Lessons from Kokhrajhar

Autonomous Councils and Minority Rights

ALTERNATIVES

DR GULL WANI

In a conference at Jammu University last month the organizers desired me to speak on experiences with Autonomous Hill Councils in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East of India in a comparative perspective. This probably had become necessary considering recent high level of violence in Assam where lakhs of people got displaced. In recent years the Autonomous Councils have been employed as a model to resolve problems of certain minority groups within plural states.  However what has not been seriously looked into is that autonomous councils in return create new minorities and we find new majoritarian onslaught on smaller ethic groups. I do understand that recent violence at Zanaskar (Kargil)  in my state may not be directly linked to autonomous Kargil Hill Council, but I have no doubt that Muslims were targeted in Assam at Kokhrajhar  by Bodos precisely for reasons of creating their own majority which could latter translate into a separate state of Bodos. This issue in a politically sensitive state like Assam has implications on democratic practices, minority rights and rule of law. In Jammu and Kashmir we have lessons to learn from Assam experience.
           The sixth schedule is a comprehensive innovation and almost a mini constitution in as far as administration in North-East of India is concerned. There are ten autonomous councils in four states of north-east. Political scientist Sanjib Baruah finds fault with these councils for not creating creative modes of dialogue between different communities.  The enormity of the crisis came to the fore when the National Minority’s Commission team led by Syeda Hamed visited Assam in the wake of violence at Kokhrajhar and in its report highlighted the possibility that Muslims in Bodo areas may turn Jihadist. They even stated that Bodos need to be told that they can not get Statehood this way. In Jammu and Kashmir the Zanaskar violence went on and the action got delayed precisely for the reason of policy paralysis which caught state government, district administration and the Kargil Hill council. The Zanaskar students demanded reshuffle in administration when Padam area, where Sunni Muslims live, were targeted.  The political leadership in Kashmir, cutting across party/ideological lines, did vent their anger at violence against minority in Zanaskar area. The fact is that violence at Zanaskar was related to the matter of religious conversion and was least connected to the failure of Hill council, yet certain administrative callousness was quite noticeable. The problem with the efficient working of autonomous councils is that these have come to be formed in dire states with absence of tolerant political culture and also where states have gone through higher level of violence. It was just coincidence that People’s Democratic Party sent a delegation to Ladakh led by Syed Altaf Bukhari for a political visit and the team termed Leh and Kargil Hill Councils as models of their party’s self—rule. The party leaders underlined that people of Ladakh now understand to be part of political process rather than to be on the periphery. I would ideally suggest the PDP to bring out a comprehensive report on experiences with Hill Councils with reference to placement of smaller ethnic groups so that at some point the debate on formation of other Autonomous Hill Councils becomes less ticklish. Meanwhile, matter of immediate significance is what can be the fate of smaller minority groups in a situation of communal polarization in a particular Hill Council area where the state government has limited space to operate and very often functionaries of Hill Councils and that of district administration shift the blame on each other. This is now more than clear when National Minorities commission called for a dialogue between Home Ministry, Assam Government and Bodoland Territorial Council. The Hill Council arrangement holds special significance for Jammu & Kashmir State where there are additional demands for Hill Councils in both Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal sub-regions of Jammu Province. With this background it becomes essential to make explorations into certain key areas related to formation, utility and more importantly tension areas in as far as working of Autonomous Hill development Councils is concerned. But this ought to be preceded by some theoretical insight.
The rise of nationalism as a dominant idea organized people into a single nation-state. The problem with the nation-state is that it fears and resents plurality and diversity. Erasure of ethnic or cultural diversities is a key feature of nation-state of which France is generally projected as a historical example. However, what became possible in France in 19th century is now no longer possible, more so in countries like India which is a land of minorities. Post-modernism recognizes and provides social, economic, and political space to people and communities. There are many narratives of communities. In a country like India scholars and academics are divided on which way to travel. The remarkable insight is now available in a new book Crafting State-Nations (Johns Hopkins University) by Alfred Stepan, Juan Linz and my friend Yogendra Yadav of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. The authors propose a new concept “State-Nation” to capture the essence of the relationship between state and nationhood in India. According to these scholars if states have strong territorially based diversity, they need to internalize the state-nation, not the nation-state concept. State-nation policies work at two levels: creation of a sense of belonging with respect to the larger political community, while simultaneously institutionally safeguarding politically salient diversities, such as language, religion and culturally sacred norms. Shared sovereignty is a necessary condition for the protection of territorially specific diversities. Having two or more than two political identities is not subversive to the nation. The Autonomous Councils whether in North-East of India or Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir are essentially steps for power sharing but need institutional fine-tuning so that minorities are not at the mercy of majority. How that can be done may be taken up in the next article.

Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 13 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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