An Extract: INDIA’S PEACEBUILDING BETWEEN RIGHTS AND NEEDS: TRANSFORMATION OF LOCAL CONFLICT SPHERES IN BIHAR, NORTHEAST INDIA, AND JAMMU AND KASHMIR?

This is an extract of a paper of the same title, written by Sandra Pogodda* & Daniela Huber**, accessed from Academia.edu on 7 July 2014. It has been grouped into two parts to focus on the context of Northeast India.   

Part 1 Northeast India

Northeast India is a term first coined by the British colonists who developed the concept of a ‘north-eastern frontier’. It consists of the ‘seven sister’ states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura. The diversity of the population is reflected in the fact that it includes 75 major ethnic groups and sub-groups with 400 languages and dialects.

Thirty percent of the population belong to tribes. George T. Haokip (‘On Ethnicity and Development Imperative: a Case Study of North-East India’, Asian Ethnicity  Vol.13, No.3, 2012, p.222.) differentiates three faultlines in the conflict: tribals versus the state, tribals versus non-tribals and tribals versus other tribals. Conflicts revolve around matters of identity (such as language, ethnicity, tribal rivalry and migration), economic factors (such as control over local resources, access to water), and political issues, most importantly a widespread feeling of exploitation and alienation from the Indian state. The latter was fuelled by the state-led extraction of natural resources, which violated environmental rights and displaced whole communities but failed to benefit the local population.


 In the Northeast, insurgents’ assertion of identity and ethnicity are only focal points for the local population’s grievances over its marginalisation, disfranchisement and deprivation. In the absence of adequate physical infrastructure and access to water, an unusual increase in transnational immigration and the subsequent competition over natural resources have been perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence. Local insurgencies were met with heavy-handed security campaigns by the Indian army and paramilitaries such as the Assam Rifles. Between 1992 and 2006, the conflict resulted in more than 16,000 casualties (52 percent of whom were civilians), in addition to the large-scale use of kidnappings, rape and the destruction of property by the security forces as well as violent insurgent groups. Human rights violations by Indian security forces often went unsanctioned by the Indian state due to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Despite their particularities, the conflicts above show many similarities: they are fuelled by a combustible mixture of underlying grievances ranging from economic and political marginalisation to alienation from the state or between societal groups. In all those cases the conflicts have morphed over time, drawing in new actors and reshaping their political agendas, which renders a clear distinction between conflicts over identity, power and resources impossible. Hence, the Indian central government had to develop a conflict resolution approach that spans a variety of different conflict contexts. This presents this paper with a dilemma as well as an opportunity: Given the complexity of the conflicts in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, the analysis below will not be able to cover these conflicts in their entirety. However, by examining specific state interventions in localised manifestations of these diverse conflicts, we will try to distil the essence of an Indian peacebuilding strategy as the central government’s response to a wide range of local conflict issues and dynamics. In terms of its institutional development India’s current peacebuilding strategy can be traced back to colonial interventions and the resistance against them, revised and refined through exposure to a range of local conflicts.

Over time the state responses developed into a multi-pronged strategy, combining heavy-handed security measures with the promotion of socio-economic development, statebuilding, local participatory governance and decentralisation, as well as support for civil society. In terms of security policy, India seeks to train and modernize the security forces, as well as to train and reintegrate detained militants. Local political participation was enabled through the establishment of directly elected local governance bodies - the Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) and the Autonomous Hill Councils.

Socio-economic peacebuilding initiatives, by contrast, range from improving local physical and service infrastructure, to establishing a legal framework for the recording of land rights, providing basic health care and education, connecting remote villages, land reforms, and promoting income security. NGOs are contracted in the fields of development, health and education, in order to ensure some degree of grassroots involvement in the execution of peacebuilding strategies. Hence, in broad terms the design of the Indian peacebuilding approach seems to mirror the liberal peace, even though there is a variation from it in terms of a bigger focus on developmental strategies, as well as of distributive measures in areas such as land reform, income security and job creation. A closer look into the context-specific human rights and material needs policies in the subsequent section will provide a more differentiated picture of the Indian peacebuilding approach and assess its impact on conflict transformation in local spheres of everyday life.

