This is something which I have been thinking about for quite some time now. How much do we Indians really know and care about the North-East? I personally feel that the seven sisters and Sikkim (maybe with the exception of Assam), have been a neglected lot in our country. This goes not only from development point of view, but from other aspects as well like sports, culture, entertainment — Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh — are pretty much obscure as far as the rest of the country is concerned.
Lets start with the example of Television. All movies, serials, news channels concentrate on “mainland” India. Its all set in Delhi, Mumbai or Punjab. These days even South India is figuring in movies and television. But, what about the north-east? The consequence of this is not limited to entertainment alone. Thanks to TV, your average Indian aam admi in the Rest Of India (ROI – I call it that for a want of a better term — no intention of “dividing” NE from the ROI) has a fair idea of what life might be in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat etc. This is true even if that average Indian has never been to any of these places. But, do we have even a remote idea of what its like in the NE? The only TV program where I have seen extensive coverage of the NE is the travel show called Exotica, on StarOne.
Now coming to sports. Other then Baichung Bhutia, the football star of India who hails from Sikkim, there’s hardly any mainstream sportsperson from the NE. I cannot recall any cricketer or tennis player or even hockey player from NE (again, that might be due to my ignorance too). I suppose there are a few names from NE in the athletic and sports meets who get us medals at SAARC games etc (for example in sports like archery) — but hey don’t u know that in India, “sports” equals “CRICKET+Tennis+hockey+f1”? The rest of them dont qualify — their achievements are not counted. Anyways, that’s not the topic of this post!
I am unaware about how ROI is perceived in NE. Is the influence of Bollywood present in NE? Does the aam aadmi in NE have a fair idea about life in ROI? Do they follow cricket and national politics just as we in ROI do? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Successive governments at the Centre have been announcing special economic packages for the development of NE. I am not aware of how much of this has really translated to results. Maybe the one aspect that stands out in this regard would be the road infrastructure development projects (NHDP) — these seem to have made a positive impact during the last few years.
The encouraging trend is the good representation of NE in reality shows. Remember Amit Paul from Meghalaya who was the runner up in Indian Idol 3? Remember the host of singers from Assam (Debojit, Kalpana, Prakriti to name a few)?
The reasons for the negligence about NE in ROI could be many. For one, the North-Eastern states are geographically isolated from ROI. They are “connected” with ROI through a narrow strip which is just 20-odd kms wide (this is called the chicken’s neck and is situated in Siliguri in West Bengal with Nepal in the North and Bangladesh in the South). Secondly, the NE states are culturally very different from the ROI — the culture here has elements of South-East Asia and China (Tibet in particular).
Nevertheless, the NE states are a part of India; NE contributes to a sizable chunk of the India – area-wise, population-wise, economically and culturally. Thus, it is imperative for ROI to start viewing NE as they would view states like Rajasthan or Punjab or Tamil Nadu, which are also located on the fringes. Only then would it be possible to foster a sense of unity and oneness. And, in my opinion, the media plays the most important role in spreading awareness .
ROI needs to know that just like elsewhere in India, NE too has a diverse culture, that there are several languages spoken here, that the climate, vegetation, topography, flora and fauna are as varied here as in ROI.
ROI needs to know about Assam’s natural beauty, the tea gardens, about Kazhiranga and the rhinos, about the ULFA’s, about the political scenario and about the issues facing the nation along its border with Bangladesh.
ROI needs to know about the Chinese Government’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh and about how the Army is on its toes there to prevent China from making mischief. About the sixth Dalai Lama being born here in AP. That there exists places in India where your constitutional “right to freedom of movement anywhere within the country” is restricted, that one needs a permit to enter some places in AP.
ROI needs to know about the Himalayan state of Sikkim, the second smallest state in India, by size and the least populated. ROI needs to know the history of the Nathula pass, the flourishing trade route which passed through here, and not to forget the Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world.
ROI needs to know about the WW-II battles fought in Manipur which stalled Japan’s progress and which had a major impact on the outcome of the war. About the history of the princely state of Manipur (just like many more in ROI) before it was integrated into the republic of India. About the UNLF, its demands and its activities in Manipur. About the troubles along the border with Myanmar.
ROI needs to know about the history of the mountainous state of Nagaland, about the Naga tribe, about how Nagaland was part of Assam and underwent lot of unrest before being declared a state in early ’60s. About the present-day culture which still revolves around the tribes and their shawl-weaving tradition. About the 90+% Christian population, about the Nagamese language — which is not the mother tongue of any of the tribes in Nagaland, but is the common language spoken everywhere in the state.
ROI needs to know about the plateau of Meghalaya, the Garo and Khasi hills. About the matriarch system followed by many of the more populous tribes in the state. About Cherrapunji, which was once the wettest spot in the world.
ROI needs to know about Tripura, the second-most populous among the NE states (even though it is relatively small in area). About the Bengali-dominant culture of the state (Tripura is surrounded on three sides by Bangladesh and is around the same latitude as West Bengal); about its festivals, indigenous dance forms and music. About its millenia-old history (Tripura is said to have had mention in Mahabharata).
ROI needs to know about Mizoram, the Indian state with the highest literacy rate. About the events which led to the formation of the state (famine, insurgency, bombing by the Indian Air Force to quell this insurgency); about the largely unexplored bamboo forests which cover about one-third of the state.
I think that we need to take a keener interest in the North-East. Probably if a few people from NE broke into the scene in some mainstream field, then that would function as a catalyst to increase the visibility of the NE states among ROI. This does not mean that they have to deviate from their culture and adopt cricket as a religion or get Bollywood-crazy. The NE is rich in dance and music. It would help if the media and entertainment industry took the initiative to showcase this cultural diversity to the rest of the world.
With the spurt in domestic tourism, more Indians are exploring “far-flung” regions within the country, including the NE. So, more people from the NE states are flocking to the mainland, be it for tourism, education, business or jobs. This exchange will only be for the benefit of either side.
I am hopeful that there will be more cultural, economic exchange between the NE and the ROI in the near future. We must remember that even they are an integral part of India and they own India as much as we do and they owe to India as much as we do. Looking forward to an India where there would be a tighter bond between North-Eastern states and the other states of India. JAI BHARAT.