By Karmanye Thadani:
Born and brought up in New Delhi with my stomach full and being an adherent of the majority religion, i.e. Hinduism, I have never had to question whether or not identifying myself as an Indian was worth it, but beyond West Bengal (excluding its Gorkha-majority region), lies a part of India, which has experienced economic backwardness and cultural alienation of a colossal nature. When people from there come westward, they also feel racially discriminated against. The national media itself exhibits this racism time and again, recent examples being – not giving due coverage to Assam being engulfed by devastating floods or earlier, when there was a more-than-hundred-day blockade in Manipur due to ethnic clashes because spot-fixing by cricketers of another country (Pakistan) was getting front page coverage; and besides even history textbooks exhibit the prejudice by overlooking the rich history of this region.
To complicate this even more are the secessionist insurgencies that have cropped up owing to this feeling of neglect and discrimination and have forcibly recruited even children in their ranks (children also ‘voluntarily’ join for monetary incentives to feed their families or to avenge human rights violations by security personnel or out of genuine convictions to separatist ideologies). The extortions by them have taken a toll even on the local populace, the pro-India section of which feels threatened to hoist the national flag or sing the national anthem, and the counter-reaction is that the Indian security personnel (like their counterparts in any other conflict zone in the world) resort to human rights violations like rapes, fake encounters and forced disappearances, misusing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This act has also been misused extensively in Kashmir and against which Irom Sharmila from Manipur has been fasting for the last ten years (there is also a Bollywood movie Dil SeÂ which shows human rights violations by Indian soldiers in Assam).
To add to this is the issue of Bangladeshis coming into their lands and claiming their resources (this is most relevant for Assam but not confined to it alone), and being welcomed with ration cards for petty vote-bank politics, and further still, in the case of Arunachal Pradesh, where the people universally identify themselves as Indians, the threat from China.
I am a patriotic Indian and feel compelled to understand with an objective mindset why some others feel alienated or in general reluctant to wear their Indian nationality as a badge of honour. I have written extensively on this very portal on the problem in Kashmir, not so much from the Indo-Pak standpoint but from the standpoint of the Kashmiri people themselves, and this is going to be a series on our countrymen from the north-eastern region.
This is not to say that I believe in exaggerating the problems of those who perceive themselves as victims or turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings by many of them, but a change of perception can be brought about only with a sense of understanding and engagement, not by building up a sense of jingoism about one’s own tolerance that tends to breed among the worst kinds of intolerance.
This series is personal for me too, for some of my dear friends happen to be from the north-east, from Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, and I have heard stories from them that have pained me a lot, and the villains of these stories are not always non-north-eastern Indians but often militants from their own communities too.
This narrative of mine is intended in the direction of strengthening our resolve to make India a better place, a place where every Indian feels as much a part of this rich geographical and cultural mosaic that India is, and what could be a better occasion to start, considering that we celebrated Independence Day this month?
The subsequent articles in this series shall examine in greater detail the reasons for the economic backwardness and cultural alienation in the north-east and how these have manifested themselves to become causes of secessionist movements, the issue of immigrants from elsewhere in India and abroad and even true-life instances of discrimination experienced by people I know or witnessed by people I happen to know.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely’ Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: A Socio-Legal Perspective’. He is currently working as a research associate in the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a reputed Delhi-based public policy think-tank. The views expressed are personal.Â To read his other posts, click here.[/box]