One early summer morning, two years ago, I received a call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. I tried focusing on his words in my sleepy state. The Supreme Court of India had, the previous day, ordered CBI probe into the extra-judicial killings in Manipur. My friend read about it in the newspapers in Srinagar and was calling to convey his solidarity in that moment of triumph.
Though Jammu & Kashmir and Manipur are separated by differences in history, culture, and thousands of kilometres, the parallels in the struggles of the common people are striking.
Shared Stories of Tasting Fear in the Air
Over the years, my Kashmiri friends and I have shared stories of growing up in an environment where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was so real that we could almost taste it in the air we breathed. We bonded over our understanding of how it was like growing up in a state where there were more curfews than school days, when police personnel could enter households at any time without warrants and arrest whoever they wanted, where women and girls became silent victims of sexual harassment during ‘combing operations’ while young men faced physical violence.
The parallels existed in legislation as well; while Jammu & Kashmir had Article 370, Article 371-C was implemented in Manipur.
Two years later, in September 1949, when the Maharaja was in Shillong on a personal business, he was put under house arrest by the Indian authorities urging him to sign the Merger Agreement.
The developments in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 24 hours have been a hot topic of discussion across India. There are people on both sides of the spectrum either in support or criticism of the government’s historic move, and they are free to air their opinions as we still live in a democracy. But what’s concerning for a democracy is the complete blackout of the people whose lives are directly impacted by this decision – the people of Jammu & Kashmir and their elected representatives.
Curious Case of Manipur’s Accession
The exclusion of the stakeholders from the decision-making process reminds me of the history of Manipur, an erstwhile princely state. When the British left in 1947, Manipur became briefly independent. Maharaja Bodhchandra acceded the union subjects to India but gained internal sovereignty with a separate constitution and a legislative body.
Two years later, in September 1949, when the Maharaja was in Shillong on a personal business, he was put under house arrest by the Indian authorities urging him to sign the Merger Agreement. The Maharaja wanted to go back to Manipur and consult it with his people and apprise his government, since a constitutionally elected government existed in Manipur. However, his requests fell on deaf ears and he remained in house arrest for four days. Ultimately, under duress, he signed the agreement to merge with India.
With the merger, the existing Manipuri legislative body as well as the Constitution were abolished and Manipur was made into a Part-C state. The people weren’t consulted throughout the process and were, undoubtedly, unhappy. When protests intensified over the years, as people’s awareness increased on what the merger really meant, Manipur was made into a Union Territory in 1956. But it didn’t douse the fire of dissatisfaction and secessionist sentiments started brewing. After a few years, insurgency groups sprang up. In 1972, statehood was granted in an attempt to contain the angst of these groups but it failed.
Kashmir Has Scratched the Old Scars of Manipur
The mothers of the Indian state of Manipur have lost generations of their young sons to militancy. For decades, they have witnessed armed combats, violence, and murders. Though majority of the people have no secessionist desire, there are still a few odd elements within the society who feel oppressed and continue to harbour such sentiments. The situation has not reached a stage of complete normalcy yet. Even after all these years, the scars etched in the memories in our mothers are yet to fade.
So when the government blacks out the people of Jammu & Kashmir, without learning any lessons from our histories of bloodshed and lost opportunities, it is alarming.
Our government seems to have forgotten that ‘We, the People’ are at the heart of our democracy, that ‘We, the People’ form the bedrock on which the Constitution rests. It is, therefore, a fraud on the Constitution when the people and their representatives are not even consulted with.
If the past is anything to go by, the events which have unfolded will alienate the people who are the subject of the proposed Amendments. Jammu and Kashmir has been fighting for more autonomy, and in an ironic twist, the state has been dismembered.
At this time of utmost peril, I can’t stop thinking about my friend. I wish there were a way for me to tell him that though our lived experiences are different, I extend my solidarity to him and his people. I owe him a phone call, but our country has taken away that right from him.
(Angellica Aribam is a youth leader of the Congress party. She tweets @AngellicAribam. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)