Tuesday, June 9, 2015

AFSPA: What it means to North-East?

AFSPA: What it means to North-East?
(A layman's observations)

       The recent attack on the 6 Dogra Regiment, killing 20 army personal, has once again put Manipur on a major spotlight in India for better or worst. Honestly, it has also created a new platform for many Indian bloggers out there, who are wasting no time to give their own version of what the attack means. Unfortunately, most of these blog post are either copy paste version from the news or from one another. So without even mentioning it, we should be able to predict the kind impression it leaves behind to an ignorant person. And as a matter of fact, this is the actual problem which the people from North-East are facing today and, these are the type of news that the rest of the Indians gets to read and made believe.

Irom Sharmila or "Iron Lady" of Manipur
  And to add up to the already worst situation, pictures of the recent dead army personal are being spread across social media sites, which has created an invisible form of hatred towards the people from North-East. But what is the true story behind all this mayhem, unrest and killing? This is that story in layman terms and the story of AFSPA.

  To understand the present situation that is prevailing in the North Eastern states of India, we have to take the road back to history when the then young country "India" got it's independence from the British rule.

Pre-Independence, North-East was a free land rule by no forces. But by the time when India almost got its independence, things changed drastically. The new emerging nation, India, had to find a way to protect its border against a very powerful neighbour, China. The only possible solution was to occupy the Naga Hills bordering Burma under its wing. But there was a problem, the people of the from the North-East didn't wanted to be a part of India. Instead, they was fighting for their own free country. This was a blow India couldn't accept. Soon large reserves of natural resources were discovered all over North-East. Now North-East became even more precious to a young developing nations which needs a lot of resources for its development. Soon India got its independence and MK Gandhi reluctantly agreed to let the Naga decide their own future. However it took an unexpected turn when Gandhi was shot dead. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister, the Nagas were forcefully included under the new nation and those indigenous people fighting for freedom were declared anti-nationalist.

  As expected, the people from the Naga Hills opposed to this idea under the banner of NNC (Naga National Council), who was then fighting for their own independent nation. Believe it or not, this was how the NSCN (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland), that we know today came into picture and why they are still fighting for a free nation and why the Indian Government still holds talks with the Naga leaders. A free nation was a birth right to the Nagas which was violated and denied by Indian government from the very start of its nation.

          Post independence, the young nation was in a chaos. Culturally, India was dominated by high caste feudal system which was totally incompatible with the ethics of the North-East culture. To make matter worst, India created a cultural gap by naming them as Schedule Tribes against the upper caste elites Indian. And this was not the END.

  Only recently or more precisely, until the later part of the eight schedule of Indian Constitution, none of the Tibeto-Chinese language were not accepted as Indian language. What does this means? This means that the languages of the North-East which is totally a Tibeto-Chinese and not Indo-Aryan or Dravidian was never accepted as Indian until recently.

  Soon after the Indian Independence, the traditional trade routes of North-East with South East Asia and Bangladesh was closed but no solution was provided. Instead, the Indian government started exploiting North-East for its rich natural resources and made sure that the North East always remains dependent to Indo-Gangetic plains. This was how India made it sure that North-East remain under India. For example, Assam which produces one fourth of all petroleum for India, yet it is processed outside Assam and the state is deprived from its major source of revenue.

  Today we talk of "BODO" like it's some sort terrorist organization, not realizing the above fact on petroleum was the sole reason why Bodo came into existence. It's the Indian government who is being a terrorist to the state of Assam and it's neighbouring states, not the Bodo.

  As time passes, soon the problem with large scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh and Nepal came into picture. This led to the insecurity of the indigenous people who were scared that whatever small amount of jobs they have at hand will be taken over by the illegal immigrants, but the government did nothing and the effects was widespread. For example, in Tripura the indigenous population has reduced to only 25% while the rest 75% consist of illegal Banladeshi Muslims.

  The prime interest of India to North east was totally strategic and political. Soon after independence a number of repressive laws were passed by the Indian government to deal with the rising nationalist movement. And in 1958, the "Armed Forces Special Power Act" or AFSPA was passed.

