New Delhi (Mizzima) – India’s leading human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar has said the 34 Burmese rebels, currently lodged in Kolkata’s Presidency Jail, do not deserve to be detained. And that they have been betrayed by the Indian military intelligence. In her book – ‘Rogue Agent’ – officially released on Thursday, Haksar said Indian Military Intelligence Officer Lt Col V.S Grewal, now retired, spearheaded the plot to betray the Arakanese and Karen rebels, who were seeking a base in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands to launch their fight for democracy against Burmese military rulers.
Grewal, according to Haksar, took a huge amount of money from the rebels and promised them a safe base in one of the islands in Andaman and Nicobar, but later switched sides and killed six of their leaders in cold blood, and arrested the rest of them. In order to get an insight into the revelations made by the book, Mizzima’s reporter Salai Pi Pi interviewed Nandita Haksar, who has extensively researched and investigated the case and compiled it in her book.
Q. What is the main purpose of publishing this book – Rogue Agent?
A. The main purpose is to explore why the Government of India, the largest democracy, needs to politically put these people in Jail? My question is a political question. I do not think that they are in jail for a legal reason. I think they are in jail for a political reason. So, I have tried to explore the politics of the whole case.
Q. What are the challenges you have faced while investigating this case?
A. The challenge is basically to understand the connection, because there are connections within the geo-political situation. Burma is between China and India. So, we have to understand the reason behind India supporting Burma? Or China supporting Burma? Maybe India is supporting the regime to undermine China. That is why they are keeping these people in Jail. There are so many reasons—such as Shwe gas from Arakan. That is why India is keeping these people in jail. So, there are many reasons, which I have tried to explore. Why have they been kept in jail? They are ordinary villagers.
Q. To write this book, to what extent did you investigate the case?
A. Well, it was very difficult because I had to study the history of Arakan, Karen, the ‘Panglong’ spirit, the history of Indo-Burmese relations. So, it did require a certain amount of research, it was difficult getting material. All the facts I used were double-checked, cross-checked. No controversial facts have gone into this book.
Q. As far as we know, the case of these 34 [rebels] prisoners is still ongoing, is there any possibility for them to be released soon?
A. I do not think so, because as I have said, cases are decided only legally. But [here] it will probably be decided politically. And the politics is so complex. Even if we win in the lower court, nothing stops them from going to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court. That could be another ten years.
Q. Why couldn’t the UNHCR accept these people [34 rebels] as refugees?
A. UNHCR is a typical example of western hypocrisy. They are saying that these are armed groups. But, they had accepted the entire Burmese Student Army. They all got UNHCR certificates. United States had accepted the entire KNU, which is an armed group, as refugees. They are just saying that because they are from an armed group, they [the UNHCR] is unwilling to give them refugee status.
Q. What about the Indian government’s response?
A. As far as the Indian government is concerned, I think it is under pressure as the Burmese government does not want them released. And there is not enough democratic pressure for their release.
Q. To what degree has the Indian military intelligence officer violated international norms and criteria in betraying the Burmese rebels?
A. Well, we were told that the Indian intelligence officer is into jam business in this case. You see that by not punishing [the rogue agent], they are corrupting our own intelligence agencies. So the question is, if he was alone, why would he not be court-marshalled?
Q. Do you think the Burmese rebels deserved to be in jail?
A. They do not deserve to be in jail. I hope for their release, but there is no way forward. They decided that we should have a trial in Kolkata, because in Andaman, they are allowed to be bailed out of jail but options are very limited. So when they went to Kolkata, we were hoping we would get better justice but we have not progressed.
Q. What are your expectations from this book? Do you think this book will convince Indian people to press the Indian government to release the Burmese prisoners?
A. The book will not convince anyone, unless the book is used for campaign by the Burmese and Indian democratic forces. By itself it will do nothing. But I hope this book will arm us with another weapon to fight for democracy.
Q. Anything else you would like to say about the book?
A. I would just like to say that this book was written within my capacity as an Indian human rights lawyer, to show solidarity for the Burmese people. And more than that, perhaps, it was also meant to protect the democracy in India.
by Mizzima News, 13 February 2009