Dr. Ajailiu Niumai, Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) delivered the Gandhi – King Lecture on International Relations and Peace Studies on 12th June 2014 at G21 Ming Hsieh Hall, Downtown Campus, Morgantown, USA, hosted by Eberly College of Arts & Sciences.
Speaking on “Strengthening Connections with North East India”, Dr. Niumai emphasized that the North East region has made significant contributions to the Indian history. For instance, Rani Gaidinliu a Zeliangrong (Rongmei) Naga lady had fought against the British Raj for which she was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1932 by the British administration. She was released after India’s Independence. Symbolically in line with the aspiration of the mainstream India, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army flag was unfurled for the first time at Moirang near Imphal in Manipur by Colonel Shaukat Hayat Malik, Commander of Bahadur group of the force and designated the place (Moirang) at its headquarters on April 14, 1944. In the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, many dedicated jawans and Army officers of the North East India have made supreme sacrifices.
Dr. Niumai mentioned about Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) that has come into-effect in North East States since September 11, 1958 after the Government of India declared the North East States as a disturbed area. It gives armed forces unlimited powers and impunity to tackle insurgency. She said that the problem of insurgency emerges, as people want sovereignty and autonomy but the state boundaries do not reflect the ethnic identity of the people. People aspire to possess and inhabit in their own land. She said that in such a situation, the region where conflict of interest exists, we have to explore, all possible avenues to resolve the conflict in consonance with the concept adopted by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. She pointed out that the underlying purpose of AFSPA has failed miserably since the armed forces have not been able to achieve their goal of eliminating the insurgent groups. She argued that the chief role of the State armed forces is to defend, protect the country and invade the neighbouring country, if required. She raised a question as to what happens when the armies attack his own people within the Country. She asserts that there has been a great sense of isolation, exclusion and lack of communication.
Dr. Niumai also expressed her view that, the biggest social concern is the manifestation of the new ‘spirit of intolerance’ that has become the threat to humanity, unity and integrity of the nation. She said that the ‘idea of India’ and ‘Indian as an identity’ is questioned by the intolerance, ethnic/racial prejudices and social exclusion meted out particularly to some sections of society especially of those from the North East. She said that ‘race’ is not about physical look utterly but it has to do more with cultural groups. She quoted Gandhi, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit” and highlighted that Gandhi’s vision of Ahimsa and peace has been shattered by extreme form of intolerance. She raised a question as to how to advance an atmosphere of tolerance, peace, unity and inclusion among its citizens? She stressed King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” She asserts that King’s speeches, efforts and his march in Washington for racial equality of the Afro-Americans and other minorities in the US and Gandhi’s efforts to bring about freedom, equality and peace in India linger afresh before us. She expressed that concerned individuals and policy makers need to evolve strategies to make people of North East India as equals and not inferior, and make the region inclusive. Dr. Niumai hopes that a new central government in power would have fresh thinking towards North East India and expressed that an intervention of the Indian American Diaspora to revoke the AFSPA would be critical. She implored the Indian Diaspora to join in the efforts of the Government of India in forging the bridge by sharing their skills, knowledge and ideas with the North East India and to bring about development and equality in this conflict-ridden region.
Prof. Joan Gorham, Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, Professor of Communication Studies, Eberly College of Arts & Sciences, West Virginia University welcomed the audience, introduced Dr. Ajailiu Niumai and later offered vote of thanks.
Ajailiu Niumai is the UGC Raman Post Doctoral Fellow under the INDO-US Knowledge Initiative (2013-14) & Visiting Scholar in the Department of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA. She serves as Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy, and Joint faculty, Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad, India.