  As the heading says what AFSPA means to NE, we will look at what this draconian law is and what it has done to North East in the name of counter insurgency by the world largest democratic country in the world.

         This is what AFSPA is:
         An officer of the armed forces has the power to

1. Fire upon or use any kind of force even if it causes death, against any person who is acting against the law within the disturbed area to maintain public order.

2. Destroy any arms, hide-outs or shelter or training camps of any anti-nationalist movements.

3. To arrest anyone without a warrant, if he/she is suspected and to use force if necessary.

4. To enter any premises and search without a warrant.

5. To stop and search any vehicle, if found suspicious.

6. Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. What this means is that there can be no prosecution, suit and any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the AFSPA law.

7. If a government questions why a particular area is termed disturbed, it is subjected to judicial review.

8. Only under the direction of the central government, person protected under the AFSPA, their can be prosecution or any form of legal proceedings.

        Now for any reasonable person, they should be able to see why AFSPA is against all form human rights violation. And the question as to why India, the largest democratic country in the world, still tolerate such an inhuman and dictatorial form of law, is a question of joke, integrity or irony.

          Back in the summer of 1987, the Indian army suffered in its history the biggest loss in arms and ammunitions when forces led by NSCN-IM attack the Assam Riffle base in Oinam village of Manipur. To avenge their losses, they launch an operation under the name of "Operation Bluebird", a reign of terror, towards the innocent Naga public. Or as a matter of fact, it was the largest act of genocide by the Indian government against the Naga populations.

  Under the umbrella of AFSPA, the Assam Riffle sealed off the area around Oinam village. The whole area was under curfew. Any form of media coverage was strictly prohibited and media personal were denied entry. Villagers were drag out of their houses and forced to gather in open, exposed to torrential rains and scorching heat for weeks. The army went on searching from house to house and looting valuable things. People were not allowed to go to their fields or feed their animal, causing a loss of crops and cattle worth in millions. Villagers were group and abled young man were tortured after stripping them naked before the public view and later kept them in concentration camps for weeks without food or water. Not even the infants, women, sick and old men were spared. Many were shot dead and many kids died because of sickness and starvation. Man were blind folded, tied upside down, buried alive, given electric shocks, put chilly powders to the eyes and nostrils, beaten with whatever they can find their hands on, leaving many paralysed, hearing impairment. Houses were burnt down in the name of counter insurgency. Several churches and schools included. Many women were raped and sexually exploited. Two women were forced to give birth in open air in front of the army personal. Man and woman were forced to labour for months for the Assam Riffles without payment. Interrogation were made at gun-point.

  Such were the treatment met towards innocent Naga's by the Indian Army in the name of counter insurgency protected by AFSPA. So why am I taking this as an example, one may question! Because this was the only case in the history of North-East when the Indian Army was put on trail after many international Human Right organizations intervened.

  I cannot be sure about the year, but I still remember that morning. I was just a kid back then. It was nearing early dawn. It was still dark outside and everyone was sleeping. Suddenly there was loud bang on our door. Next thing I remember, everyone in our colony were forced to stand outside in groups. Girls, women, boys and men. While we were still outside, these army personal went inside every houses searching for whatever it is they were searching. Later women and kids were ask to go and remain inside. Outside, the army personal were on torturing spree to some unfortunate not very good looking (you know what I mean by this right) young man. It was their way of questioning. Later we also heard that many youths were taken to custody. Some of whom were my elder brother friends. Later we also heard, some youths been shot death, "because they were found with guns". That was the biggest lie, we knew, and somehow that impression remained somewhere inside me and that's the main reason why I could never comprehend the idea to join the army.

          Well, now the questions is "Who is at fault?" You decide for yourself.

          Coming back to where we started, the recent attack was a shame to every Indian and a real big blow to us North-East, because we have been fighting for so long for AFSPA to be removed from our homes and one such stupid act crashes it all down. Now I'm even not sure if the "Iron Lady" of Manipur "Irom Sharmila" who has been on a hunger protest for over 15 years, will ever live to see the day when AFSPA is removed from our lands.

