Instability in South Asia due to insurgent movements: causes and remedies

  0 comments   |     by Professor Gurtej Singh

Insurgency is widespread in the entire region. From Burma to Afghanistan and from Kashmir to Sri Lanka, nations are either still locked in bloody conflicts or are poised for one or have just come out of it. Potential cold-war situation has existed between India and Pakistan, despite simulated expression of good intentions and carefully orchestrated aggressive official policy of promotion of friendship. Still worse situation exists in many other countries in Africa and the rest of Asia. The first question to be asked is easy enough to ask and is as easy to answer. Stronger than even the ill-will encouraged by the diversity of regions, the multiplicity of races and languages, a man-made factor may be seen at the root of the conflicts that have flared up in many countries in the recent past. Many ills of humankind can be seen to date back to October 24, 1648, when, ironically, the Peace Treaty of Westphalia became a reality after long-lasting warfare and tortuous, protracted negotiations involving most of the European powers (except England and a few others). 

This peace treaty redrew the map of Europe and paved the way for the emergence of nation states. It contravened one basic feature of human migration across the globe. No nation belonged to any one race, cultural or ethnic group. In every territory deemed sovereign, there is a sprinkling of many racial groups interspersed due to a universal pattern applicable to a vast majority of nations. The pattern of migration has never been a very neat affair. It was difficult to isolate definable groups within definable areas in most of the countries. When food was abundant, and needs limited, not much conflict was noticeable. The absence of a settled concept of human rights took care in sweeping many brutal acts of governments under the carpet. That situation did not last very long. As politics began to dominate all other aspects of life, human nature yielded to what Nietzsche calls “the will to power, the will to overpower,” situation changed dramatically for all. Potential conflict prospects appeared all over in many countries and manifested themselves in the form of civil wars, ethnic conflicts and religious skirmishes. This has happened in Africa where civil wars continued for decades. Ethnic conflicts exist in the countries that broke away from the Soviet Union. Ethnic conflicts exist some of the European States. The Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are currently at each other’s throat in Kyrgyzstan. If we magnify the situation and take it back in time, we get Hitler’s Germany which eventually plunged the entire world into a very destructive war. The only point sought to be made here is that the nations based on the basic premise of the Peace of Westphalia are not conducive to the promotion of peace in the world but in fact have become the cause of social unrest everywhere and the source of conflict the world over. 

In India the problem is much more accentuated. Before the British decolonisation in 1947, India was not a single nation. Neither had it ever been one in history. At the time of de-colonisation, it consisted of at least five hundred territorial units that would qualify for nationhood by any prevalent standards. To complicate the matter, India is a veritable Tower of Babel. It has many languages and dialects that have passionately devoted users. Some of these nations are territorially larger than several European nations and have populations which could populate them several times over. In India one can come across hundreds of ethnic groups, some of which are fiercely sectarian in nature. The language policy followed by the government is so inadequate that it has come very near to smothering and killing several languages that have existed independently for centuries and are still spoken by large numbers. To take just one example, Hindi, the national language, has almost squeezed the life out of Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Braj to name a few and has weaned away Himachali, Rajasthani (Bagri), and Dogri from their parent language, Punjabi, eventually to mete the same treatment to them. This has had several devastating consequences. Children educated in Hindi cannot relate to the experiences of centuries of knowing their own language and cannot uphold the culture of their forefathers. It gives them a floating, uprooted, surface personality denuded of cultural contents. A vast majority of them drop out of schools because they are not able to cope up with the many tensions of great magnitude that plague their little lives. Some social scientist will someday study the impact of this phenomenon and will tell us of the devastating impact on the individual lives and on the social fabric of the affected regions.

The artificial nature of the state created by the British colonisers has become a deep underlying cause of insurgency in the Indian part of South Asia.

