Burma's ruling junta acknowledged that it withdrew its forces from a key city on the border with China after it was seized by an alliance of ethnic rebel armies. The fall of Laukkai Jan. 4 is the most significant defeat the junta has suffered since the self-declared Three Brotherhood Alliance launched its offensive in northeastern Shan state Oct. 27. (AP, Myanmar Now) Days earlier, on Dec. 30, at least 150 junta soldiers fled across the border into India's Mizoram state, driven from their outposts in Burma's northwestern Chin state by the rebel Arakan Army. The soldiers turned themselves over to a detachment of India's paramilitary Assam Rifles, and had to be flown back to Burmese territory. (Tribune India, The Economic Times, BNI)
The Indian government and the state government of Assam signed a peace agreement Dec. 29 with the rebel United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), aiming to end over 40 years of insurgency. ULFA leader Arabinda Rajkhowa, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Union Minister Amit Shah were all present for the signing ceremony in New Delhi.
In Episode 178 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the new eruption of ethnic violence in Northeast India's state of Manipur, which was the scene of far deadlier inter-communal clashes last month. The spark was the current bid by the Meitei people to become a "scheduled tribe," granting them access to resource-rich forestlands. This is opposed by the Kuki and Naga peoples, whose tribes are already "scheduled"—but are nonetheless being targeted for eviction from Manipur's forestlands under the guise of a crackdown on opium cultivation. The Kuki and Naga leadership perceive a land-grab for their ancestral forest territory by the Meitei—the dominant group in Manipur, who already control the best agricultural land in the state's central Imphal Valley. The Kuki (including their Jewish sub-group, the Bnei Menashe) and Naga have long waged insurgencies seeking territorial autonomy, or even independence from India. And both their traditional territories extend across the border into Burma (where the Kuki are known as the Chin), pointing to potential convergence of the armed conflicts either side of the international line.
Hindu militant groups disrupted Christmas celebrations and vandalized decorations in parts of India this season, local media report. The most serious incident was in Silchar, in the northeastern state of Assam, where apparent followers of the Bajrang Dal "manhandled" Hindu youth who attempted to join observances at a Presbyterian Church on Christmas Day. In a video posted on social media, one follower said: "We have nothing against the Christians who have every right to celebrate Christmas. Our issue is with the Hindus who went against their dharma to sing Merry Christmas instead of observing Tulsi Divas." Dec. 25 is recognized by some Hindus as Tulsi Divas, dedicated to the spiritual significance of the basil plant—although it appears to be a recent invention, aimed at helping Hindus resist the lure of Christmas. Bajrang Dal is the youth arm of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing organization allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The VHP has been named as one of the groups involved in the 2002 Gujarat genocide.
If nothing sad happens in the next weeks, India's restive Northeastern region will complete another year without any incident of journo-murder, maintaining the trend for the last four years. The region, comprising eight states with a population of over 60 million, witnessed the slaying of journalists for the last time in 2017. However, the country as a whole continues to lose scribes to targeted killings. To date, the nation in 2021 has witnessed the murder of five journalists, while acclaimed Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed in Afghanistan. India lost 15 scribes to assailants in 2020, one of the worst records on Earth.
China has mobilized thousands of troops backed up by armored vehicles to a contested area along the border with India in the Himalayas, where troops last month hurled stones at each other across the unmarked boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The area in question is in the Galwan River valley between Ladakh, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin. Top generals from both sides held talks in Moldo, on the Chinese side, on June 6, but tensions remain high. India charges that Chinese forces are hindering patrols by its troops along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim, and refutes Beijing's claim that Indian forces have crossed to the Chinese side. (SCMP, NDTV, NDTV)
In Episode 47 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Punnag Tej Hazarika of the Brooklyn-based small-press imprint Coolgrove and affiliated BorderTalk blog, which explores questions of cultural intersection. Among Coolgrove's recent titles is Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs, a collection of translated lyrics by Tej's father, Bhupen Hazarika, the "Bard of Brahmaputra," who campaigned through his music for a dignified place in India for the peoples of Assam and other minority ethnicities. Last year, Tej traveled to New Delhi to receive the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, on behalf of his late father. But the honor came with India—and especially Assam and the restive Northeast—on the cusp of exploding into protest over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The politics of the situation, and the dilemmas of interculturality from Assam to New York, are discussed in a wide-ranging interview. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
In Episode 45 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with alarm the rapid consolidation of a global detention state, extending across borders and rival power blocs. In the United States, Trump moves toward indefinite detention of undocumented migrants, with horrific rights abuses widespread in the fast-expanding camp system. In China, up to a million Uighurs have been detained in "re-education camps," and are facing such abuses as forced sterilization. As India hypocritically protests China's treatment of the Uighurs, it is also preparing mass detention of its own Muslim population. Russia's Vladimir Putin is similarly preparing mass detention of the Crimean Tatars. In Syria, the Bashar Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands, and is carrying out a mass extermination of prisoners, almost certainly amounting to genocide. In Libya, countless thousands of desperate migrants have been detained, often by completely unaccountable militias, and an actual slave trade in captured Black African migrants has emerged. Yet Trump exploits the mass internment of the Uighurs to score propaganda points against imperial rival China—and some "leftists" (sic) in the US are so confused as to actually defend China's detention state. International solidarity is urgently needed at this desperate moment to repudiate such divide-and-rule stratagems. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.