Thursday, August 31, 2006

South Asian Experiences of the Right to Return

Paula Banerjee and Ranabir Samaddar

Refugees enjoy very few rights but one of the most intrinsic rights for a refugee is the right to return. Although much debated internationally the right to return is most clearly enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under its provisions on the right to freedom of movement (Article 12.4) which says that No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. But this right has often proved to be a chimera. This paper will explore South Asian experiences of displaced peoples right to return. On the basis of three case studies the paper will portray that from its inception South Asian states have denied displaced people the right to return.In fact it has acquired nation form on the basis of such denials.
Perhaps the first group of people whose right to return was denied by a South Asian state were the Indian emigrants who travelled abroad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work as plantation labourers. All through the nationalist period the fate of these labourers in their country of domicile was a rallying point for Indian leaders to portray the dark side of foreign rule. There was constant reiteration that they state was responsible for all the people who were born in India. Yet during the legislative assembly debates in 1944 the leaders came to a consensus that these émigrés rightfully belonged to their country of domicile and not in India. Unlike nationalists during the colonial period, the leaders of the post-colonial State formation project no longer looked forward to the return of the emigrants who were slowly being considered as foreigners.
South Asian independence was accompanied by a blood bath.The partition of India and Pakistan resulted in two million deaths and about 15 million people were displaced. Most of the refugees were lucky enough to get domicile and often citizenship in their country of domicile. Yet problem arose over the issue of return. In peoples memory their Desh (country) was where they were born. But once displaced they did not have the right to return even when they so desired. South Asian states passed legislations whereby property of the displaced were confiscated by the state and treated as enemy property. So the home that they wanted to go back to remained only in their own imagination.
One often hears the argument that because partition refugees have got an alternate citizenship they have lost the right to return. In South Asia there are however, other groups of refugees who remain as stateless people and yet they are denied the right to return. This paper will discuss two such groups of refugees: the Chakmas (Jumma people) and the Bhutanese. The Chakmas form part of the great Tibeto-Burman language family. The jungles of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are home to several such Tibeto-Burman tribes, among whom Chakmas and Marmas are the largest and they are collectively called the Jumma people. The 1935 Government of India Act defined the hills as a “Totally Excluded Area”, taking it out of Bengal’s control. The first political blow suffered by the Chakmas was when their territory was placed within East Pakistan although they wanted to remain within India. During the 1971 war for Bangladesh’s liberation, the CHT population backed the Mukti Bahini against the Pakistani army. The following year, Manobendra Larma, who had been elected to the national parliament from the Hill Tracts, called on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a delegation in order to place Chakma concerns on the new nation’s political agenda. As it became clear that Shiekh Mujibur and the new establishment he represented were in no mood to listen, Mr Larma set up the Jana Sanghata Samiti as a political group, and later, its armed wing, the Shanti Bahini. The Jumma people have been consistently displaced from the CHT by the machinations of first the East Pakistan government and then the Bangladesh state. In 1964 when the Kaptai Dam was built over 30,000 development refugees cane to the Lushai and Cachar Hills in India because the East Pakistani government refused to pay them any compensation. Later in the 1970s and 80s the CHT became the site for enormous violence and the Bangladeshi government began its draconian policies to contain any protest whereby over 80,000 Jumma people were displaced. Repatriation talks between the Bangladesh authorities, the Indian Government and the Chakma leadership have continued over the past many years and an accord was signed in 1997 but yet the Chakmas could not return. Those who returned found their land taken by Bengali settelers and so they could not be resettled and many became refugee for another time. The present Bangladesh government is ambivalent about its attitude to Chakma refugees and so many, who are remaining in India have no hope of going back.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Bhutanese government introduced a series of repressive citizenship laws and “Bhutanization” policies that focused on the political, economic, and cultural exclusion of ethnic Nepalese living in southern Bhutan. The Citizenship Acts of 1977 and 1985 included several provisions permitting the revocation of citizenship. The government began enforcing the 1985 Act in a discriminatory manner through a 1988 census, resulting in the mass denationalization of thousands of Bhutanese of Nepali origin in violation of international human rights law. In the early 1990s, the Bhutanese government crushed resistance by ethnic Nepalese and others who protested against the policies through large public demonstrations and called for a multi-party democratic system. The government closed schools and suspended health services in southern Bhutan. Members of the Bhutanese police and army imprisoned, raped, and tortured many of those who were directly, indirectly, or incorrectly presumed to be associated with the demonstrations. Government forces also destroyed houses and forced many ethnic Nepalese off of their lands. International NGOs began operations to aid the Bhutanese refugees, and in 1991, the government of Nepal and UNHCR established refugee camps. By mid-1994, approximately eighty-six thousand refugees resided in the camps. Since then many of these people have been agitating so that the international refugee regime recognise their right to return. Only recently the Government of Bhutan and the Government of Nepal have agreed to discuss the repatriation of some refugees but their terms of reference are such that it will deny the right to return to the overwhelming majority.
The paper will discuss these cases and try to analyse what makes the right to return a chimera. It will bring in this context the need for a political study of places and communities in violent South Asia. Such a study will show the gap between how we live and what we idealise, the gap that is a paradox, produced by the most extra ordinary juxtaposition of nationalising polities by fictive ethnicities, a homogenous citizenship, and the claims to pluralism, democracy, and accommodation. Which then is South Asia’s political history? How is this history predicated by aliens, half-citizens, exiles, refuge, temporary shelters where citizens pass away their lives, illegal immigrants, - in short, the non-state persons who are beyond the pale of citizenship rights, and who are not even the proper subjects of the international law on non-state persons? The focus in any discussion on the right to return of citizens expelled has to be thus on the need to move away from the classical theories of sovereignty, democracy, State, and citizenship, and take the exile, the alien, the displaced (both internally and trans-border), and the half-citizen as the central figure of the politics in South Asia, the figure who is with us like the eternally accompanying shadow, so normalised that we forget its existence which we have taken for granted. In this physical milieu of expulsion, de-enfranchisement, and nationalisation, the right to return is at once the most crucial question and the most hallucinatory claim.
The main question simply will be: Can we realise this right in the present state system? What can be the juridical rules of a right to return that nullifies the right to expel? And what can be the possible politics where accommodation can take the place of marginalizing places, names, communities, bodies, and existences? In a situation where expulsion of peoples is the norm rather than being an exception, where the pure space of exception has got to be de-naturalised, that is to say be returned to its status of being an exception, what can be the politics of an exile?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Is the Right to Return a Symbolic Right?

Shreyashi Chaudhuri

The term Right to return reflects a belief that members of an ethnic or national group have a right to immigration and naturalization into the country that they, the country, or both consider to be that group's homeland, without prior personal citizenship in that country. This belief is sometimes reflected in special consideration in a country's immigration laws which facilitate or encourage the reunion of a diaspora or dispersed ethnic population.
The phrase right to return has several dimensions. The right to return seems to be very elementary and simple. But when the specific context and specific groups are considered it becomes important to think whether this right to return is applicable or should be applicable. The question of right to return in Sri Lanka and in many countries evolves from the perspective of national security and economic burden. Till the 1960s the uprooted people from East Pakistan dreamt that one day they would go back. But they cold never do so and their vulnerability remained. Therefore along with the right to return unless and until the security of life is ensured the right to return cannot b exercised. Once a group of people is displaced from a place the place does not remain unoccupied. This also restricts the right to return. Seroius problems can arise when internally displaced persons are compelled to return to unsafe areas or to areas where they do not wish to reside. Sudan offers an example: the government has forcibly moved the displaced from Khartoum to outlying areas where they are neither part of the urban community nor in their own natural setting. In Peru the government provides assistance only to those internally displaced persons who return to their original homes. In Sri Lanka assistance has been used to induce returns, but to its credit the government has adopted guidelines against physical coercion.
The provision of protection upon return also requires special attention. They may find their homes, land and personal property taken by others and no functioning judicial system to resolve disputes. Another problem returnees may face are land mines. In Mozambique these have killed more than 10,000 displaced persons over the course of the return and resettlement program. The Guiding Principles prohibit the deployment of land mines owing to the danger they pose to internally displaced and other civilians both during hostilities and after their conclusion.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Literary Reflections of Migration in Assamese Literature Particularly in Reference to late Umakanta Sarma

Pritima Sharma

The growth of indigeneous population suffered a very serious and violent setback in the early part of the 19th century when three Burmese invasions of Assam took a heavy toll of Assamese life .Assamese population was completely massacred by the invading Burmese forces . The last being in the third decade of the 19th century . Practically the land of Assam became a graveyard of Assamese population . As a result a great famine in 1825 occured and in 1826 on the basis of Yandaboo Treaty Assam was taken over by the Britishers . That a major chunk of agricultural and residential land lying vacant was itself a source of attraction for the advent of outsiders particularly neighbouring East Bengal Muslim communities from the region of Myamansingh. Since then the migration continued to remain unabated till today . The then Bengal sent over half migrant to Assam . Some from Chotanagpur ,Bhagalpur etc. A great majority of population were garden coolies or agricultural labour who crossed the agricultural land .
In the Gazetteer of Bengal and Northeast India edited by Gait and Ellen the following information is sound . The whole of increase since 1991 was due to immigration for the number of persons born and enumerated . Since then the growth of immigrant population has changed the democratic pattern of Assam’s population .
In Assamese literature this issue of migration forms an important theme among most of the novels . Among the novelist , Late Umakanta Sarma has elaborately delineated this theme in most of his novels .This paper looks into the novels of Umakanta Sarma where migration forms the core issue .
TheMythical ‘Bharanda’ of the ‘Panchatantra’ is the bird with two heads and a single body. Once one head found a luscious fruit and ate it up alone without sharing it with the other head. In the quarrel that ensued, the other head, out of spite, ate a poison fruit which killed the bird itself. This mythical allegory is used by novelist Umakanta Sarma to depict ground reality of present Assam in his novel ‘Bharanda pakhir jak’, 1992 (Flocks of Bharanda birds). The delicate relationship and the grounds of conflict between Bodos and Assamese constitute the theme of this magnificient novel . Then follows another novel Megar Sa ( the shadow of floating clouds ) which dealt with the lives of the poor and the marginalized who are displaced .
In “Ejak Manuh and Ekhan Aranya ”(A group of people and a forest ) in 1986 reflects a massive opus on the beginning of the tea plantations with bonded labourer in the colonial age . Labourers are the main protagonist in this work and the novel is truly their story . The ethnic conflict and the loss of cherished communal values reflect in his minor works . Kajolir Rog ( ailments of kajoli) his last novel is based on migration of hard working Maimanshingia peasants from East Bengal to Assam and the resultant problems .This novel gives a strong social message and showed how migration has changed the democratic pattern of Assam’s population .

