Sinlung /
13 June 2012

We Must Imbibe The NE Culture, Law Alone Can't Protect It


A TV commercial promoting national unity through a song 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' achieved quite a popularity a few decades ago. Although quite young then, I can distinctly remember that the commercial, although promoted various parts of India, featured just a tribal dance while speaking about the north-east (NE) except Assam. We still learn about the nation-building process in our school and college days but yet, all our efforts seem to be futile when we read about tragic cases of north-eastern students losing their lives in 'mainland India' where they had come in the pursuit of a brighter future.

The 'mainstream' mind should welcome NE

The situation has been a worrying one even for the central government. The home ministry recently asked all states and Union Territories to charge anyone if he/she commits any atrocity against people of the NE under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Even calling any person from the NE as a chinki could invite an imprisonment for five long years, for the term is considered to be a derogatory one!

But why it took 65 long years to cover the distance between New Delhi and the NE? Even now, not many are convinced that the home ministry has taken a wholehearted step to curb an alarming domestic trend. The recent deaths of three north-eastern students in Gurgaon, Delhi and Bangalore, including Dana Sangma, the niece of Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma have created a uproar over the security of these people in their own country and the government's tough stand could have been propelled by public pressure.

The issue is a serious one. Making a law or announcing strict punishment for belittling the north-eastern people would only act as a desperate and temporary measure to keep things under control but not eliminate it, for the reasons are deep-rooted socio-economic one.

North-easterners are known for their migratory tendencies. But an essential feature of their migration is that they are mostly city-bound. The national capital region of Delhi might be a popular destination, but other metropolis and cities of the country do not lag much behind, either.

Such city-bound migration of the people from the NE (primarily youngsters) point to the fact that these people mainly move out in search of education and employment. The case is very much unlike the other parts of the country, where other factors, too, play important factors. But why the north-easterners ' movement is propelled by these two specific reasons?

NE is a region which has quite a high literacy rate compared to the national average. But the unfortunate part is that the region does not have much scope for higher education and training to equip the rich pool of talents for the market, particularly that belonging to the new economy. They, thus, after a particular stage of education, have no other option but to move to developed urban centres of the country for a better future.
This brings us to the second point. Since the NE is one of the most backward regions of the country, thanks to geographical and historical reasons, the young people who had once moved out of the region in search of better education and training, find very little reason to come back. This is unlike for, say a Mumbaikar or Delhiite, who return home after receiving higher education degrees or training abroad and find himself/herself a market. Poor industrialisation and economic infrastructure and near-stagnation of state jobs mean the north-eastern economies have little to offer for the new workforce. And when this is coupled with the unstable socio-political milieu marked by ethnic, communal tensions, army atrocities and other kind of disruptive activities, chances of the sons and daughters of the soil returning to make a living in their natives is almost nil.

This scenario holds the north-easterners against a tough challenge. For them, the future lies in surviving alien conditions with no much of the generally-available second option to return home. 'Adjustment' is the first blow they take, in terms of climate, food, dress, customs, rituals. With this, arises the incompatibility problem with the local inhabitants. Whenever the guests come into contact with the inhospitability of the new environment, they feel more and more insecure and as a result, try to remain in groups to protect themselves from being lonely and helpless. Keeping together with communal colleagues and families and observing and celebrating their own occasions in an alien milieu make them more and more exclusive groups.

Another feature of the people from NE is their fluency in English, hard-working and peaceful and pleasant nature. These qualities, along with better educational qualifications compared to some other communities, often help the northeasterners bag jobs and occupational profiles higher up the order. Moreover, these people display a very low attrition rate in jobs, which make them all the more popular and suitable in the economic circles.

All these features of the northeasterners, in a way, invite trouble for themselves. First of all, their prolonged stay for employment purpose is not taken well by the natives. Achieving success owing to their qualities leave the local fellows often fuming and often, this leads to foul plays at workplaces. The docile-natured north-eastern boys and girls often find racial, sexually-offensive remarks hurled at them or bad treatment meted out. In majority of cases, these offences go unnoticed for the victims find them in a hopeless minority to counter the majority onslaught. Many a time, they even feel compelled to quit the workplace.

The physical traits of the north-eastern people also act as a reason for their plight. Often in an alien city, they are deliberately maltreated by the local people, be it in terms of racial slur, economic exploitation, moral policing or even social deprivation. There are cases where students from north-east are forced to change their eating habits ('puritans' abhor the idea of eating dogs as the diet of the people of NE) or denied basic facilities like water or electricity. All these factors push the 'outsiders' to form their own groups and more they do so, their exclusiveness is mocked at by the locals more. "See, those chinkis are so proud of themselves. They always move about in groups and hardly talk to anyone," is a common statement one can get to hear in any major educational campus in 'mainland India' at any point of time.

Such discriminatory attitude towards the people from the NE has deep social roots. The value system of the north eastern societies are markedly different from those of north India and elsewhere. While the north-eastern societies are more tribal and community based with a matriarchal structure, those in north India are primarily casteist and patriarchal. Hence, while the northeasterners display a more fair treatment towards women and mingle more freely with them, the north Indians consider it to be a cheap gesture. The Indian media too can not escape its responsibility of furnishing the north-eastern tribal societies as something backward, stagnant and lacking enlightenment. The modern north-eastern youth presents a picture, totally different.

Dealing the issue with a legal iron-fist would not solve the problem but only could try to contain it. The former Mayawati government in UP and booked over 6,000 people for humiliating people from the NE as against a paltry 16 in Delhi. The main thrust should be to strengthen the nation-building process integrate the 'overlooked' NE more with the 'mainstream' by various sensitising means. Or otherwise, the deaths of Sangma, Richard Loitam and Samiran Saikia would remain ordinary waste of precious human lives. The mind has to change, not only the law.

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