Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Meghalaya. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Meghalaya. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

INVESTIGATION: A Strange And Bitter Crop

By M H Ahssan

An ambitious RSS social engineering project is transporting children from Meghalaya to Karnataka to bring them up ‘the Hindu way,’ discovers HNN.

In an investigation spanning 35 schools across Karnataka and four districts in Meghalaya, HNN has found that since 2001, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has embarked on an ambitious social engineering project to transfer at least 1,600 children from Meghalaya to RSS-friendly schools across Karnataka. The latest batch comprising 160 children arrived in Bengaluru on June 7, 2009. Thirty RSS volunteers accompanied the children on the 50-hour train journey down to the city.

Tukaram Shetty, the RSS organiser responsible for the programme, in conversations spanning three months, candidly admitted to HNN that the children were part of a larger mission launched by the RSS and its affiliate organisations to ‘protect’ people from Christian missionaries active in Meghalaya. “We are committed to nurturing the Hindu way of life. There is a long-term plan envisioned by the RSS to defeat the Christian missionary forces active in Meghalaya while expanding our base in the region. These children form a part of that long-term vision. In the years to come, they will propagate our values amongst their own family members,” A childhood recruit into the RSS fold, Shetty hails from Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and has spent close to eight years in Meghalaya – familiarising himself with the terrain and culture.

The RSS programme brings to the fore several concerns operating as it does within the demographic context of Meghalaya. The state is one of the few Christian majority states in India, with 70.25 percent of the population being classified as Christians in the 2001 census. In comparison, Hindus are pegged at 13.27 percent while a category of religious compositions pegged as ‘others’ – a possible reference to the indigenous tribal religions – is at 11.52 percent. The first Christian missionaries arrived in the mid nineteenth century to work amongst the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia tribes living in the region that now comprises Meghalaya.

Despite the long entrenched history of Christian conversions in the state, there exists a significant minority population of tribals who have steadfastly continued to practice their indigenous religions – their beliefs often spliced with a thin wedge of resentment against those who have chosen to convert. The RSS plans of ‘expanding the base in the region’ capitalises on this wedge of resentment with children and their education being — as Shetty admits — the starting points of engagement.

The Thinkabettu Higher Primary and Secondary School in remote Uppur — nearly 500 km from Bengaluru — is one of the 35 schools in Karnataka where the children are studying. In 2008, 17 students between six and seven years were brought to this school from Meghalaya. Following instructions from the head of the school, the children of Thinkabettu School stand up, announce their names politely in Kannada, the local language, and sit down again on the bare floor. Ask the head of the school to introduce himself and he refuses, saying, “You have come to see the children, here they are. If I give you my name, you will use it against me.” The only details forthcoming are that he is a retired bank employee and that the school, which is a century old, was started by his father. A woman in the corner is revealed to be his wife, Nirmala.

Introductions done, the children are asked to recite the latest prayer that they have memorised. Hands folded and eyes closed, the children, with shorn heads and in ragged clothes, begin a Brahminical chant that is a tribute to the teacher — Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara. The children are sitting in the same hall that serves as their school and hostel. They live and breathe, eat and sleep and study on that same barren floor. A 30-watt bulb, a blackboard and a few books and slates neatly lined up complete the picture. An ancient fridge and a ramshackle sofa separate the children’s space from the kitchen area of the hall.

Drawn from remote and often inaccessible villages across four districts in Meghalaya — Ri Bhoi, West Khasi Hills, East Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills — the children taken by the RSS to study in Karnataka belong to the Khasi and Jaintia tribal communities. Traditionally, the Khasi tribes follow the Seng Khasi religion, while the Jaintias follow Niamtre religion. Ask Manje Gowda, Headmaster at the Sri Adichunchanagiri Higher Primary School in BG Nagar, Mandya district where 38 children from Meghalaya currently study, why students are taken out of Meghalaya and he echoes Shetty’s logic, “If the children had stayed on in Meghalaya they would have been converted to Christianity by now. The RSS is trying to protect them. The education that the children receive here includes strong cultural values. When they go back home, after their education, they will help propagate these values to their families.”

The cultural values that Gowda talks of imparting to children include familiarity with Brahiminical chants, Hindu religious festivals, and a weaning away from an overwhelmingly non-vegetarian Meghalayan diet to vegetarianism. How could this possibly help the RSS in expanding their base? Shetty told HNN that indoctrination of cultural values and discipline was the first step. “It is important that children imbibe these values early on. It will bring them closer to us and away from the Christian way of life.

We teach them shlokas so they will not recite hymns. We take them away from meat so they will abhor the animal sacrifice that is inherent in their own religion,” he says. “Ultimately, when the RSS tells them that the cow is a sacred animal and that all those who kill and eat it have no place in our society, these children will listen,” he recounts calmly. Are these children being groomed to be the future foot soldiers of RSS? Shetty’s only answer is that they will part of ‘the family’ in one way or another and that time will decide.

As HNN found, across schools in different districts of Karnataka, the cultural values imparted did not vary. The degrees of immersion into the RSS credo, however, depended on the schools the children were placed in. Children who came from financially stable homes were placed in schools with proper educational and hostel facilities since parents were able to pay for them. In these schools, the disciplinary regime imposed on the children was more relaxed compared to the schools where children from poorer families were placed. HNN found that 60 percent of the children it met came from economically weaker families. Subsequently, the schools that these children were placed in resembled the Thinkabettu school in Uppur where both education and lodging facilities were free and dismal.

Most of the schools where the children have been placed are located in the coastal belt of Karnataka, the region that has emerged as the centre of communal violence in the state. The places include Puttur, Kalladka, Kaup, Kollur, Uppur, Deralakatte, Moodbidri in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Chikmaglur districts. Besides these, the children have been placed in schools run by influential ashrams such as the JSS Mutt in Suttur, the Adi Chunchanagiri Mutt in Mandya district and the Murugrajendra Mutt in Chitradurga district.

How do children from Meghalaya end up thousands of kilometres away in Karnataka? What is the modus operandi? Almost every child and parent that HNN spoke with identified Tukaram Shetty as the man who proposed the idea of educating children in Karnataka, offered to take the children there and then ultimately accompanied the children to Karnataka.

A former Seva Bharati (an RSS-affiliated community service organization) worker, Shetty is the official face of the Lei Synshar Cultural Society, a shell organisation established to maintain the required official distance from the RSS. In fact, the Lei Synshar Cultural Society is utterly unknown even outside its own head office in Jowai in the Jaintia Hills district. Ask for Tukaram or Bah Ram as he is called in Meghalaya and there are instant flashes of recognition. Outside the capital city, Shillong, right down to the village level, people easily recognise the RSS as the organisation that takes children to Karnataka. The organisation runs three offices in the Jaintia Hills district – in Jowai, Nartiang and Shongpong. Besides, there are several spaces occupied by the Seva Bharati and Kalyan Ashram organizations which help in the identification and transport of children.

