India is the seventh-largest country in the world and the second-largest in Asia. The oldest racial groups are the Adivasis (first settlers) –the aboriginals of India who live in areas extending from Assam in the northeast right down Kanyakumari. The next largest ethnic group is Dravidians, in the southern half of Deccan plateau. The Aryans inhabit the Indo-Gangetic Valley.
With a union of 29 states and seven union territories, India is the second most populated country in the world after China. As per the census of 2011, the population of India is 1,210,193,422. About 83 per cent of the population is Hindu. The Muslims are next, forming 11 per cent of the population. Then come the Christians who form 2.3 per cent while the Sikhs hold two per cent of the population. There are 845 dialects and 225 distinct languages. Eight different religions are followed in India: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
The Hindu population in India is divided into a caste system with Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, the Sudras as well as the untouchables. The caste system is a distinct feature of Hinduism. The Sudras are untouchables and now known as Harijans. Within these four major castes, there are 2500 to 3000 sub-castes based upon occupation, geographic location and other factors. Below the Sudras, there is another race called Malecches.
In so-called secular India, the Hindu society has failed to provide basic human rights to Harijans. Regionalism is rooted in India’s cultural and linguistic diversity. There are hundreds of regional parties now opposing the Bhartiya Janta Party. According to a well-known Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayyar, “Regional and Chauvinistic trends have come to the force and no party or policy has an all India appeal.”
India was lucky to have leaders like Gandhi and Nehru, who laid the foundation of the country on a sound footing. Afterwards, India suffered a crisis in leadership. The present leadership has converted the country from a secular republic to a Hindutva republic. Unequal distribution of wealth, social disparity and economic exploitation are ingredients prevailing in India, which can produce an explosive condition for the country anytime.
At present, there are several separatist movements across India. People of northeast India have been branded “Out Castes” in the Hindu caste system. It is the most volatile and insurgency-affected place in India after Indian Occupied Kashmir. The region comprises of eight states namely Meghalaya, Manipura, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim. These states find it difficult to identify themselves with culture and ideology being nurtured in India under a dominant high caste.
The British occupation of India had left out northeast areas more or less alone. The demand of the majority states is independence from India.
Over 120 militant groups are operating in the northeast Indian region. In the 1980s, the whole region was facing large-scale violence.
There were riots started as separatist movements, which intensified in many states. The freedom organisations are in a prolonged struggle against Dehli for independence. The Dehli’s policy is “divide and rule” since long so the insurgency dies a slow death.
The situation in Assam is complicated by the occupation of tribal lands by both Assamese and Bengalis. The Indian government divided Assam into several states. This also caused discontent among the Assamese and, therefore, they also demanded a separate homeland.
There are over 200 distinct ethnic groups making Bodo one minority in an increasingly complex minority state. They are demanding a separate country for the Assamese people. The military operation began in 1990 and continues to the present. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is fighting for independence since long. The Indian government banned the group and declared it a terrorist organization. The Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) are also working for a separate country for the Muslims of the region. There is also the United People Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), which demands a sovereign state for the Kabri people. As many as 179 militant groups are identified in India, 116 of which are active in northeast India. 36 such groups operate in Assam alone. In Assam, two military operations (Rhino and Bajrang) were launched in the past against the fighters fighting for a separate homeland. In the case of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, it acceded to India, contrary to the wishes of the Muslim majority population of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan fought its first war over Kashmir with India in 1948. Upon coming under pressure, India referred the dispute to the UN. On January 1, 1949, a ceasefire was agreed between Pakistan and India.
The UN Security Council resolution recognises Pakistan and India as parties to the dispute and people of Jammu and Kashmir and seeks to decide their future through a plebiscite. In 1957, Kashmir was incorporated into Indian Union and was granted special status under article 370 of Indian constitution. According to article 370, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance and communication, parliament needed the state government’s concurrence for applying other laws.
The rising extremism in India targets the minorities, especially the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits
Generation after generation, the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir continued to render untold sacrifices against the fearful odds. The present struggle is more popular and deep-rooted. Every passing day, the brutality of India occupation forces on innocent Kashmiris is mounting as the deaths are rounded up. The UN Commission for Human Rights has released a report on serious human rights violation in Indian Occupied Kashmir to include excessive use of force, perpetrated killings, use of pellet shotguns, tortures, forced disappearance, restriction on the right of freedom of expression and sexual violence.
Indian Punjab (Khalistan) sends 60 per cent of the grain to the national food basket. Almost eight to 10 per cent of the army is still Sikh. The Sikhs had struggled during the British rule to defend themselves from the Hindu designs of reconverting them to Hinduism. The idea of Khalistan took root when the Khalistan slogan was raised during India’s freedom movement. The creation of Punjabi Suba-led Sikh leaders aimed to talk openly and propagate for an independent Sikh state. In 1981, the 54th Sikh Education Conference, at Chandigarh, passed a resolution demanding a free Khalistan to include areas of Punjab, parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and Jammu. In 1984, Operation Blue Star was launched; the biggest internal security operation ever undertaken by the Indian army in India. During the operation, thousands of Sikhs were killed inside and outside the Golden Temple. The Sikh soldiers mutinied and deserted on a large scale. On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. In 2008, the Sikh bodyguards were declared martyrs of Sikhism by Akal Takht. After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, a genocide of Sikhs was carried out across India. In the recent past, on August 12, 2018, thousands of Sikhs gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square and demanded a referendum for an independent Sikh homeland. The pro-Khalistan groups in Canada/Europe/US are now planning a referendum 2020 for Punjab’s independence, which would be organised by “Sikh for Justice” (SFJ).
