Rural poverty and isolated North East pose threat to India's security and stability
Global recession has claimed a number of industrialized nations as victims-United States being one of them, India's economy seems to be doing just fine. With estimated 6.5% GDP growth in 2009, India weathered the recession just fine.
But for the country's rural poor, the impressive GDP growth and the continuing success of Indian economy don't mean much.
Cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and hundreds of growing urban centers in India are developing into islands of prosperity and opportunity; little is tricking down to the poor rural areas across the country. Orissa-one of India's poorest state, is experiencing acute food shortage. National Human Rights Commission-New Delhi based national organization, recently conducted on the spot investigation over reports of starvation death in the state's Balangir District.
Orissa has also seen violent communal conflict, stemming from lack of economic opportunity and rising religious extremism. In last five years, there have been a number of cases of religion influenced violence in the state. In 2008, riots broke out in Khandhaml district between Hindus and Christians, many families were displaced and forced to live in temporary camps. Same year, reported rape of a nun by alleged Hindu fanatics in the district also sparked violence. Tensions are still high in the area.
Orissa's tale of misery is not isolated one. Throughout India, large pockets of economic, social and political deprivation are fast growing-posing threat to the stability of the nation.
Discontent in Orissa-among the Hindus and Christians, could give rise to local insurgency movement; where each group seeks to establish a separate homeland. Limited economic opportunity, resources and poverty could further strengthen communal animosity.
Economy influenced insurgency movement is rife in impoverished state of Chattisgarh. Here, the Naxalite movement (the Maoists of India) is locked in a violent power struggle with the government. The armed guerillas claim to stand for economic, social and political rights of their people. They derive strength from the fact despite Chattisgarh's economic growth in recent years, the state's population largely remains poor-especially the rural areas and that wealth distribution is discriminatory against the rural and tribal population. Naxals are also against the government's exploration and development of local mining and minerals industry.
The guerillas regularly attack security personnel and government installations. They have also targeted civilians who are seen as pro-government, pro-establishment. Guardian reported last year that violence in Chattisgarh could turn into an African-style conflict over natural resources and economic rights, with large scale civilian suffering.
Chattisgarh's local population is caught between the government and the insurgents. Naxal violence is dragging the state behind and the government's tough tactic against the insurgents-in some cases entire villages have been forcibly emptied and residents moved to large camps to flush out Naxals and their supporters, is punishing the innocent.
Strong security response is the only solution being tried out by Chattisgrah's sate government and New Delhi. They have largely ignored valid grievances of the people on discriminatory wealth distribution, tribal land and resources rights and also on adequate political participation. This apathy can only aggravate already volatile situation in many parts of the state.
India's North East region comprising of seven states( Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya) is also in turmoil. Here separatist groups have wrecked havoc on economy and social life.
Assam has been dealing with armed separatist movement for more than three decades. Although concentrated security campaign has diminished strength of local armed groups, domestic terrorism is still a major issue in the area. Neighboring states of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram are also dealing with armed separatist groups.
Compared to Naxalite violence in Chattisgarh and religious riots in Orissa, problems in the North East region is unique- here economic backwardness and lack of infrastructure along with cultural and social alienation from national mainstream is a major issue.
According to Northeast Support Center-a New Delhi based rights organization, racial discrimination against the North Easterners is rife in India. Even in capital New Delhi, North East Indians face racial abuse and discrimination. Majority of North Easterners physical features resemble that of Tibetans and Nepalese-with smaller eyes and nose. Many complaint that because of their different appearance they are treated as foreigners in their own country, called abusive names and even face harassment by security personnel.
North East also feels cultural isolation because India's mainstream culture, as represented by national media, rarely gives importance to the region-unless there are incidents of violence or natural calamity. Television programming-soap operas and other entertainment programming, almost exclusively focus on North and South India;giving an impression that the North East is not a priority.
For Indians in the North East,Orissa and Chattisgarh, their country's growing economy and expanding influence in the world stage is of little use. A culture of rich benefiting at the expense of poor and the majority's interest before the repressed minority is pushing people in these regions away from national mainstream. They are being pushed to economic and cultural poverty.
Creating such islands of desperation and disenfranchisement will only add to India's domestic terrorism problems. Angry and hungry citizens don't make a happy and secured nation.