YOLIN KHARUMINI, a teacher at a local Seng Khasi school and resident at Shillong’s Kalyan Ashram described the process. “We are asked to identify families that have not converted to Christianity and are firm in their belief in indigenous religions — Seng Khasi and Niamtre. Usually, these are families that nurse some form of resentment against Christians. Offers are made to these families to have their children educated in Karnataka. We always tell them that they will be educated according to Seng Khasi or Niamtre traditions.” Kharumini’s own niece, Kerdamon Kharumini, studies in Mangala Nursing School in Karnataka. Lists are drawn up based on the parents’ capacity to afford the child’s education and hostel facilities.

Continuing the narrative, Khatbiang Rymbai, a Class 10 student at Vidya - niketan School in Kaup, Udupi district described in detail how 200 children travelled to Bengaluru from various villages. “There were many young children. So when they divided us into groups of 13-14, the older children were put in charge. In Shillong, we were all given identification tags which had mobile numbers and the Jowai address of the Lei Synshar Cultural Society. From there, we traveled in Tata Sumos to Guwahati to take the train to Bengaluru,” she says. In Bengaluru, they were taken to the RSS office before being split into groups to go to their respective schools.

In a chilling admission, an RSS worker in Shillong, Prafulla Chandra Koch and the head of the Thinkabettu school told HNN that care is always taken to ensure that any siblings are separated from each other. “It is easier to discipline them if they are not together. We have to control them if we have to mould them. The lesser the contact they have with home, the better it is, really,” he stated.

HNN met with several siblings placed in different schools – Khatbiang’s brother Supplybiang Rymbai was placed in Prashanti Vidya Kendra in Kasargod, Kerala while she studies in Vidyaniketan school near Udupi in Karnataka. Yet another student at Vidyaniketan, Reenborn Tariang admitted to having a sister, Wanboklin Tariang, at the JSS Mutt school in Mysore. Bedd Sympli at the Abhinav Bharati Boys Hostel in Mandya district has a sister studying in Vidyaniketan, Udupi district; Iwanroi Langbang a student at the Adi Chunchanagiri Mutt school in Mandya district had a sister, Daiamonlangki, at the Vanishree school in Shimoga district. There is not one instance of siblings studying together. Ask the children why they were separated and there are no answers.

When HNN asked parents why they had chosen to place their children in different schools, they admitted they were only informed of it several months after the children had started school. Says Klis Rymbai, Khatbiang and Supplybiang’s older sister, “When they left home, all we knew was that they would go to Bengaluru. We had no details of the school they would go to – not even a name or address. Much later, we realised that Khatbiang and Supplybiang were separated and that they were not in Bengaluru.

Khatbiang also told us she was repeating Class VIII after she got admitted into school. The RSS promised to take care of our children and we trusted them.” Klis admits that her family is attempting to bring Supplybiang back to Meghalaya. “He has not adjusted well and is still young so we want him to come back. Khatbiang has already lost a year so it is best she finishes school there,” says Klis. The Rymbais are extremely well off, having made their money through mining in the Jaintia Hills district. The father, Koren Chyrmang, is an RSS sympathiser, who, besides sending his own children, has helped convince other families to send their children across. “He used to be very active but has fallen sick of late This has prevented him from traveling to other villages in this area with the RSS,” says Klis.

The physical and mental impact of studying in school environments diametrically opposed to their culture, language, religion, and food habits has been devastating. In the schools that HNN visited, hostel wardens, heads of schools and the children themselves admitted to having had serious physical problems given the differences in climatic conditions between their villages in Meghalaya and schools in Karnataka. In the Deenabandhu Children’s Home, Chamarajnagar, Karnataka, according to the Secretary, GS Jayadev, the six-year-olds from Meghalaya — Shining Lamo, Sibin Ryngkhlem and Spid Khongshei — had skin rashes for over a month as their bodies tried to acclimatise to the heat of Karnataka. Besides rashes, Spid’s eyes turned bloodshot. Doctors at the hospital where Spid was taken by school authorities told them that it was a natural reaction to the altitudinal differences.

In Thinkabettu school, too, children had severe sunburns on their faces, hands and legs though they had already spent three months in Karnataka when HNN visited them. The situation was no different with the children studying in the Kalabyraveshwara Sanskrit College run by the Adichunchanagiri Mutt in Nagamangala. Of the 11 children from Meghalaya who were placed in this school, the oldest, Iohidahun Rabon told HNN that the three of the younger ones — Sowatki Chulet, Tailang Nongdam and Perskimlang Nongkrot — were chronically ill since they had not taken to the food being given to them.

The psychological impact of the move was also obvious on several children. In all the schools that HNN visited seeking information about children from Meghalaya, the school authorities summoned the children from their classes and instructed them to introduce themselves in Kannada. For the authorities, it was a matter of great pride that children who had no association with Kannada had been taught the language well. That students who did not know a word of Sanskrit earlier now recited Sanskrit prayers with great clarity. In the Sri Adichunchanagiri Higher Primary School in BG Nagar, Mandya district, the headmaster, Manje Gowda, flung a Kannada newspaper at a student from Meghalaya, ordering him to read it. Obediently, in a low voice, devoid of any expression, the boy proceeded to read a few sentences, before quietly folding and placing the newspaper back on the headmaster’s desk. Till he was sent away, the boy never looked up. In school after school, the same scene unfolded with variations in the demonstrations of skill and familiarity with Kannada and Sanskrit.

While the authorities claimed that the students from Meghalaya had integrated well with the rest, there was overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise. A few minutes of conversation with the children brought out stories of how they were laughed at because their names were unfamiliar and because they looked different. Invariably, and especially amongst the older students, relationships were forged with others from Meghalaya. In classrooms, six or seven students from Meghalaya squeezed into a bench meant to seat four children. Speaking Kannada had integrated the children only so far. Faced with animosity, they have withdrawn into the familiar. In schools where this was not a possibility given the limited number of students from Meghalaya, they withdrew into themselves.

The locations of the schools did not help alleviate their isolation at all. Iwanroi Langbang, a Class IX student currently staying in Nagamangala (about 150 kms from Bengaluru), talked of her disappointment at not studying in Bengaluru. “We were only told that I would be studying in Bengaluru. It was only after I came here that I heard the name of the school and realised that it was very far from Bengaluru. Here, we are not allowed outside the compound wall. And even if we get away, there is nothing outside,” said Langbang. Her school is located off an isolated stretch of the state highway.