The second underlying cause, peculiar to India is just as vital to understanding the problem. India has a caste system that divides people into potential warring groups. It is divinely sanctioned and cannot be abrogated by humans. It is driven by intense hatred that has not abated in the last four thousand years and by yearning of the ‘higher’ castes to accept nothing less than abject subservience from the ‘lower’ ones. It confers on the ‘higher’ castes the absolute right to plunder the wealth of the ‘lower’ ones. Earlier on in history this sinister game was played by the Brahmins in collaboration with the rulers to the mutual benefit of both. The Hindu rulers saw the advantage and needed no goading. The surprising part is that even the Mughal, the Portuguese and the British rulers obliged the Brahmins by supporting their caste status and their caste system. A telling incident from the British Indian history may be briefly referred to. The lower caste women in Kerala were obliged to keep their upper body uncovered for the gratification of the upper castes. The women of the state after colonisation represented to the British rulers requesting that the inhuman practice be discontinued. This was the Maliayali Memorial of 1891. The British refused to intervene and let the grotesque custom continue in their dominion. The local British government refused to afford relief even to those women who had converted to Christianity. The incident exposes the ‘civilising mission’ of imperialism but that is another matter. For our purpose we need just to note that the successive rulers, even when they belonged to different faiths, even when they wielded absolute power, were mere slaves of their slaves when it came to ridding the society of unjust social practises. Today India is ostensibly a democratic country with a written constitution that abolishes caste. The government of the country is presided over effectively by a Christian lady of foreign origin and a Sikh prime minister, personally both of whom are staunch supporters of a casteless society. The country is poised to include information on caste status in the ongoing decennial Census Operation in the country. 

Some indications are available to support the proposition that in future the policies of the Indian state will be increasingly based on the dictates of religious texts. Recently the Supreme Court of India legitimised live-in relationships. It drew its inspiration, not from the practise prevalent in the modern world but on the conduct of mythical gods Radha and Krishan. Similarly an English newspaper with a vast circulation recently decided to popularise ‘one night stand.’ It again went back to the Hindu religious texts for justification. It wrote that Bharat, after whom India is named, was born of such a chance union. It further clarified that Kunti the mother of the universally admired Pandvas was the mother of three sons born unconventionally. Of them one, Karan, was born before marriage and two were born in wedlock but from union with other than the husband. This reliance on ancient texts for future guidance has been increasing steadily since 1947 and tends to increase like the phases of the waxing moon. 

The above incidents have been quoted just to point out the power of the caste mentality that no ruler, no moral influence, no religious reform movement, no form of governance has been able to eradicate from the common mind. It has to be treated as a permanent feature of the permanent cultural majority in India. M. K. Gandhi told officials of the Jat Pat Torak Mandal from the Punjab that caste is an integral part of Hinduism and cannot be eradicated if Hinduism is to be preserved. Dr. Ambedkar was also of the opinion that to destroy caste all the Hindu shastras would have to be done away with. Caste and the mentality of hate that it promotes has infiltrated into the Indian polity despite the fundamental law and holds the society into its vice like grip. No one should have any doubt that hatred and the desire of the minority to suppress the majority in the name of religion and ancient social customs, continues unabated. India might as well have been in the 18th century with a few gizmos and toys like telephones, buses and aircrafts thrown in from the 21st. Caste system and all the evils that come in its wake continue unmistakably to rule the mind of India.

The situation impacts the Indian polity in three prominent ways. Firstly, it persuades the ruling Brahmin-trader combine to believe that it owns the country in the same manner as medieval potentates owned their territories. This is the essence of the currently ruling philosophy of hindutva. Every group not representing hindutava or opposing its overriding pre-eminence is dubbed as composed of dangerous terrorists; in earlier times they were designated rakshasas. Riding the caste wave they have forged a permanent majority for themselves with the connivance of the willing slave castes. Democracy for them just means that the Combine, which has dexterously been able to harness the support of the fiercely divided castes, has the absolute right to rule every inch of India. They are unwilling to afford self rule to 86% Sikhs in the Punjab, to 80% Muslims in Kashmir, to 90% Buddhists in Ladakh, to the Christians in the North East of India, to the tribal population of central India and so on. For their absolutely unconstitutional assertion to rule everywhere in the name of hindutava, they are prepared to maim, kill, rape, burn, lynch people in any number anywhere in India, destroy their places of worship and subject their properties to arson. All this is going on in full view of the international media but such are the compulsions of trade that no one is able to even whisper disapproval. One prominent example of it is that the world media present in Delhi in the first week of November of 1984 took no notice of the genocide of the Sikhs happening in Delhi in the wake of assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards. 