          Today, if people are using those pictures of dead army personal to spread hatred towards us NE Indians, that's the worst idea that has ever come up in their minds. Some of you may not realize this, that right now while you are reading this, the nearby villages where the ambush took place on the 4th of June is already been sealed out by the Indian Army and villagers are being tortured and questioned. You don't get to read this on the newspaper because journalist are not allowed to enter the area for any kind of media coverage. Talk about human rights now!

          We have all read from all the major and local newspapers front page, dated 4th June'15, claiming that this particular attack against the Indian Army by any insurgent groups within India, as one of the biggest or even the most ruthless in the past decade leaving behind 20 army personal death. Is it true? NO. This is a total false propaganda spread by the Indian Government who in a way were just waiting for such an incident to happen. If we trace back just five years from now, in April of 2010, the Indian Army actually suffered one of its biggest loss in the history, when forces led by Naxalite-Maoist ambush and killed 76 army personal in Chhattisgarh. Now this is a very questionable act to what the media is trying to convince the ignorant people. Right now, the Indian Army is engaged in full swing "Operation Flushed-All" against all the insurgent groups in North East after the recent attack. Torturing innocent villagers. But why not in Chhattisgrah and the surrounding states where Naxalites are playing active? Every Indian knows what Naxalite is. They have released a reign of terror in areas where they are active. Killing, raping, torturing and collecting illegal taxes from innocent villagers and as a matter of fact, within the areas where Naxalites are playing active even the states police department lives in state of constant fear of being killed. If the Indian Army decides to flush out every single person associated with the Naxalite-Maoist insurgent, they could have finished the job within a day. But they will not, because the area where this Naxalite are active is within the mainland (Gangetic plains) of India. Any such combing operation would certainly effect and destroy the lives of many Indian innocents. So why the Indian Army is taking so much interest in North East? Why the Indian Government is not declaring those areas under Naxalite as disturbed? And why is AFSPA not imposed in such areas? To answers these questions, the Indian Army Chief has given the best comment a few years ago. Here is a rough translations of that comment, "AFSPA cannot be imposed within the troubled mainland India because they are Indian citizens"...Do I need to say more?

          The simple fact about all the insurgent groups that exist today in North-East was a consequence of the Indian Policy towards the North-East and especially AFSPA. Before AFSPA, there were barely two/three such groups who were genuinely fighting for their birth right. The reality today is, the Indian Army is more threat to us NE then our own insurgents groups.

  Finally, let us all put ourself in a situation and see what will we do. Let's say that someone from outside come to our homes, take advantage of our resources and worst, murdered one of our family members but there was no law that will protect us. What will we do to protect our family? The result is what we are seeing today in the North-East.

          Yes in the past, we the North-East people were uneducated, ignorant and cut out from the rest of world. But that doesn't give anyone the right to exploit us. Over the years we have slowly come to terms with India and accepted it as our country, but the Indian government didn't come to terms with us. In the name of giving protection (by declaring our land as disturbed), our own Indian government made sure that no tourism flourishes in the North-East. Or else, every Indian knows that North-East is the most beautiful place in India and so much talent remains hidden which the Indian government is taking no interest to nurture. And in the name of giving protection, Indian government declared NE a free tax heaven. But they din't leave us with any opportunity to earn and developed. Instead we are being forced to live in a country were our own basic rights are being violated on everyday basis. And if these continues, that day is not very far when North East will raise up against India and fight for a free nation. And trust me, that day will not be the best day in the history because there is no denying that today North-East has the most literate number of people then any part of India and though slowly our economy is coping up on our side. India better decide fast and not let this happen.

          Last Word: I truly condemn the recent attack against the Indian Army which was a total act of blunder and unacceptable. This was the last thing we the North-East people would expect. So please don't spread any form of unwanted rumours that will have a negative effect on someone else life. And lastly, I want to extend my deepest condolence to the families of all the brave soldiers who gave their live for the safety of the North-East. My Salute.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

India, New Delhi, North-East India and Racism

 In a Survey released last year by The Washington Post, India was ranked among one of the most racist country in the world today. With this fact on the backdrop, we take a quick visit to the “Land Of The Big Hearted” or “Dilli Dilwalon Ki”. New Delhi, the capital of India where arguably people from the North-East India faced the worst case of racism and stereotyping within their own country by their own countryman because of the way they look, dress, work and their eating habits.

