ANANYA S GUHA looks at the alienation question of Northeast India
A lot of discussion is focused on North East India ranging from politics, the identity question, society and even literature. Seminars are held all over the country generating debate and polemics. The recent death of a young student from Arunachal Pradesh has raised the question of racist profiles. One view also challenges the singular view of North East India as one entity, considering factors of linguistic and religious divergence. Many of the seminars and conferences only result in producing books, which publishers from Delhi eyeing the academic market take advantage of. But what exactly is the problematic here is something which belies answer. Why do the people feel alienated? What is the periphery versus the ‘ mainstream ‘ question? Isn’t the concept of mainstream disputatious, but for want of a better expression perhaps, it has gained currency.
First let us look at the alienation question. That this exists is indubitable, but why: this is something which must be answered, or looked into critically. Is it the racial factor, or racial differences and dichotomies, something which was prevalent in certain parts of South India in the 50s and 60s. M.J.Akbar in his lucid book, ” India: The Siege Within ” has pointed out with perspicuity how separatist tendencies, first began in South India, demolishing the myth that all talk of secessionist tendencies stated in North East India.
Secondly, is the sensitive issue that the people of North East India, especially the youth are treated indifferently, or ‘ differently ‘ when they go to the ‘ mainland’, resulting in a lot of protests in the recent past.
Thirdly is the predilection to treat the North East as a separate block and entity. This is tenable to a great extent because of border affinities and lack of development and connectivity. But a seminar in an air conditioned room in New Delhi is certainly no solution. I say it is true to a great extent, because at some social and political level the minds of the people meet, and they identify with one another out of empathy and look askance at New Delhi or the ‘ mainland ‘. This happens out of some experience or by negotiating with people outside their state, rude behavior or derogatory remarks.
Fourthly the carrot and stick policies of governments has created social disparities and divides. The classes have not been a result of a natural evolution, but has been thrust upon societies by sops and lure of money. This has also lead to corruptibility.
Fifthly is the sensitive question of identity, in the face of a threat of being overwhelmed or outnumbered by other communities, especially the migrant. I have always been saying that close knit communities evince such a threat because of small numbers, where there is behavioral pattern akin to a family. This must be comprehended or understand. This is certainly not necessarily parochialism. Parochialism exists in all communities of India, and the rubric of ‘ unity ‘ is tested time and again. This happens with reference to community, caste and religion. That India has withstood such pressures historically, is a grand testimony to its powers of absorption.
The solution if any, rests on subverting the mainland periphery myth. All regions are a part of the country, there is no mainstream or sub stream. In treating North East India as a singular identity we have to also comprehend its rich diversity and intra – tribal communities. Not many know that the official language of Nagaland is English, and also one of the official languages of Meghalaya.The sense of alienation must be perceived as a problem of isolation and not that of parochialism. The people who have lived here for generations must identify with the major communities, and insist on their local identity as well. The identity question is one of allegiance and may not be racial in intent. In fact one person can have multiple identities in a clear headed manner. Also when people from outside the region come say on transfer, they must show a genuine interest in the cultures of the people rather than just waiting for their tenures to end. Cultural assimilation is the only solution to sectarian outbursts.Hurting people by making disparaging remarks about them or their communities can only hurt their feelings, and the sense of alienation festers. Wounds take a lot of time to heal… Community dispersion to other states of the country from this region, can also help not only in terms of economic sustenance, bt that of cultural exposure. I am sure the process has begun, and will accentuate in years to come. The current interest in North East Indian literature is a welcome sign, and many authors of thas region are winning plaudits for their literary talents, as well as in sports. The examples of Meghalaya and Manipur are sheer cases in point.
History, let us hope will be re written.