A consequence of completely immersing young children from Meghalaya in a Kannada-speaking environment was visible at the Deenabandhu Children’s Home in Chamarajnagar district. A caretaker at the Home described one child’s growing familiarity with Kannada, “Sibin [one of the children at the Home] has picked up a lot of Kannada in the two months he has been here. During a phone call from a relative back home, he kept answering questions in Kannada which obviously they did not understand at all.” In a shocking display of insensitivity, the caretaker burst into laughter at what she thought was a hilarious incident and added, “For 45 minutes, a woman, I assume his mother, kept trying. Sibin, of course, had no answers since he had forgotten his own language.” She giggled. The caretaker then proceeded to teach Sibin the Kannada word for dinner.

According TO Sibin’s birth certificate, he is six. Yet another certificate issued by the village headman of Sibin’s village, Mihmyntdu, certifies that he comes from a poor family and needs help for his education. HNN was unable to contact his parents.

The physical and mental consequences suffered by children from Meghalaya differ from the everyday story of children placed in several thousand boarding schools across the country. That there is a larger plan behind the transportation of these children is something that RSS workers like Koch, have no qualms admitting.

Why are parents willing to send young children aged only six and seven to a distant place? In the face of these overwhelming disadvantages to the children, during visits with parents across eight villages in Meghalaya, HNN found that parents — mostly poor — handed over their children to the RSS in the belief that their kids would be well cared for, as promised. Often, the transportation of children followed kinship routes, with younger siblings following older ones. While this may seem to defy logic, examined closely, it speaks of the intricate web of lies that the RSS has managed to weave, webs that ensnare parents, school authorities and often the children themselves. There are multiple untruths that are the foundation of this entire process.

When HNN approached schools in Karnataka seeking papers that legalise the transfers of children across states, letters signed by the village headman or the Rangbah Shnong attesting to the family’s poor economic condition were handed out along with birth and caste certificates. Across different schools that HNN visited, not a single letter was produced with the parents’ signature that stated explicitly that the care of their children was handed over to that particular school. No parent that HNN met in Meghalaya had copies of any signed consent letter signed. Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 – such consent letters are mandatory for legal transfers of children.

The transportation of children, then, with no official papers sanctioning the move, is in clear violation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000. Under this law, the RSS can be held guilty of child trafficking.

Amongst the Khasi and Jaintia tribes, there is a tenuous relationship between those who have converted to Christianity and those who have not. The RSS carefully selects children from poor families who have not converted to Christianity. “I was told that the only way to protect my daughter from conversion was to send her outside. If I didn’t, the Church would take them away and make them priests and nuns,” said Biye Nongrum in Swer village. “I was afraid for my daughter and so I agreed to hand her over,” she says. Six years after her daughter left home, Biye has no details of the school that she is studying in.

All she has is a class photograph. “I don’t have the money to visit my daughter and bring her back, even if I find out where she is. But I will never send another child away,” she says. Biye ekes out a living by selling sweet pancakes to richer families in the village. The ramshackle house that she shares with her mother and at least three other children further signal her poverty stricken condition. The socioeconomic status of the families are an indication of why it is difficult for the parents to ever bring their children back — they simply cannot afford it.

Several parents told HNN that the RSS schools where their children were studying were schools that upheld their indigenous religions – a rationale that has many takers. In Jel Chyrmang’s home in Mookhep village, HNN found a framed photograph of Jel’s daughter, Rani Chyrmang, being felicitated by the patron saint of her school, Sri Balagangadharnath. Ask Jel who the saffron-robed saint is and she blithely repeats what she has been told, a story that would be hilarious if the circumstances were not so sad. According to Jel, Sri Balagangadharnath is a Seng Khasi saint who runs her daughter’s school. There is no doubt in her voice at all. Jel’s ignorance, however, does not extend to others in the family. Her husband, Denis Siangshai, who contested the recent Lok Sabha elections, turns out to be an RSS worker. Using his daughter as an example, he admitted to having convinced others in the area as well. “People have a wrong notion of RSS. I always tell them that the RSS will give them good education and culture,” says Denis.

Most parents have no idea that the schools chosen by the RSS espouse a different ideology. Besides the forced culturisation, even the libraries and books handed out to the students are RSS publications from recognized right-wing publishing houses in Bengaluru. In the JSS Ashram school, the library was stocked with publications of RSS ideologues published from Bharata Samskruti Prakashana (Indian Culture Publications). No trace of Seng Khasi teachings or Niamtre practices.

For a non-tribal society like Karnataka, the notion of a father abandoning the family is seen as a social and economic disaster. Meghalaya, though, is a matrilineal society, where men move to live with women in their villages. Mothers continue to remain the primary caretakers. Even if the mother dies, the child is brought up by relatives and is never entirely abandoned.

When children first leave Meghalaya, parents and children are not aware where the children will ultimately be taken. As direct communication between the children and parents is limited owing to the socio-economic conditions of the parents and the lack of facilities at the schools, the RSS is the main intermediary between the two. The RSS tells parents that the children are happy and well adjusted in their new environments. The reality is something else.

Raplangki Dkhar, a standard VI student at Vidyaniketan, was clearly waiting for his uncle to come take him home. “Only if people from home come and take us, we can go back. Every year when school ends, we hear that we will be taken back. But it has been two years already,” said a forlorn Raplangki. Only two of the children TEHELKA met had ever returned home to visit. Back in Raplangki’s hometown in Raliang, Meghalaya, when HNN asked his uncle why he had not visited Raplangki, he is surprised, “I had no reason to doubt the fact that my nephew has adjusted well. At every RSS meeting in Jowai we are assured by them that the kids are healthy and happy.”

Direct phone calls between children and parents are dependent entirely on the parents’ finances. If the parents have not been able to pay for the child’s education, the schools that they are placed in are often the free orphanages run by the Mutts, where access to phones is non-existent, as is the case with the free hostel run by the Sri Adichunchanagiri Mutt.

For the RSS, these falsifications are part of a process. A process that is bound to add an additional layer of complexity amongst the people of Meghalaya, quite apart from the mental and social costs inflicted on young children.

‘The Children Will Champion Hinduism’
At the Kalyan Ashram in Shillong, Prafulla Chandra Koch and Sukanto Borman, two RSS workers, talked with HNN about what the RSS hopes to gain through the programme. Both refused to be photographed.

For how many years have the children been taken to Karnataka? How many have gone?
SB: I am not sure about the years, but I know there are more than 1,500 to 1,600 children in schools in Karnataka. Every year, Tukaram Shetty takes more children with him.

But why don’t you start schools here? Why send them to Karnataka?
PCK: In some villages, we help village councils run schools. We pay their teachers’ salaries. This isn’t possible in many villages since the Christians are everywhere here. This programme is also about culture. The children are sent to schools in Karnataka to imbibe good cultural values.

What values are you talking about?
SB: That we are all Hindus and that Hindus have to stick together...

PCK: (interrupts) When they stay in Karnataka, they are exposed to many other children. They learn to live in harmony with them. They carry the love and acceptance they get there back to Meghalaya and spread it to their parents. Right now, outsiders or dakkar are viewed with a lot of suspicion but this will change after some years, making our work easier.

