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Insurgencies do not emerge in a vacuum. Their underlying root causes are invariably to be found in political, socio-economic, or religious domains; their nature and scope depending upon the nature of the grievances, motivations and demands of the people.
India has had its share of insurgencies. In all, an estimated 30 armed insurgency movements are sweeping across the country, reflecting an acute sense of alienation on the part of the people involved. Broadly, these can be divided into movements for political rights (e.g. Assam, Kashmir and Khalistan [Punjab]), movements for social and economic justice (e.g. Maoist [Naxalite] and north-eastern states), and religious grounds (e.g. Laddakh). These causes overlap at times.
Wikipedia lists 16 belligerent groups and 68 major organization as terrorist groups in India, which include: nine in the northeast (Seven Sisters), four in the center & the east (including Maoist/Naxalites), seventeen in the west (Sikh separatist groups), and 38 in the northwest (Kashmir).
By the very nature of its population mix, one that began evolving thousands of years ago with waves of migrants pouring in from adjoining lands at different periods in history, South Asia has never been a homogenous society. The multiplicity of races, ethnicities, tribes, religions, and languages led to the creation of hundreds of sovereign entities all over the subcontinent ruled by tribal and religious leaders and conquerors of all sorts. Like Europe over the centuries, the map of South Asia also kept changing owing to internecine warfare.
One must remember that India in its entire history, until colonized by the British, was never a single nation, nor a united country. The numerous entities were in many cases territorially and population-wise much larger than several European countries, were independently ruled and could qualify for nationhood by any modern standards.
During and after the colonial rule, such territorial entities were lumped together to form new administrative and political units or states, without, in many cases, taking into account the preferences and aspirations of the people. For the people of these territories, which ranged from small fiefdoms to large princely states, and who had for centuries enjoyed independent existence, this administrative and political amalgam amounted to loss of identity and freedom and being ruled by aliens. The new dispensation – democracy, in many cases brought no political or economic advantage.
To complicate matters, hundreds of religious and ethnic groups, some of which are fiercely sectarian and independent in nature, found themselves passionately defending their religions, languages and cultures, at times clashing fiercely with rival groups, challenging the writ of the state in the process.
Thus the artificial nature of the modern state created by the British colonialists and adopted by post-colonial India also triggered violent reactions in several hotspots.
Caste Based Social Discrimination
India’s caste system, which tears apart its social fabric and divides people into potential warring groups, is unique to that country, having no place in the modern world. This sinister game has historically been played by the Brahmans in collaboration with the ruling class to their mutual benefit. The issue assumes more horrific dimensions when those who practice it among the Hindus insist that it is a divinely sanctioned concept and cannot be abrogated by humans. Even the anti-caste activist – Dr. Ambedkar, acknowledges that ‘to destroy caste, all the Hindu shastras would have to be done away with’.
The system confers on the ‘higher’ castes the absolute right to plunder the wealth of those belonging to the ‘lower’ caste or Dalits (or the ‘untouchables’). For over four thousand years, it has been driven by the intense hatred and by the yearning of the ‘higher’ castes to accept nothing less than abject subservience from the ‘lower’ castes. The defenders of this system have argued that it has kept a sense of order and peace among the people and has prevented society from disintegrating into chaos.
Although Dalits make up for the most part of Indian population, they have remained deprived of the benefits of the current economic boom. This is because of the barricades that bar Dalits from having access to education, job opportunities and even state provided healthcare and food. They are forced into menial jobs, denied entry to temples, cremation grounds and river bathing points and cannot even share a barber with the upper caste Hindu. Punishments are severe when these boundaries are transgressed. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, 45 special types of ‘untouchability’ practices are common.
As quoted in a report prepared for the WashingtonPost by Emily Wax; Anup Srivastava is a researcher with the People’s Vigilance Commission on Human Rights in Varanasi. His job requires him to investigate complaints filed by Dalits about discrimination among neighbors, in schools, at hospitals and at work. He says, “India is not a true democracy. The country is independent. But the people aren’t. How can there be a democracy when there are still people known as untouchables who face daily discrimination?”
Despite the fact that the Indian Constitution abolishes it, this caste based discrimination continues because it has infiltrated into the Indian polity, serves the vested interests of a powerful minority and gives it a hold over a helpless majority in the name of religion and ancient social customs. It has even been glorified by M.K. Gandhi who is reported to have said that ‘caste is an integral part of Hinduism and cannot be eradicated if Hinduism is to be preserved’.
The mentality of hate this creates in the lower castes in an age when the concepts of socialism, awareness about human rights and equality and dignity of man are spreading fast, this ‘helpless majority’ has begun to resort to violence to overthrow this out of date system of exploitation. The Maoist Naxalite uprising in eastern India is just one case in point.
Of India’s population of 1.1 billion, about 800 million - more than 60% - are poor, many living on the margins of life, lacking some or all of the basic necessities. Despite its emergence as Asia’s third biggest economy, India has the highest illiteracy rate in the world - 70% and the people lack adequate shelter, sanitation, clean water, nutrition, health care and job opportunities. The groups that are mostly left behind are minorities. There is a growing concern that unless this situation is addressed, the country will be torn apart by the despair and rage of the poor.