The two recent controversies, first the BJP’s vision document for the Delhi elections referring to northeastern people in Delhi as “immigrants” and second, a northeastern woman’s denial of entry to the Republic Day parade has embarrassed us for our ignorance about our own country’s geography and culture. This calls for a lesson in history and general knowledge, for its clear how much we know about our fellow north-eastern people. I hope this article will leave you with a better understanding of the north-eastern states, popularly called the ‘Seven Sisters’.
The Seven Sisters – Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya comprise the most ethnically diverse region in India. It not only harbours more than 200 tribes but comprises people from all the major religions of India- Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Chartered below is the history of how the North-East has come about to be alienated against.
- The history of the alienation faced by the seven sisters from the mainland India has roots penetrating as early as the time of British colonialism. At the time of birth of India and Pakistan as separate independent nations in 1947 the North-East, then consolidated into a number of princely states were made to choose between joining either country or staying independent. The British’s suggestion of letting the North-East establish itself as an independent ‘Princestan’ found favour with neither the Congress Party not the Muslim League, the major parties of India and Pakistan respectively.
- Answering this question of survival, the North East chose to align with India, having negligible interest in joining Pakistan. Provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram were designated in the ‘Sixth Schedule’ that promised to take care of their autonomy, rights and customs.
- The isolation was sharpened after independence, when the region was cut off from its surrounding traditional trading countries like Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Being ethnically, linguistically and culturally hugely distinct from the other states of India, the Indian government has been unable to pay attention to the special needs of the North-East India. This has led to discontentment among the natives paving way for a range of confrontations, from separatist movements, to inter-community, communal and inter-ethnic conflicts particularly in Nagaland, Tripura, Assam and Manipur.
- Interestingly, roughly 99 percent of the Northeast’s boundaries is international and only one percent is domestic boundary, better known as ‘Chicken’s Neck’. This setting provides for issues of infiltration, terrorism and insurgergency.
- This is when the AFSPA(Armed Forces Special Power Act) came about to allow deployment of the army for countering an armed separatist movement in the Naga Hills, which was later on extended to all the 7 states. However, instead of resolving the problem, it has created more furor by bringing the conflict to a military level. Not only has corruption seeped in its veins, but the regular violations of human rights, as in kidnapping, rape, murder, fake encounters has led to a reign of oppression and terror in these parts.
(the North-east has given us gems such as Mary Kom and Baichung Bhutia)
Outsiders in Their Own Lands
The other side of the coin is the discrimination faced by the north-easterners in the other parts of India, particularly the Capital. Owners of big eyes and sharp nose, typical of north Indian features consider themselves superior to the mongoloid phenotype, narrow-eyed, yellowish north-eastern people. They’ve made living in their own country difficult for them. People not only intentionally talk in front of them in hindi thinking they wont understand it, but also call them a hoard of insulting and racial names like ‘chinki’, ‘nepalese’, ‘momos’, ‘chow-chow’ and what not.
[Few assumptions people from the North-East are tired of hearing]
They are continually overcharged by auto-wallahs and shopkeepers who take them to be foreigners. Students studying here too face harassment by landlords as they are apprehensive about taking them in because apparently the northeastern people cook ‘smelly’ food and wear ‘short and weird’ clothes. Moreover, verbal abuse and snide remarks by fellow-students, neighbors and colleagues, let alone the extreme experiences of physical and sexual harassment are daily occurrences.
In India, a north-eastern girl is raped for her clothes and a north-eastern boy murdered for his hairdo. The case of Arunachal Pradesh’s Nido Tania’s death and the 14 year old Manipuri girl’s rape in 2013 clearly show the racial nature of these crimes. These crimes are not new; they have been always there, only being ignored to avoid facing double harassment by the police. Our attitude has forced them to stick together and not voluntary mix up with others.
Below is a reality check on the racial discrimination faced by north-eastern people in Delhi:
[source: based on a report published by scroll.in, dated 6th decembler, 2014]
Here’s a video that very aptly depicts in the ‘authentic’ Indian’s own words how much they know about the North-East
A north-easterner is as much an Indian as a Marathi or a Gujarati. Sadly, these various racial incidents come to light only when someone gets killed, and then only the blood of the whole nation boils, who till now were mere spectators-participants of the same crimes. Suddenly, our conscience clears and the bells of ‘unity in diversity’ starts to ring in our heads. Protests are held, candles are lit, the authorities wake up from their slumber, only to go back to sleep in a few days and all is forgotten.
One needs to visit the north-east to understand the meaning of beauty, warmth, welcome and civilization. Development doesn’t merely mean erecting buildings and laying roads; development is incomplete without the civilization of the mind. The North-East has not let itself rust with time, but has let its culture evolve for good, unlike the rest of India where we are time and again reminded of how important it is to stick to our ‘bhartiya sanskriti’ of the oldest-possible known times. Be surprised to know that the North-East liberally allows dating culture!
The North-east is in fact a true example of what the Indian nation as a whole should aspire to be- secular, democratic, progressive, liberal. Hope you ponder over this and help India maintain its stature of a truly democratic nation where.
Before I leave you, here are a few breathtaking glimpses into the mystical lands of the North-East to set your hearts fluttering and your hands scooting for your bag-packs!
1. Standing tall at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet, the gorgeous the Sela Pass, Arunachal Pradesh.
2. Dawki, a beautiful town in Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.
3. Dzokuo, located in the border of Manipur and Nagaland is known for its seasonal flowers.
4. Neermahal is a former royal palace built by King Bir Bikram Kishore Debbarman of the erstwhile Kingdom of Tripura.
5. Assam has majority of its area covered with tea gardens which looks like a green carpet.
6. Loktak Lake, Manipur is also known as floating lake in the world due to the floating phumdis on it and is the largest freshwater lake in North -East India.
7. Mjauli, a large river island nests in the mighty and holy Brahmaputra river of Assam and is a paradise for birds.
8. Phawngpui, known as the Blue Mountain of Mizoram, is the highest mountain peak in Mizoram.
9. Situated at an elevation of 3300m in Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang Monastery is the largest monastery in India.
10. Gorichen peak, located in Tawang district at an elevation of 22,500 feet is covered by snow all the year round which is why it is also known as the White Giant.
India is a vast land, comprising of people of various many phenotypes. However, rather than celebrating this diversity, we are always busy criticizing the differences. What we need do is follow the religion of humanity, ditch the sameness, celebrate the diversity, as goes Paulo Coelho’s words, “beauty exists not in sameness, but in difference”.
By- Aakanksha Kumari