Comparing India’s Disputed Borderlands: Kashmir and the Northeast

Date01 June 2014
Published date01 June 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Kunal Mukherjee, Department of International Relations/Asian Security,
University of Lancaster, England, UK. E-mail:
Comparing India’s
Disputed Borderlands:
Kashmir and the
Kunal Mukherjee
This article attempts a comparative study of India’s troubled border-
lands, that is, Kashmir and the Northeast region. Both the regions are
marked by geographical isolation, insurgent/secessionist movements,
heavy militarization and external intervention. Yet, the situation in the
Northeast is more complex because of its prodigious cultural diversity
and heterogeneity, and as a result, conflicts exist at many different levels.
However, the ethnic scenario in Kashmir is compounded by Pakistani
irredentism and the presence of Hindu nationalism and communalism.
These similarities and differences have been explored in terms of four
factors: the rise of ethnic nationalism; the role played by external actors;
the impact of globalization; and the human rights situation in the respec-
tive region. The article concludes with some recommendations for
improvement of the situation on the ground.
India, borderlands, Kashmir, Northeast, conflict
Since Independence in 1947, India has struggled to maintain peace in its
borderlands which have always been problem ridden. India’s border-
lands include Kashmir and the Northeast, both of which have been seen
as conflict zones by the Indian political establishment at New Delhi.
Whilst Kashmir is a single administrative political unit, the Northeast
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
18(1) 31–61
2014 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598414552749
32 Kunal Mukherjee
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 18, 1 (2014): 31–61
consists of seven states. The seven states which have traditionally been a
part of the Northeast include Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya,
Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura (to which Sikkim may be
added now). The aim of this article is to compare and contrast India’s
trouble-torn borderlands, namely, Kashmir and the Northeast, and to
look at the areas of similarity and differences between the two regions,
from 1947 till more recent times. Whilst doing the comparative study,
the article pays special attention to four major issues in both the regions:
the rise of ethnic nationalism; the role played by external actors; the
impact of globalization; and the human rights situation in the respective
region. The first half of the article looks at the situation in the Northeast
and the second half looks at the situation in Kashmir. An overall com-
parison follows in the final section.
The Northeast
The first and most obvious characteristic feature of this conflict is sepa-
ratist ethno-nationalism. Insurgencies in this part of India tend to be
nationalist with a largely separatist agenda. The major groups in the
region that have fought for independence include the United Liberation
Front of Assam (ULFA), the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) in Assam
[DHD], the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in Manipur and
finally, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Insurgency
in this part of India started with the Nagas, whose movement can be
traced back to 1918 with the formation of the Naga Club. In the year
1946, the Naga National Council (NNC) was formed and it declared
independence in 1947. The movement turned violent in the 1950s and
has been active in recent years under the leadership of the NSCN. In
Manipur, two very prominent separatist armed groups include the
Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) and its armed wing, the People’s
Liberation Army or PLA (not to be confused with the Chinese PLA).
Both these groups have been involved in armed struggle since the 1970s.
They have the aim of bringing into existence a classless society in
Manipur. The radical turn in Assamese nationalism may be traced back to
the influx of illegal migrants from former East Pakistan, or present-day
Comparing India’s Disputed Borderlands 33
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 18, 1 (2014): 31–61
Bangladesh. There were also violent protests when the union government
decided to transport crude oil from Assam to the heartland region, into
Bihar. This was seen not only as exploitative but also as an instance of
the region’s needs being made subservient to that of India proper. The
aim of the ULFA was to create a sovereign and socialist Assam in which
all indigenous people may stay and all others must leave (Singh
2001[2010]: 154).
The Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization (UNPO),
which is an international democratic institution based at the Hague, in
relation to Nagaland, reads:
For sixty four years, the Naga struggle for sovereignty has been based on
the idea of ‘urrauvie’ which means ‘our land belongs to us’. Over the years,
a collective sense of identity has been instilled and the idea of sovereignty
based on their historical rights and cultural identity has become real. Warring
factions created a sovereignty hyperbole, something akin to the idea of
Kashmir’s azadi, where the fight for independence was about ‘all or nothing’
and the cause that justified the violence was sovereignty. (UNPO 2012)
Now, of course, there are sections within the Naga separatist groups who
are being more realistic and practical and are reconsidering the whole
idea of an independent Nagaland.
The Indian establishment has, for years, treated the people of the
northeastern region with suspicion if not contempt, which, in turn, has
strengthened feelings of separatism. When people from the region visit
the Indian heartland for educational reasons or purpose of employment,
the indigenous people are confused with their identity and mistake them
for being of East Asian origin rather than Indian or South Asian origin.
This is because of their mongoloid racial features. Binalakshmi Nepram
from the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, a group which is
actively trying to bring peace in the region, expressed her feelings in
relation to this at the Indian of the Year Awards in 2011, held at Taj Hotel
in New Delhi. In her speech, she mentioned about how mainstream
Indians see people from her part of India as the Indian ‘other.’
Education is bad in Manipur because of the conflict there and three years
of graduation will make it five years. So when I came to New Delhi for my
higher studies, people looked at me and called me ‘chinki’ [a derogatory term
used by heartland Indians for people who are from the Northeast]. Even after

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