Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wasted Years, Wasted Lives

The West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee has been lamenting lately of late regarding the “wasted years” of the state – primarily in the sixties and early seventies when Left sponsored militancy was at its highest and the resulting anarchy and chaos led to a massive flight of capital from the state. This flight of capital toppled West Bengal from its position as the premier industrial state of India, a position that it has never since regained.

Today as it teeters, on the edge it would seem of another round of the “wasted years”, this time led by Mamata Bannerjee and her band, it would be worth lamenting the many, many wasted years, in several parts of the country that have damaged and shattered so many lives in this country. Think J & K, think the North East, think Orissa, think Bihar, think the many states affected by Maoism, Naxalism, call it what you will, and calculate the total. It is staggering and to any body who lives in this country or loves it, the details are pretty heart breaking.

In Jammu and Kashmir, according to the trade body, ASSOCHAM, the current agitation involving the land for the Amarnath Yatra (one has to qualify in the J & K context because they have had so many agitations) has led to an economic loss of close to Rs 1500 crores and growing. And this of course is only a business perspective. It does not count the innumerable human lives snuffed out because of the chronic insurgency going back to 1989. Although in human tragedies, numbers will never tell the full story but still to tell it… More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan and in the process more than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Similarly Kashmiri Pandits have suffered crimes amounting to ethnic cleansing from the Valley and roughly 12000 were killed since insurgency began in Kashmir, and 300,000 have been displaced, though some sources claim that more than four to five thousand Kashmiri Pandits were killed. Some sources claim that nearly 500,000 internally displaced families of Kashmiri Hindu live in the National capital region,

Similarly, although we don’t often notice the North East on our radar, Terrorist attacks are claiming more civilian lives in India's northeast than in Jammu and Kashmir. The region is also witnessing more insurgency-linked violence. According to latest central home ministry figures, there were 1,489 incidents of violent incidents in the northeast in 2007 compared to about 1,000 in Jammu and Kashmir. Civilian casualties in the northeast during the same period stood at 498 as against 158 civilian in Jammu and Kashmir

The North Eastern states have as many as 30 armed insurgent organizations with demands ranging from secession to autonomy and right to self determination. Besides, the region is an ethnic minefield, as it comprises of around 160 Scheduled Tribes6, besides an estimated 400 other tribal or sub-tribal communities and groups and it is impossible for any one to meet their often conflicting demands related to their ethnic or tribal identities.

I suppose that the balance will never tilt one way or the other- is economic prosperity more important or preserving your language or culture or tribal identity is. Chambers of commerce and upwardly mobile professionals make take out their calculators and compute business and economic losses but for others, ethnic, tribal or religious pride takes precedence over every thing else, even if looks foolish. Meanwhile, while governments struggle over the issue of whether to preserve national boundaries or respect ethnic or linguistic or caste ones, thousands of lives and years will waste away into oblivion.

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