The forgotten people of North East India

Ankush Vengurlekar
Jul 25, 2015 · 5 min read

What is it that drives our widespread apathy towards our brothers and sisters from the north east of India. From seemingly harmless typecasting as “chinki” to calling them ‘nepali’ to the disturbing ostracisation of college students hailing from north eastern states in Delhi’s universities, the folks from these hills and their disconsolate tales, have been at the negligent end of our mindspace.

While i remember being amused through childhood upon studying in geography about the seven sisters, after all no other geogrpahic region was likened to kinship as the north east. But, as i started travelling to these states, meeting and interacting with the people, i realised that we have, in a way, failed to see them as individual identities, conveniently addressing them as a group of seven sisters. This gross generalisation is seen aplenty when citizens from one part of the country lazily refer to other parts as north india or south india. While all blame for regression is conveniently pushed onto the government, the indolence on our part, citizens part, is what has led to an even more limited understanding of our brethren. I mean we would have to be an olympian level of lazy to call unique states like mizoram, tripura, nagaland, manipur, assam, meghalaya, arunachal pradesh by one designation — seven sisters and forget about it. Each state has a unique character, a unique economic model, and is further differentiated by the dozens of tribes that inhabit them and the languages they speak.

I work for an NGO that addresses disaster response & relief and part of our work is to monitor the disasters occurring throughout the country. As unfortunate as it is, the period from June to October/November is tagged as disaster season, primarily because of the water/rain related disasters that we are vulnerable to. Yesterday, on 24th July there was a flood in Manipur, not caused only due to the excessive rainfall, but because a dam gave away and flooded the villages and farms downstream.

There are fears of another dam meeting a similar fate if timely action isn't taken for repairs or evacuations.

Why aren't the officials then being proactive and doing something about it, one would think. Its funny, the way human psyche works. You are at your best behavior when you know others are watching you, but when you have low moral conscience and know that you seldom surface in the thoughts of the country’s media or politicians, you become lackadaisical about your own kin. That has happened among the politicians of the region too. While, neglect from the rest of the country and its countrymen could have united the people from individual states of North east, it has managed to do the exact opposite. Not only do citizens have very little hope from the decision makers sitting in Delhi, there's an even bleaker outlook towards their own elected representatives in states like Manipur. It definitely doesn't help that the state has been fraught with internal tension since decades, under the ill effects of homegrown terrorism and AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act).

On my recent visit to Manipur, where i was working with an NGO ReachM in Chandel district, i found that they have been working on conflict resolution and peacekeeping for the past 25 years. The central government, much similar to how Osama Bin Laden was seeded by USA, had seeded underground groups (UG)to counter the states’ own UG groups. These have now become monsters by themselves and are beyond the grasp of the governments that constituted them to begin with. The internal conflicts keep the air rife with tension and curfews and strikes are as common as piggeries in each backyard. Children are born with guns and armed men surrounding them and it comes as little surprise when they decide to embrace the weapon with age, especially when they see the snail's pace with which things move in the valley and the increasing inequality among the elite and commoners.

Policemen armed with automatic machine guns stand on-watch as over 3000 students marcha peaceful protest against politicisation of education. The AFSPA empowers army to shoot-at-sight for insurgency and terrorism suspects.

Protracted crises fuels an economy beyond our average comprehension and the stakeholders involved in keeping civil unrest alive for economic reasons baffle humanitarians like me. When dead bodies become a currency and when this currency fuels the flow of arms and ammunitions across borders, it's time to realise that we have failed ourselves not as a region or a country or a civilisation, but as a species.

Children in North eastern states like Manipur are exposed to arms from an early age, where over 40 Underground outfits are engaged in activities spanning extortion to insurgency. The youth are increasingly lured to take arms in wake of political systems which seem dysfunctional.

What keeps the people alive and going even in such extreme inhumane situations, is their tenacity. The ability of people of the state of manipur to see good in face of impending disasters, do help their brothers in looming crises and make merry and be content with their food and culture has seen them survive the longest of civil strifes. “After all, for tribes that were originally headhunters, bringing home anything less than the rivals head is peacetime” as was told to me by the IG of Police when i had visited Mizoram.

    Ankush Vengurlekar

    Written by

    building my karma, as i travel from materialism to humanitarianism!