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By far the most common mistake we make would be clubbing these seven states, suggesting homogeneity of some kind except that of geography. Had we been really aware of what goes on in that region, we would realize that these seven states have distinct cultures and traditions. It is not surprising that the youth of that region feel angry and cut off with the rest of the country. They are devoid of opportunities and are subject to apathy. When some do migrate for better opportunities they are treated with scrutiny and face treatment that has been shaped by the baseless misconceptions people hold in their ignorance. This discrimination is very prominent if one considers the fact about how little we are really exposed to their cultures, traditions or history right from childhood through textbooks or even otherwise through movies, books etc. Crudely put, no one talks about them. In turn, they tend to stick with their own groups and not mix easily. It is a vicious circle. Even today, they are really cut off from the mainland. There are huge gaps in the understanding and acceptance of these people with their unique cultures. There have been increased calls by different tribes for separation as new states. This is a major distress signal which should be addressed in time before matters get worse. This illogical divide needs to be done away with. This is just an attempt to put the diverse north east under the lens in a very simplified manner and see what the major problems plaguing the region are.

The problem facing Arunachal Pradesh is an external one. Its key district - the Tawang district - has been in the eye of a storm for years now. The Chinese claim ownership of that territory mostly in an attempt to quell the Tibetan uprising it believes is being supported by India. Tawang is a major holy shrine for Tibetan Buddhists and it is believed that the 6th Dalai Lama was born there. Arunachal Pradesh is also very strategically located as it borders China, Bhutan and Myanmar. The Chinese forces breach the internationally recognized border time and again. These trespasses have happened as recently as in September of this year. The cost of living is very high in the State (even compared to its neighbouring counterparts); partly a result of high transport costs posing a huge problem for the locals.

Assam faces grave problems with the call for a separate Bodoland and there is also the terrorist outfit ULFA which wants a separate state completely. The United Liberation Front of Assam has become a major menace which carries out repeated attacks. They refuse to accept that Assam is a part of India. These outfits are financed through extortion from businessmen and locals. It is, obviously, a disincentive for businesses to thrive. Plus, to combat these extremist forces the armed forces have been given the special Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This Act gives powers to the armed forces to shoot to kill and arrest without warrant any person who has committed a crime or is even likely to commit one. The Act goes as far as to protect from prosecution the officers who are acting in good faith. This has given way to rampant human rights abuses at the hands of the forces. In recent times, there has been the conflict between the Bodos and the Bangladeshi Muslims. There were large scale riots which some say led to the highest number of internally displaced people since independence.

The situation is dire in Manipur with repeated bandhs, strikes and even blasts. Curfews are very common and they are imposed for a long period of time. Earlier there was the demand for a separate state but the system as a whole has deteriorated. There are a lot of indigenous tribes and within them sub-tribes. There are the Manipuri Meiteis (the Manipuri Brahmins – the dominant caste), the Manipuri Kukis and the Manipuri Nagas, all having their own militias and fighting amongst themselves. All of them want greater autonomy and more opportunities. The State itself is also at fault for being unable to provide employment and income opportunities to its population. The youth then turn to insurgency and demand money (through extortion) as income. A local who was consulted said that they prefer to keep the exteriors of their houses unkempt so as to give an illusion of not being well-off and avoid being targeted by these bodies. The AFSPA has been implemented here as well. Irom Sharmila fasted for 16 years to attract the nation’s attention to this horrible problem in one of the most neglected parts of the nation. Sadly, the AFSPA is still in force. It has not even been suitably amended.

Garo, Khasi and Jaintia are the three main tribes that are found in Meghalaya. They do get along fine but the Garos have their own militant groups demanding more rights for them. Further, many Bangladeshis find their way across the border in search for a better life. There are also environmental issues in the region due to improper agricultural practices like slash and burn agriculture etc. For a place renowned for its natural beauty, it is a cause for concern.

Mizoram too, faces backlashes for not fulfilling the aspirations of the Hmar people but the rebel group Hmar People’s Convention is located out of Manipur. There have been more recent instances of the group ambushing envoys and wreaking havoc in those areas of Mizoram that border Manipur. The Hmar people want an autonomous council within Mizoram. Comparatively though, the situation in both Meghalaya and Mizoram is remarkably peaceful.

Nagaland has a very messy history. At the time of independence, the Naga Nationalist Council was formed under the leadership of A.Z. Phizo. They declared Nagaland to be an independent State and set up their own army and their own parallel government. The Shillong Accord was signed according to which the existing outfits would denounce their demands for a separate State and accept the supremacy of the Indian Constitution. However, the hill regions of Assam were converted to a separate Nagaland state. Till date though, some people cherish the dreams held by Phizo and want a Greater Nagalim which consists of parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar. There are violent outbreaks by separatist outfits time and again to this end.

The most pertinent problem facing Tripura is the immigration problem. The indigenous people feel that the Bangladeshi Bengalis are seizing their opportunities. The atmosphere is always charged and these two groups have great animosity between them. As per the Chief Minister of the state, Tripura surpassed Kerala to become the most literate state with a literacy rate of 94.65% in 2013. A unique problem arises in such a case when the educated are unemployed. The state cannot sustain its own educated population.

Thus, we see that all seven states are complicated in their own ways. It might be true to a certain extent that being cut off has helped preserve the culture and kept it pristine and unadulterated; it is the need of the hour to include them into the mainstream while also being able to retain their identity. There is no reason why they should not be granted equal status, equal acknowledgement and access to opportunities. Historically, less political will has worked in their direction because they aren’t important vote bank wise – they occupy 8% of country area and comprise just 3% of the total population. The masses themselves have their own misconstrued versions of their lifestyles and this can be done away with only through proper mixing of cultures. This would be mutually beneficial as we have yet to learn how to be as liberal as them in our thinking. We could also adopt the concept of a matriarchal society which is in place in certain parts of Meghalaya.

In terms of infrastructure as well, there is a huge scope for improvement. This year, Kohima became the last of the seven sisters to be connected to the Indian railway. It is tough to imagine what kind of a situation had existed before this. The entire region is connected by what is known as a Chicken’s Neck to West Bengal. The government should seriously consider linkage via Bangladesh. The benefits could be manifold. Not only would the travel time be cut short, the states will have increased access to port areas which would make them more well off economically. There would also be an improvement in the diplomatic relations with Bangladesh.

It is not like funds have not been earmarked for development in these regions; they have just not been utilized as they should have. The reach of education is also proper with five states having literacy rates higher than the national average.  The common thread that runs through the rise of insurgence and unrest in this region is the fact that there is just not enough. Changes need to be bought to provide income and employment opportunities, they need to be bought so that all the cultures there can live in harmony, they need to be bought so we can progress and proceed.

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Written By Khushboo Velani

Aspiring to be a future changemaker.

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