The North Eastern natives dubbed as second class citizen

SK Singh *

The Gulf News from Dubai carried a piece on 2 July, about an alarming neglect of Indians from the North Eastern Region (NER). In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown across the continent many people from this region got stranded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This particular news was about people from the NER stuck in UAE since March. Help was not forthcoming for these uncared for people desperate to return home. Many lost job unable to make both ends meet and desperate to be back home.

For the few tourists their visa expired and faced difficulties to get things regularized. They made appeals, frantic calls and requests to all possible quarters for help in moving them out. Their urges fell on deaf ear; the appropriate authorities yet to respond.

But there is a thing called 'providence' or providential intervention in hiding somewhere only to appear unexpectedly to come as a savior for the utterly ignored. The natives of the NER stranded in UAE were not so felicitous to be heard and left everything to God.

Ultimately, however, their prayers were heard, their pathetic conditions got notice of some unknown group, in fact some volunteers based in Dubai. These Samaritans pulled resources together and got in touch with these people.

Satguru Travel and Tourism based in Dubai in particular came to know about the frantic call of these people. They also came to know that the GOI or the concerned state governments/authorities were not forthcoming. This tour operator group took note of the desperate situation of these foreigners in the Arab country.

Gaurav Keswani, a senior corporate sales executive of Satguru had to say, "We did Guwahati (the flight), because no one was taking care of Indians from the northeast. We started looking into it after we received many requests and since we had the resources, we decided to help." This company had facilitated nine repatriation flights out of UAE. This was not all.

Dubai based businessmen too stepped in to pay for 22 passengers' tickets. Once initiated, others followed suit. Ticket costs Dh 1500, roughly INR 30,500 per head. Of 189 on board, 30 were from Manipur, the rest from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

The lament is not of solid neglect; they are delivering, as yet it appears to be short at critical situations, like the one referred to here before. These are realities, they happened, not just concoction.

The North East Region, a conglomerate of eight states has ever been at the receiving end from the appropriate authorities ever since its formation. With around 8% of total geographical area of the country, with hardly 4% of population (2001 census), the NER is truncated from the mainland except for a stretch of 22 KM corridor, nicknamed 'chicken-neck', in the Siliguri area of West Bengal.

Alarmingly, the region has a 98% common boundary with foreign countries. And the Pundits in the Central mainland dubbed it as 'golden opportunities' in that the region has fertile connectivity with other neighboring countries brightening their prospects for international trade.

What a fallacy! In the absence of suitable infrastructures across the border, which country would tie relations with the NER? Whatever little foreign trade these north- easterners could lay hands on, that too, before partition, in the present=day Bangladesh, had long gone by.

In the non economic zone, say social fabric or community ties too, they had to face slanderous stigma. More so during these COVID-19 days, the kind of slur often racial, meted out to the natives of the NER, mostly women-folk, working in other states or studying in institutes of repute, are a common affair.

Their grouse: these girls from the NER resemble Chinese and therefore could be a carrier of the deadly virus. These charges of racial discrimination are so out of context, for they know there is a group of states eight in number settling in the region. Mere resemblance should not be a criterion for accusing one of carrying the disease.

The mainland natives do not go by logic, their conscience is charged with malice, indifference and marginalization. This happens today; the victims are the northeasterners. Recall how our girls were humiliated only for resembling Chinese; some were denied entry into a mall in Hyderabad, some were simply abused and asked to vacate their rented house in Bengaluru, still others were beaten up for arguing and worst, a petite girl in a hurry to catch some essentials was spitted upon on the face with chewed pan.

Is not this horrible? It's exceeding the brief. They celebrate the feats of Mary Kom or Dipa Karmakar or those of several other sport stars, men and women, in their hundreds, bringing laurels to the country. The only factor could be the 'Tag', North-Easterners.

The GOI documents too are testimony to this general feeling. Recalling rather a more recent such document sponsored by the GOI, we can note what they put in black and white. One such document, 'Peace, Progress and Prosperity in the Northeastern Region: Vision 2020', was compiled by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi'.

It notes, "History, geography and politics factors have contrived to cast the Northeastern region a far away land, remote, isolated and surrounded by intimidating and unsympathetic environment. Despite richly endowed in resources, the region has slipped into the category of what is called 'backward' and lagging'."

This so called 'Vision 2020 document', complements itself to 'draw up the design and implementation strategy for progressing towards peace and prosperity. The Vision Document also talked about accelerating the growth of the states to such an extent that their GDPs those years (when the Vision Document was drafted, about 2008-09) would catch up the national GDP by 2020 or afterwards.

To make that happen, the GDP of Manipur for example, had to sky-rocket to 14 % or so around the year 2018-19 or 2019-20 or so.

A state who's GDP had never caught up even around 8 or 9% in its history, was so programmed that it could reach the stage of the country, at the least. How could that happen is a big issue still? One may think of pumping in massive funds in key sectors, say, agriculture, irrigation, roads, power to name a few. But there should be another factor, 'absorbing capacity' of the state.

Funds alone don't work; it is to be utilized efficiently. The inter-sectoral and also intra-sectoral disproportions are to be ironed out, a comprehensive system of utilization without cost and time overrun has to be in position. And succeeding in striking these balances is the core issue. Manipur now in 2019 or 2020 cannot touch that kind of a projection. So too the constituent states of the NER.

We can recall as yet another such effort of the GOI way back in the late nineties. Taking pity of the deplorable conditions in the region, be they in the areas of communication or of agriculture or of power, one can name quite a few, the Central Government in the mid-nineties, thought of what they called, 'New Initiatives', for primarily, 'Tracking Backlogs in Basic Minimum Services and Infrastructural Needs'.

The High Level Commission set up to draw a 'pathway', was attractively named, "Transforming the North East". That was in 1997. That was followed by 'VISION 2020' in 2007-08.

Now the bigger question is, where do we stand economically, socially, even morally?

* SK Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 08 2020.

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