IS INDIA SERIOUS ABOUT THE NORTHEAST?

From a Facebook post by Malem Ningthouja 
(https://www.facebook.com/groups/JusticeForLoitamRichard/permalink/436304266381938/ )
Originally published in
Governance Now, December 16-31, Vol. 02 Issue 22, 2011, pp 26-27

Many in India subscribe to the idea of unity in diversity for India. Unity presupposes reciprocity among the segments. This begs a question. One may ask if the supposedly unity in the Indian context merely exhibit some semblance of institutionalised order. However, the term unity enjoys official patronage and it is particularly upheld by those who are the stakeholders of the policy of united India free from the politics of disintegration. Not surprisingly it carries forth a success story of the State in justifying and defending the existing territorial boundary. Functionally the term conceals the subjective and objective conditions of the centrifugal tendencies of the Northeast peoples.
 
The general perception is that unity in diversity necessarily embodies status quo among various linguistic, racial, cultural, and caste categories. It is expected that at the societal level differences are tolerated and promoted within the premises of a federal structure so that there is no disturbance to the plurality. The expectation has to be achieved in a democratic system run by a responsible government that reconciles the differences. Practically the Indian context illustrates perpetuation of the feeling of alienation and correlation between social alienation and political rebellion. Derogatory perception about the mongoloid peoples of the Northeast by the rest of the Indians or the vice versa substantiates my argument.

To begin with many in the Northeast perceive that they are racially discriminated and dominated by the mainland Indians. Such perception draws a distinction between the official metaphor of a multicultural and united Indian nationhood that sways over the sentiments of the larger bulk of the mainland Indians and the actual condition of discrimination and mistrust. For instance, most of the ‘mainland Indians’ who would uphold counter insurgency are ignorant of the history, regional, and racial- cultural composition of India. Many educated persons in Delhi are unaware of the names and capitals of the Northeastern states. To cite an example, the then MP from Meghalaya Mr. P.R. Kyndiah had complaint on 8 March, 2001 that “when seven businessmen were killed and in one of the newspapers they said, ‘five Indian businessmen have been killed’, as if Shillong was not in India... When there was a change of Government in Manipur..., they said ‘Kohima calling’. They did not know that the capital of Manipur was Imphal. …When I was the Head of the State in Mizoram, I received a letter from the Ministry of Defence addressed to ‘P.R. Kyndiah, Governor, Mizoram, Agartala.’ Agartala is the capital of Tripura. This is the kind of ignorance that is there about the North-East.” Such ignorance is being construed as an insult to the peoples of the Northeast. It renders the State polemics of unity into a hollow rhetoric founded on the basis of ignorance, incompetency and territorial obsession.

How do we overcome ignorance and incompetency to defend plurality? Anyone who believes in the unity in diversity has to seriously think about it. There cannot be unity when there is discrimination. There has to be efforts to do away with the alleged social discrimination and harassment on the Northeast peoples which are occurring on the regular basis in the metropolitan cities where they have temporarily migrated for education and job. Sexual harassment and assault on the women, overcharge of rent by the landlord, taxi driver, denial of promotion in the job centres, social profiling with derogatory terms that connote backwardness and inferiority, etc by the mainland Indians are frequently registered. In the context of official apathy in dealing with the issue, the Northeast peoples became the victims of misrepresentation, underrepresentation and discrimination by those who define India from the latter’s dominant cultural and racial perspectives. Such social treatment meted out to the immigrant Northeast peoples adds salt to the wounded psyche and contributes towards the politics of alienation and rebellion in the Northeast.

