North-East India and the Ethnical Conundrum

While watching television, you must have come across the Incredible India campaign for the North-Eastern states. In those few seconds dedicated to one of the most neglected regions of the nation, you must have seen happy tea planters plucking the best of the tea leaves in the tea gardens of Assam, the region’s sheer beauty bestowed by nature and some gleeful tribal people hopping around to produce a magnificent display of indigenous dance forms. The campaign bears a harmonic appeal, as if peace and tranquillity pervades every corner of the eight sister states. In reality, it has never been so. They have seen the worst of insurgency, crime and, above all, ethnic and communal convulsions.

Amid frantic New Year celebrations throughout the nation, there was no merrymaking in the Assam and Nagaland borders. The Karbi Anglong district of Assam was burning in the ethnical fire torched by the Karbi and Rengma Naga militants. On January 3rd, nine unrecognizably decomposed bodies were recovered from a drain in the Dimapur district of Nagaland. Later, all were found to be bodies of Karbi people. Things happened, one after another, which heated the flames of vengeance – a monster that sleeps tucked under the ethnical blanket. Once awakened, the monster seeks blood without any mercy or reasons.

In ethnic warfare, an eye for an eye supposedly makes one more ethnically rooted. Blind, yet deeply rooted. The North-Eastern states have had a history of such conflicts, in which, thousands have been killed. Time has led to a metamorphosis from plain ethnic disputes into armed ethnic militancy.

While, Meghalaya has witnessed decades of bad blood between the Khasi and the Garos, Arunachal Pradesh has witnessed unprecedented agitations during the movement for deportation of Chakma and Hajong refugees in the mid ‘90s. Some of these disputes can be termed ancient. For instance, the Kuki-Naga conflicts in Manipur are more than thousand years old. They began with lands, immigration and settlements, and with time, started to base themselves on the excessive fear of loss of one’s ethnic identity.

Each time there has been an ethnic conflict, the law and order systems in the states have given up. They have unfailingly proved their fragility and inability to brace themselves over years. In Assam, ethnic riots broke out between the indigenous Bodos and Muslims in July 2012. The casualties touched almost a hundred. People, from over 400 villages, had to be displaced and around 270 relief camps were set up for the purpose. The state police failed, as usual, and paramilitary forces along with the Indian Army had to be deployed in order to bring things under control.

The governments have failed. Poverty and unemployment are like inherited jewels from one’s ancestors. The states scores poor in living standards and the agricultural produce is also insufficient. Things are even worse for states like Mizoram and Nagaland, which have an 80% plus literacy rate and no jobs to accommodate their literate populace.

North-East India accommodates high ethnic diversity. Mizoram has around seven ethnic groups, Nagaland has 17. Arunachal Pradesh is the largest state in the region with 20 tribes and more than 90 regional languages, the highest in any state. God was highly extravagant while he embellished Arunachal with all the beauty and goodness. Any country will be tempted to impose its clandestine claims over Arunachal, this cannot be denied.

But ‘Emerging India’ has always abandoned these states like forsaken children of an unmarried mother. Today, it spends hundreds of crores on North-East development, and not to mention, the tax concessions, reservations and special budgetary allocations. But where is the change that all these concessions are supposed to bring?

The people of North-East India are not ethnical fanatics by choice; they are rather stuck in an ethnical cobweb. It is time to make necessary corrections, for which, both law and governance must be strengthened. The police must learn to address ethnical disputes, that too, with tolerance and sensitivity. And the state governments must immediately address their basic needs, invest on agriculture in order to liberate people from the eternal starvation, and generate jobs. If all that is not feasible, the government should stop delusive campaigns about the region claiming so much of incredibility.

ArunachalKarbiManipurMeghalayaMizoramNagalandRengma Naga