm of the Indian state and its growing non-convergence with the land-people relationship in the region; the economic nationalism, which had emerged as the tool for sustaining political independence; abundance of natural resources and contestation for appropriation and exploitation by state and private forces; mal-governance—failure in delivering the basic needs by the government and growing corruption; proliferation of drugs and arms through the porous boarders, growing fragmentation of the ethnic/identity movements and increasing tendencies of self-obsession among different ethnic groups; insurgency and fake insurgency; myth and reality of illegal migration and emerging patent regime and its negative fallout for the resourceful region as the roots of India’s Northeast ‘terror’, which has resulted in gross human insecurity.

Dr. Dutta said that the long trajectory of nation-building process in the region has witnessed coercion by the Indian state and consequent retaliation from the region through insurgency. In spite of the promulgation of coercive laws and presence of the military, the Indian state has failed to eliminate insurgency in the region. Rather, the insurgent groups have sustained and strengthened their bases and operations resulting in intensification of insecurity of the common people in the region. Terror and counter-terror have emerged as the order of the day and human security has been the casualty.

Questioning the level and capacity of policing in the region, Dr. Dutta questioned the type of ‘policing’ and calls for the type of policing to be investigated. In Northeast India, military and para-military forces have reduced police forces into insignificant element even in day-to-day law and order situation. He added that non-recognition of land-people relationship in the dominant paradigm of nation-building and development in this pre-dominantly tribal region has caused gross insecurity among the people. The abundance of resources in the region, in fact, has become a source of conflict and insecurity in the region.

He concluded by saying that the state refuses to recognize this multi-dimensional character of insecurity in the region that act as the breeding ground of new and new forms of insurgency in the region. Therefore, it fails to tackle insurgency despite adding new and new forms of coercive laws adding to the existing ones.


The two presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following.

  • Ceasefire in the region has been used merely as an instrument of postponing peace, which has resulted in a ‘permanence of the temporary’ syndrome.
  • Laws like the AFSPA are providing a platform to the militants to rally against the state.
  • Coordinated effort between the security forces in the Northeast needs to be established.
  • People’s participation in providing security is an important part. After the recent bomb explosions in Assam, people have cooperated with the police in sharing information.
  • Development cannot work alone without security. There is a need for an integrated approach.


The second session of the day was chaired by Mr. Samudra Gupta Kashyap, Bureau Chief (Northeast) of the Indian Express. Three papers were presented during the session on the role of the media and civil society organisations in conflict situations.

Presentation I: Mr Subir Bhaumik, BBC, Eastern India: Journalism in a Conflict Zone: Impact of media coverage in reduction or escalation of conflict

Mr Subir Bhaumik of the BBC ( Eastern India) made the first presentation of the session. He spoke at length on the perils of journalism in conflict zones. He said that for a journalist based in India’s Northeast, life has not been only following the conflicts within one’s own borders but also those beyond them. Besides keeping a watch on the complex developments in India’s troubled border regions, the media personnel have been compelled to look beyond the immediate borders and link it to the changing geopolitics of Asia. Mr Bhaumik said that this has often meant “operating like a guerrilla” – illegal border crossings, dealing with intelligence agents, drug lords, smugglers and ruthless rebels, snooping on corrupt politicians and government officials with illicit links to the rebels and drug lords. In the end, physical and professional survival has not been easy.

Providing personal anecdotes, Mr Bhaumik raised the following questions, relevant to conflict situations- (a) How far can a journalist in a delicate conflict situation trust his source, however well-placed he or she may be (b) how will he or she handle an obviously “biased” source but one who is important (c) how will the journalist maintain balance and fairness in such a surcharged atmosphere. For most journalists with no real-life experience or training to handle conflict situations, this experience is baptism by fire. In the end, the four professional lessons derived are: (a) to rise above the “identity barrier” and recognise that all involved in the conflict have a point of view that deserve media attention (b) to develop a wide a range of acquaintances and sources in all communities in the shortest possible time (c) draw on a wide range of sources and report with appropriate attribution, so that the reader could get a balanced version of events (d) wherever and whenever possible, avoid second-hand sourcing and report from the spot , since presence and access is key to insight into such events.

