Neglected Paradise: India’s North East

Neglected Paradise: India’s North East
Highlights

Handling of North Eastern India by the successive Indian governments over the past seven decades has been one of the saddest stories of free India. And, thanks to such apathy, a region abundant in natural beauty, resources and home to some of India’s most hardy and beautiful people has been converted into a challenge instead of a proud asset to the country.

Handling of North Eastern India by the successive Indian governments over the past seven decades has been one of the saddest stories of free India. And, thanks to such apathy, a region abundant in natural beauty, resources and home to some of India’s most hardy and beautiful people has been converted into a challenge instead of a proud asset to the country.

The recent crimes against people from the North East is not a new phenomenon either. In January 2014, the death of Nido Taniam, son of an Arunachal Pradesh legislator, had attracted widespread attention. The then BJP Prime Minister designate, Narendra Modi, had met students from the North East and had said ‘Students, I assure you that your pain and grievances are our pain and we will do all possible to help you in any issue’. Three other incidents very recently, in the NCR and Bangalore are nasty reminders of the same traits prevalent in India. The extent of the insecurity they felt in ‘mainland’ India was apparent in the flight of about 30,000 north easterners from Bangalore in 2012 during the Bodo-Muslim violence in Assam when threats were circulated over text messages.

Scenic Beauty Of North Eastern India

While the racial mind-set itself, may be more prevalent than being only against North Easterners but, all of these incidents do point at the consistent failure of India to integrate the 8 sister-states with the national main stream.

India is a land of almost limitless diversity. The North Eastern region is probably one of the most diverse in terms of the ethnicity, languages and practices. Arunachal Pradesh for example, is said to be home to somewhere between 30 and 50 distinct languages. Further, historically, the north east for the most part of the past has not been a part of the rest of the ‘administered India’. In the medieval times, while the Mughals were able to consolidate most of India under their rule, the north east remained largely independent under the Ahom Kingdom. As such, the region was able to evolve its own administration and society which had minimal Islamic influence and was very unique given its complex ethnic diversity.

The North East for the first time received asignificant influence from the Indian mainland in the first half of the nineteenth century, after the British tookover in 1826 as a part of the Bengal Presidency. Subsequently, the territorywas separated from Bengal in 1874 into a different province.Therein, laid the challenge. This was a cauldron of many ethnic diversities, and arduous terrains. Administration was complex.And, the British did develop the region in a wide variety of ways that were commendable vis-à-vis the extent of progressfree India made.

For example, the first rail line, a metre gauge line, was introduced way back in 1881. In contrast, Independent India has managed to delay connecting Agartala, capital of Tripura, till 2008 – andworse still, Arunachal Pradesh’s capital, Itanagar, had its first railway connectivity through the Naharlagun station opened in 2014.Rest of the state capitals do not even have railway stations! As another example, Arunachal Pradesh does not have a single operational airport with commercial services. Largely the entire North East remains very poorly connected with the rest of India. The region also suffers from a poor digital infrastructure with unreliable tele-connectivity. As of August 2013, BSNL was planning to improve Internet connectivity in the North East by connecting Tripura with international Internet gateway through Bangladesh.

Yet another failure for the country is the unrealized tourist potential of the entire area. Abounding in Himalayan grandeur and other picturesque hills, home to a number of rivers, and with a rich flora and fauna diversity, the entire region has had the potential to be completely driven by tourism. Unfortunately, again successive governments failed in this aspect too and the poor handling of various unrests, compounded with much neglectfrom Delhi, has made this impossible too.

Women Working In The Magestic Tea Fields

The northeasterners are generally hardy people and have always been a rich source of sporting talent. Even with minimal encouragement from the system, the sister states have been able to churn out sportsmen in a number of different games. Mary Kom hardly needs a mention. Somdev Devvarman in Tennis, Devendro Singh in Boxing, Ngangbam Soniya Chanu in Weightlifting, Tarundeep Rai and Chekrovolu Sworu in Archery are to name a few.

North East presents a huge potential in terms of the contribution it can make to the country. However, historically, and unfortunately even since independence, the region has been administered in relative isolation. Further, this region shares international borders with four important countries – China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. As such, each passing day of any further neglect is not only a lost opportunity but, also bears a national security cost.

The physical and administrative isolation, coupled with poor awareness of the rest of the country of the North East is one of the big challenges. This is also one of the reasons why we have seen an uneducated attitude of Indians towards northeasterners. This too needs to change immediately with people being educated of the Geography, History, and Society of this part of our India as well, and that too right from schools.

Last but, not the least – India’s huge mandate for Modi is the reflection of a new found hope of a large diverse country. It is paramount now that any sort of racial or regional bias is not tolerated. While positive initiatives are required for longer term solutions, hate crimes by rogue elements in any part of the country must be dealt with severity that makes their recurrence unthinkable.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is India’s philosophy, said Modi in his address to the United Nations. For the inhabitants of the eight sister states to find their rightful place in India has been pending for a long time. And, it urgently needs to be addressed before the ancient philosophy may be rekindled in its full glory.

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