Monday, July 24, 2006

Displacement in Jharkhand

Rajni Soren

This paper looks into the displacement caused by development projects in the state of Jharkhand and shows how the people most in need of protection are displaced, and how in cases where displacement was essential for mining purposes no proper rehabilitation of the affected people has taken place.
In view of the long history of the systematic deprivation of the tribal people of their rights over the land and natural resources that had been theirs for years, various legislations have been passed to secure the land rights of the tribal people.
One of the most important legislations of recent times, which protects the rights of the tribal people over their land and the natural resources, is the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. Extension of the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution to the scheduled areas through this Act seeks to ensure effective participation of the tribal people in the process of planning and decision-making by laying down provisions to be followed by the State Legislatures. The Act is laudable for the fact the fact that it does not treat citizens as mere objects of development decisions, and makes them a part of the development process.
The provisions laid down aim to achieve a very noble goal, but there is lack of information on the state of implementation of the Act, the experiences of the government and non-government agencies have not been documented nor have they been subjected to
systematic research, there is need to know how far the Gram Sabha and Panchayats have been able to exercise control over government schemes, what are the mechanisms developed by them to manage natural resources, and how have the Panchayats and the Gram Sabha been able to protect and conserve their customs and traditions. In spite of the importance of the act in the process of empowerment of the people in the scheduled areas, panchayat elections have not been held in Jharkhand ever since the creation of the new state.
However in spite of the principle of protecting the land rights of the tribal people, the state still has the supreme right to acquire land irrespective of the fact whether the land lies within the scheduled areas as specified in the constitution.
The right of eminent domain is the right of the State through which it asserts its dominion over any parcel of the soil of the State on account of public exigency and for public good. The legislations based on this principle are the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957; Atomic Energy Act, 1962 etc. and the most important of all being the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
The Land Acquisition Act seeks to achieve acquisition and not confiscation. Two inbuilt conditions namely the right of the owner to receive compensation and acquisition of land solely for public purpose are embedded in the law, however other than the problems with regard to implementation of the Act such as payment of compensation, there are several inbuilt drawbacks in the Act.
The most glaring drawback of the Land Acquisition Act is that it contains no provisions for rehabilitation, it only provides for monetary compensation which does not in any way guarantee a normal life for the displaced people and the monetary compensation in no way compensates to raise the standard of living of the people. The compensation is only given for the value of the land, however when displacement occurs in the scheduled areas the question is not just about land, because the inhabitants of these areas depend on the forest for more than fifty per cent of their food and other needs. Thus monetary compensation is not the solution and more so when the displacement occurs in the scheduled areas since the land acquisition act does not take into consideration the special conditions involved. Another major blemish of the Land Acquisition Act with regard to the tribal people is that it only recognizes legal rights and does not recognize customary rights such as that of nomads, fisher folk etc. for grant of compensation.
Another ironical feature of the Land Acquisition Act is that it does not take into consideration the impact on various ongoing land reforms. There are no remedial measures provided to take care of these special cases for e.g. the case of a landless labourer who has been given agricultural land by the land reform plan of the government, but again loses land through acquisition for a development project.
The total number of people displaced in Jharkhand from the year 1951 – 1995 is 15, 03,017. Out of which 6, 20,372 belong to the scheduled tribe, 2, 12,892 belong to the scheduled caste and 6, 76,575 belong to other categories
In the name of development various large-scale industrial, mining, irrigation and power projects were launched in the state such as the Tata Iron and Steel Company, Heavy Engineering Corporation, Suber-narekha Dam Project, Chandil Power project etc. but the benefits arising out of these projects have only accrued to the big business houses and all that the displaced people have got is wages for providing manual labour required by these projects.
In fact besides causing displacement to enable mining activities, mining has resulted in displacement which has occurred due to the threat of disasters which may occur due to past or ongoing mining activities. The Jharia Coalfields are one such example. Because of unscientific and irregular development, extraction and abandonment of mines, the Jharia coalfields are facing the brunt of mine fire and subsidence. The impact of the development projects on the marginalized section is such that the environmental hazards threaten the very existence of the communities that have depended on natural resources and have preserved them for centuries.
Another major threat of displacement in the state of Jharkhand is the implementation of the Koel-Karo Hydro-Power Project. The Koel-Karo area is about 80 kms from Ranchi, it is in the south-west region of Ranchi district. The implementation of the project has been stalled for over three decades because of the tribal people’s movement against the project; it is one of the oldest power projects in the country. Initially during the year 1973-74, the people demanded the employment of the local people in the construction work of the dam. The people were then not informed of the submergence and the displacement that would result from the construction of the dam. After the people learned of the consequences they immediately stopped all construction work relating to the project in the year 1974-75. The people’s movement against the construction of the dam consolidated under the name of the organization ‘Koel-Karo Jan Sanghathana’, the movement has now been going on for over three decades.
The irony however is that the movement has not really entered into the mainstream national discourse. The reason for this is that the mainstream national media has not given sufficient coverage to this issue.
In spite of all the hope that with the implementation of various development projects development would take place in various sectors like infrastructure development, health, education etc. Jharkhand still ranks poorly in terms of most social and economic indicators. It can thus be said that industrialization in Jharkhand has in no way contributed to the well being of the tribal people and to raising their standard of living; it has only worsened the situation by displacing a large number of people and depriving them of their basic right of occupation of their lands, keeping in mind the limited means that the tribal people have to work their way up the socio-economic ladder.
The exploitation of the people over the years has resulted in widespread turmoil amongst the tribal people. In fact tribal politics in India, by and large can be described as the politics of resistance, a long struggle against the violation of tribal rights on water, forest and land. Various movements like the forest andolan in Singhbhum against the planting of teak and the commercialization of forests, movements against the construction of big dams like Koel-Karo, Subarnarekha are central to the politics in the state. The movement for the creation of the separate state of Jharkhand was to make way for local people to regain control over the resources of the state, however the government of Jharkhand with the industrial policy of 2001 is geared to follow the same path of so called development.
The recent signing of MoUs by the Jharkhand government indicates the fact that we are heading on the same path again. The government hopes through the Industrial Policy of Jharkhand 2001 that the downward filtration theory would work and industrialization would lead to the development of the state and the welfare of its people. However our past is witness to the fact that mere industrialization has never led to development, what is required is various measures by the government to lead the path to development. The Jharkhand government has signed about forty-two MoUs with several companies and needs about 60,000 acres of land for the various projects. The bringing of private players in to the state is no result of desiring development for national interest; it is only in the interest of the rich capitalist class who wish to make profits by making use of the cheap and abundant opportunity available in the state. Moreover the government has made such a big decision without putting into place a proper resettlement and rehabilitation policy. It is an irony that the miseries of the local people that was responsible for the demand and the creation of the new state, is only going to be furthered if the government goes ahead with its plan as laid down in the Industrial Policy 2001.
It is to be remembered that out of Jharkhands 22 districts, 12 fully and two partially comprise scheduled areas. Displacement of the tribal people in these areas require special attention, mere grant of monetary compensation as seen in the past does not guarantee the well being of the tribal people. What is required is the resettlement of the people and a guaranteed share in the benefits arising out of the development projects. The omission to do the same would be the failure of the State to uphold the constitutional goal of the welfare of the tribal people.
As stated earlier the Land Acquisition Act contains no provisions for rehabilitation of the displaced people and ironically the country till date does not have a central legislation to address the issue of resettlement and rehabilitation of the people affected by the various development projects, there however exists a National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation (2004), without the backing of any legislative and statutory powers.
However there have been legislations with this regard in certain states though not holistic. In 1985 the Madhya Pradesh government enacted a law for resettlement and rehabilitation that did not apply to central government projects but to irrigation and power projects of the state, Karnataka also enacted a rehabilitation law in 1987 with the same limitations as that of Madhya Pradesh.
In the absence of a law on relief and rehabilitation, rehabilitation policies have been implemented from project to project, wherein the nature of rehabilitation depends on the voluntary undertaking of the company and does not depend on a set of rules and regulations which address the issues of the displaced people and this gives rise to several problems. For e.g. the NALCO Project in Damanjodi (Orissa), which has been set up decades ago, is yet to complete its rehabilitation activities properly.
Thus there is need to put into place a central legislation which provides for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people displaced by development projects all over the country, keeping in mind that it is the lowest wrung of society that is affected by it and unless this basic right is protected every effort made to improve the socio-economic condition of the downtrodden is futile. The reason for the absence of such an important enactment is obviously lack of political will. The near future doesn’t seem to be bright either, the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government does not speak of rehabilitation of the people affected by development projects.
The recent turn of events raises the important issue of displacement in the scheduled areas, which have been protected by the Constitution and the land rights of the tribal people, which have been protected by various legislations. The question that arises is whether it would be just to displace the tribal people for development projects, which do not in any way contribute to their well being, as has been seen in the past.
Acquiring land for development projects without providing for resettlement violates the basic rights of the tribal people, displacing the tribal people without providing for their resettlement deprives them of their basic right of occupation of their land which results in several problems like deprivation of their means of livelihood, migration to other places in search of work and living in poor conditions there, all of this just goes to show that displacement worsens the current position of the people. Since the need to provide special protection to the tribal has been recognized it would be an irony that when they are made to sacrifice to contribute for national development, their rights are completely violated and they are deprived even of their due basic r

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Echoes of the Participants in the Guwahati Workshop on Rethinking Rights, Justice and Development in India

April 20-23, 2006
The papers presented in the conference ‘Rethinking Rights, Justice and Development in India’ give an insight into the prevailing conditions of violation of basic human rights of various groups of people by the state itself and also by militant organizations because of ethnic conflict.
The papers in common go on to show how the most vulnerable groups like the poorest of the poor, the tribal people, people affected by natural disasters, workers in the unorganized sector have to bear the brunt of the failure of the state to provide good governance when in fact it’s priority should be to safeguard the rights of these most vulnerable sections of society.

