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‘Alienation’of NE: EMOTIONAL INTEGRATION CRUCIAL, by Dr S Saraswathi, 23 May, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 23 May 2012

‘Alienation’of NE


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR)


The ensuing Presidential election has unwittingly put the spotlight on the North East again. Though former Speaker P A Sangma, who hails from Meghalaya is seeking support for a “tribal” candidate for the post, there is a nagging fear among some circles that an unsuccessful bid will stoke the “alienation” debate within the North East. .   


Recently reports of two cases of unnatural deaths of students --one in Gurgaon, part of National Capital Region Territory of Delhi and the other in Bangaluru – have sadly put the spotlight on Indian prejudice. The first case was that of a girl student from Meghalaya, who allegedly committed suicide after being accused of cheating by college authorities and the other was of a boy from Mizoram being found dead in his college hostel.  Similar cases have appeared earlier too.


A common feature about the two cases, however, has been the reported agony of other students from the North-East who expressed anger at what they described “callousness” on the part of college and police authorities while dealing with the incidents. It was even suggested that had the two students been from “Mainland India”, institutional response would have been quicker thus hinting at the prevalence of an indifference towards and discrimination against students from the North-Eastern Region. Such a thought is indeed detrimental to the unity and integrity of the nation and must be addressed and removed at the earliest.


Authentic and full information about the circumstances leading to the two suicides, and the nature of interaction between students from different parts of the country is necessary to clearly determine whether there is any cause for complaint of prejudicial treatment meted out to students from this region.


Of late, there seems to be a return of strong  parochial sentiments in many States manifesting itself not only in the harmless manner of pride in one’s culture and way of life, but also in an offensive form of open intolerance towards others. This appears rather strange, when actually scope for inter-mingling, instant communication, rapid transport, joint activities, and fusion of cultures through entertainment media has vastly increased and is exploited fully in all walks of life.


However, it cannot be denied that there is some vested interest in grooming parochialism and narrow loyalties in some sections. Identity politics, and vote bank promotion in the Indian democracy are blocking the natural emotional integration of its people.


The number of students from the North-East is growing every year as also the number employed in public and private sectors. This is undoubtedly a welcome development, but makes our responsibility to remove any semblance of prejudices and discriminations – real and imaginary - all the more urgent.


The two cases of suicides and reported prejudices against students from the North-East found a mention in Parliament too this past session, prompting a response from the Union Home Minister. He assured the Members of Parliaments, cutting across party lines, of providing safety and security to the students from the North-East, and promised “zero tolerance” (a term generally used in combating terrorism) of crime against people from this region.     


While the Minister guaranteed that people from this region can travel freely and settle in other parts of India, he forgot that this is a Fundamental Right granted to every citizen by the Constitution and is not a gesture or munificence of a benevolent government. However, the Centre must ensure that these rights are neither denied nor made difficult for anybody within the boundaries of the country.


The Indian Constitution has provision for only a single citizenship. The Right to Freedom includes the right to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and to practice any profession or carry out any occupation, trade, or business under Article 19. A sense of alienation within one’s own country felt by anyone or group amidst fellow-citizens is not conducive to national unity and integrity. Especially when the youth of any part of India nurse such a feeling when living away from their homes, it must be addressed immediately and the root causes eliminated.


The North-Eastern Region comprising seven States known popularly as the “Seven Sisters”, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura is a complex anthropological entity containing about 350 tribes. It borders China and Bhutan on the north, Myanmar in the east, and Bangladesh in the south, and is connected to the rest of India by a narrow land corridor called “Chicken’s Neck”.


Its geo-political character, anthropological diversities, ethnic features, and demographic patterns should normally be considered as a mark of the rich varieties of Indian land and people. Unfortunately, these have become a cause for sub-national loyalties among some sections to such an extent as to create an impression about the North-East as an ethnic trouble spot.


Few people in the mainland are likely to understand the problems of the youth from this region who have witnessed the pangs of insurgency and militancy, limited access to higher education, and inadequate employment opportunities and health care facilities.


The need of the hour is to strengthen the emotional bond between the people of this region and the rest of India. In 2001, the Government of India created the Department of the North-Eastern Region and elevated it as a Ministry in 2004. It is in charge of planning, execution, and monitoring of all development programmes in the region as necessary to help bring the region into the mainstream.


We must admit that the country has a long way to go to create emotional integration of people of all States not only of the North-East. In almost all metropolitan cities, there is open expression of prejudice against people, particularly students and employees from other States.  Mumbaikars have no love for Biharis or Tamils; Kannadigas regard Tamils as their arch-rivals; Dravidian patriots in the 1950s manifested their Tamil patriotism by picketing before Marwari shops and so on. These are instigated by political calculations.


Students from the North-East have to get over the feeling that they are subject to some exclusive ethnic prejudices. To treat these cases as incidents of atrocities against Scheduled Tribes is also dangerous.


More information about the land and the people, and situations and problems of different States should form part of the orientation courses for all students.  Education must help the students cultivate a strong feeling of being Indian over and above their attachments to language, caste, sect, State, and region. Isn’t it the feeling of being American that unites the people of the United States? ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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