ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Danger of Unilateralism

In reply to my comments on her article “Justice Denied to Tribals in the Hill Districts of Manipur” (EPW, 31 July 2010) Bela Bhatia has made certain general points which are quite benign and acceptable in the abstract, but which become quite complicated in parti cular political and historical contexts. Every Indian nationality nurses certain grievances regarding the state boundaries within which it is confi ned and periodically lays claim to territory now included in some other states. For example the Assamese themselves feel that the area now forming the northern part of West Bengal legitimately belongs to Assam because Assamese vernacular language and literature were born there and were nurtured in the kingdom of Cooch Behar. In 1925 the capital of the medieval Kacharee kingdom Dimapur was made part of the Naga Hills district by colonial authorities, which was later expanded into the state of Nagaland. The southern Bodos or Dimasas still rue the decision, but they do not believe in taking to arms in support of such claims. There are plenty of historical instances to bear out such compromises and concessions in some larger interests. Hence the idea of a pristine “homeland” has to be abandoned for the sake of peace among nations.

Actually the principle of territorial state itself is not quite amenable to adjudication in a court of law. What may be placed before courts is the legitimacy or illegitimacy of certain boundaries. It has however been accepted as unimpeachable in modern political practice, which has been enforced around the world by colonial powers in a rather rigid fashion. Medieval chronicles do indicate boundaries, but without cartographic precision. Besides, there were grey areas where practical considerations made neighbouring kingdoms relax in their insistence on such principles. Today’s globalised world has also witnessed certain adjustments. Same is the case with “sovereignty”. If the Naga demand for territorial integrity of all Nagainhabited areas into a unified state is conceded, it might lead to chaos and disaster for other people living for many generations in the same area. Kukis had migrated into Naga-inhabited areas centuries ago, and there had been bloody deplorable conflicts between them leading to loss of innocent lives. The Assamese too have lived in many areas now claimed by the Nagas for generations, and no one recalls a time when Nagas were in occupation there. The pity is that Naga claims are unilateral and they have not cared to submit to adjudication.

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