Rethinking Rights, Justice and Development in the Northeast; A Reflection on Nagas Experience
by Imcha Imchen

This presentation looks into the Nagas’ demand for complete autonomy and secession from the Union of India. The writer in order to facilitate an understanding of the issue provides an insight into the history of the Naga Homeland, and the injustice and problems faced by the Naga people. The entire Naga Homeland had been arbitrarily divided into various states for administrative purposes without the consent of the people in the colonial regime. The Myanmar and the Indian government instead of rectifying this legitimized the divisions. The Naga Homeland was divided and half of it now lies in Myanmar and half in India. In India the Nagas are further spread over Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland. The Nagas had declared their independence on 14 August 1947 and when the Union of India was formed in 1950 on the voluntary basis, the Nagas chose not to join. The writer thus says that the Nagas have a right to complete independence. The writer also looks into the misuse of the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958’ by the army and how it has led to gross violation of basic human rights. According to the writer one of the fundamental reasons why the people in the northeast feel alienated is the attitude of the central government towards development in the northeast, however he also blames the local politicians for the misuse of the development funds. The writer has acknowledged the support being provided to various movements in the northeast by civil societies and intellectuals and also stresses its importance. Attention is drawn to the fact as to how the whole Naga movement has undergone a change from an earlier demand, which completely overlooked India to now where negotiations are being carried with the central government. Finally the writer states that the various problems in the northeast have different solutions because of different demands – while certain states want more autonomy while others want more attention in terms of development, however neither of the two would be the solution to the Naga problem since the Nagas want complete independence.

Displacement in West Bengal
By Nandini Basistha

This paper looks into the irony of ‘Development’ wherein for the so-called overall development of society, the basic rights of the most vulnerable groups are violated.
Like most other governments, the government of West Bengal too views industrialization and modernization as the most important means of development and so to encourage this large scale displacement has occurred for building dams, highways, airports, new towns etc. Urban planning in Kolkata has led to the displacement of the poorest of the poor e.g. the ‘New Town’ Project of Rajarhat has displaced small and landless farmers and fisherman. It is alleged that dams which have caused widespread displacement have failed the purpose for purpose for which they were constructed i.e. control floods, it is claimed by residents that over the years the intensity of floods in the lower Damodar has increased. Thus in the name of development thousands of people have been deprived of their basic right to shelter and livelihood. India being a welfare state ought to provide economic security for the population by providing for the people when they are unemployed, ill or elderly. Instead of doing so, in spite of the unemployment rate being high, the government of West Bengal resorted to evicting hawkers from streets. In 1996 ‘Operation sunshine’ evicted 24000 hawkers. It even led to some of them committing suicide. Thus the so-called development process involves the violation of the rights of the most vulnerable groups of people.

The Question of Democracy in Manipur
By Ayangbam Shyamkishor

This article looks into the failure of representative democracy in Manipur in every aspect.
In spite of over five decades of democracy in Manipur, accountability, transparency, responsibility, peace, stability is still a far cry. The very foundation of democracy i.e. the election process is not carried on in accordance with law and is marked by practices like rigging and booth capturing, influence of muscle and money power. Another common practice is the boycotting of elections by various insurgent groups. The law and order problem in Manipur has been a perpetual one. In fact disorder and violence has become a way of life. The main reason for weak governance is the presence of a large number of powerful militant insurgent groups. It is alleged that the militant groups even overpower the government, to the extent that they collect taxes from government departments. In order to control insurgency the Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 has been imposed in the state. In spite of the several instances of its misuse by the armed forces, the army maintains that the repealing of the Act would render them powerless to deal with the problem of insurgency. In terms of the economy Manipur still remains by and large an underdeveloped state. Agriculture the mainstay of the economy is still dependent on rainfall. The state depends on other states for most of the essential items of consumption.
A sizeable percentage of the population lives below the poverty line and there is widespread unemployment. To add to the economic crisis the government of Manipur is running the state with deficits of hundreds of crores of rupees, all due to financial mismanagement. Corruption is rampant in the state, and is a major cause of discontent, which has given rise to the involvement of militant organizations in getting rid of the corruption in bureaucracy and government. Thus democracy in Manipur has failed to fulfill any of its objectives. It has failed to provide political stability, good governance, control corruption, promote accountability and above all establish rule of law. The successful working of democracy requires participation of people in the decision making process, electing responsible leaders; it requires responsible leaders who would work for the development of the state. It is essential for the development of the state, that its resources be used properly so as to put an end to unemployment and poverty. The problem of insurgency should be solved through peaceful negotiations and corruption must be checked in accordance with law.

Echoes from flash flood victims: A case study of Balbala flash flood
By Shahiuz Zaman Ahmed

This article presents a detailed description of the flash flood, which occurred between the 7th and 9th October 2004 and affected the areas of Krishnai, Balbala and Agai, and the various relief measures taken post flood, the writer finally puts forth suggestion with regard to such disasters in future. The flood-affected areas were low-lying areas and hence flood prone. However of late tremendous environmental changes had taken place around the area due to deforestation for several purposes. Another reason for the flood was that Pancharatna-Kamakhya railroad lacked sufficient culverts and bridges to pass water to the river Brahmaputra. The tributaries of various rivers had no proper embankments to check floods either. The flood caused tremendous destruction of human lives, settlements, flora and fauna. Villages were totally washed out. The efforts made by the Indian army did manage to save a lot of lives. The official records put the number of the dead as 218, however there are claims that the real figures are much higher. One important point with this regard is that a large number of the inhabitants of the flood-affected areas had come from other flood-affected areas earlier on, and hence as per UN’s guiding principles, these inhabitants were Internally Displaced Persons. Their names were not even recorded with the district administration, and hence their death was not even acknowledged and this went against the UN principles related to Internally Displaced Persons. Various relief measures were taken but they were far from sufficient. The writer makes a comparison between the flash flood and the tsunami and says how the flash received very less importance. The improper implementation of the monetary assistance scheme of the government has also been looked into as to how several victims and relatives of the dead have still not received compensation due to the corrupt officials. The Internally Displaced Persons who had resettled in the flood-affected areas were refused compensation because they were not registered with the local administration on the ground that they were suspected be illegal migrants, and hence had to face unnecessary harassment. The flood led to complete impoverishment of the people and rehabilitation measures by the government are a must. The health and living conditions of the people is much below reasonable standards and hence requires various measures by the government. The writer puts forth various suggestions to prevent such a disaster in the future: massive forestation, controlled deforestation, construction of embankments, setting up mechanisms to forecast such disasters etc. and most important of all issuing of identity cards to the IDP’s in the state so as to enable safeguarding their rights and to prevent depriving them of their rights because of doubt over their citizenship.

A Brief Study on Human Rights Violations in Wokha District and its adjoining areas
By Ayamo Kikon

This paper is a case study of violations of human rights in Wokha district (situated in the mid west of the state of Nagaland). Certain instances of human rights violations have been cited with a view to create awareness about such happenings. The first incident cited took place at Yimpang village on March 3, 1997. This particular incident is an instance of human rights violation by the armed forces. The NSCN armed opposition groups were taking shelter in the village. The 16th Rashtriya Rifles troops arrived at the village and fired indiscriminately and in the process a pregnant woman and two civilians were killed. The villagers were also mishandled by the armed forces. The second incident cited involved a bomb explosion in a passenger bus, which was bound for Wokha from Dimapur. In this incident several people lost their lives. Regular frisking and house checking are common practices associated with security operations. These security operations do not respect the privacy of the people and have caused great trauma to the local inhabitants.

Resisting Development: A Case Study of the Pagladia Dam Project
By Barnalee Chowdhury

Development based displacement is based on the premise that someone has to suffer if the nation is to prosper. However it is always the poor and the marginalized that are made victims in the process of development. The state is vested with unquestionable power to carry on development, however of late sections of society and the affected people have begun to question government decisions with regard to development. One such example is the movement against the Pagladia Dam Project, which is to be constructed at Thalkuchi village in Assam. It is a multi purpose project that aims to serve several development objectives. However at the same time the dam will submerge 38 settled villages thereby displacing a large number of people most of whom are tribal people. The Brahmaputra Board, which is the implementing agency of the project, has drawn up a Rehabilitation & Resettlement (R &R) package. The package however is not acceptable to the people for several reasons. As per the R & R only 18,473 persons will be displaced however the number exceeds much more than that. People who do not possess proper ownership documents will also not be entitled to compensation. Thus because of these grievances the people started a movement in the year 1968. The organization is called Pagladia Bandh Prakalpar Ksatigrastha Alekar Sangram Samiti. The other grievances of the people are that the place to be given to them for resettlement is already occupied by other people, and their entry may lead to conflict. Resettlement would scatter the people in different areas and it would result in community breakdown. It is also alleged that the land being given to them for resettlement is not that fertile. The dam would also submerge a lot of schools, religious institutions. The R & R package does not provide for sufficient reconstruction of the same. The people for the various reasons have protested against the government on several occasions, however these democratic protests have always been suppressed through violent means. Thus instead of addressing the grievances of the affected people the government brutally suppresses protests against it. The media has failed to give coverage to this issue, which involves the rights o f thousands of people. The movement is an example of how people have learnt to resist state action even if it is taken in the name of development, and thus going on to show that development processes can’t ignore the rights of those who are made to sacrifice for development.

