North East India needs to be understood

Courtesy: K G Suresh, May 16, 2012

 

The mysterious death of Manipuri student Richard Loitam and alleged suicide by Dana Sangma, niece of Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and a student of Amity University in Gurgaon, has once again sparked off protests by students from across the North East all over the country and revived the debate on discrimination against people from the region.

 

MANY YEARS back, a Pakistani journalist on an India visit was asked about the similarities and differences between her country and India. She said while the sounds, sights, attire and language were similar, one major distinction was that while here, she was referred to as a Pakistani, back home, she was called a Mohajir, a Arabic term for the refugees who migrated from India post-partition.

 

In the 60s and 70s, in Delhi and other parts of northern India, any person coming from South of the Vindhyas was called a 'Madrasi',. But people from Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu detested this description which they felt, and justifiably so, was derogatory as they had their own distinct culture and language. How would a Punjabi feel if he is called a Bihari, they would ask. With the passage of time, increased interaction between the north and south and the south's growing clout in sectors ranging from politics and economy to entertainment and education, the equations have changed considerably.

 

However, even 65 years after independence, people from the North East, continue to be clubbed together and singled out and that too for their racial features. Often, they are mistaken as Chinese, Nepalese or from South East Asia and referred to even by the educated as 'Chinkies' because of their Mongoloid features. Forced to migrate from their idyllic but underdeveloped states for education and job opportunities, these people, mostly women and youngsters, are not only discriminated against but also have often been victims of eve teasing, molestation and rape. What's more they also find themselves at the receiving end of the utterly insensitive law enforcement agencies. 

 

This has led to a sense of alienation among these people, many of who become susceptible and vulnerable to separatist propaganda.

 

While sociologists, politicians and commentators have been attributing it to factors including insensitivity and conservatism of the North to lack of infrastructure and employment opportunities as also massive corruption in the North East resulting in migration, the fact remains that the wide communication gap between the peoples of the region and the rest of India and ignorance about each other have significantly contributed to this crisis.

 

While short term measures such as stringent action against culprits and sensitization of police have to be taken up on a priority basis, it is important that in the long term, the Union Human Resources Development Ministry takes steps to revisit our history and other school text books to ensure that they reflect the cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the nation. This would ensure that the children grow up learning about each other and appreciating each other's distinct identity.

 

The conservative North and South must know that women in the North East comparatively enjoy much more freedom and it reflects in their interactions with the opposite gender as well. Their morals should not be judged by their attire.

 

Another major step would be to ensure a wider national representation in the police forces of the metro cities which would reflect the diversity of the city's population. An inclusive police force can not only instill a sense of security among all denizens but also inculcate better sensitization and acceptance of diversity within police forces.

 

Apart from creating awareness on the issue, the media, including the advertising industry, should reflect representatives of all ethnic groups in their campaigns, while electronic media should make a concerted effort to recruit people from the region.

 

Bollywood and television serial producers too can help in removing such stereotype images. After all, Danny Denzongpa, R D Burman, S D Burman, Bhupen Hazarika and among Gen Next Ria and Raima Sen nee Deb Barman (their father is from Tripura) have made immense contribution to the tinsel town since good old days.

 

Organizations such as Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India), My Home India, 'Ekal Vidyalaya', Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Ramakrishna Mission, cultural centres of the Union Government and even state controlled media have been contributing their bit in this direction. But there should be more civil society initiatives to bridge the ever widening chasm between the North East and the rest of the country. Our 'friends' on both sides of the border are always on the look out for opportunities to fish in troubled waters.

 

On their part, the people from the North East would also do well not to remain isolated and ghettoized in their own small ethnic and provincial cocoons in large cities. They should shed any persecution complex and avoid labeling each and every law and order incident involving any one of them as an instance of racial discrimination. It has been proved time and again that cities like Delhi are unsafe for women from all regions and police are not friendly even towards the locals, unless they are rich or well-connected.

 

When we condemn all forms of racial profiling of Indians in the West, we have absolutely no moral right to practice the same in our own backyard. Instead of seeking to impose an artificial uniformity, let us learn to accept and celebrate our diversity, which is also our greatest strength.

 

http://www.merinews.com/article/north-east-india-needs-to-be-understood/15869650.shtml 


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