What specific gains does the RSS hope for?
PCK: Since these children are educated in RSS schools, they will adopt the Hindu religion. Already, we have seen children refusing to eat meat when they return. They will also teach their parents to follow in their footsteps. Over time, the children who return will champion the Hindu way of life in Meghalaya.

That is a really long-term agenda.
PCK: We benefit immediately too. Four to five times a year, we hold compulsory meetings with the parents of children sent to Karnataka, usually in Jowai. RSS pracharaks attend these meetings. We share information with the parents and ask them if their children have been in touch with them and what they have been saying. Besides this, discussions also revolve around conversions and the problems that are created by Christians in Meghalaya. We can’t call it a shakha yet, but give us another year.

‘I Begged Them For My Son’s Number’
She believed the RSS when they said a better future awaited Iohi but didn’t have the money to bring him back

AT 16, Iohidahun is the oldest of the 11 students from Meghalaya at the Kalabyraveshwara Sanskrit College run by Sri Adi Chunchanagiri Mutt. Iohi has already spent three-and-a-half years training to be a priest.

When HNN visited the hostel, all the children from Meghalaya were lined up and asked to recite shlokas. Iohi, almost reluctantly, led the group. Even hours later, Iohi remained resolutely silent, offering clipped answers to questions. Did he miss home? Of course. Did he like the hostel? Did he want to be a priest? There were no answers. Iohi was not sullen, he had just withdrawn completely.

Three months later, when HNN visited his village, Shangpung Pohshnong in Meghalaya, his aunt, Sa Rabon, presented a completely different picture of Iohi. As a child, he was one of the naughtiest one around who came home only when he was hungry. The child who would not stop talking. Iohi lost both his parents at an early age and was brought up his aunt. “My sister [Iohi’s mother] is dead. I am his mother now. He is no orphan,” says Sa in complete defiance of the claims made by Iohi’s hostel authorities that he was an abandoned orphan.

“For the first two years, I had no idea where he was. Not a single phone call from him. I begged and cried and asked the people who took him away for a number to call him on. Every meeting that I attended in Jowai, this was the only question that I asked Bah Ram (Tukaram Shetty). But he was aggressive and refused. Finally, someone else gave me the number and offered to take me to see my son. But I didn’t have the money,” recounts Sa. Why was he sent away in the first place? “They told us that they would take good care of him. I wanted the best for my child, but didn’t know it would be like this,” says Sa.

Sa is clearly a distressed mother – five days before we visited the place, Iohi had called to complain that money given to him was stolen and that he couldn’t take the beatings anymore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A mini Meghalaya in Hyderabad

By Subhash Reddy

A mention of Meghalaya immediately brings in thoughts about Cherrapunji, the highest rainfall region in the world. However, not many are aware of the region’s famous 300 year old Shiva temples and some of the longest caves of South-East Asia, rich culture and folk dances.

The Directorate of Tourism, Government of Meghalaya in collaboration with NewsPus and IATREILANG Tourism Promotion Forum plans to create more awareness about the State rich culture and cuisine. Starting Aug 23rd, an expo featuring all aspects about the State will be held at People’s Plaza, Necklace Road.The expo, Meghalaya Beckons, will turn the venue into a mini Meghalaya between Aug 23rd and 26th.

“We are trying to show the culture of the State by creating similar ambiences, presenting ethnic dances and food. Apart from giving an insight into what is the best time to visit Meghalaya, economical packages to reach the place and other queries will be answered here, “ said David O Laitphlang, president of the Shillong Press Club and member of IATREILANG.

The expo will also showcase traditional archery. Meghalaya, ’The abode of clouds’ in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a hilly strip in the eastern part of the country stretching about 300 km with most of the region covered with forest.

The subtropical forest supports a vast variety of flora and fauna and harbours two national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries. The region is a delight to adventure tourists as mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking, hiking and water sports are a few exciting opportunities available. The State offers several trekking routes where some rare animals such as the slow loris, the assorted deer and bear could be sighted.The expo from 10 am to 9pm will continue till Aug 26.The inaugural ceremony will start at 4 pm on Aug 23.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


By Sandip Roy / Shillong

The Meghalaya CID is probing a private university for selling degrees. INN finds out how the business operated.

His burning ambition was to become a lecturer at a government college. But 31-year-old Samir Gupta* from Bihar, who teaches at a private school in New Delhi, didn’t want to waste three-five years for a PhD degree.

“I desperately wanted to get a PhD,” says Gupta. “A friend told me about the Shillong- based CMJ University. All I had to do was pay Rs 70,000. I didn’t attend any classes or work on my thesis. Everything was taken care of. I always stayed in touch with the enrolment agent in Bihar. Now, I have a PhD. I’m waiting for my certificate to arrive.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Focus: India's Undiscovered Gem: The Hills Of Meghalaya

In Meghalaya, north-east India, women own the land, Christianity dominates and the landscape is straight out of The Hobbit. Our writer visits a most unusual state.

"I'm the supreme power in my house," declared Dave the shopkeeper. "That is certain." Behind him his wife and female relatives giggled. He turned and glared until they agreed that he was definitely the boss.

The women had good reason to snigger. The shopkeeper does not own the shop – it belongs to his wife.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


By Anushka Margret (Guest Writer)

Meghalaya is a perfect example of unadulterated beauty and culture, says INN Correspondent after visiting Cherrapunjee, Mawlynnong and Shillong

I breathe in fresh, moisture-laden air as I look down the lush green valley below me. My eyes scan the vast expanse of green that lies ahead. It appears never-ending... rich... dense... My eyes follow the trail etched by a meandering river, one that crisscrosses through the vale connecting different mountains. How deceptively tame it appears from up above where I am standing. To my left is the site from where seven falls are known to plunge in full spate over the top of limestone cliffs of the Khasi Hills during the monsoon. Called Nohsngithiang Falls, these are symbolic of the seven sisters or the seven sister States that define India’s Northeast.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fair edge: Women voters outnumber men in 6 states

By Kajol Singh

More Women Show Up At Booths But Remain Under-Represented In Parliament

Political parties may be chary of agreeing on 33% reservation for women and they might still be under-represented in Parliament, but they form an influential votebank that netas can ill afford to ignore as there now are about 33 crore registered women voters, only marginally less than 36 crore male voters.

According to the 2009 electoral rolls, women voters are in a majority in six states — Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry. While Andhra has 2.86 crore women voters as opposed to 2.80 crore men, in Kerala the ratio is 1.11 crore women to 1.03 crore men and Manipur has 8.97 lakh women compared to 8.29 lakh men.

While Meghalaya has 6.48 lakh registered female voters and 6.28 lakh men, Mizoram accounts for 3.17 lakh women in comparison to 3.08 lakh men. The state of Puducherry boasts of 3.91 lakh women to 3.63 lakh men on its voters’ list.