Human Rights Issues in Tamenglong District of Manipur
By N.Atungbou

This paper looks into instances of human rights violations by the armed forces and the militant groups in the district of Tamenglong, which is located in west Manipur. Since the late 70s and 80s people in the district have been subjected to torture and violence because of the abuse of the Armed Forces Act by the Para-military forces. In 1997, in Tousem sub-division the Para-military personnel tortured the entire village. In 2000 the Jat regiment shot at nine persons. In 1993 an ethnic conflict broke out in the district between the Kukis and the Zeliangrong Nagas, it lasted for four years and several people died. The state government played a partisan role and failed to intervene and control the situation then. However in the course of time the conflict came to an end. There have also been several instances of violence by armed opposition groups.

The Internally Displaced Persons of Lower Assam
By Subhash Barman

This paper looks into the displacement caused due to the Bodo movement, in lower Assam. Amongst the various groups of victims, this paper looks at the special case of the Santals. The Santals of lower Assam are the ex-displaced of the colonial regime that were evicted from their homeland Chotanagpur and were brought to Assam to provide cheap labour for the plantations. The Santals have been marginalized over the years. The Bodo movement finally led to their complete deprivation. The Bodos are the largest tribal community of Assam. The Assamese high castes have always dominated the society, polity and bureaucracy in Assam and this led to the marginalization of the Bodos, which led to their demand for the division of Assam for the creation of a separate ‘Bodoland’. The movement turned violent and it finally led to legislation in 1993 and the Bodoland Autonomous Council was formed. However in the areas under the BAC, the Bodos did not form the majority and hence started the process of ethnic cleansing to create a Bodo majority. The marginalized sections and the Santals became targets of this ethnic cleansing. Initially the immigrant Muslims were targeted, later on the Santal peasants were primarily targeted. The cleansing was carried out by militant organizations. There were large-scale massacres in which about 1000 Santals lost their lives and about 2,50,000 were rendered homeless. The displaced have been living in the relief camps in Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar districts. The living conditions in these camps are miserable and unhygienic. The ration provided by the government is insufficient and there are no provisions for drinking water. There are no provisions for education or health facilities. Moreover there is no sufficient security arrangement and hence there is always the threat of attack by the militant organizations. The government has taken no measures to promote peace so that the displaced can return home. Other people have occupied the lands of the few who returned. The government has not done anything with this regard either.

Brus in Mizoram
By Irene Lalruatkimi

The Bru/Reang tribes were original inhabitants of Mai-an hill near the Chittagong Hill Tract, Bangladesh. They migrated from their homeland to Tripura from where they were ousted by the king and then they finally settled in Mizoram. The Brus were a minority in the state of Mizoram. Most of them were illiterate and hence the government of Mizoram took steps to uplift the Brus. The Christian missionaries too played a role in this regard.
Education gave rise to community consciousness amongst the Brus and they organized themselves into the Reang Democratic Convention Party in 1990, with a view to safeguard their culture, custom, language and to promote the development of the community. The political consciousness ultimately led to the demand for a separate autonomous district. This demand was not acceptable to the Mizos and they protested against this and thus began the tension between the Mizos and the Brus. The Bru leaders ordered the Brus to leave their homes. The Brus formed the militant group called the Bru National Liberation Front and carried out violent activities. Several Bru families left for Tripura. Brus from Assam and Manipur also joined them. The Mizoram government tried to convince the Bru refugees to return to their homes and also made arrangements for their rehabilitation and security. Under these conditions a few Brus returned, while the majority chose to stay in the Tripura refugee camps.

Land Alienation in Tripura – A Case Study of the Tribals
By Sushil Debbarma

This paper looks into the land alienation of the tribal people in Tripura. It looks into the failure of the state to prevent land alienation and how the state is in fact actively causing land alienation. The TLR & LR Act 1960, imposes restrictions on transfer of tribal land to non-tribals without prior permission from the collectors. There is also a provision for the restoration of tribal lands that were transferred to non-tribals on or after 1st January 1969. However in spite of the law a very few restoration cases have been disposed off, and most of the land that ought to have been restored, remains unrestored. A major flaw of the Act is that it does not recognize the customary shifting cultivation, and all such land is recorded as forestland. The government of Tripura has been using tribal land for the rehabilitation of the refugees. The Dhumbur/Gumoti hydel project in south Tripura has displaced a lot of tribal people, moreover most of these communities are Jhumians and have no land records and hence the rehabilitation policy did not benefit them.In 1948 the Swasti Samity, a cooperative society of the non-tribal landless farmers was set up. For the setting up of this society hundreds of tribals were evicted from their homes without any rehabilitation. It can be said that the state has not only failed to prevent land alienation of the tribals but is in fact actively responsible for it.

Internally Displaced Persons: Nagas in Manipur
By Pongdeila

This paper looks into the internal displacement of the Nagas in Manipur. The Manipur Nagas lived in the four hill districts of Chandel, Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Senapati. They were displaced from these districts because of the Naga-Kuki ethnic crisis, and the movement by the Meiteis to drive out the Nagas from Manipur. The violence directed against the Nagas led to their displacement. A few civil societies and organizations did take steps for their rehabilitation but it is alleged that the government suppresses various efforts made by them. The Nagas live in fear and doubt as to whether they can ever return to their homes.

Boom in the Construction Sector of Pune
By Manish Kumar

This paper looks into the miserable conditions under which the construction labourers work in the city of Pune, in spite of the fact that there has been a huge boom in the construction sector and the labour force is a major contributor to the growth of the city. The boom in the construction sector of Pune has come about because of the growth in the IT sector and Pune has been declared as a computer hub city. The second reason is the market hike. Lastly huge investments are being made because of increasing market demand and also because of the presence of black money in the economy. Indirect foreign investment is also being made. This growth in the construction sector has led to tremendous increase in the demand for construction workers. Migrant labourers from the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand have also increased. With the growth of the sector the problems faced by the construction workers have also increased. Men and women still don’t get equal pay for equal work. Occupation and social security is almost nil. Only a miniscule percentage of the builders provide safety measures like helmets, gloves. In fact facilities are not provided as should be as laid down by the Pune Municipal Corporation. Few builders provide group insurance, which has proved not to be too helpful either. There are no health care facilities available. There are also no facilities for the education of the children of the labourers. In the midst of all the profit that is being made, the major contributors are being denied their due basic share.

A case of rights and displacement on the subansiri lower
Hydroelectric power project (SLP)
By Tarikh Kamcham

This paper looks into the rights and displacement on the lower subansirihydro electric power cooperation (NHPC) Ltd.which lies on the inter state boundary between Assam and Arunachal pradesh . That is why there is a longstanding dispute between the two states over the land on which the project site is located. The subansiri lower hydroelectric power cooperation (NHPC) Ltd., which was under initial survey and investigation by the Brahmaputra flood control board (BFCB), was transferred to NHPC Ltd by the MOWR, GOI ON 23RDmarch 2000. Thereafter the project has been under the NHPC till date. The hon’blesupreme court of India, while according consent vide order dated 19thapril, 2004 to the MOWR, GOI for the forest and environmental clearance of the project, stipulated certain stringent conditions which interalia, included:
1) The reserve forest that forms part of the catchments of lower subansiri including the reservoir should be declared as national park \sanctuary.
2) There would be no construction of dam of upstream of the Subansiri River in future
The forest department government of Arunachal pradesh intimated the MOWR, GOI of the compliance of the state government, to the above conditions as recommended by Indian board for wild life. The order of supreme court had very serious implications upon the state government such as, immense difficulty involving huge displacement of indigenous people by virtue of declaration of national park / wild life sanctuary which would have far reaching socio politico economic ramifications .the execution of the project remained suspended as per the cabinet decision as the project is located in a sensitive boundary involving boundary dispute for which the matter is being heard by the honorable supreme court . This project remained suspended for a quite a long time till a long term settlement is materialized and a formal MOW is signed with the state government by the Nhpc Ltd.

Chandigarh Conference

February 13-15, 2006
The Centre for the Study of Mid-West and Central Asia, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India and Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence, University of Tampere, Finland jointly organised an international conference on Revisting ‘Euro-Asia’: Cultures, Connections and Conceptualizations during February 13-15, 2006 at the ICSSR Complex located in the Panjab University Campus of Chandigarh. The InternationalGeographical Union and the World Commission of Political Geography sponsored the conference. Scholars from India, Malaysia and Finland took part in this conference. Professor K.N. Pathak, Vice Chancellor of Panjab University welcomed the participants. Before the formal deliberations began, Dr. Jyrki Kakonen, Jean Monnet Professor, University of Tampere introduced the conference. His Excellency Asko Numminen, Ambassador of Finland to India, delivered the inaugural address while Professor Siddiq Wahid, Vice Chancellor, Islamic University of Technology, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi, Honorary Director of the host Centre offered a vote of thanks at the end of the inaugural session. The Calcutta Research Group (CRG) sponsored two sessions of this conference. One was on “Nations, Migration and Citizenship: European-Indian Experiences”, and the other was on “Citizenship, Migration and Autonomy: Gender Perspectives”. Dr. Bishnu Mohapatra of the Ford Foundation, New Delhi, chaired the first one. Dr. Samir Kumar Das and Dr. Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury spoke on behalf of the CRG. Dr. Das presented a paper on “Contesting Citizenship in an Age of Forced Migration: Two Case Studies from India”. He primarily dealt with the experiences of the Assam Movement (1979-85) and Gorkhaland Movement (1986-88). Dr. Basu Ray Chaudhury presented a paper on “Being and Belongingness: Democratic Citizenship in South Asia”. He offered a critical account of the exclusionary tensions of citizenship in South Asia and examined how the trans-national social spaces emerging in the context of migratory and refugee flows over the years have put pressures on the democratic character of the post-colonial states ans societies in the region. Dr. Mika Altola of the University of Tampere spoke on “Corporate Communities of Practices and Homogenizing Pressures of Globalization”. In the other session sponsored by the CRG, Dr. Paula Banerjee spoke on “Women’s Autonomy in the Age of Migration and Security”. She addressed the questions related to women’s autonomy in India and analysed its location within different available discourses. Professor Rajesh Gill of the Department of Sociology, Panjab University, presented a paper entitled “Caught between the Domestic and Public Spheres: Women as a Pendulum”. Ms. Anna-Kaisa Heikkinen, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Finland in India, chaired this session. Dr. Ranabir Samaddar, Director, CRG, delivered the Valedictory Address at the end of the three-day conference. He spoke on the immigration and the possibilities of trans-national citizenship. His lecture was a take on Etienne Balibar’s We the People of Europe. Dr. Samaddar also chaired a session earlier, which was on “New Great Games and Beyond” and it mainly dealt with the emerging geopolitical scenario in Euro-Asia.