Secondly, just as in the colonial days, the army has retained its character of an execution machine despite decolonisation. Personnel to it are recruited, not on merit as was the demand of the Sikhs during the last agitation, but suitability is determined by extraneous criteria based eventually on the ability to work for the philosophy of hindutava. In this context, this philosophy has been likened to fascism by some. Vastness of the country, its cultural diversity and the hunger for government jobs ensures that there always are a sufficient number of soldiers of different cultural affiliation available to suppress discontent in every place in India. In the 1971 war with Pakistan the Assam Regiment was posted on the Fazilka border and was commanded by a person who had been my senior at school. Many Assamese soldiers deserted the army at the very outset of the war. I, along with a number of villagers rounded up some of them and handed them over to the army authorities. I do not blame them for deserting. Assam was more than a thousand miles away and they did not understand what they were fighting for at Fazilka. It works in reverse also; the Central Reserve Police Force and the army in June 1984 had no sympathy for the Sikhs and could not care how justified their struggle was. They were told to kill the Sikhs, destroy their shrines and to do what a victorious army does in every country. They did it very well from the view point of their masters. So pleased was the prime minister with the work that she personally went to have a look at the destruction. Gallantry awards were given to soldiers who could not capture a fixed location occupied by 35 non-professional volunteers for seventy-two hours. Despite the fact that it was a David versus Goliath fight if one consider the difference in weaponry, it was celebrated as a gallant action. ‘Terrorists’ from the age of seven to eleven and many women pilgrims were taken prisoners of war. 

The Sikh soldiers had been used for performing similar tasks in the North East of India. Each time a disturbance is quelled in any place we hear voices like, ‘the state police is not cooperating with the central forces.’ This is deemed to be a good excuse for others to intervene. The army has a long tradition of doing the bidding of the colonial power and that tradition has been continued with a vengeance even after decolonisation – giving strength to the argument that except for the ruling combine, no one can boast of being free and that many parts of India were re-colonised by the successor of the British Raj. In these circumstances, the army has become instrument of the new colonial power even more than during the British rule. As we study the nature of the Indian democracy, we become more and more convinced of the truth that it is underpinned by military force. 

In the third place, the same sentiment is exploited to the hilt to recruit personnel to the secret services which provide inputs to the politicians and the media controlled solely by the upper castes, for the upper castes. This simply means that any dossier can be “sexed up” to any extent and weapons of mass destruction piled up by the ‘terrorists’ for destroying the entire world, particularly threatening the ‘ekta and akhandata’ (unity and integrity) of India, can be discovered in any place. For extra effect, “foreign hand” is seen to guide every protest movement, no matter how peaceful. Currently the young people in the Kashmir valley are resorting to stone pelting as a means of protest. Several teenagers have been killed by the para-military forces. The military has been called in to control the situation. Even the stone pelting is attributed by the Indian media to inspiration from Pakistan. In due course we will discover that particularly sharp and lethal stones are being manufactured across the border for supplying to these young men. If it did not tragically result in so many innocent people being killed, the approach would be hilarious. 

That the Maoists are allegedly being trained by Tamil Tigers according to recent reports is formulated by the Indian secret services. It is forgotten that the Tamil Tigers, having been defeated and destroyed by the Sri Lanka armies, have no space to organise training camps and are no more functional. Nothing makes the Indian masses more jittery and apprehensive than the fear of the “foreign hand.” After all India was enslaved for a thousand years by the foreign powers. Pakistan under Benazir was accused of supporting the Sikh protest movement in India. It now transpires that it was she who betrayed the underground Sikh political leaders to India, thus paving the way for annihilating the movement for autonomy. 

Another factor that makes the people rise against injustice is religious diversity. It is easy to incite the people of India against the Muslims who are blamed (unjustly) for the partition of India in 1947. The Indian Muslims have made no significant attempt to disabuse the Indian mind and to apportion blame for partition where it belongs. The underlying fear of being politically dominated by the Muslims as India was enslaved by the Mughals, is exploited to demonise and condemn the powerless Muslim population of India. The threat perception carefully etched upon the popular mind is so vivid that it appears real. There is no limit to which this cannot be exploited for periodical bloodletting of the Muslims for asserting the prowess of the ruling combine. This has been the biggest single cause of violence in India since 1947. 

The nature of the ruling combine becomes the pivot on which its policies have turned. From times immemorial the ruling combine has been ‘red in tooth and claw’ and has always sought a violent solution to all its social, religious and political problems. Mahabhart or the great war was fought between cousins because the ruling set not only refused to admit the justified claim of the deprived ones to rule although it had perfect legal justification, but also refused to yield them mere five villages for subsistence. Millions are said to have perished in that war. The combine under Shankaracharaya usurped the Buddhist kingdom by murdering the last king. After consolidation, it violently uprooted Buddhism from India by killing the defiant Buddhists and destroying their places of worship. In 1947, it preferred violent upheaval and vivisection of India to sharing political power with the Muslims. Since 1947, the combine has killed more persons by state violence than were killed in the thousand years before 1947. 