It is no surprise that even in states where women do not outnumber men as voters, governments have made it a point to announce women-oriented schemes, with Madhya Pradesh being a good example. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced several schemes for women and girl children. Even the Delhi government has a ‘ladli’ scheme and the poll manifestoes of parties are bound to devote more than a few paragraphs to this important constituency.

According to records, while the total number of registered female voters has increased from 32.19 crore in 2004 to 33.75 crore in 2009, the number of women-majority states has come down from seven to six.

There is a slight departure from the 2004 poll data where Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Daman and Diu had more registered women voters than men. But in the 2009 rolls, the number of registered male voters has overtaken women in both TN and Daman and Diu. However, Meghalaya made an entry as a state with a higher women voter registration. This is unlikely to stop the ruling DMK from announcing schemes like free stoves and gas connections.

Incidentally, turnout of women has been around 60% in the last two general elections (1999 and 2004) with Lakshadweep recording the largest number of women voters.

Participation of female voters has been traditionally 10% lower compared to male voters.

There has been an upward trend in participation of female voters. In 1962 elections, only 46.6% female voters made their way to the booths which increased to 57.86% in 1998.

The highest poll turnout was in 1984 during which 59.2% women cast their votes.

This has, however, not reflected in the representation of women in Parliament which is about 8%. In over 50 years of Independence, the percentage of women in the Lok Sabha has increased from 4.4 to 9.02%, a figure that continues to be lower than the 15% average for countries with elected legislatures.

Neighbouring countries have already implemented a quota for women — such as Nepal with 33%, Pakistan with 22%. Even Bangladesh has a 14% quota.

Encouragingly, during the last four elections, large but relatively backward states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elected a higher number of women MPs compared to more developed and urbanised states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Women MPs from these states accounted for more than 40% of the total number of female representatives in the three successive Lok Sabhas since 1991.

On the contrary, the four relatively developed states accounted for only around 30% of the total women MPs in 1991 elections and less than 20% in 1996 and 1998 and about 25% in the 1999 elections.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Exclusive: How ULFA Strongholds Are Falling To The Reds?

By Akshaye Mahapatro / Guwahati

Maoists in Assam tap ethnic discontent to make inroads into an already volatile region. n April, Assam Governor JB Patnaik summoned all top officials of the state’s insurgency-hit Tinsukia district to the Raj Bhawan in Guwahati. He was keen to know about the development work in the state’s eastern-most sub-division, which is part of the district. Cut off from the rest of the district by the Brahmaputra, Sadiya, 60 km from Tinsukia, has turned into a cradle for the Maoists who are trying to make inroads into the Northeast. That is why the governor wants to keep an eye on this remote area.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Focus: Crisis For India's Orphans As Adoption Is Being Abandoned By Parents And Neglected By Government

Abandoned by their parents and now neglected by governments — there is no end to the suffering of over 50,000 orphans in India. 

The adoption rate within the country as well as those by foreign nationals in India has gone down by nearly 50 per cent in the last five years. 

What adds to the grim situation is the disparity between South Indian states and the rest of the country in terms of adoption of children. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013


By CJ Kim Walng in Shillong

Two person was killed and at least 40 others were injured in a cyclonic storm in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district. This is the second such incident within a span of three weeks in the remote West Khasi Hills district. On 10 April, three people were killed and over 50 others injured in a storm in the district.

High velocity winds, accompanied by rain and lightning in the wee hours of Thursday rendered hundreds of families homeless and uprooted hundreds of trees, telephone and electric poles, and snapped lines, officials said.

Friday, May 03, 2013


By Prof.Wangchuk Robello (Guest Writer)

In Meghalaya, north-east India, women own the land, Christianity dominates and the landscape is straight out of The Hobbit. Our writer visits a most unusual state.

"I'm the supreme power in my house," declared Dave the shopkeeper. "That is certain." Behind him his wife and female relatives giggled. He turned and glared until they agreed that he was definitely the boss. 
Read More

Thursday, May 02, 2013


By M H Ahssan / New Delhi

The problem is likely to be less severe than UN statistics indicate, given faulty yardsticks. If asked to name the state with the lowest incidence of child malnutrition in India, readers will overwhelmingly pick one of Kerala, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab or West Bengal. But they will all be wrong by a wide margin: none of these states appears among even the top five performers. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Votes cast as a 'weapon of the weak'

By M H Ahssan

India's rich and middle class urban voters have failed to show up in large numbers to exercise their franchise in the country's 15th month-long general election. Despite a massive campaign to get the educated to vote, the software hubs of Bangalore and Pune, the two main metros which went to the polls in the second phase of voting on April 23, registered poor turnout.

In contrast to rural areas, which had a turnout of 60%, constituencies in Bangalore city registered a mere 46% turnout, a figure that is below the national average in two phases of voting so far but also lower than turnout in the 2004 general election. As in previous elections, in the two rounds of voting that have been completed in India's multi-phase general election, urban middle-class voters have indicated that they are laggards in comparison to the rural or urban poor.

Media reports on the Indian elections often draw attention to the magnitude of the electoral exercise. Indeed, it is hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the election. A 714-million-strong electorate will vote in 828,804 polling booths in 543 constituencies in a five-phase election spread over a month. Four million electoral officials and 2.1 million security personnel are overseeing the process to ensure that it is free, fair and peaceful. Animals, too, are on hand to assist in the process. In the states of Assam and Meghalaya in India's northeast, elephants carry officials and polling material to voting booths.

The Election Commission (EC), which conducts the polls, goes the extra mile to ensure that voters can exercise their franchise. In some parts of the country, which are inaccessible by roads, officials trek for three to four days or ride on the backs of elephants to set up polling booths.

In the western state of Gujarat, the EC has set up a polling booth for one voter - a priest in a temple in the heart of the Gir forest, which is home to the Asiatic lion. He will vote in the third phase of the election.

Officials brave wild animals, scorching heat, long treks, militants and impatient voters to ensure that people can exercise their fundamental right to vote.

As remarkable as these statistics or the logistics involved in conducting the election is the mass participation in Indian elections. Unlike the global trend of a steady decline in voting levels, in India voter turnout over the years has either increased or remained stable.

And what makes this rise in voter turnout significant is that it is spurred by the rise in participation in elections by the poor, women, lower castes and Dalits and tribals. The most vulnerable sections of Indian society are increasingly enthusiastic about voting.

Unlike Western democracies, which granted the right to vote first to propertied men, later educated men, then all men and only after much debate and agitation to women, independent India granted all adult men and women regardless of their religion, caste, language, wealth or education the right to vote in one fell swoop, points out Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy.

The Indian constitution granted all its citizens the right to vote. Right from the first general election in 1952, India's poorest and most marginalized sections have possessed the right to vote. And they have been the most keen to exercise this right.