Trafficking of Women & Children in Nepal

Shreyashi Chaudhuri
Trafficking in women and children is considered as a contemporary form of slavery and a gross violation of women’s and children’s basic human rights by the international community. It is also a growing phenomenon internationally, regionally and nationally. While trafficking is a global problem and an integral part of the process of international migration, it does assume specific regional and national dimensions. The increasingly protectionist policies of countries of destination which also constitute the labour receiving countries and the subsequent restriction on legal forms of migration, as well as the growing economic crisis with increasing unemployment, play a major role in the growing incidence of trafficking of women and children within the Asia-Pacific and specifically within the South Asian region.Trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by any form of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, and abuse of power. This involves the giving or receiving of payments, or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for exploitation. (UN article 3 of Trafficking Protocol) “Women, who make up 51 percent of the total population in Nepal, have a secondary status in the patriarchic (sic) Hindu structure. Throughout their lives, women face reduced opportunities and discrimination. Literacy rates and life expectancy are much lower for women than men. Some say that lack of investment on education and development of women, which is an outcome of patriarchal predominance, is a major cause of vulnerability. The 1991 Nepalese census shows that only 25.54 per cent women were literate. One of the reasons for such a low rate of female education is that “the traditional attitude of the family, which requires girls to work rather than attend school. The higher female work burden in rural areas demonstrates that girl children are an active labour force in agriculture.” Many laws are explicitly biased against women, especially those regarding property, citizenship and marriage. Women are frequently prosecuted for having abortions, which were illegal until very recently. Women often face domestic violence and harassment, with no legal recourse, as paternalism and gender discrimination is deeply entrenched in society. Also the social system teaches women “subordination to males from childhood.” Such value systems deny women any options. Hence many rural women fall prey to the traffickers and trafficking of Nepali women has assumed horrifying proportions.Due to lack of adequate studies it is difficult to identify all the different ways in which trafficking is carried out. There is more than one way of trafficking. The existence of the circumstances created by the anti-women nature of the sex market creates an atmosphere characterised by the deception, use of drugs, enticement, abduction, fake marriages, misuse of guardianship etc.
A few current trafficking activities can be summed up as follows:
The problem of trafficking is no longer confined to specific ethnic communities. In the past the problem was confined to a limited catchments area surrounding the Kathmandu valley. Over the last few years it has rapidly expanded to over 30 districts in Nepal.
The information gathered from the interviews and stories of rescued girls and women demonstrate that girls and women from socially oppressed and backward community are increasingly vulnerable.
The diversification of the destination is also a troubling new aspect of trafficking. Gulf countries are fast becoming a destination for the sexual exploitation of Nepalese women.
Trafficking of increasingly large number of teenage girls as opposed to women is another new and disturbing pattern.
Trafficking is increasingly an act of organised criminal rackets operating from both inside and outside of Nepal.
Based on recently reported trafficking trends it is apparent that the problem of trafficking in girls and women has increasingly crossed the barriers of ethnicity and mountain geography. The problem of trafficking for sexual exploitation is now happening in numerous communities. This is corroborated by the appearance of a large number of Dalit girls & women in the market. The incidents of trafficking in Brahmin, Chettri & Newar girls and women are also increasing. There are two major factors responsible for the increasing numbers of girls and women being trafficked in Nepal:
The village to city migration process has become common phenomenon in Nepal over the decades. The main intention of migration is to earn money to provide the basic necessities for the family. The process of migration has contributed to the multi billion dollar sex industry with the massive migration of women and girls for purposes of legitimate work in Nepalese cities and abroad, trafficking has been facilitated through such means as promised by agents of the sex trade of high paying jobs or marriages. Trafficking is now the packaging, the marketing, in short the commodification of the women, which has become systematised, organised and trans nationalised. Rapid urbanisation and job prospects entice teenage girls to migrate to cities in Nepal. They seek work in the carpet industry, garment industry, restaurants and domestic service. These unsuspecting girls arrive in cities and one coerced into the sex trade. Cities such as Kathmandu, Pokhra, Dharan are serving as transit centres for trafficking abroad. Such migration is an expected outcome of development activities including increased accessibility to transportation, communication and business activities between villages and cities.
The gradual erosion of the traditional norms of the social regulation has resulted in more heterogeneity in cultural and social relations. In the past the homogenous clusters of the villages maintained a system of regulation based on traditional hierarchy and co-operation. Every group kept track of and cared for its own members. With greater mobility over the decades the homogeneity of villages has been diminished. Individuals are thus less aware of what is happening to the people who live nearby. The failure by the police and governing bodies, in general, to address these changing conditions has created a breakthrough of the traditional regulatory norms. This societal structure breakdown has helped traffickers gain a foothold in various community groups.
Political instability in Nepal has compounded the problem. The conflict between the Maoists and the State has contributed to increasing instability. Recent newspaper reports also reveal how women are particularly vulnerable to such harassments. In a news item published in the month of May this year in Kathmandu Post it was stated that one woman of “Tehrathum fled to Kathmandu after Maoists coerced her to join their militia. Her pursuit for secure life in the valley was wrecked after her colleagues sold her to a brothel in Mumbai.” Although she was rescued with five other Nepali girls no one knows whether she can be rehabilitated in her own society.
When women are trafficked across borders such as from Nepal to India it makes them even more insecure. After crossing a border these women can become stateless if they are without any papers or proof of citizenship. Often they are coerced to do so to repay their family loan. It has been stated “about 153,000 Nepali girls were in Indian brothels in 1990 and the number has been steadily increasing at a rate of 5,000 every year.” Nepal is considered as the most significant source of girl-child commercial sex workers to India. The average age of Nepali girls entering into Indian brothels ranges from 10 to 14. “In this era of globalisation, tourism has become another occasion for child trafficking from Nepal. Although Nepal has passed the Human Trafficking (Control) Act of 1986 these Acts are hardly ever implemented. Trafficking of Nepali women to India continue unabated. A very disturbing phenomena within this process is that young Nepali “virgins” are trafficked because people not only prefer their fairer complexion but also there is a ridiculous but common belief among some communities that having intercourse with a young girl can cure many sexually transmitted diseases as well as AIDS. So price for these girl children go up. But the moment they contract the illness they are thrown out of the brothel and come back to their homes where their family is often loathe in taking them back. These children are often oblivious of the risk they are in. According to one social worker in J.J. Hospital in Bombay “one 15 bedded women ward was occupied with 13 patients with HIV infection, out of this 11 were Nepali.” What people in sex trade do not realize is that trafficking is not merely violence against women but against humanity. These young girls living in brothels are so powerless that they can hardly insist that their clients use safety measures. Once they contract the disease they inadvertently infect many more and contribute to destabilization and insecurity of the whole region. Once there illness is discovered they are treated like pariahs. They are punished for something over which they had hardly any control and yet the process continues. Trafficking finds little space in traditional security discourse yet it is one mode of migration that actually leads to physical insecurity of a region.
The increased success on the part of traffickers has resulted from these recent societal changes. Mobility and the resulting social breakdown have tended to marginalize the weaker sectors of the community. Migration and mobility detach girls and women from their traditional framework of protection, and exposes them to an unfamiliar world. This makes them extremely vulnerable. In summation
Poverty and lack of resources results in an increase in migration and mobility.
In Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka child marriage is accepted, and considered. the best method to procure girls for prostitution. (Indrani Sinha, SANLAAP, “Paper on Globalisation & Human Rights”.) Parents sell their daughters and husbands get rid of their young unwanted wives forUS$200 to $600. Depending on her beauty, a girl can fetch anywhere from less than a water buffalo, to slightly more than a video recorder. Organizers in rural areas, brokers and even family members sell girls. Husbands sometimes sell their wives to brothels. (Tim McGirk, “Nepal’s Lost Daughters, ‘India’s soiled goods,” Nepal/India: News, 27 January 1997)
In Nepal, there is a system, called “deukis,” where by rich childless families buy girls from poor rural families and offer them to the temples as though they were their own. These girls are forced into prostitution. In 1992, 17,000 girls were given as deukis. (Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Report on Violence Against Women, Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, 2 April 1997)
Intensified migration and mobility causes a breakdown of the traditional norms and social regulations.
The process of migration and mobility is especially unfavourable for marginalised girls and women in the sense that they, being ignorant of the circumstances around them and not having the security of communal protection become easily accessible to sex traders.
Economic needs and hopes of a better life render marginalized women and girls easy targets.
As for the response of the Government of Nepal to the issue of trafficking it may be said that certainly, greater political has been demonstrated particularly over the last couple of years to address this problem. This response has in part been spawned by pressure put on the government by the public discourse on the issue created by NGOs, community and women’s organisations, the media, INGOs, the UN system as well as by members of the civil society. However, mostly of these very recently initiated responses are either still in the planning stage or are awaiting financial commitments from various donors to actually get off the ground. As such, limited concrete and demonstrable activity is actually visible on part of the Government of Nepal thus far to combat the problem of trafficking even though several plans are in the pipeline.
The key strategies-cum-objectives are being recommended for future anti-trafficking work on basis of the assessment in this study:

1.Initiate and intensify work to reach agreement and deeper understanding on rights protective strategies for designing and implementing anti-trafficking work.
2.Statistical data on those affected by trafficking in all sites
3.Traffickers and their modus operandi
4.Changing trends, patterns, forms of trafficking and those trafficked
5.Development and assessment of strategies and programmes
6.Development of rights based models of intervention in prevention, recovery, repatriation and reintegration of those affected by trafficking
7.Develop legal countermeasures, which vindicate the rights of abused and trafficked persons, and do not recriminalize them further.
8.Develop guidelines to separate legislation for trafficking from prostitution laws.