In recent times, the Sikh people, who have done more for India and for a longer period than any other group, have been similarly demonised and dubbed as terrorists. In 1984, it suited someone to consolidate her waning political power by emerging as Durga the demon killer. The Sikhs were selected for the role of demons as they were a miniscule minority and had no outside support of any kind. They made themselves available for such a role by agitating against the injustices meted out to them and the rest of India as, for instance, in imposing the emergency in 1976-77. The Sikh bloodletting consolidated the dynasty and returned the pilot grandson (Rajiv) to power with a bigger majority than the grandfather (J. L. Nehru) or his mother (Indira Gandhi) had ever been able to muster. The blood of the Sikhs proved to be a goldmine for power seekers. So the heat has been kept on the Sikhs for the last quarter of a century. Even the Sikh prime minister of India is deriving the vicarious pleasure out of Sikh baiting since he knows that he becomes more popular with every measure of injustice he perpetrates on the Sikhs. He knows full well that the Kanishka aeroplane was destroyed by the agents of the government of India yet he bent over backwards to fasten the guilt of the monstrosity on the Sikhs. He has refused, rather crudely and threateningly to revise the so called blacklist of Sikhs barred from visiting India, their holy land. “Blacklist” is apparently a euphemism for those living abroad who have been permanently cast out from India. This has been done purely arbitrarily and has been done in the strictest secrecy. The lists are neither made public nor have they been submitted to the scrutiny of the courts. The existence of these lists is a convincing proof that the Sikhs receive a short shrift in India and that they are a colonised people who are not masters of their own destiny. Putting a people in such a situation is conducive to nothing else but conflict promotion – the potent cause of large-scale violence in any society.

Under the delusion of owning the country, the ruling combine is apportioning the fruits of the land for itself. The Maoist movement in India owes its origin to this exploitation. It is now universally recognised that the exploitation of the considerable mineral wealth of the central Indian tribal areas is the direct cause of the Maoist uprising. While the people of the region remain in abject poverty, billions of dollars worth of metals are mined in the region and all the money goes to the ruling combine. It was revealed this year that a person who remained the chief minister of Jharkhand for two years is worth four thousand crore dollars. He had been a poor man before. He had no ostensible source of income but today owns mines in Africa and has every imaginable kind of property in India. People of the region do not understand why the ample gift of mother earth passes over the inhabitants and rains prosperity only on outsiders. The situation is tailor made to invite revolt and violence. 

A similar situation had developed in the Punjab in 1978. Punjab’s most important natural resource is river water. According to the prevalent national and international law it belongs only to the Punjab. Yet it is drained away to the neighbouring states with overwhelming majority of the population belonging to the permanent cultural majority. It roughly deprives the Punjab of at least 136 thousand crore rupees annually. It was on this issue that the recent political unrest in the Punjab had erupted. It eventually led to the use of the armed forces to suppress it. The injustice continues. I will not be surprised if this issue becomes the central point of the Maoist uprising for scarcity of water has impacted the farming community that comprises 80% of the state’s population, adversely. The law and order machinery has for long been apprehending the eruption of Maoist unrest in the Punjab.

Of certain states of India, the reverse is true. Kashmir for instance, is prevented from generating hydro-electrical power. To a layman it appears that it can generate enough electricity to sell it at cheap rates to half the states of India. It would then be one of the most prosperous states of the union and not the poverty stricken hovel that it is today. 

The so-called cultural unity that is much talked about is a cosmetic proposition, a nebulous concept and is not an objective reality strong enough to hold the country together in difficult circumstances that prevail in the country today. 


The situation is obviously very complex. Since, the problems are man-made, those are amenable to solution. Debriefing humankind for the purpose of re-educating it on the theory of “one people one nation,” is necessary. It will have to be a long drawn process and can begin even today. This need not hold up any other remedy we can think of.