Final Cartoon Strips At The End Of The Seminar
However I must add that I hate fact when people takes on to the streets protesting about certain injustice but having no clue what the best possible solution could be. Somehow I wonder if that’s what I see every day. That’s how a useless and desperate soul does who wants themselves heard or wants an instant fame out of a situation or with a covet personal gain or whatever b**lshit, but has no intention in solving the actual problem. So we will meet “World Comics India” and what they are doing to address the above mentioned issues using their “Grassroots Comic Movement”.

Let’s imagine it this way; you walk down the road and someone calls you a foreigner. You walk into a store, the clerk mocks at you with an ugly racial remarks and the store manager does nothing instead he joins in the party. You go out in short skirts on weekend and they raped you with their lecherous eyes. You work at a spa or a beauty parlor and the aunties think you are cheap or available or hopefully a prostitute. You went out searching for an apartment; you couldn’t get one because you are a non-vegetarian. You throw a party last night because it was your birthday, the next day you get a warning from your landlord to vacate. You walk into a police station to lodge a formal complaint (or an FIR); the constable makes sure you are being humiliated and violated. You are being specially targeted to rape or beaten to death because of your different racial feature and the cops generalize you for either a prostitute or drunkard instead of lodging a formal complaint. You are being kick out of your job without paying because your boss thinks you are an outsider with no backup to come back and protest…

Now my question is; where are all the big hearted now? Or is this big hearted only applicable towards the white tourists? Steps in “World Comics India”, a non-funded organization founded by Sharad Sharma, one of the most prominent faces in the world of Indian Comics and a Delhite, travels India and abroad conducting seminars and teaching the importance and the untapped power of using basic comics as a medium to express.

Exhibition Cum Open Discussion
Using just four frames on an A4 size paper, some basic comic characters and a story; World Comics India tells stories of people by locals in local dialects. And very recently I had a great opportunity be become a part of one such seminar cum sensitization program against racism and stereotyping faced by the people from the North East India in New Delhi. With students from both North East, local Delhites and other parts of the country under one roof discussing, exchanging culture and personal experiences, clearing perceptions and finally working together in creating a series of comic strips addressing the issue of such inhuman and shameful act met towards fellow Northeasterners, which later was displayed to other students and general public through seminar and open conversation.

At Connaught Place, New Delhi
The initiative became a very effective platform for open discussions and educating locals why it was unacceptable and inhuman act towards the people from NE who traveled far away from home because of the prevailing inhuman military dictatorship rule impose in their regions by the world largest Democratic Indian Government, for better higher education and for better job opportunities Delhi provides. Soon it gained momentum and slowly with the acceptance from the locals who after realizing what they did, were willing to open up and join in the movement. That’s how you raise your voice in a creative way and not just staging on the streets and shouting slogans.

Lastly, it will be very unfair on the part of people from North East if we are not willing to adjust and live in harmony with this people around us by accepting and respecting their cultural and traditional values. It will also be very unfair on our part if we do not allow ourselves to become a part of this culture because one way or the other, it’s our home far away from home. And it will very unfair on our part if we do not take up the initiative of teaching and educating ignorant people about our own culture, traditions and our ways of life.

Sharad Sharma, A Live Cartoon Session
I am not a very active social activist but I am from North-East India, so I have had my own share of firsthand experience on how we are being discriminated here in the national capital. Of course during the recent times, many unrelated situations have been blown out of proportions by the media, NGO’s and Student's Organizations from the North East itself with their own coveted intentions. For example, incidences where criminal cases being put to spotlight as racial attacks which eventually attracts more hatred and communalism. This must stop and we as a civilized citizen should start realizing the negative impact of such actions. Some few years ago, the whole of India and Indians around the world join hands in protest against the Australian government because of unprecedented racial attack met towards fellow Indians in Australia. However the real question that remains un-answered is; what about those racial attacks happening everyday within the country by their own countryman against their own fellow countryman? If Narendra Modi wants to clean India, he should also better start working on this situation and not preach India as a Hindu country. In fact Hindi is not even our national language.

