Friday, September 18, 2009

Jayakrishna Goit, the underground leader of the Akhil Terai Mukti Morcha, talks about his demand for an independent sovereign state in the Terai region of Nepal. Photo by Subhash Sharma

The Explosive Plains of Nepal

By Anuj Chopra

TERAI PLAINS, NEPAL -- At first glance, Jaikrishna Goit defies every image of an armed militant. A lean, bespectacled sexagenarian, clad in a handspun cotton kurta, he proffers quotes from history books to articulate his argument – that his native Terai, a low-lying stretch of alluvial plains in southern Nepal, has the right to secede and form an independent state.
“Our land was annexed by colonial powers and then ceded to Nepal’s Pahadi rulers in the 19th century through different treaties. But with the 1950 Indo-Nepal accord, all previous treaties stood abrogated. Nepal’s rule over Terai is illegal,” Mr Goit said in an interview at an ashram in a dusty Indian village near the border with Nepal. “We want – and deserve – liberation.”
For many Nepalis, Mr Goit is a terrorist, responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and and willing to engage in criminality to achieve his separatist goals. When asked about his group’s methods, he paused to consider his response.
“Gandhi, too, advocated the use of arms for independence,” he said, before digging into his bag to pull out a magazine carrying an Indian government advertisement that had a quote from Gandhi. “Gandhi once said,” he began, quoting from the ad, “I would rather have people resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner remain a hopeless witness to their own dishonour”.
“We, Madhesis, aren’t cowards,” he added.
Once a top Maoist leader, Mr Goit is now high on the Nepali government’s most-wanted list. He leads the Akhil Terai Mukti Morcha (ATMM), an underground militant group fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Madhesis, who make up one-third of Nepal’s population. He sidled out of hiding in Nepal through the porous Indo-Nepal border for this interview. ...
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Anand Kumar flanked by his bodyguards. Photo by Subhash Sharma

India's School For The Poor But Gifted

By Anuj Chopra

PATNA, INDIA -- On a recent evening, a gaggle of students huddled together on wobbly wooden benches in a spartan classroom under a tin-shed, celebrating their new-found achievement with milk cakes. “If I hadn’t made it,” remarked 17-year-old Vishwaraj Anand, one the students, “I would have to toil all my life in my father’s paddy farm. Now I’m a step closer to going to Nasa to study about the worlds beyond.” Their teacher, a short, slightly stout, man called Anand Kumar, stood before the dusty blackboard, wearing a beaming smile. These students recently passed an undergraduate entrance test. But not just any ordinary test.
For a whole year, they slogged with a singular obsession of gaining admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), a string of 15 top-notch engineering colleges – the Indian equivalent of Ivy League schools – which, since India’s independence, have created some of the world’s brightest tech wizards and engineering geniuses.
IITs are notoriously selective in their admission procedure. About 384,977 students took their Joint Entrance Test (IIT-JEE) this year, hankering after 8,295 seats, indicating an admission rate of around two per cent, the most competitive in the world. (That at Princeton, Yale, and Harvard hovers around nine per cent). Only 10,035 cracked the test this year. Thirty of them sat in this ramshackle classroom.
Ronsomo Langthasa, one of the victims of ethnic violence, in front of her burnt house in Assam's Jorai village. Photo by Sanjit Das

Victims of Burning Ethnic Tensions

By Anuj Chopra

NORTH CACHAR HILLS, INDIA -- The gunmen, nearly a dozen of them, some in black commando fatigues and bandannas, others in ordinary clothes, came in the early hours of the morning. While the villagers were still sleeping, they opened fire. Those who were able to, ran, taking only their children. But the gunmen chased them down and then torched their homes. Pabitra Lankhasa, 50, remembers shouting over the din of confusion to his wife and children, telling them to run for their lives as their village was set ablaze behind them. Days later, the family returned, to find a blackened divot where their house once stood. Everything they owned was destroyed. After the early May attack, a clutch of policemen armed with indigenously-made assault rifles nervously guard Jorai village, in India’s state of Assam, hunkering behind a sandbag outpost and a makeshift watchtower in a jackfruit tree. “Why did they target us?” said Mr Lankhasa, wearing only a lungyi. “I have no clue. All I can say with certainty is that they were Zeme Naga assailants thirsty for Dimasa blood.” ...

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Cadres of the ceasefire militant group, Dima Halam Daogan (DHD), at a weapons training drill in their designated camp in Assam's North Cachar Hills. Photo by Sanjit Das

Taking The Battle To Enemy Within

By Anuj Chopra

NORTH CACHAR HILLS, INDIA -- After hours of being out of mobile phone range, the bell finally rang. “Commander Daniel here,” said a scratchy voice on the other end, probably somewhere in the remote jungles of Assam’s North Cachar Hills. “What do you want?”

The signal was weak. His coarse voice was breaking. It sounded as though Commander Daniel was on the move. He declined a face-to-face interview – “Too risky, we are being hounded” – but he had a terse message for the Indian government.

“Tell them,” he said, “if they think they can crush us just because they’ve got our chairman, they are wrong. Our movement will not stop.”

One of the most wanted fugitives in the region, Commander Daniel – Daniel Dimasa – escaped with two other rebels in a jailbreak in December after eight months behind bars. He is one of the top commanders of the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel), also called Black Widow, the most lethal insurgent group in the region, active since 2003. It is fighting for a separate state within India for the Dimasas, the largest tribal group in this hill district. ...

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