Speaking from his wide experience, Mr Bhaumik said that for a journalist reporting a region like the Northeast (or any other similar conflict zone of comparable diversity), it is important to have a wide range of sources in the various communities. It is important to know the community leaders, young and old, traditional and modern, interact with them and also reach out to the grassroots to get a varied perspective.

He, however, cautioned that in an era when governments and rebels – almost everyone with an interest – develop media management capabilities, it is for the journalist to be ever more watchful. His/her power or influence lies in his/her credibility and credibility is built up over years of unbiased, accurate reporting and a demonstrated evidence of integrity. It is also important that the journalist impresses on his or her source (a) the sincerity of purpose and (b) the unacceptability of favours of a material kind.

Militants do use the media for their own purposes. Mr Bhaumik cited the example of an interview he had with ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua in December 2003 where the rebel leader informed him of the fall of the outfit’s bases in Bhutan. Although the real intention of Barua was to disseminate his views to his commanders, Mr Bhaumik said he had to do the story for the sake of the larger audience. Similarly, media forms a critical part of the “Psyops” of the security forces. Security planners carefully take into account the capabilities of their “media assets” and the reach of the media they work for and whether the “plant” would hit the target area and create the necessary impact, Mr Bhaumik said. “It is war through the media – whoever said pen is mightier than sword is vindicated, but at the cost of professional journalism”, he rued.

Elaborating further on the challenges journalists face in the Northeast, he said the media is often polarised, its loyalties divided between the Indian security forces and the establishment or the rebels challenging it. It has become really difficult to tread the “middle ground”, to stick to objective professional journalism. The moment a journalist reports the truth, be it the rebels or the state actors, enemies are instantly made, some rather dangerous ones. “Reporting the region has become a very dangerous proposition, much more dangerous since I first started reporting there 28 years ago”, he concluded.

Presentation II: Ms Patricia Mukhim, Social Activist: Role of Civil Society: Can it still help resolve conflict in Northeast India?

Ms Patricia Mukhim, Editor of The Shillong Times dealt with the role of the civil society organisations in the Northeast and their contributions to conflict resolution and peace building in the region. Challenging the conventional wisdom that civil society groups have been critical to the peace processes in the region, Ms. Mukhim said that people of the Northeast have been found to be less engaged in social networking compared to other parts of the country. Radical ethno-centrism found among the people has been a factor behind such a phenomenon and thus, there is less bonding of like minded people.

Terming this as a serious trend, she said that uninvolved people can be very dangerous. “If you are not a part of the solution, you can be a part of the problem”, she said. Thus, the Northeast, where ethno-centrism is very sharp cannot claim to have a vibrant civil society. It is simply not possible. Decision-making in the Northeast has not been very democratic, she lamented. “Here one group takes the decision and others simply follow.”

She questioned the standing of the civil society groups in the region as democratic agents. “Is the civil society in Assam inclusive and democratic? Are they spontaneous or manipulated?” she asked. Citing the case of Nagaland, where fratricidal clashes continue to add to the level of violence, in spite of the ceasefire agreements with both the principal insurgent formations, she said that there seems to be unanimity among the community based organisations in the state. However, such unanimity does not exist between the Naga population of Nagaland and Naga population of Manipur. “The Nagas of Manipur are not integrated”, she said.

She said that the lack of unity and very undemocratic character of the civil society organisations tend to limit their relevance in conflict situations. As a result, apart from very small exceptions, their role gets limited to appealing for peace and nothing else. In real terms, they do not make much difference to the levels of violence. As a result, conflicts in this region do not have any chance of ending without the militant outfits themselves giving up violence, or reaching a state of fatigue in which they simply develop a disinterest in continuing their activities.

Presentation III: Ms Rosemary Dzuvichu, Nagaland University: Alternate View To The Earlier Presentation on Role of Civil Society

Ms Rosemary Dzuvichu, who teaches English literature at the Nagaland University, made a presentation on the Naga experience of the civil society and conflict resolution. She said that the Northeast has suffered the toll of violence in the different kinds of conflict that has plagued the region for decades. To that extent, it is important to have mass mobilisation for resolving these political conflicts through peaceful negotiations and civil society must become stakeholders and own the peace process. The inclusion of the people and their active participation, thus, are the key to any lasting solution of the conflicts. The problem, however, arises from the fact that in the Northeast, in most cases, the parties in conflict have kept the doors shut thereby excluding the civil society, thus, prolonging the conflict.

