Monday, 31 August 2009



Human Rights is an uneasy subject, especially when the government and its agents are accused of violating it. And as noted advocate-activist Nandita Haksar has claimed in her recent book Rogue Agent, such violations can often go unnoticed due to media apathy in highlighting them.

Thankfully though, India being a democracy, one can expose denial of rights and betrayals even if they are meted out by any government and its agents. The author has done exactly that by letting us know about the cause of Arakan and Karen “freedom fighters of Burma” (or Myanmar as it is officially called) who have been fighting against the military junta there. But the book is somewhat disturbing as it portrays the stonewalling attitude of our bureaucracy, and how the Burmese rebels were allegedly “double-crossed” by one Lt Col Grewal, whom the author calls a “rogue” member of the Indian intelligence establishment.

In September 1999, the Burma Lawyers Council had requested Haksar to represent the 36 Burmese nationals who were imprisoned in Port Blair's jail. Since then Haksar has been trying to seek the release of the detainees. This book describes her experiences of dealing with the Indian bureaucracy and intelligence officials, the alleged misdoings of the “rogue agent”, the complexities of our judicial set-up and the role of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Along with that, Haksar passionately presents the grim picture of the sufferings of the detainees and the background information of each one of them. Her zeal to uphold rights of the suffering people under one of the most ruthless regimes is evident in every page of this book.

To offer a clearer perspective to the readers, Haksar has referred to history of Burma (she prefers to reject the name Myanmar), the demographic divisions in that country, the players in the ongoing resistance movements of the Arakans and that of the Karens, India's connection with that land, especially during the days of the Indian National Army (INA), and the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. While, the cause of the detainees has been an emotive issue for Haksar, she is balanced in not shying away from the questionable role of certain western governments vis-à-vis Burma, that often aid and foment several uprisings across the world in the name of promoting democracy.

The Burmese detainees, as the author claims, have been part of the Burmese resistance movements that once received tacit support from India till the early 1990s. But then there was a change in foreign policy at New Delhi, and our government preferred to turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the Burmese junta. In the book Haksar tries to find an answer to India's change of heart. And we learn about the factors that are possibly behind the policy shift: insurgents in north-eastern States of India; concern for growing Chinese influence in Burma that India needs to tackle; and Burma's importance as a source of natural gas. Furthermore, Haksar says, for many Indians, it is difficult to accept the armed resistance in Burma as “freedom fighters”.

However, she finds support in Dr Lt Col Lakshmi Sehgal of the INA, the late sports minister of West Bengal government Subhas Chakraborty, the State government there, activists and several advocates of the High Court at Calcutta who worked and are still working to ensure release of the Burmese detainees. And the book ends on that hopeful note.

The book may be a cause of discomfiture for many, especially those politicians and the media houses who claim to be high priests of equality, liberty and fraternity, as well as those who are vociferous about human rights violations elsewhere but are silent about India's silence over Burma. But, it is really nice to find that the author isn't bogged down by the adversities she faced in her fight, rather took the citizens of India into confidence by delving into an issue that baffles many among us who keenly follow international relations.

While I cannot vouch for the claims made by the author, the book is certainly enlightening. And it is indeed a book loaded with stuff for a thriller.


Book: Rogue Agent
Author: Nandita Haksar
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 242
Price: Rs 299