Voter turnout in India has been higher in rural areas than in cities since 1977. The poor vote more than the rich, especially in urban areas and in the past four general elections, Dalits (or Untouchables as they used to be called) have voted more than upper-caste Hindus, says Yogendra Yadav, a political analyst with the Center for the Study of Developing Societies. "This 'participatory upsurge' from below has defined the character of Indian democracy in the past two decades or so," he says.

This is quite unlike the experience in Western democracies where it is the rich, the well-educated and those belonging to the majority community who are more likely to vote and participate in political activity.

Analysts have pointed out that if those at the lower end of the socio-economic hierarchy take the trouble to vote, defying threats and violence, it is because democracy is bringing change in their lives, however small these might be. Polling day is that one big day on which their decision matters, when their choice counts.

Voters defy militants' calls for a boycott of the poll to exercise their franchise. Maoists have called for a poll boycott and sought to impose it with intimidation and violence. Still, people in the states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have come out to vote. In assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in November and December last year, 62% of the electorate voted in spite of a boycott call by separatists.

The media have often underestimated the rural/poor voter, looking on him or her as someone who votes along caste or other parochial lines, who votes as told to rather than on the basis of an informed choice.

This might be true, but only to a limited extent. In 2004, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) campaigned on an "India Shining" slogan. But India was not shining for rural Indians and those at the bottom of the heap. Unlike the educated/urban voter who swallowed the NDA's propaganda campaign, the rural voters registered their protest through the ballot box. They voted out the NDA. The vote is the "weapon of the weak", points out Yadav.

This time around, whether the rural voter who is reeling under a severe agrarian crisis is impressed by the 8% average economic growth rate achieved under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is debatable. To its credit, the UPA has put in place a rural employment guarantee scheme that provides one member of every rural household with work for 100 days every year.

Both the Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made provision of heavily subsidized wheat and rice a central plank in their election campaigns. The Congress has promised every poor family 25 kilograms of wheat or rice at 3 rupees (US$0.06) a kilogram and the BJP 35 kilograms at 2 rupees per kg.

One of the districts that voted in the first phase was Kandhamal in the eastern state of Orissa, which was ravaged by anti-Christian violence last year. Voter turnout in the district was 65.7%. About 90% of those still living in relief camps - people who are too terrified to return to their homes for fear of communal violence - turned up at polling booths despite a Maoist call for a poll boycott and fear of communal violence. Clearly, these victims of communal violence are looking on the ballot box with some hope.

How do Muslims - India's largest religious minority - view the democratic process? Contrary to the perception worldwide that Muslims do not believe in democracy, Muslims in India are as enthusiastic as Hindus in their stated support of democracy. Voter turnout among Muslims, which dipped in the early 1990s and again in 2004, has generally been rising or stable and is as robust as that among Hindus. "Clearly, Indian Muslims are not opting out of democratic politics," says Yadav.

It is not religion but class that appears to influence voter turnout. The rich and middle class Indian doesn't seem to share the faith the poor have in the elections and the power of the vote. Over the years, urban apathy has grown. All the parties are the same, urban voters grumble, pointing to the fielding of criminal and corrupt candidates in some areas.

Voter turnout in successive elections over the past two decades indicate that for all their whining about the quality of politicians who represent them in parliament and state assemblies, India's educated and more privileged sections don't do anything about it on polling day. They simply stay away.

South Mumbai, where many of India's millionaires and billionaires live and work is notorious for poor turnout on polling day, as is Bangalore, India's software hub. State assembly elections in Bangalore in May last year saw an abysmal 44% exercise their franchise, the lowest in the past five elections.

Will Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian cities go Bangalore's way in the coming phases of voting? The terror attacks in Mumbai in November last year shook up the country's politically apathetic youth and brought them out into the streets demanding greater accountability and better performance from the political elite. Thousands participated in candlelight vigils and online campaigns.

Whether they will leave the comfort of their air-conditioned homes to wait in long lines outside polling booths to vote in scorching heat is another matter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Tier Series 8 - Gilt And Longing

Modern Shillong may be a bustling city, but its citizens still hanker for the beauty and serenity of its self-contained past, writes Annie Sadaf

Take a small, but perfect little gemstone, surrounded by old, rose cut diamonds, in a classical setting — and you have the Shillong of the past. Surround this mount with a more morder, but gilt-edged hard setting, letting the entire piece acquire the grime inevitable with age — and you have latter day Shillong. A city in transition, Shillong still retains some of the beauty of its past, but it has been oppressed by the weight of a larger, uglier, modernity. Once dubbed by colonials the Scotland of the East, Shillong possesses both the geography and the climate to fit the bill. Only not so bleak — nestled in rich pine forests in the Khasi hills, verdant grassy downs, lakes and streams dot the region, with the added attraction of fine, wooden cottages complete with floral borders.

Shillong had a poetic beauty that echoed the best Scottish countryside, tempered with a softness lacking in the windswept heather-clad moors of the original. The city derives its name from the deity Shyllong or Lei Shyllong, which is worshipped at the Shilong Peak (1965 m high), about 10 km from the main town. Today’s Shillong is a more quixotic, if more modern city — some of the old, quaint houses and cottages still exist, but their large, lush lawns have been overtaken by the construction boom changing the skyline — and not for the better. Monstrous and ugly buildings have trampled these greens, to rise as concrete milestones on the path to progress. The various streams that flow through the city, once populated with picnic and angling spots, are now an ugly testament to development — filled with unregulated sewage, garbage and filth. More like nallahs, they drain Shillong of its former beauty.

Any old-timer would bemoan the fact that the distinctive black and yellow Ambassador taxis have been now overtaken by Marutis. Worse, the city’s narrow, winding roads — whose meanderings supposedly led a British gentleman to comment, “the Khasis made the roads when they were drunk” — are today choked with the growing traffic. Shillong’s place in the political sun came in 1874, when it was made the capital of Assam. It remained so for over a century, till the seat of government was transferred to Dispur and Meghalaya became a separate state. But like smaller, urban centres all over India, this old world gem is now a rapidly-growing city.

It’s among the 63 cities to be selected for the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) project, launched by the Prime Minister in 2005. The city’s experiencing an onslaught of domestic tourists and hotels catering to different budgets are coming up. Once a typical hill station boarding school centre, with names likes St. Edmunds, Loreto Convent, St Marys and Pine Mount, the modern makeover of Shillong has brought an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (NEIGRIMS) to the city. Shillong is also the headquarters of the Eastern Air Command and 101 Communication unit of the Army. Some of these may be good news for the city and the region, bring the hope of economic prosperity and the ability to retain the migration of its youth to more economically salubrious climes, but residents of Shillong still reminisce fondly about its erstwhile charm.