Last Words: “Dilli Dilwalon Ki” needs a new heart. The road to the new beginning.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Trouble With The Indian Art Galleries

Let’s begin with, sorry again, because I have been real lazy to write anything in a while. Anyway here I am and to kick off with, I might go lashing against the Indian Art Galleries and on how they run. But before we begin, I just wanted to add that there are always exceptions.

MF Hussain works displayed at Delhi Art Gallery amid tight security
Over the years since I started practicing art full time, I have been following art galleries, organizations or cultural centers from around the globe and observing them. Well I guess that what we artists do these days when we don’t have much jobs around. I think, in a way this gives us a feeling that we are somehow connected to the art scene out there, when actually we are not. Anyway, during such observations I couldn’t help myself but notice the differences between how art galleries in other parts of the world (especially the west) runs and how it’s being run here in India. I will talk in three perspectives. I will not be taking names though.

One: Art is supposed to inspire, a way to creative thinking and adding beautiful colors to our lives and not just selling. Selling art is very important and that should always be a priority, but if you are selling only the artworks of famous artist, that’s where the problem is. In Indian art galleries, all you can see is the artworks of famous Indian and international artists. It sure is an amazing experience to see such artworks but what about those upcoming and struggling artists!!! “F**k Off” is what they are literally telling this group of hopeful artists.

In fact, it is very surprising to know the fact that most of the famous Indian artists today became a known name outside of India and then they come back to India and gets accepted within the Indian art scene. Don’t believe me??? Try asking the next established Indian artist you meet.

Anjolie Ela Menon's Work in Mumbai
Two: Art shouldn’t be for just some few elite groups of people, it should be for all. Unfortunately that’s not the case here. Art galleries here have their own mailing list to some few elite clienteles’ and that’s where all their invitations go. The rest of us have to personally walk-in to find out what’s going on. It’s not that these art galleries doesn’t have their websites or social media pages, it’s just that most of them never update any information there. And on social media, I think most of them never even came back the day after they sign up for it. I am not sure if they even remember their passwords.

It gets worst, for example if you wanted to know something and since you just can’t walk-in into their office without an appointment, so you email them. One year later, you still haven’t heard back from them yet. Keep waiting… If you are one lucky person, you might get a reply five/six weeks later and never hear from them again even if you reply back for more details. Rest assured they will never pick your call on the number listed on their website. It will keep ringing. And in case if it’s a government art gallery, don’t even try your luck. They are way out of your league.

Three: Every now and then, I keep seeing updates on Facebook Pages, Twitter etc. via art galleries about their weekend or monthly initiative that promotes and indulges creative thinking among kids or giving opportunity to emerging artists. For example: free weekend art classes for kids under 13 or monthly juried art competition for upcoming and emerging artist. You guess it right; none of them are from Indian art galleries.

No wonder, so many of these private art galleries here goes out of the picture after a few years or so. It’s a high time that the Indian Art Galleries should start realizing the fact that these little activities however small and sound unimportant are actually the driving force behind art and creativity. It attracts people and engagement. You run out of it, you also run out.

Last Words: Of course there are always exceptions but long story short, “You are F**ked” if you are an emerging artist out here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Art Connect: Update

               I am pretty sure I never started painting until I started schooling and this part of the my works (2 or 3 pieces) is an inspiration from that early years of my life when I started off my first painting. I am taking my chances that my first ever painting was with pencil colors and was a landscape with mountains, a tree, a house, v shape birds flying across the horizon, a snake river, the sun (rising or setting whichever is applicable) and a few children holding hands (or maybe a family). So, here is that painting, once again, minus the V shape birds, the house and the people holding hands. I haven’t named the painting yet because I am looking for suggestion, so please help me named this painting which will be exhibited during the next project.