The media in India is so manipulated that anything even remotely connected with the real interest of the masses, fails to get proper attention. Media reform is the most important measure that can severely limit violence in the body politic of the country. Truth is the most effective remedy, the most soothing balm. Were it to become known that certain groups are being put to guillotine just to secure the vote bank of the ruling combine, to preserve a dynasty, to provide cover for the loot or to satisfy the bloodthirsty nature of the permanent cultural majority, perhaps many right-minded people could be found all over the world to stand up for sanity and peace. This can be ensured either by making the media truly free or by giving free access to the free foreign Media in India. The tendency of the foreign Media to sacrifice even justice for commercial interests notwithstanding, a clearer picture would start emerging. At least a people who have an urgent need to be heard will start getting their voice back. In every state of India, there are a people like the Sikhs whose suffering must be related and must also be acknowledged. It is a terribly gnawing feeling that the rulers can spread any lies about you, can decimate you and can destroy your holiest shrines at will without the world ever getting to know the truth. For those who believe in the magical powers of exposure, fiercely free and closely focussed media is the panacea for many ills of the country. 

In India we will require the setting up an international authority to supervise the reorganisation of states into viable administrative units to be administered in accordance with the freely adopted written constitution confirming strictly to democratic standards. When matters come to discussion and dialogue, I hope the Sikh people, brought up on the wonderfully relevant teachings of the Guru on the subject, will have a substantial contribution to make to the emerging universal consensus. Such reorganisation may appear to be, again a tall order, but to preserve the present system is to invite a civil war at the least and abject slavery for the masses at worst. Clearly, both of these options are unacceptable. 

The key to prevalence of peace and tranquillity in India is the control of the military might of the country. India needs to so reorganise its military might as to provide its control to several regions. That may be the only way to empower each region so that it can resist oppression of the other. There is a strong case for giving absolute right to all federating units to have their own standing armies. This arrangement could act as a barrier against aggressive misuse of the armed forces by the central government. It will also ensure better defence of the country. One of our most decorated soldiers, General Harbaksh Singh, has written in his memoirs that orders were given to him during the Indo-Pak war of 1965 to pull back to the river Beas. This would have meant leaving Amritsar, one of the holiest Sikh shrines at the mercy of the advancing forces. In June 1984, however the India’s armed forces attacked the same shrine and did whatever it had expected the invaders to do. Both the situations suggest that the control of the armed forces by the federating units is conducive to the elimination of conflict between the centre and the states in India.

There is an immediate necessity of having an effective conflict resolving mechanism. The Supreme Court of India has shown again and again that it is incapable of protecting the vital just interests of the Sikhs and the constitutional interests of the Punjab. Matters pertaining to river water, the scrapping of the inhuman law already struck down by the High Court, protection against outright aggression when the Sikhs were assaulted in large numbers on the Haryana roads and of course the Delhi massacre of the Sikhs in 1984 that happened under the very nose of the supreme court, the court found its shoulders too weak to bear the burden of dispensing justice. When a petition for investigating the totally unjustified attack on the Guru’s Darbar in 1984, came before it, it illegally refused to pronounce upon the matter on merit. It is certain that there will be several other identities that will have a list of similar grievances. Justice at that level is perhaps not on the agenda of the judiciary. If suitably constituted, the proposed conflict resolving machinery may be able to tackle injustice to a people better. 

This kind of machinery in every state would greatly help the oppressed all over the world and will ensure peace and tranquillity more effectively than even the peace keeping forces of the UNO. It may be easier to push it through. ++


Dharma Tiratha, Swami, B.A; LL.B., The Menace of Hindu Imperialism, October 1946, Lahore
(Second Edition) Price Rs. 6-80, Pp. 354 + ……..

02. If at any time the Indian nation ceases to live, it will undoubtedly be a case of suicide and not murder. 188-89 

In 1891 a 'Malayali Memorial' signed by more than ….. representative Travancoreans was submitted to the Government, praying …… the privileges enjoyed by the Christians and the Muhammadans. But the Government could not sanction the prayer owing to the opposition of the caste Hindus. In these and other was a majority of the Hindus were forcibly kept out from the benefits of civilization. 189.

The Christian females began to wear the upper cloth like the high caste ladies …. Led to conflicts ….. The Government ordered that the old practice should not be altered. The Christian missionaries took the matter in appeal to the Madras Government in 1859 when Sir Charles Trevelyan was the Governor….. wrote …. 'I have seldom met with a case in which not only truth and justice but every feeling of our common humanity are so entirely on one side.'

Lt. General Harbakhsh Singh, In The Line Of Duty, Lancer, New Delhi, ISBN 7062 1062, 2000, p.351.

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