John F. Kharshiing, advisor & spokesperson, Federation of 25 Khasi States, talks of the ancient traditional markets that are a distinctive feature in Shillong localities. His grandmother told him that during the time of the British, the largest such traditional market, the Burra Bazaar, was manned by a British officer on horseback to monitor that there was no littering. Today, the same market is both crowded and filthy, a sad reminder of bustle gone to hustle. Some things, however, haven’t changed much: the one-stop destination for all gourmands is one of the oldest bakeries, Mahari & Sons in Mawprem. It started doing business in the 1930s and boasts of having supplied bread to the British Army. Today, it’s grown into a departmental store. Says proprietor Jwain Sing Kharshiing: “With the expansion of the city, demand for our bakery items and confectionary has grown.” Old-timers still remember the ‘Guiddeti’, another famous bakery whose deliveryman used to sell cakes and bread in different localities.

For A Christian-dominated state, it’s hardly surprising that there are over 100 churches dotting Shillong. But today the bells of the Catholic Cathedral in Laitmukhrah resonate amidst the chaos of the newly commercialised locality. Dominic Jala, Archbishop of Shillong, feels that the aura around the Cathedral has changed now, but the religious life of the people has increased. “We find newer challenges confronting us. We are actively involved in organising and improving the lives of domestic workers of Shillong, training school dropouts and care for women,” adds the Archbishop. And even for those who have moved out, the love affair continues. The romantic charm of the city exerts a powerful nostalgia on its former citizens, who might have moved to work elsewhere — but have their hearts still in Shillong’s gentle embrace.

Academic Alak Buragohain, who was born and brought up in Shillong and has moved to Assam, eulogises on how one could walk miles and miles and literally count the vehicles plying the roads and the quaint city buses on their routes. At the State Central Library librarian Ram Goswami remembered almost every reader. “He used to inform us if there were any new books. We used to even read the The Washington Post and The New York Times there,” Buragohain adds. He feels that there was a sort of bonhomie present in the past that is missing now.

There was a strong non-Khasi community, which was very localized in areas like Bishnupur and Moti Nagar. “In spite of these different ethnic backgrounds, there was a rich round of cultural activities like Ananda Sanmelan and Bihu Sanmelan. Most of the past landmarks, including the Assembly House with which we grew up, are now missing. The nostalgia is there but with a lot of pain. No doubt it’s a city in transition, but I don’t know if it’s for the better or the worse,” says Buragohain, sadly. Looking at the present-day Shillong, is hardly surprising that the Khasi hills are alive with the sounds of sentiment and nostalgia.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Hyderabad

INN throws light on some grim details about the cow in India, the world’s largest producer of milk.

You know that child who throws a terrible tantrum over a glass of milk. How he kicks and screams and refuses to touch the stuff? Haven’t you wondered what the fuss is all about? After all, it’s just a glass of milk.

It turns out the child may just have the right idea. The business of producing milk — indeed, the multi-crore rupee cattle industry it’s a part of — is sustained by a process of relentless cruelty towards animals, from birth till death, with little letup. Cruelty compounded by poorly defined, poorly implemented methods and gross violations.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Plugging The Leaks, North-East India And Development

By Syed Sultan Kazi (Guest Writer)

For over a decade there have been reports of central funds meant for the north-eastern region going into the wrong hands. The Government of India has proposed creation of the post of joint director in the Central Bureau of Investigation exclusively for the north-east to check the leakage of development funds. Though late in coming, this is a welcome move.

The Government of India’s (GoI)proposal (25 March 2013) to create the post of joint director in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) exclusively for north-east India to check the unabated leakage of development funds in the region is a right move though it has been late in coming. For over a decade now, there have been reports of central funds going into the wrong hands in the north-eastern region (NER). 

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Telangana Prophecy: Will More States Mean Conflict?

With the government clearing Telangana as India's 29th state, long-standing demands for separate states in other parts of the country have gained fresh momentum. This could be a foretelling of many more states to come, but would that necessarily augur ill for the unity of India? Noted historian Ramachandra Guha shares his thoughts.

Earlier in August, the UPA government decided to give the nod to India's 29th state Telangana, predictably setting in motion a spate of debates across the country.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


By Yogesh Vajpeyi (Guest Writer)

Commenting on pending cases under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the Supreme Court last month came out with a pithy comment on the plight of the undertrial prisoners languishing in Indian jails: “The laxity with which we throw citizens into prison reflects our lack of appreciation for the tribulation of incarceration; the callousness with which we leave them there reflects our lack of deference for humanity.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

India Is Asia’s Dharamshala – Why Not Learn To Love It?

The benevolence of politicians and bureaucrats is sometimes no benevolence at all. For some time now, there has been a trickle of Hindus from Pakistan coming to India on short-term visas, but their real purpose has never been in doubt: to flee discrimination and violence against Hindus in Pakistan.

Earlier this week, the home ministry granted a one-month visa extension to 480 Pakistani Hindus who have been seeking permanent resident status here.  An Indian Express report quoted a ministry official thus: “They will not be deported. Since it takes time to take any decision on their appeals, we have extended their visas for a month.”

Sorry, sir, this is no longer about 480 people. For the last 65 years, India has been facing an influx of people fleeing either religious persecution or ethnic strife or economic conditions in all our neighbouring countries. But we have simply refused to evolve a policy to address all these issues. We want to do everything on a case-by-case basis, or, better still, ignore the problem till it gets resolved illegally: by people acquiring Indian residency by stealth.

Given the numbers of illegal migrants – perhaps running into millions now – we have probably become the world’s biggest dharamshala, but that is something to be proud of. It validates the idea of inclusive India. What we cannot be proud of is that we have allowed this to happen by accident and exception, rather than by a clear-sighted policy.

Our inward immigration policy is a mess. We have separate policies (or default approaches) for Tibetans, for Nepalese, for Sri Lankan Tamils, for Bangladeshis, for Pakistani Hindus and for the rest. Then there are Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar and Afghans (a motley group comprising Sikhs, Hindus and even Muslims) and what not – and we don’t have a clue what to do with them.

For a country that was artificially partitioned in 1947, it should have been obvious that people will migrate here and there. As a secular alternative to all our less-than-secular neighbours, we have always known that immigration will be more inward and less outward. As a democratic oasis in a largely undemocratic or autocratic south Asian region, we should have had policies to accept refugees fleeing persecution.

As a rapidly globalising country, we have known since 1991 that Indian companies need to recruit foreign professionals to work here just as we expect foreign governments to allow Indians to work in their countries.

But what we have now is a patchwork and illogical system that has been adapted to exigencies of specific situations at specific times.

The Tibetans were allowed in in Nehru’s time. But do we have a policy in case it finally becomes clear that they will never get an autonomous state inside China and can’t return? What if they have to stay here permanently? Will they be given full Indian citizenship?

