Of racial attitudes


In recent times we have been hearing several assurances from the Indian mainland in view of the recent exodus of northeast people from Indian cities. They talk as if sixty years of racial discrimination could be brushed off with state assurances of security for the northeast people studying and working in various cities of India. The Union government had even stretched their imagination to a hidden hand of the Pakistanis in the recent incidents of threats and intimidation against the northeast students and professionals. Pakistan had always been a mental block for the Indian intelligence and will continue so, if they fail to shed their bias against the Pakistanis. Yes, certain elements in Pakistan could have orchestrated terrorist activities in India or could have instigated extremist elements operating inside the country to create chaos and mayhem. But the Indian intelligence should also learn to think beyond Pakistan. With regard to the recent riots and killings in Kokrajhar of Assam, many people in both the Indian mainland and the northeast had chosen to interpret it as clashes between the Assamese Bodos and the Muslims. Yet, a few see it as clashes between the Bodos and the migrants. We subscribe to the latter viewpoint. It is about Bangladhesi migrants eating up territories and employment in Bodoland, which the Bodos do not agree to. This is one of the causes of the present conflict, which India must understand first. For the Bodos, it is about right to life and survival in their own land which had been threatened by the entry of migrants. Their land has been taken away and their employment has been robbed by migrants, which naturally becomes an issue with the indigenous Bodos. It does not matter to them whether the migrants are Muslims or Hindus. What matters most is that they have been robbed of their land and employment by migrants. But the religious slant in interpreting the recent riots has complicated the issue and it is encouraging anti-northeast sentiment in the Indian mainland in the metropolitan cities of India, mainly among the Indian Muslims who are considered a minority in the Indian context. To the north-eastner, Indians are Indians whether they are Hindus or Muslims. The Indian attitude with regard to the northeast people was of contempt and ignorance all along. They think how could these chinky face natives originating from the northeast or the people of Mongoloid stock be Indians. Nor the land and the Mongoloid people inhabiting it are simply not included in the Indian imagination. A simple question would be where do you locate the northeast in the national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’. The national anthem does not extend beyond Bengal in the East. When the northeast or its people are not included in the history books of India, how do you expect the youths and people of mainland India to know about the region and its varied peoples? There are eight states including Sikkim in the northeast and it has different historical experiences which are outside the history books of India. The northeast peoples became Indians not by choice but through coercion as in the case of Manipur and Tripura. In the case of Manipur, the controversial Shillong merger sowed the seed of insurgency which is still raging in the state. And it was for India to accelerate the nation building process and to introduce inclusive policies. But the biased attitude that they inherited from the British colonial masters made them look at the peoples of the region as the ‘Other’.  It was simply because of this attitude that they had applied a special law called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the northeast, which is not applied in other parts of India other than the state Jammu and Kashmir, which the Indian mainstream consider as aliens. Unless one makes amends to curb this attitude, the north-eastners will ever remain the ‘Other’ in the Indian imagination.


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