The Idea of Northeast (India)
- Part 1 -

Partha Jyoti Borah *

India's Northeast has been a colossal anthropological humanity. A federal unit in the Indian subcontinent, the region is grossly misunderstood by the makers of modern India. Its exclusivity within mainland Indian Aryan culture jeopardized by the Christian evangelist during Raj era, then by the west ministerial Indian governance, has led to a xenophobic and subversive attitude in its populace.

The habit of seeing the region orientally, militarily or as an anthropological specimen led the region to remain as an army outpost of the Indian Union. The Northeast is largely an "Asia in miniature", where the "brown and yellow races meet and mingle". The lineage of the people is rooted in the Far East countries; however, a seamless bond with Indo-Aryan culture from the West is also well in existence.

Just to permeate the Idea of India in terms of its oneness, the makers of the country, in one hand practiced the process of assimilation in way to accommodate them with the "much civilized" Aryan blood; on the other hand, provisions like Six Schedule (1) was incorporated to keep intact the exclusivity of the communities. The State Reorganization Commission of 1956 constituted to reorganize the federal units of Indian union on the basis language preferred not to touch the region.

Northeast Frontier Tract (present Arunachal Pradesh) was mysteriously kept under the Union Foreign Ministry; thus, giving an opportunity to the Communist China to claim on the territory which it keeps doing even today. Demands of separate state also came from communities like Bodo, Khasi etc to the State Reorganization Commission. However, demands were not met, perhaps because of the strategical importance of the frontiers areas. Ironically, China invaded India through its Northeastern Frontiers and the same frontier bears the testimony of the colossal illegal influx from Bangladesh which is shambling the region's demography; also becoming threat to the nation's integrity.

The circumstantial predominance of the Assamese language after the induction Sylhet district with East Pakistan and language based nationalism growing out of it, had resulted in inclusion Assamese as a state language. Other communities who speak other languages although dialectical were highly discontent with this development. This discontentment was magnified later with hegemonic outlook of the Assamese dominated provincial machinery (Legislature and the bureaucracy).

The born acrimony among the tribal communities was eked out by the ethno- nationalist lobby within the community. Mizo National Front (2), in this regard, waged war against India demanding sovereignty of their land. Khasis too joined the bandwagon; however, the movement did not culminate into a demand for independent nation.

Highly confident, Mrs Indira Gandhi, after winning the Bangladesh Liberation War had re-demarcated the boundaries curving out Meghalaya for Khasi, Jayantia and Garos as full fledged state, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh as Union Territories in 1972. Perhaps after liberating Bangladesh from the clutch of Pakistan, the Indo-Bangla border in the Northeast was though out to be safe. Importance of Northeast to remain as single entity for security reason was considerably lessened and chopping of the land was made easy. However, the bifurcation of the Northeastern states in 1956 could have saved a huge number of innocent lives from the bullets of the rebel groups as well as the army personnel.

Later, other tribal communities in the Northeast were also given the Sixth Schedule status.

Huge amount of central money (Funding from the Central Government) is pumped in for infrastructural and other development. However, the development (be it agricultural, health or educational) is not reaching to the lower strata of the society. Moreover, population pattern in these autonomous district councils is not homogenous. So, the smaller tribal groups are often deprived of their rights against the dominant groups. The Sixth Scheduled districts should be made more representatives in nature with special privileges on the basis of gender and smaller tribal and ethnic groups. The Udalguri riot (3) of 2008 in the Northern Assam was due to the fear psychosis among the non-tribal Muslims for loosing out lands to the native ethnic people as the region fall in a Sixth Scheduled Autonomous District Councils.

The Naga movement bears some specific characteristics. They were the hardcore (ethno) nationalist. They have been demanding segregation from India since 1947. Curving the boundary across the heart of the Naga people is the bitter reality executed at the time of India's independence. An independent Nagalim comprising the Naga dominated regions of Burma, Assam and Manipur is the cherished objective of the Naga movement. The demand was partially met when a separate state Nagaland was curved out in 1962.

The term Naga stands, not for single tribal community but for hundreds of ethnic communities differing in their culture and language. A gentleman called AZ Phizo, who is regarded as the father of Indian insurgency started Naga movement in 1955 almost navigating it from somewhere in London. His organization singed a futile accord (Shillong Accord) in 1975 only to create another armed movement led by National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN).

The group bifurcated in 1988 into NSCN-IM and NSCN-K. Both these groups are in truce with the Government of India as of now and at the same time are running parallel well structured government in the areas of their dominance making the people taxably accountable to them. The annual budget presented in the self styled parliament of NSCN-IM touches hundreds of crores. The fratricidal clash between these two groups cuts short many innocent lives as these two groups have no ceasefire agreement between them.

The armed movement led by United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) (4) in Assam is not ethnic in nature. Born out of the six year long Foreigners agitation, the movement finds its cause in the prolonged economic exploitation allegedly by the Indian machinery and the subsequent under-development. The movement, off late, lost its popular support and is seen as the patronizer of the illegal Bangladeshis residing in the state given the fact that its top leaders are staying in that country (Bangladesh) for quite some time.

The political solution could never be orchestrated as the ploy to acrimoniously bifurcate them could not be engineered. Last year (2008) a faction of middle rung leaders in ULFA came over ground leaving the demand of sovereignty. They are out rightly put in some designated camps in Assam and are allowed to hold road shows only for the reason that they are candidly criticizing the ULFA central leadership and talking about complete autonomy of the state, equal democratic representation to the centre along with many other things.

In Manipur, altogether 32 such armed groups are functioning, calling the shots on their terms. Taxing people, dictating the media etc are the order of the day. Moral policing is rampant in the state. Army camps are next door neighbours there; as even the Manipur University is not barred from allowing the armies to hold outpost. The Armed Force Special Power Act'1959, a draconian law empowers the army to book any one without trial or warrant and thus legitimizing the human rights violation.

Going bck to the history, the Assam rice crisis of 1955 is regarded as the laying stone of everything going wrong afterwards in Manipur. To overcome the crisis, the central government ordered rice import from Manipur to Assam. The subsequent price rise and scarcity of rice in Manipur led the people of the erstwhile princely state to think as the first effect of merger with India. The vitriolic sentiment of the people with the unfriendly merger of the state with India had sparked with the incident.

The Northeast, thus, is badly messed up. Nehru, nevertheless, was focused on imbibing the feeling of oneness but had grossly undermined the economic backwardness of the region. Railway tracts are not extended to these mountainous states till date. Nehru, during his six days visit to the Northeast from 19 October to 25 October in 1955 had seen the impoverished people, poor infrastructure, joblessness etc. His chopper even could not land in Tawang (a place in Aruncahal Pradesh) because of poor navigation. A place very well within the country remained unreachable for none other than the first Prime Minister.

To be continued ........

* Partha Jyoti Borah ( Editor, The Northeast Voice) contributes to regularly. The writer can be contacted at parthaborah(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in
This article was webcasted on June 21st, 2009.

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