Victimisation of female migrants from Bangladesh

Catelijne Mittendorff
Nari pacahar, also known as trafficking of women, has attracted a tremendous amount of attention within the Bangladeshi media and civil society groups during recent years. Certain sources state that as many as fifty women and children are reportedly taken out of Bangladesh every day, and sold into forced prostitution, organ trade or slave labour. All this media attention has prompted the Bangladeshi authorities to enact restrictions, often an outright ban, on the international migration of women. For example, since 1976 the government of Bangladesh has barred certain categories of unskilled or semi-unskilled female workers from working overseas. This ban was relaxed in 1988 to be re-imposed in 1997. Female migration has consequently been pushed underground and has become an illegal practise. This policy restricting female migration is remarkable given the fact that Bangladesh is a labour-exporting nation. It is one of the densest populated countries in the world and the remittance migrant workers send home is a large source of income for the country. Therefore, the government of Bangladesh has always been a great supporter of male labour migration. Taking into account the economic disadvantages of such a ban, the decision to enact such a restriction must have been taken in an attempt to protect Bangladeshi women from exploitation and trafficking. But the question can be raised whether this policy achieves the intended result and made Bangladeshi women less vulnerable for trafficking? There is in fact little known about female migration from Bangladesh. Recently, however, an extensive study has been conducted where it became apparent that far more female migratory movement takes place than official numbers suggest. This study also made clear that female migration is larger and more varied than suggested by the trafficking scenario on which the media and NGOs have focused so much of their attention. Often the preconceived notion exists that migratory movement takes place predominantly under coercion, or when women lose control and other people take advantage of them, whereas this is not always the case. While risks of exploitation are considerable, the earnings women make abroad are impressive as well. Many female migrant workers have returned to Bangladesh with substantial savings, an enhanced sense of well-being and greater confidence in their ability to take decisions and cope autonomously. It is important in this context to understand the concept of 'trafficking', and how women become targets for traffickers. It is also essential to make a distinction between ‘trafficking’ and irregular female migration. The difference between irregular migration and trafficking is repeatedly a matter of perception and the generalisations in identifying the two concepts can be misleading. Often if the migratory process goes well, people consider it to be migration and if it does not go well that it is trafficking. In addition, it is generally assumed that if a girl wanted to migrate herself, she can not be trafficked, whereas this is not necessarily true. A working group of various civil society organisations within Bangladesh have defined the concept of human trafficking as “a wide range of crimes and human rights abuses associated with the recruitment, movement and sale of people into exploitative or slave-like situations.” This means that trafficked women do not necessarily need to be involved in the sex/ entertainment industry, as often is assumed. One can say that the fundamental problem of trafficking is the loss of control, “where women lose their freedom to control what they want to do because they fall under the influence of dept bondage, coercion, force or threats”, we can speak of trafficking. Most often people are of the perception that trafficked girls are kidnapped, taken away from their homes and completely against their will. Although this sometimes happens, in most of the cases a girl will decide to go along with the trafficker herself or under pressure from her family. Traffickers will look for girls from poor and vulnerable families in villages and tempt them and their parents with offers of lucrative jobs, a good marriage or a comfortable life in neighbouring countries. Only when they have taken her over the border and reach her final destination will she find out what kind of circumstances she is forced to work in. Society is a big factor in the vulnerability of women to become a trafficking victim. In Bangladesh, the migration of women, especially unaccompanied by guardians, is often regarded as suspect, for the reason that a woman moving independently is socially not accepted. “This can lead to a exploitative situation for women in which the slightest sexual deviation or social dislocation makes them ‘polluted’ and the object of social degradation.” In many cases, women migrating independently will lead to loss of honour for her family. This places women in Bangladesh in a very difficult position. On the one hand, they cannot work outside the house, because this is not their role and because their sexuality needs to be protected. As a consequence she cannot earn money. But at the same time she costs her family a lot of money due to the dowry system. Therefore, if a woman does not get married soon, or for some other reason, her reputation has been damaged and she will do more harm to her family than good. Due to this situation immense pressure will be put on the girl to find a good husband and be able to pay her dowry. In poor families girls will sometimes not see any other solution other than to look for their fortune abroad. And then once these girls have migrated, they often become outcasts at home. Because their move brought shame to their families it will become difficult to go back to their village. Furthermore, the girl feels tremendous pressure to work hard to compensate for her loss of honour. Regardless of her bad living conditions, the social pressure will make it very difficult for her to abandon work. Despite the fact that trafficking needs to be fought, a ban on female labour migration will not help these girls. As long as their social position is not improved, it is not realistic to assume that women would stop looking for better labour opportunities abroad. Given the demand of effective labour along with women’s willingness to sell their labour, a government policy that bans female migration will force women to push the whole process of female migration underground. As a result of these circumstances, created by the government, going abroad for opportunities, even for proper or legal jobs, can only be done through informal or illegal channels. The illegal nature of migration makes these girls easier prey in the hands of traffickers. Thus, instead of banning female migration, both civil society and the government should realise that migrated women are not necessarily victims and that trafficking and irregular migration are not the same. If the government would acknowledge that female migration is not necessarily harmful, it could help women to look for a better future and to make them less easy preys for traffickers. Instead of restricting women to work abroad, it could support them and help them to find safe and legal job opportunities. Concrete steps like skill building education and creation of networks could be taken. Additionally a change is needed from within Bangladeshi society, whereby it becomes socially acceptable for women to work abroad and social illegal practices like dowry are abandoned, in order to prevent women getting into desperate situations where they become easy prey for traffickers. An important reason for women to migrate is often empowerment. Migration can give women a chance to have more control over their own life, and not be completely dependent on the maintenance of her family or husband. Unfortunately, such changes do not occur from one day to another. In the mean time the government needs to pursue an active policy that will lead to empowerment of women instead of doing the opposite. At present, a vicious circle has been created wherein civil society has victimised female migrants by emphasising trafficking in such a manner that the government decided to restrict female migration. Instead of improving their social situation, this policy makes these women more vulnerable and as a result they have become easier targets for traffickers. This circle needs to be broken.

Common Ground? Investigating the importance of managing land

Panos Media Toolkit on Communicating Research-No.1
People’s capacity to access and use land is of utmost importance because of the bearing it has on several processes like economic growth, poverty reduction, and increased private investment and transparent and accountable government. Thus for the development of society as a whole it is essential that the government establishes a system that ensures access to land and housing. To ensure a sound policy, research must be carried on, on land management. Researches have brought forth the flaws of reform movements. The Zambian 1995 Land Act, provided for private ownership over customary rights, research showed that this worsened the position of the poor people. There have also been positive reforms. In particular the ‘Land to the tiller’ reforms which put an end to the feudal system e.g. in the Indian States of Kerala and West Bengal, however these reforms did not benefit those who were not tilling their own lands. Modernization has given rise to several problems in land management. Growing of cash crops has led to fragmentation of lands, smaller holdings are available to people for cultivation. Modernization has also posed a threat to pastoralism. Its survival as put forth by academics will depend on political decisions and the ability of the customary system to adapt to change. Urbanization has resulted in a very lopsided situation, while the standard of living of a few is very high the remaining live in extreme poverty. The poor turn towards illegal housing markets of slums. Because of the illegal status of these settlements no basic amenities are available. It is argued by some that land reforms are based on that assumption that the allocation of land to the male head of the family would ensure the benefit of all members but this does not always happen. Some researchers assert that in spite of the fact that women are excluded from ownership, such reforms provide paid work, access to health care etc. Decentralized governance has always been favored for development but however if the local governments are weak then the local vested powers may manipulate the policies in their favour. When property rights are insecure the forest resources may be taken over by the elites. Even if this does not happen, research shows that community based natural resource management is not always just and fair because of the hierarchical nature of most communities. Research further shows that devolution of power directly in favour of people works better than allocation of decision-making power i.e. local government, for various land management issues.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Despair in Bru IDP camps in India