Part 2 The Indian Context

In contrast to Western-centric scholarship, which argues that there is ‘no realistic or preferable alternative to broadly liberal approaches’, a vanguard of critical peace and conflict scholars has started to ‘look outside the mainstream of international political traditions, discourse, and operational modalities’ for innovation. This paper has tried to consider, whether India’s internal peacebuilding strategies could present such an alternative. However, despite a few hopeful developments, the authors remain sceptical about both: the innovative content of the Indian approach in comparison with the liberal peace, and the effectiveness of Indian peacebuilding in terms of sustainable conflict transformation. India’s peacebuilding approach does include redistributive policies and, in general, a developmental strategy that tries to address local needs in contrast to the liberal approach.

Nonetheless Indian peacebuilding remains largely faithful to the central pillars of the liberal peace in several ways: its security-heavy statebuilding strategy and its belief that local political participation under the provision of political and certain moral rights is bound to provide the basis for sustainable local conflict resolution. Rather than constituting an alternative to the liberal peace, the Indian peacebuilding approach crystallises the benefits as well as dangers of the liberal approach for the transformation of local conflict spheres. India’s introduction of local mechanisms of participatory governance has proved an effective tool only where input legitimacy (free and fair elections) has been matched with output legitimacy (real transfer of power to the local level). In the fiercest and most persistent conflict contexts though, such as Jammu and Kashmir output legitimacy remains lacking.

As a consequence, new conflict dimensions have been added to already existing ones. This illustrates that a pacification strategy, which prioritises security over local rights and needs carries no potential for conflict transformation. Without society- wide access to justice the pursuit of conflict transformation in Jammu and Kashmir through elections is likely to have a limited effect: elections could facilitate some degree of socio-economic equality between different societal groups, while state-society relations remain plagued by conflict. As the cases of Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Northeast India illustrate, local self-determination can facilitate as well as obstruct conflict transformation. The outcome depends largely on the sequencing and management of the implementation process.

The Indian process of decentralisation highlights the complex interaction of rights and needs in peace processes. For all its advantages in terms of generating local consensus on conflict resolution and transformation, decentralisation raises expectations which may reignite old or fuel new tensions if frustrated. Hence, as soon as institutions of local participation are established they need to be endowed with the political and economic resources to end marginalisation and satisfy individual and community needs. By granting people political rights and subsequently stalling the transfer of financial means and power required for needs satisfaction, people’s perception of their own marginalisation might harden and thereby fuel rather than mitigate conflict dynamics. Under such circumstances local elections could have the unintended side-effect of importing conflicts into the family sphere.

Furthermore, where local populations failed to be consulted in decisions on development approaches, human rights (especially land and environmental rights) have often been violated as a consequence. This has alienated local communities and ignited new conflicts between them and the state across all three conflict cases. Women’s associations, by contrast, have been crucial in transforming local conflict spheres in some cases. Hence, Indian state institutions’ strategic alliance with women’s associations constitutes one of the most promising elements of the current Indian peacebuilding strategy. Here, the state succeeded in tying its own conflict transformation strategy in with effective peace initiatives at the grassroots level, while also promoting gender equality as an important component of socio-economic justice. Thus, it is notable that the Indian peacebuilding strategy had similar impacts and suffered from similar shortcomings across all three conflict cases, their differences notwithstanding. Indeed, many of the problems identified in this article compare to issues raised in critical research on Western peacebuilding approach in diverse conflict contexts, notably the problem of insensitivity towards local needs and cultures. In India, the tide could be turning though. Notwithstanding the shortcomings elaborated above, India’s peacebuilding approach has undergone several phases of strategy development and experimentation: an early period of brutal modernization and oppression, which has caused new state-society conflicts; a phase of trying to placate the demands of collective identities through ethno-politics, which reinforced ethnic identities and thus inter-group tensions; the latest phase though seems to be concerned with issues of wider equality, social justice and an attempt to reverse historical processes of marginalisation as a strategy of conflict transformation. If the Indian state manages to sideline the continuous elements of the previous two phases (and the elites which support them), its peacebuilding approach might have the potential to promote an emancipatory peace in everyday life in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir as well as the Northeast.

* Sandra Pogodda is a lecturer at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of
* Daniela Huber is a researcher at the Italian International Affairs Institute. 

Read the full article India’s Peacebuilding Between Rights and Needs: Transformation of Local Conflict Spheres in Bihar, Northeast India, and Jammu and Kashmir?


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