The Nepalese, under the 1950 India-Nepal Friendship Treaty, are allowed almost free access inside India – almost like Indian citizens. This is the most liberal policy we have with our neighbours, and has remained on the statute book even though our political relationship with Nepal has gone from good to uncertain after the Communists entered government and ended the Hindu monarchy.

When it comes to Bangladesh, we have three policies – or non-policies: one for Assam, another for some north-eastern states, and yet another for the rest.

Under the Assam Accord of 1985, anyone who came to Assam before 1 January 1966 will be allowed to stay and become Indian citizens. Those who came between this date and 24 March 1971 were to be detected but not deported. They would be deleted from electoral rolls, but could get back after 10 years. The rest were to be detected and deported.

The accord has more or less been a dead letter, since politicians in need of immigrant votes refused to implement it. As for the remaining north-eastern states, migration is either fully illegal and politically accepted, or we have restrictions that apply even to Indian citizens.

In Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, Indians need inner line permits to visit those states even as tourists. The Bangladeshis who enter India traipse around tribal Meghalaya, but have found an easy perch in Tripura. Together with pre-1947 migration, they have relegated the locals to minority status. As for Kashmir, Indians can tour the state but can’t buy property or settle there. Even if they marry Kashmiris, they can’t acquire property there.

As for potential workers and immigrants from the rest of the world, we have the most restrictive policy on board, where the intention is to debar foreigners from working here – unless they earn more than $25,000 per annum. This rules out any kind of work visa for foreigners in India beyond highly qualified technical personnel or short-term consultants – so forget about allowing for easy migration.

As a liberal, democratic country, India has an obligation to run a truly liberal and open immigration policy that does not discriminate. This is a country that took in persecuted people from ancient times to the modern era (Zoroastrians, Jews, Tibetans). We have even accepted invaders as our own.

This should be the broad backdrop against which we should frame a unified immigration and work permit policy. The policy should include the following:

First, we must have a clear policy for taking in refugees from persecution. It does not matter which religion or ethnic group the person belongs to. It is ironic that political parties are willing to plead the case of Bangladeshi Muslims, who can only be chasing economic opportunities here, but not Hindu refugees from Pakistan. At a later stage, we should be willing to take in even Muslim refugees from Pakistan – for who knows what will happen if the Taliban takes over Pakistan? Obviously, this policy needs safeguards, but if there is a will, we can put one in place.

Second, we must have a system of regularising long-term migrants who are settled here. The Assam accord specifically provided for that, but we didn’t implement it. We neither put in place an impenetrable fence to keep future immigrants out nor a system of formally recognising the Bangladeshis’ need to find work here – through a system of work permits or guest workers with no citizenship rights.

Third, India needs to work out a free-movement agreement (especially for tourism and work) with all its neighbours barring Pakistan. Setting a high salary limit of $25,000 for work permits may be all right for westerners, but not for our neighbours in South Asia. The threshold needs to be much lower.

Fourth, residency permits and citizenship norms need to be easier. Currently, it takes 12 years for a foreigner to get citizenship by naturalisation, and seven years if they are married to an Indian citizen. One wonders why this waiting period needs to be so long. Seven years is too long a wait for a marriage to be seen as legitimate enough to warrant grant of citizenship to the foreign spouse.

Isn’t it high time we opened our front doors to the world instead of winking at their entry through the back door?

Saturday, April 27, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Shillong

Manir Khan's 'operational area' was Assam. The sub-inspector with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had executed two 'assignments' in the state. But he was third time unlucky, as Indian sleuths nabbed him from west Tripura in July 2010. 

Khan told interrogators that his duty was to ferry back “quality information” for better “tactical appreciation” of cross-national issues to his masters in Pakistan. In his initial visits, Khan had carried out “feasibility recces” of the Tripura corridor connecting Bangladesh-Tripura and Assam, says an interrogation report. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009


By M H Ahssan

One of the cardinal rules of politics is never to count your chickens before they hatch. It is now clear that the Congress never realised the importance of this dictum and is now repenting. Its leaders, who projected the UPA as the “natural alliance of governance” till the other day, have suddenly lost their swagger and are now reconciled to the possibility of some of their most trusted allies turning spoilers.

The Congress admitted the disintegration of the UPA in Bihar when it said that it would be difficult to do business with the RJD. In a tit-for-tat, the Congress announced an alliance with JMM in Jharkhand leaving just two seats for the RJD. Retribution from Lalu Prasad is likely to be swift and the RJD chief appears set to announce an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP for Jharkhand as well.

Only a political greenhorn would have missed the signals. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has been maintaining that parties within the UPA and outside could gel into a combination after the elections. Citing the fragmented nature of the country’s politics, Mr Pawar has said on more than one occasion that existing political bonding could alter in the event of the two major parties failing to cross the threshold required for winning over allies.

The Congress correctly diagnosed it as an attempt to expose its soft underbelly. The party reacted with its trademark bluster saying that the UPA would remain the favourite vehicle for government formation. This bold assertion was no doubt prompted by BJD’s unilateral snapping of its 11-year-old ties with Congress’s main rival, the BJP.

But the fortunes of the Congress are swinging as wildly as the stock markets on a day of free fall. So far, Mr Yadav has been Sonia Gandhi’s most loyal backer. When others threw tantrums, he stood by her, even going to the extent of saying that none was more suited than her to lead the country. But the Union railways minister rammed in the point that he cannot be expected to align his political interests with that of Congress. He also made the biggest political statement about the Congress marginalisation in the Hindi heartland by allotting it a mere three seats. The Congress retaliated by announcing itself as the bigger player in Jharkhand. But Mr Yadav will not take it lying down and it could lead to a disintegration of UPA in Bihar and Jharkhand that together account for 54 seats.

The widening emotional chasm between the RJD and the Congress has come in handy for the Samajwadi Party. The SP has swiftly moved in with a proposal for an alliance with RJD. The two Yadav leaders have of late been cosying up to each other. This has dashed expectations of the Congress that the incompatibility between the two Yadavs would prevent any political joint venture in the cow belt.

The big picture must be worrying for the Congress. In states where it depends on the crutches that an ally provides, partners have virtually pushed the Congress to the edge. Barring Tamil Nadu where DMK has said that it’s willing to renew the 2004 contract, every other ally wants the marriage terms to be rewritten. And it is no secret that NCP’s chief aim is to cut the Congress to size in Maharashtra.

In what could further sharpen the faultlines within the UPA, the Centre has imposed the President’s rule in Meghalaya. The mentor of the dismissed government, PA Sangma, is sure to force the NCP to turn even more hostile against the Congress in this changed political scenario.

If an out of depth and demoralised BJP was the political screen saver the last week end, the characters are now beginning to swap places. The BJP may be friendless in the two key southern states — Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — but the alliances that it has worked out in other states have come without any baggage. While political parties have every right to feel hopeful, the events in the UPA once again show what usually follows hubris.