From 2-4 January 2006, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, Mr Suhas Chakma visited the Bru Internally Displaced Persons’ camps under Kanchanpur Sub-Division of Tripura State of India. More than five months have elapsed since the members of the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) surrendered on 25 July 2005 pursuant to the 10-point Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the BNLF and the Mizoram government on 26 April 2005. But not a single internally displaced Bru from Mizoram has yet been repatriated. The return of the Brus, also known as the Reangs, appears to have ended with the return of 273 Brus consisting of the BNLF cadres and their family members.
About 30,000 Brus fled from Mizoram State of India to Tripura to escape from a campaign of terror against them by members of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Students Union) and Young Mizo Association (YMA). From 15 October 1997 onwards, Reangs from Tungbagin, Kawnmun, Pheileng, Laxmicheraa, Kwartha, Rangdil, Fileng and Tuipuibari areas of Aizwal district of Mizoram fled to neighbouring States to escape from persecution and repression by the MZP activists. It was reported that sixteen people were killed and twenty women were gang-raped in the initial terrorizing campaign. The Mizoram Police remained mute witness as the MZP activists torched the Reang villages and committed these atrocities. The Mizoram Police reportedly also participated in the mass evictions of the Reangs.
Since then they have been housed in six relief camps under Kanchanpur Sub-Division of Tripura. Despite the directions of National Human Rights Commission of India in October 1999, Mizoram government refused to take back the Reangs.
The YMA and MZP systematically used voter list to identify the Reangs as outsiders. On the direction of the Election Commission of India, many were enrolled in the voter list. However, only 1733 out of 2406 voters in Kawrthah and 971 out of the total 1240 voters in Phuldungsei constituencies could cast their votes through postal ballots in the bye-elections held on 10 December 2005 as the YMA and MZP members physically prevented them from exercising their constitutional rights.
I. Failure of the MoU
After 13th rounds of talks, the BNLF and state government of Mizoram signed the MoU. It was clear from the opinions of the displaced Brus that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Mizoram government and BNLF has failed to resolve the Bru insurgency. It does not address the problems of displaced Brus who constitute the overwhelming majority of the Brus of Mizoram. It only attempts to rehabilitate the BNLF cadres.
There is no general amnesty for those living in the camps, guarantees for security, compensation for the properties lost and/or damaged, restoration of the lands to the original owners, and proper and adequate rehabilitation of the displaced Brus within a specific time frame. Nothing reflects more acutely the repressive policies of the Mizoram government than the murder of Hulendra Reang in August 2005 by Mizoram Police after entering into Tripura.
The MoU of 26 April 2005 does not mention specific number of Bru refugees in the Tripura camps to be returned or time frame for their repatriation. Rather, the MoU provides for the identification of the so called genuine Brus by the State government of Mizoram. It is nothing but a ploy not to take back majority of the displaced Brus and exposes Mizoram government's tacit support to the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and Young Mizo Association (YMA) which first systematically deleted the Brus from the voter lists and then uprooted them from their hearts and homes.
The Brus are unlikely to be included in the voter lists on their return. There is no rule of law or due process of law as Mizoram government often abdicates its responsibility to the non-State actors like YMA and MZP to delete the minorities in the State from the voter list.
Yet, the government of India announced a Rs 28 crore package for the rehabilitation of Brus. It was unwise to declare the package without specifying the time frame for the return of the Brus from Tripura and the package for each family. Since the Mizoram government refuses to take back all the Brus, are we to presume that Mizoram government will take back all of them or is it a case that Central government has already accepted the number of Brus to be repatriated? Unless the displaced Brus are rehabilitated, new-armed opposition group such as the Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM) will emerge.
II. Despair in the relief camps
During the visit to the relief camps under Kanchanpur sub-division in North Tripura from 2-4 January 2006, Asian Centre for Human Rights found the conditions of over 34,000 displaced Brus in the camps in North Tripura as sub-human. It is clear that Tripura government does not believe in "Athithi Deva Bhava".
The daily cash dole of Rs 2.90 i.e. Rs 87/- per month given to each adult Bru is extremely discriminatory considering that displaced Kashmiri pandits from Jammu and Kashmir are provided Rs 800/- per month.
Since 2001, the new-born babies have been included only in the census but not in the relief cards to make them eligible for food items. Those who have become adult in the last five years continue to be given rations as minor. In any case, the ration of 450 grams of rice is so inadequate that displaced Brus do not even report death as it means further reduction of the rations being provided. Although officials claimed that dal and coconut oil are being provided, it was a news to the Brus.
Medical facilities are non-existent and the expenditures of the State government do not show medical expenses. Doctors have allegedly not visited the relief camps from six months to one and half year now. Only when the death of the Brus takes epidemic proportion, the doctors visit the camps. The conditions of children and pregnant women are the worst. As there are no primary health care centers, pregnant women are forced to deliver at the relief camps. Maternity death is quite high and as are also the common diseases.
Most tube wells are out of order. The Brus are forced to drink water from the streams and ponds, thereby causing water-born diseases. Sanitation facilities are non-existent.
The Tripura government has made a mockery of the right to education, as it has not provided any educational facilities to the children in the camps. Even the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education for All) has not been extended to the Bru relief camps. Effectively, over 5,000 minors have been denied the right to education and an entire generation of the Brus has been kept illiterate in the last eight years. The policy of the Tripura government on denying the right to education to the Brus is no less condemnable than the practices of the Mizoram government.
III. Conclusion
There is no doubt that Reangs have been displaced essentially because of the xenophobic reaction. The refusal of the State government of Mizoram has also exposes negative sides of federalism where a State can allow non-State actors to perpetrate essentially a racist and ethnic cleansing programme and question bonafide of the victims.
As regard to the IDP camp conditions, India seriously needs a policy to improve the deplorable conditions of the conflict-induced displaced persons.
Hindustan Times, October 22, 2005 Saturday
New Delhi, Oct. 22 -- Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today deplored continuing senseless killings of the Dimashas and Karbis in Assam.
About 88 persons have been killed till Friday, hundreds of houses gutted and about 20,000 people internally displaced who are desperate need for food, medicine, drinking water and physical security.
"Indiscriminate killings of the civilians and burning down of villages both by the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) and United Peoples Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) violate the basic principles of international humanitarian law standards and constitute crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court. Nothing can justify the killing of innocent civilians,"said Suhas Chakma, the Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
"The issue is not only ensuring respect for cease-fire ground rules or disarming the armed groups as stressed by the Ministry of Home Affairs but also identifying the culprits responsible for the killings and leaders who have been organizing the carnage, and prosecuting them for crimes against humanity. Unless the culprits are brought to justice, such wanton killings will recur and the North East will become akin to the Great Lakes region of Africa," Chakma added.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights urged the Union Home Ministry and theState government of Assam to immediately provide humanitarian assistance tothe displaced Dimashas and Karbis at par with assistance given to the KashmiriPandits and ensure adequate security by deploying adequate security forceswithout any further delay.
Brus Bid Farewell To Arms, But What About IDPs?
Meera Sundar,Financial Times Information
The Mizoram government can finally heave a sigh of relief with the conclusion of a critical stage of a decade-long problem in the Mizo capital of Aizawl recently. It is not just about one more pact in Mizoram. It is the outcome of protracted negotiations between the state government and the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) for over four years in which 12 rounds of talks finally culminated in a solution agreeable to both sides: the rebels surrendered their arms and ammunition at Tuipuibari Transit Camp in western Mizoram. The BNLF, headed by its president Surjaya Moni Reang and general secretary Solomon Prophul Ushoy, had formally laid down arms, consisting of AK-47s, M-16s and SL rifles, a small batch of nine weapons with more than 600 rounds of ammunition.At least 195 Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) cadres and their families totalling 285 people were transported from the Naisingpara camp in Tripura in 30pick-ups and 10 medium trucks with police escort. The camp, now called Sidan Transit Camp, has 42 houses to accommodate all these families. Electricity, water supply and other household facilities have been provided. Senior doctors have conducted medical check-ups of the rebels on their arrival at the camp. Mizoram home minister Tawnluia declared that the state government would take all steps to accelerate the pace of development in the western belt of Mizoram covering Bru (also known as Reangs) settlements. A special development project will be implemented, depending upon the quantum of financial assistance received from the Centre, he said. Earlier, during the visit by Union home minister Shivraj Patil, it was announced that the Centre would provide Rs 28 crore for the rehabilitation of the rebels. But now an even bigger task confronts the state government, after the paper work of the peace accord: the repatriation process of the BNLF displaced, driven out by the Mizos in 1997 and who took refuge in neighbouring Tripura. The main difference between Tripura and Mizoram is over the number of Bru refugees, who had been displaced from their homes and villages. The Mizo government says 17,000 Brus had left for Tripura in 1977 (as internally displaced people or IDPs), while Tripura says some 33,000 people were sheltered in six north Tripura camps. In addition, there was no time frame for repatriation proposed in the peace accord between the Mizoram government and BNLF, signed in April. Already, the powerful NGOs in the state have sent astrong message to the state government that proper identification of Brus ofMizo origin from those in the Tripura camps should be prioritised. These groups also asserted that the 1995 voters list should be used to identify whether ornot the person was a Mizoram resident. But officials here say that the government would take effective steps to take back the bona fide residents ofMizoram and a special development project will be implemented, depending upon the size of the financial assistance from the Centre. The BNLF, floated in 1997,had demanded a separate autonomous district council for the Brus carved out from the northwestern parts of the state. After local tension, following the deathof a Mizo forest officer in the hands of Brus, many Bru families left forTripura in October 1997. Other Brus joined them later in 1998, swelling their numbers, and they were treated as refugees by Tripura and the Government of India and lodged in six different camps. Camp life was hard for the Brus despite Central assistance and resentment finally took the shape of the militant uprising, although the number of armed cadres and arms, as noted earlier, was small. But it was a blow to the Mizoram government, which had prided itself on establishing the most peaceful state in India after the end of the Mizo insurgency in 1986. Some church leaders were approached to act as intermediaries between the government and the BNLF. In its memorandum of 18 April 2001 to the Mizoram government, the BNLF again demanded the creation of an autonomous district council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and listed another nine demands. In the first meeting, Mizoram government representatives’ rejected the demand for a separate autonomous district council. This was replaced with the demand for a regional council. Another meeting in 2002, where the demands were further toned down, also failed. (The author is a freelance journalist based in Mizoram.)