Ms Dzuvichu maintained that lack of transparency and secrecy in peace negotiations has added to the suspicions and misunderstandings. It is the responsibility of the civil society to participate in the peace process and make its voice heard which will enable the public to participate as stakeholders during any peace negotiations. In this context, the role of women assumes significance due to the historically important role played by organisations like the Meira Paibis in Manipur and the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA). The gender perspective and initiatives taken by women in helping to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict is an example for the region for inclusion of women in peace negotiations. Detailing the role played by the NMA in the peace process, Ms Dzuvichu said that the NMA remains a strong force as peace builders, peace makers and peace keepers in the Naga conflict. It has even guided and inspired the Sri Lankan Mothers and the Kashmiri Women for peace.

She said that the Shillong Accord brought more conflict to Nagaland and the Naga peace talks too have not progressed much over the past ten years. This, she said, is because of the non-inclusion of the other factions and failure to carry people along. The Government’s policy of secrecy and lack of transparency in the negotiations has created suspicion and misunderstanding among people.

Ms Dzuvichu spoke at length about the role played by the Forum of the Naga Reconciliation (FNR). Supported by the Naga civil society and the active support of other organisations, the FNR has managed to mediate and facilitate the meeting of leaders from different warring factions more than ten times in the last one year. The sustained dialogue and working on common grounds has brought together 37 Naga tribes and civil societies to take the Naga Peace efforts further. Lessons to be learnt in conflict resolution through the role played by the FNR is that from the first to the tenth meeting, misunderstandings, perceptions, hate, exclusiveness, threats, killings to political issues were addressed, she maintained.

It is expected that this inclusion of broad participation of all sections of Nagas may change the tone for the peace talks. Inclusiveness and consensus of all stakeholders in peace processes along with a sustained dialogue has been made possible through the continued efforts of the civil society groups till today, she concluded.


The three presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following.

  • Civil society organisations and their functioning represent the emergence of a pluralist base of Indian state.
  • Ceasefires and dialogue processes represent important opening points for a political process.
  • Lack of training remains a problem area for the Indian media. Whereas the business houses which run the newspapers have no dearth of funds, they are not willing to spend it on the training of their reporters. The foreign media like the BBC are a different breed, which organises hostile environment training for its reporters.
  • Lack of training affects the level of professionalism among the journalists.
  • Women and children are the biggest victims of violence in the conflict situations and no civil society organisation has focussed on this trend.


The third session of the day was chaired by social activist and editor of The Shillong Times, Ms Patricia Mukhim. Three papers were presented during the session on the constitutional provisions and conflict situation in the Northeast and the state of civil liberty in the region.

Presentation I: Mr Justice I. A. Ansari, Gauhati High Court: Constitutional Schemes of Governance in Northeast India

Mr Justice I A Ansari of the Gauhati High Court made the first presentation of the session on the constitutional provisions and their ability to prevent or resolve conflict situations in the Northeast. He began his presentation by invoking some poignant questions. Why is that every ethnic group in Assam has a student group claiming to represent its interest? Is it because the groups feel their interests are not being protected? Do they want to hog the limelight or is it a fight for space or sharing power? Is the Constitution of India failing us or are we failing the Constitution? To these questions, unfortunately, there are no fixed answers, he noted.

He said that there is a constitutional scheme of governance for Northeast India, which is different from the arrangement for the other states in the country. He observed that during the British rule, there were ‘excluded’ or ‘partially excluded’ areas governed by the governor general or the viceroy. The system of governance was different for the rest of the country. The Northeast enjoyed limited autonomy with some restrictions. It is said that the British policy was calculated and this was intended at preventing the wave of freedom movement from reaching the region.

Such an arrangement gradually found its way into the administrative scheme for the region in independent India. The Constituent Assembly deliberated on the question of administering the excluded areas left open by the British. By that time a committee headed by Gopinath Bordoloi had been set up to look into the matter. One group of the committee felt that since the Northeast is surrounded by a number of foreign countries, it should be directly administered by the president. Taking into account factors like the conflict between the Ahoms and the Muslims and developments like infiltration, another group felt that politicians should not be allowed to do anything with the administration of the country, lest it will give rise to demand for self-determination. The group felt that unless the area is integrated into India, isolationist forces would continue to exist and we would not have a strong and united India.