We need to seriously note that there is encapsulation of the notion of cultural otherness by the dominant ‘others’ who incorporate it into the policy of discrimination and dominance. This tendency disturbs status quo and collective growth. It plays off plurality. It exasperates social relation and contributes towards the vicious cycle of assertions and counter assertions centred on the sense of alienation and the idea of recovery from the presumed subjection. Perhaps, the genesis of institutionalised discrimination can be traced in the policy framework of the Indian leaders in 1940s who had gazed upon the Northeast with an exotic imagination, i.e., unexplored resource, strategic frontier, anthropological cultural show piece, wild space of different racial inhabitants that must be brought under the control of the Indian State. Jawaharlal Nehru’s constant fear for what he had termed pro-mongoloid prejudice and Sardar Patel’s racial prejudice against the Northeast population had interplayed in adopting militant policy while dealing with the Northeast. The same policy framework has been continued by the succeeding governments. For instance the then Union Home Minister Shivarj Patil in 2004 argued in favour of AFSPA on the ground that “brothers, men and officers of the Armed Forces, are living thousands of miles away from their homes and from their places and exposing themselves to all kinds of dangers that are involved in countering insurgency...” Perhaps Shivraji had not only drawn a distance between Manipur and India (reciprocally representing distant land and home) but had also derecognised from ‘Indian-ness’ those Manipuris who were serving in the Indian army and were deployed in Manipur. It hurts the sentiments of the peoples who protest AFSPA. The Indian leaders need to put an end to the enforcement of policies that undermine the principle of political negotiation, voluntary unionism and democratic consensus.

There are several other institutionalised policies that hurt the sentiment and perpetuate alienation. The Regional Passport Office in Delhi does not issue Indian Passport to anyone who is born in the Northeast unless the Ministry of Home Affairs have issued a clearance. This would imply that one who is born in the alleged ‘disturbed area’ is a suspect or criminal or guilty unless being proven innocence. The National Archive in Delhi classifies most of the files related to the Northeast from 1913 onwards, thereby barring an ordinary person or scholar from getting access to the materials. In June 2005 the Vice Principal of the Kirori Mal College prescribed Salwar Kameez to be the dress code for the Northeast women students on the pretext of preventing sexual harassment. In June 2007 the Delhi Policed widely circulated a booklet entitled Security Tips for Northeast Students/Visitors in Delhi, which laid down the norms of decency, food habit, dress code, traffic rules, etc. to be observed by the people from the Northeast. It was protested on the ground of social profiling of the Northeast peoples and indirect justification to the continuation of social discrimination by the mainland Indians. There are several instances when the police refused to register FIR submitted by the Northeast peoples. Intimidation, forcible vacation of room by the landlord, financial difficulty, time constraints, and lack of local support make the people of Northeast handicap in any prolong legal fight for justice against sexual harassment, exploitation, physical assault, etc by the dominant others. These explain social discrimination, harassment and alienation.

Media projections dominantly articulate about the northeast as the ‘sick man’ of India. Their contribution in the fields of sports, culture, defense service, resources, and politics are not adequately informed to the media consumers. Their democratic assertions against the backdrop social discrimination by the mainland Indians, economic exploitation and deprivation in the name of development, and suppression of democratic rights in the name of national security are not being properly addressed. Instead holistic pictures of Northeast are illustrated towards identifying them as the ‘others’ who are culturally and linguistically different. They are being shown as backward, militant, hub of drug trafficking and addiction, flesh trade, atavistic killers of immigrant labour from mainland India, and people who are opposed to forward looking, democracy and unity.

All these projections and social realities discussed above had catalytic impact on enhancing territorial obsession amongst the Indian policy makers and the large section of the mainland Indians who had looked upon the Northeast as ‘wild space’ to be primarily controlled through the military means. They have become angst, suspicion and hatred vis-à-vis the mongoloid people as a threat to the sovereignty and unity of India. Efforts primarily such as the modernization of the police, paramilitary and military forces and intelligence network are being surrogated by repressive Acts such as AFSPA, NSA, UAPA and Sedition Act to strengthen the power of the State to suppress dissenting ideas and activities. Peoples who assert for economic rights, anti-corruption, social justice and human rights are falsely implicated, suppressed and harassed. Thousands of people have been killed, injured, tortured, displaced and suppressed in the name of development and counter-insurgency. The question is simple. Is India serious about the Northeast?

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