The Hindu perception is reflected in the Indian constitution where Sikhs are classified, alongside Jains and Buddhist, as Hindus. On the contrary, Sikhism is a revolt against Hindu belief. Sikhs for Justice also want to reject article 25 (b) (2) of the Indian constitution, which says Sikhs are a part of Hindus religion. Through a referendum, they will ask the UN to plan an official referendum. Another important separatist movement is Naxal. The term Naxaltities comes from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal where a violent uprising started in 1967. There is an ongoing conflict between Maoist groups known as Naxalites or Naxals and the Indian government. The armed wing of the Naxalite-Maoist is called the PLGA (People Liberation Guerilla Army). Most of the troubled Red Belt, as it is known, runs through some of the Indian nuclear installations, which face the risk of pilferage of nuclear material by the insurgents. The affected states are Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Naxal rebels are now operating in 13 of Indian 29 states. Tripura was never part of India. Even during the British era, it had remained independent.
When the British left India, it was annexed by India on October 15, 1949. Migration from Bangladesh reduced the indigenous tribal people in the state to minority status. In 1970, separatist groups sprang up in the state, demanding independence; building on the uprising, which had begun soon after independence in Tripura.
The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) is a Tripura nationalist organization, which seeks the secession of Tripura from India and to establish an independent state. Local people are fed up with abuses of Indian security forces. India is using Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) there, which gives unlimited powers to the Indian army to kill, rape and torture anyone and also gives security forces immunity against prosecution. During a women demonstration in front of Assam Rifles headquarters in Imphal, they stripped themselves and held up two banners “Indian army rape us,” and “Indian army takes our flesh.”
Nagaland was a part of Assam. Even during the British colonisation, Nagas had asked Britishers to declare them an independent country. After Indian independence, Nagas declared independence. Nagaland has 88 per cent non-Hindu population, out of which 67 per cent are Christian. In 1950, the Naga National Council started an insurgency against the government of India; demanding a separate country for the Nagas. A plebiscite was held in Nagaland in May 1951, where more than 99.9 per cent of voters favoured independence. Mizoram was also a part of the state of Assam before it became a full-fledged state in 1987. Mizoram has a 96 per cent Christian population. The Mizo National Front led by Maldenga launched a movement for independence of Mizoram in 1966. Massive military operations were launched, including airstrikes, to neutralise Mizoram’s independence movement.
In the case of Manipura, it is deemed the most violent state in the country after Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The militancy started once the Manipur kingdom was forcibly annexed by India. Manipur has 27 per cent Christians, while the rest are tribals believing in various Hindu religious beliefs. The trouble in Sikkim has an international dimension attributable to the state’s strategic border location and the refusal of China to recognize Sikkim as part of India. In Sikkim, Nepalis constitute some two-thirds of the population and hold political power. Meghalaya was separated from the state of Assam in 1971. It has a 79 per cent non-Hindu population, out of which 47 per cent are Christians. It is dominated by three major tribes, the Khasi, the Garo and the Jaintia. The communal riots started in 1972 between local tribes and migrants while the insurgency for independence started in the early 1980s.
Arunachal Pradesh has 63 per cent of its population belonging to faiths other than Hinduism. The state contains one of the highest proportions of Buddhist in India. It was also known as the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) where a war was fought with China in 1962. The major parts of the state are claimed by China.
Indian defence later entered Arunachal Pradesh. The Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF), also known as East India Liberation Front, is a violent secessionist movement in the region.
In South India, before 1947, there was a demand for an independent Dravidistan for the whole of South India. EV Ramaswami was a strong advocate for Tamil nationalism who challenged Hinduism and Delhi rule over southern India. The Tamil belief is they are a unique nation as compared to northern India. The growing tendencies of ethnic violence and a revolution in technology, as the world has become a global village, have tilted the balance in the favour of separatist movements. We have seen the disintegration of the formidable former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Sudan. There are many more movements across the globe for the rights of self-determination and ethnic identity. The situation in India is similar where the rising extremism in India targets the minorities, especially the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits. The BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, and Vishva Hindu Parished have created an atmosphere of fear among the minorities. With every passing day, the situation in India is getting worse as Hindu mobs lynch Muslims and low caste people.
Recently, we have witnessed a determined uprising among Muslims against Hindu-led atrocities. The underlying causes of these insurgencies are political, socio-economic, religion as well as based on grievances. Also, there is a racial division in the country: Dravidians in the south, Mongoloids in the northeast and Aryans in the centre and north. The separatist movement/tendencies across India may lead to its disintegration.
The writer is a retired brigadier and currently commissioner of the Afghan Refugees Organisation, Balochistan