The Bordoloi committee recommended that the tribal population of the region should have self-government with limited autonomy. Given such facilities they would come back to the mainstream after sometime. Towards this direction, the Constituent Assembly enacted the fifth and the sixth schedule, which enlist several provisions of autonomy for the tribal population of the region. The sixth schedule has been described as a constitution within a constitution. It has provisions for autonomous districts as well as autonomous regions.

Once the provisions were put to use, problem started in Nagaland. However, the Constituent Assembly could not understand the peculiarity of the problem. Such peculiar problem has also come to exist in case of the BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District) area created for the Bodo population. The BTAD executive council has 40 members out of which 30 belong to the scheduled tribes, five non-tribals and rest five are unreserved. Due to the sheer fact that there is no homogenous Bodo population anywhere in the BTAD area, it should not have come under the sixth schedule.

The constitutional provisions are also facing a challenge in Nagaland. The problem remains that the Naga peace accord cannot remain limited to Nagaland, as there are Tangkhul Nagas in Manipur as well. Thus, the question remains whether the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM would apply to Manipur and Assam? The Central Government is yet to clarify its position on this. As a result, the Tirap and Changlang areas of Arunachal Pradesh are infested with extremists and very little are being done about it.

Justice Ansari concluded by saying that we must start a round table of dialogue with the dissatisfied groups in Nagaland. Talking to individual groups would not lead us anywhere.

Presentation II: Dr K. Debbarma, NEHU University, Shillong: Civil Liberty: A Victim of actions by the State and non-state armed groups in Northeast India

The second presentation of the session was made by Dr. K Debbarma, a teacher in Political Science at the NEHU, Shillong. In his presentation Dr Debbarma narrated the challenges posed to civil liberty in the Northeast.

Dr. Debbarma began by asking the question: How the state has not been able to contain the shifting nature and character of the non-state groups? He said that the insurgency and counter-insurgency operations have become counter-productive and has largely resulted in the suffering of the common people. Whereas there is a constitutional guarantee to provide civil liberty to common people, the fact remains that it has been almost impossible for the common man to protect his liberty and exist as a human being with dignity.

He further said that there is a limit to the state’s role in providing security to the common people. However, at the same time, the state cannot become the aggressor and violator of such rights. This has been a common phenomenon in the Northeast. Starting from the 1960s and the 70s, army operations have victimised the common people.

Commenting on the shifting strategies of the insurgent groups, Dr. Debbarma said that the insurgents have shifted their area of operation from the rural to the urban areas. The 2004 explosions in Dimapur (Nagaland) and the 2008 serial explosions in Agartala (Tripura) and Assam are examples of this trend. At the same time, extortion and kidnappings have become more regular.

Dr. Debbarma concluded by saying that irrespective of whether the state or the non-state groups are violating the civil liberty of the common man, people on the street is the worst sufferer of the state of insurgency in the region. Only a networking of civil society groups will go a long way in protecting the civil liberty.

Presentation III: Ms Sakira Shahin, Gauhati University: Alternate View: Constitution, Judiciary & People’s Aspirations

The third presentation of the session and the last one of the Workshop was made by Ms. Shakira Shahin, lecturer at the Women’s Studies Research Centre in Gauhati University. She said that being a region of great differences culturally, ethnically and politically, it is not always helpful to encompass all its diversity under the term “North East” as it masks the diversities from the average Indian psyche which is anyway far removed from the trails and trepidations plaguing this region for centuries. Multiple truths, conflicting realities and perceptional gaps between the various stakeholders in the region and most of all the absence of a common thread, imagined or otherwise, cutting across the region has driven the region into a worse kind of conflict situation.

Ms Shahin said that the measures at bringing some order into the chaos in the Northeast taken by India’s leaders from Independence up until now cannot be washed away as total failure but they have at best been only partial successes. Much of the human tragedy that has occurred in the region may be said to have stemmed from the centre’s initial inability to comprehend the complex relationships and equations which mark the different nationalities filling up the north eastern mosaic, she added.