               Now I wanted take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to Clara Bellino, who I have never known/met personally or even spoken a word with before (except that we follow each other on twitter) for coming forward and giving me the much needed push towards the project with her donation. You have an amazing heart. I wish her and her jazz music all the best. Then to Ayana Tomeka, sorry though for that system glitch, I hope it’s resolved now. And yes, I find that picture of you and your mom on your website for the mother’s day very cute. Amanda Armstrong and Chaitra Pollard, sorry for all my intruding disturbances while looking for your professional help. I know I can be such a shameless person at times. I just hope as much as I enjoyed your company, you do also. And Aral Bereux, for featuring my art on her website. An amazing person whose book I enjoyed as much as her company. Well, I am not very good at formalities and even though as I keep fumbling for the right words, all I really wanted to say was thank you, to all. Finally, to all my well-wishers, because your good wishes and words are donations good enough for me and towards the project.

               Oh!!! By the way, I uploaded a video of me on my project campaign page and I am pretty excited (or rather awkward) about it because it’s my first ever video ever and was shot just after 5 days of fever and in the middle of a worst cold. So maybe take a moment to watch zombie me. I would love some comments. And also if you decide to do a little donation, here is the link “RandomLives and North East India: Art Connect”.

Last Word: Sorry about the image quality, this is the best I can come up with my old age mobile phone camera while my friend who takes picture for me is out of town. And by the way, do you still remember your first painting?

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Legacy (Maybe)

               Some 15 years ago or so, a kid was hit by a truck. His mother, as usual, went to drop her two youngest sons’ to the school that morning. The school was nearby and it was an exam time. She had told them to wait for her to pick them up later. But that day, somehow, the youngest son finishes his exam early and decides to head back home with some of his friends. A cross over the road and everything became so fast after that. It was like within a blink of an eye.
             The truck had hit the left leg, from thigh below, very severe; leaving the little skin that remained hanging. The right leg was also hit but not as severe as the left. People who became the witness of the after effects at the accident spot would later say, “Pieces of fats, muscles, skin and blood were splattered all over the road.” But on that eventful day, the truck driver did something out of usual. Instead of running away, he stop the struck, got out of it, took off his shirt and wrapped it around the kid injured legs, pick the kid up and ran on foot with the kid to the nearest hospital.

             It was a very small village hospital and when the kid mother arrived, they told her to take the kid to the nearest town hospital ASAP because the kid had lost too much blood and there wasn’t much they could do for him. A three hour drive with an unconscious kid and a crying mother, the ambulance finally arrived at the city hospital but was refused to admit because the hospital authority didn’t want to handle a case of an accident death with the cops. It was too much of a mess for them and they knew it was too late for the kid. You don’t want to be the mother at that point of time. She was holding her almost death son and she couldn’t do anything except shed silent tears and beg.

               A few minutes or maybe even hours later (no one really remember now) and after maybe hundreds of outgoing calls, a nurse intervene and the kid was admitted. It was a day off for that nurse and she was bound for a holiday or something like that, until she got that call and headed back to the hospital. Somehow she happened to have known the kid family a long time back, who knows how.

             Three months, seven major surgeries and who knows how many minor surgeries later, the kid was finally out of hospital. Now even the kid hardly remembers anything. When ask, he thinks he remember some pain when they had to do his wound dressings and that’s it.

             Oh by the way, I was telling the story of my little brother. He must be a little over seven when that incident happened. Now only some scar remains and he has grown so much bigger than me. He also likes to pain and when we were a little younger, I use to buy him colors and stuff. So a few weeks ago, he uploaded a picture of himself painting, on Facebook and it made me so proud of him. After all I was not a very bad impression at all huh? Ahahaha…Yes that’s him and I thought he deserves an introduction.

Last Word: Sorry, I had to tell you such a story today. I didn’t intend to. But yes, I did intentionally avoided going into the details of what happened at that time and why it became one of the most important chapter in our lives, especially for my father. Maybe, someday I will or maybe not. By the way, I added a new page on my site for sketches. Some I did when I was in college and others for a T-Shirt project which didn’t work out well for whatever reason. So if you get time, do check them out.