Stories of Fractured Land and its People

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highway39cover“Do you want an honest answer? I don’t consider myself an India

In 2002 or 2003, a first generation entrepreneur from Manipur, Neichute Doulo who was born in 1972, gives an honest answer that she doesn’t consider herself as an Indian as like as she doesn’t consider herself as an American or as a Chinese.

The book “Highway 39; Journeys through a fractured land” Published in 2012 and writer Suddep Chakravarti started working in 2008, he traveled the fractures land through the attributes of National Highway 39, which starts from Numligarh of Assam. Numaligarh the place, which is famous for oil refining, for some of the Assamese it is the sign of economic exploitation by the Indian state as well!

In 2013, Supreme Court of India strikes down the demand of Inner Line Permit for Manipur. Why after so many years of independence, people of the fractured land want to be isolated? Why they are in a dilemma to take Look East Policy whole heartedly? What are the reasons behind?

First Prime Minister of the country Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru described Manipur as the ‘Jewel of India’. After more half a century, why the people of that ‘Jewel’ feels alienated from the mainland India? Why the women went necked to register their agony through the slogans like “Indian Army Rape Us!” Why Irom Shormila is on decade long hunger strike?

To find answer of these entire questions, perhaps Sudeep Chakravarti’s Highway 39 may be your best companion. Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of the “Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country”, a well articulated book with a narrative journalistic approach. He also authored at least three fictions. His debut novel Tin Fish is a bestselling book.  He is basically a hardcore journalist. He started his career with The Asian Wall Street Journal, then hold senior position in Sunday, India Today and HT Media. Now he settled in Goa and busy in serious and long writings. His critics say that, he is now exposed to the actual ‘field’ of journalism!

Highway 39 is the result of his enthusiastic journey into the deep hinterlands of Manipur and Nagaland.  This is basically a travelogue, which narrates, almost everything that matters the people of this region.  He vividly describes the beauty of the region as well in his book.

Vidyarani, a sixth standard girl student was illegally detained by the Indian military and the Manipur Police to nab her parents. She was kept captive from 14th August to 18th August until her parents surrendered before the police.  Sudeep Chakravarti finds out how the horrific incident changed the life of a little girl. Vidyarani fears, perhaps her parents are being tortured. She can’t speak or play with her friends any more. Sudeep remembers his own little girl child who is having a beautiful childhood!

The brutality, there is no limit in fact! The author describes in a chapter, an alleged active member of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) was given electric shocks eight times in his private parts! Rape, murder, detention, harassment are the everyday day business. In another chapter “Find a scapegoat, frame him, kill him. Then, kill some more” the author describes how a former PLA associate Sanjit was framed and killed. Sanjit was twice arrested and freed. His family insisted to distract him from his former comrade and was working in private hospital since 2006, but he was framed and killed in 2009. Author remembers the article headline of Tehelka “Murder in Plain Sight: In Manipur death comes easily”. The police also killed a pregnant woman Rabina and had given explanation that she was killed accidently when police fired at the “fleeing youth” (Sanjit). Sudeep Chakravarti meets the family of Rabina, gets down into the pain and suffering of the family. He discovers two and half years old Russel was accompanying his mother when she was killed. Sudeep’s description is vivid and heart touching!

People allege that Armed Forces Special Power Act has given licence to the armed personals to harass them, kill them and rape them. Irom Sharmila is fighting to repeal the law since long time. Government is not heading to her demand; on the other hand she is being prosecuted under the India Penal Code alleging that she trying to suicide? What an irony! The Act which was designed by the colonial government to suppress the Indians, now that Act is being used to oppressed the Indians! The Justice JS Verma committee formulated after Delhi gang rape case, recommended to repeal the black law and also suggested to make the senior official responsible for committing rape by his/her subordinate. But the government didn’t accept the recommendations for the reasons best known to the government only!

Sudeep Chakravarti not only recorded the brutality of the armed forces alone; he also shown how a parallel administration is being run by the militants in this region. The people have to pay the taxes to the militants as well to live in the society. Otherwise consequences are imaginable. He also described the fights and killing among the factions of the militant groups. Once they were comrades has become deadly enemies now.  The militants are fighting each other for mere ego also!

He extensively traveled Kohima, Senapati, Imphal, Thoubal, Ukhrul, Moreh and the interior villages of those areas. He met militants, police administrators, civil administrators, victims, human rights activist, social activists and the people in general during his journey. He talked to them and tried to find out where the problem lies. He talks to the leadership of NSCN. He met Thuingaleng Muivah and discusses about their movement, development and future roadmap of Naga Movement.

He describes how the people feels alienated from the mainland India due to the inhuman atrocities by the police and military as well economic stagnation. He tries to find out the aspiration of local people, economic prosperity of this region. Geographically, this area is a wonderful place for tourism development. The beautiful lake like Loktak can attract thousands of tourists. But it is not being possible. In a chapter “Who told you this is a tourist place?” the author ironically asked a young couple from Delhi who visited Imphal for the first time “How many checkpoints did you count?” The young lady answered “I lost count after five”. In this scenario can we expect tourism development? Another important point is that this place is neighbouring to international border of Myanmar. Moreh, the last point of Highway 39 is a business centre. But it is not developed as it can be expected.

At the conclusion, two statements of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru are wondering in my mind. First statement I have shared in the very beginning of the discussion, he termed Manipur as ‘Jewel of India”. After so many years of oppression, subjugation and exploitation perhaps Indian state couldn’t identify that “Jewel”. God knows how many years they will take to at least understand that the people living in that “Jewel” are also human being! They have human right and deserve a life with dignity! And the second statement of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is on Naga movement, he said “it would be a matter of few days for the Indian armed forces to crush the Nagas”. But after 60 years of this statement Nagas are still fighting for their rights and dignity.

I would recommend the book as a must read, especially for those who are working or intended to work in the field of peace and conflict resolution and ethnicity as well.

Author Sudeep Chakravarti
Publisher Fourth Estate,  Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Publication Year 2012
ISBN 9789350293348
Language English
Binding Paperback
Number of Pages 388 Pages

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