She further maintained that the sheer magnitude of ethnic diversity of the Northeast, the colonial legacy of exclusion and seclusion in certain areas the misperceptions and the problems of unequal and unbalanced economic development during the post-independence period created conditions for ethnic conflicts of various kinds to emerge and sustain themselves over a period of time. The crises in the region are therefore of identity, security and underdevelopment, all interlinked and one feeding on the other.

Dealing with the demand for sovereignty by the Nagas, Ms Shahin said that the Naga problem and its (mis)handling by the Government of India also had its repercussions among insurgent groups in other parts of the region. On the one hand the Naga problem was not confined to the state of Nagaland alone as the demand for Greater Nagaland or Nagalim also entailed curving out territories from adjoining states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

The movement for autonomy in Assam, on the other hand, seemed much more serious when it began because it was driven by a groundswell of grassroots opinion rather than individual charisma, like that of Phizo in Nagaland. Rejecting the demand for sovereignty for Assam, Ms Shahin said that the secession demand seems absurd as it is difficult to understand what purpose it would serve under the circumstances. However, given the fact that no one issue or factor exists in isolation from the other, such a demand has to be seen in the context of growing unrest among the people due to failure of a State to deliver the basic requirements of a society. She further said that governance in the Northeast has been compromised at three levels- (a) virtual suspension of the rule of law (b) siphoning off developmental resources and disparate allocation of resources and funds within the states of the region (c) doing away with grassroots representative democracy in the name of protecting and preserving tribal identity.

Ms Shahin concluded by saying that there has to be a restoration of governance in India’s Northeast at its most fundamental and basic level. The aspirations for development, basic amenities, security, employment, productive engagement etc. cannot be ignored for the sake of political aspirations and preserving identities. In the name of fulfilling the political aspirations of a people, economic progress has been held to ransom. This process needs to be reversed.


The presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The following points were highlighted during the discussions.

  • Naga insurgency is not the first insurgency in the Northeast. Mush before insurgency started in Nagaland, in Tripura the tribals had risen in revolt that had been suppressed by force.
  • The observation by a participant that Naga insurgency was not the first insurgency in the Northeast was contested by others present.
  • The interpretation that the nature of insurgency has changed from rural to urban in recent times is not correct. Many outfits like the ULFA had operated in the urban areas since beginning.
  • Legislations have been made to protect the interest of the law makers. As a result their contribution to governance or conflict prevention has been minimal.
  • Indian Constitution is an extra-ordinary document. The problem is that we are not running the country as per the true spirits of the document.

Discussion on a Peace & Conflict Curriculum

After the end of the presentations, the participants sat down to discuss a draft curriculum for peace and conflict education in the school, college and university level. The curriculum is being prepared after taking the views of the participants into consideration. It will be shared with academics and others, including university authorities, before given a definite shape in the coming days. Each of the participants had filled up a set of questionnaire prepared by CDPS to comment on the existing scope of peace and conflict studies, decide on the content of the curriculum and deliberate on the reactions such a change might invite from the teachers, students, parents of students and parties in conflict. This session of discussions with participants was coordinated by Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray, Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. The key points that emerged out of the deliberations were the following.

  • Whether the new curriculum would be examination oriented or would be taught as a foundation course needs to be decided. If it is a foundation course, there is a possibility that it would not be taken seriously by the students.
  • There should be a programme for in-service teacher training programme for the new course. To that extent, peace cells or peace boards may be constituted.
  • Class 9 and 10 may be too late for introducing the subject to the students. It needs to begin much earlier. The target audience should be of the age of 12 to 15 years. Thus, class 6 and 7 can be targeted.
  • It can begin at the primary level itself. At the level of class 9 and 10, social studies and audio-visual methods can be used to impart such education. In class 11 and 12 human rights and peace making approaches can be introduced, in the graduation level, the students can be taught conflict management.
  • Special packages may be worked out for conflict affected children through regular sensitisation.
  • It should be decided whether this curriculum would be a completely new subject, or a part of an existing subject. Introducing a new subject would require establishment of a new department, which would complicate the matter.
  • The subject should not be made compulsory.
  • The peace syllabus should identify its target groups. It should be taught differently to urban students and differently to the students in rural areas.
  • The peace curriculum or peace studies programme should also be introduced in the Madrassas.