Umma not adequate for migrants in Malaysia

ACHR REVIEW, Embargoed for: 22 February 2006, Review: 113/06,
The recovery of dead bodies of five migrant workers from a lake in Selayang area of Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur from 11 to 13 February 2006 following a raid by the immigration officials belonging to the notorious "RELA," Malaysia's controversial baton-wielding volunteer reserve, once again exposes continuing gross violations of the rights of the migrant workers in Malaysia. Two of the five dead bodies were recovered from the lake - a flooded open cast-mining pit late on 11 February 2006 and the rest three on 12 and 13 February 2006.
According to eyewitnesses, in the early hours of 11 February 2006, the immigration department conducted a raid. The officers jumped from their trucks and headed for Selayang's large open market where many of the migrants work. Seeing the "Rela" personnel arrive, Hamzan Ali Abdullah, a Burmese Muslim migrant worker, who works in the market, ran away and hid behind the undergrowth near the lake. As he hid he heard screams and cries of migrant workers for "help". He could not see the Rela officers due to the darkness but he had heard them speaking in Malay, "Yes, there were, there were. Come out come out, if you run away we will kill you."
The Malaysian government disputed suggestions that anybody died during the raid or as a result of the raid. It issued a statement rejecting the migrants' account of events stating, "At 2 am on 11 February 2006 Rela carried out an operation to check documents of foreign workers in the open market at Selayang. Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly. However, many illegal immigrants were seen running away."
Autopsy on four dead bodies was conducted on 13 February 2006. One of the dead bodies identified to be of Zaw Oo, a Burmese migrant, was not taken to hospital and was buried quickly instead. While the bodies showed no signs of stab or slash wounds, a doctor said the bodies were too badly decomposed to be able to tell whether they had been beaten with batons, such as those carried by Rela volunteers.
The latest death of migrant workers is not an isolated incident of atrocities against migrant workers by the immigration authorities in Malaysia. There have been consistent reports of torture and other abuses against the migrant workers periodically which have been facilitated by country's legal and administrative system. The Immigration Act of Malaysia allows indefinite detention pending deportation. Undocumented persons in Malaysia irrespective of whether they are alleged illegal migrant workers or asylum seekers can face up to a five-year jail sentence, a RM10,000 (US$2,600) fine and six strokes of the cane under the Immigration Act, which was amended in 2002. About 75% of the prisoners in Malaysia are foreigners. About 18,000 illegal migrant workers were whipped in 2003.
The intensity of abuses against the undocumented migrant workers and the lack of training, command and accountability of the RELA and other immigration officials have been clearly proven by the case of illegal detention of a Malaysian citizen, 23-year-old Mohd Nazri Harris from Johor at the temporary detention centre for illegal immigrants for about two months since 23 September 2005 by the Immigration Department. Mr. Harris' illegal detention came to the notice of the authorities only after the daily Borneo Post carried his story. He was released on 18 November 2005 only after Suhakam Commissioner Prof Datuk Hamdan Adnan intervened after his meeting with Mr. Nazri Harris on his visit to the centre on 17 November 2005 to investigate a rioting incident a day earlier. Although previously Nazri had produced his birth certificate to show that he is from Kota Tinggi, Johor, immigration officers refused to let him go.
Atrocities against the migrant workers were perpetrated even when the amnesty was operative during November 2004 to February 2005. The "Operation Tegas" which was launched from 1 March 2005 targeted only undocumented migrant workers and not employers or recruiting agents. Many employers, especially the contractors in the construction industry, in the small and medium industries and employers of domestic workers do not renew the work permits and thus the labourers become undocumented. If workers, especially domestic workers, decide to run away to escape from abuse and violence they have their work permits cancelled and thus become undocumented. The Immigration Department refuses to issue legal documents to migrants with pending court cases. The workers are only issued special passes for a maximum of three months, though it takes at least six months to settle a case through the court process. During the period of hearing, they are not allowed to have new work permit and remain under threat of arrest and imprisonment. They too become undocumented migrants.
Asian Centre for Human Rights has maintained that the crackdown is unlikely to address the problem of illegal migrants in Malaysia unless it addresses the primary concern - the willingness of many Malaysian employers to break the law and employ foreign staff without work permits. In November 2005, Home Affairs Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid stated that only four out of 128 pending cases of employers charged with hiring illegal immigrants had been dealt with since 2003.
Malaysia needs foreign workers and around 11% of their workforces are foreigners. However, Malaysia's policy has been influenced by "Umma" or Islamic brotherhood rather than the rule of law. In February 2005, Minister of Home Affairs Datuk Azmi Khalid announced that Rohingyas would, in addition to having been recognised as refugees, be permitted to work in Malaysia and be given job-related training for that purpose. He also said that the Rohingya children would be provided with education. But over twenty Rohingya refugees were deported to Burma in 2005. Malaysia also allowed 131 Thai Muslims, who fled from Narathiwat province of Southern Thailand in August 2005 to stay in the country but their refugee status was caught in the diplomatic standoff between Bangkok and Kualampur.
So long Malaysia does not develop laws based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination in conformity with international human rights standards for protection of migrant workers, "Umma" is inadequate and the rights of the vulnerable migrant workers will be trampled upon. The recovery of dead bodies of five migrant workers from a lake in Selayang area of Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur is a clear testimony.
Malaysia's mystery migrant deaths
Jonathan Kent, BBC News, Kuala Lumpur,
Walk along the streets of Selayang, a suburb of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, and the phone shops tell you everything you need to know about the population. The shops sell discount international phone cards, posting the rates to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. Selayang is an area where the capital's migrant workers live, legally and illegally. For years Malaysia has been trying to contain a burgeoning number of illegal migrant workers.
In late 2004 it declared an amnesty allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants - mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines - to leave before launching a major operation to deport the rest in March last year. But illegal immigrants still make up a large population - hundreds of thousands of people, according to estimates - and the economy depends heavily on foreign workers. And they live largely anonymously, so anonymously that when five bodies were dragged out of a small lake in Selayang this week it did not merit a single mention in the media. Exactly how the five died is unclear. There are conflicting accounts from migrants living in the area and from the authorities.
But what is known is that in the early hours of last Saturday, 11 February, an immigration raid took place. The officers jumped from their trucks and made for Selayang's large open market, where many of the migrants work. Mohammad Shaiku, a Burmese with a work permit, was working that night. "I was inside the market," he said. "The police arrived after two that night and rounded up people. And after that some people ran off to the lake and after that I think the police beat them." I asked him whether it was the regular police, polis biasa, who carried out the raid, or Rela, Malaysia's controversial baton-wielding volunteer reserve, which was mobilised last March to tackle the immigration issue. "Rela," he said. "Rela, Rela." The use of Rela has been criticised by Western human rights groups who say its members are not properly trained or supervised.
Hamzan Ali Abdullah was another Burmese Muslim working at the market. I asked him whether he had seen the authorities arrive. "Yes we did see them and we had to run and hide very, very quickly," he said. He ran out the back of the market, through a nearby street and across the road to a lake - a flooded open cast-mining pit - about five minutes away at a jog. There he says he hid in the undergrowth and the dark. And through the blackness he heard screams. "We heard they were crying in their own languages, and some in Burmese crying 'help help'." He could not see the Rela officers in the darkness so I asked whether he had heard them speaking Malay. "Yes, there were, there were," he said. "The police were shouting: 'Come out come out, if you run away we will kill you'. "Those caught in their hands were beaten by two or three policemen. They treated them like cattle. Their voices were very haughty and arrogant. Their voices were like soldiers and policemen." The first of the bodies was found later that day.
Malaysia's Interior Ministry has said that police have confirmed the discovery of two bodies. But according to several local witnesses, five bodies were dragged from the lake over the days that followed. One was that of 29-year-old Thant Zaw Oo, the uncle of Mohammad Shaiku's wife. Mr Mohammad said the body showed signs of having been beaten. "It was half in the water and I saw his teeth, his two front teeth were missing". Black blood [was visible] in his mouth and on wounds on his head and neck, Mr Mohammad said.
Government denial
Other workers at the market also said Rela volunteers appeared angry and had chased migrants towards the lake. They produced pictures of Zaw Oo's funeral and of another dead man, who they said was a Sikh, being pulled from the water.“Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly” Malaysian government on the Rela crackdown Kuala Lumpur Hospital confirmed that four bodies had been taken there from the lake in Selayang. Zaw Oo's body was not taken to hospital, being buried quickly instead. While they showed no signs of stab or slash wounds, a doctor said the bodies were too badly decomposed to be able to tell whether they had been beaten with batons, such as those carried by Rela volunteers. Malaysia's Interior Ministry firmly disputes suggestions anybody died during the raid. It issued a statement rejecting the migrants' account of events.
"At 2am on 11 February Rela carried out an operation to check documents of foreign workers in the open market at Selayang," it said. "Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly. However many illegal immigrants were seen running away." The ministry statement referred to two bodies on which post mortems had been carried out and which it said exonerated the Rela team. "Based on the post mortem report made on 13 February 2006 the deaths occurred about three to five days previously, meaning on 10 February at the latest, proving that these deaths have nothing to do with the Rela operation on 11 February," the statement said. Human rights groups say the controversy about the incident shows that the government should not be using semi-trained Rela volunteers for such tasks. "Malaysia should withdraw this authorisation and reserve immigration enforcement for trained government authorities," Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued from New York. Amnesty International [AI] in London wanted to see tighter controls. "AI continues to have grave concerns about the training, command and control supervision, and accountability of Rela "volunteers" and Immigration Department officers," it said. Malaysia's civil liberties groups have taken a similar line.
Off the record, government sources said that Selayang was an area notorious for both organised crime and for gang warfare between rival foreign gangs. The same sources have suggested that the five may have been victims of such clashes - which does not seem to square with the Interior Ministry's statement that post mortem results showed no sign of any violence. None of which leaves anyone any clearer about why five bodies turned up in a short space of time in a small lake on the fringes of the capital. Still, Malaysians are certainly worried about crime and blame much of it on foreign workers. The economy may rely on them but there is limited tolerance for immigrants, illegal or even legal. And five foreigners can turn up dead in one small area and it does not merit a single mention anywhere in the Malaysian press. Nor did reports widely circulated last year that two migrants died after being struck by a Rela truck, also in Selayang. From time to time there the deaths of migrants workers does make the news, but it is written small, on the inside pages.