Us Tribals, Them Indians

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Oracle, Jan 27, 2011.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

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    By Amartya Saha

    It was a torrid summer afternoon as the Guwahati-bound train raced on through eastern Uttar Pradesh. Passengers had rolled down the window shutters to keep out the sun and dust storms, transforming the compartment into a drowsy oven. At the next station, a small town on the agricultural plain, we alighted and rushed past the chaiwallas1 to the water taps to dowse our heads and fill our water bottles. On returning to our berths we found a whole bunch of locals occupying them, chewing paan2, smoking beedis3 and calmly returning our stares.

    “Arre bhai, yeh hamari jagah hai!” (Hey, this is my seat!)

    “Kaahe ? Eee jagah pablik ki nahin to kisi ka hai, haanh ?” (What’s that?! This is public property.)

    [​IMG]

    Every two hours locals would get on the train, muscle us long distance travelers off our seats, sit and then alight in a few hours. The ticket checker was nowhere to be seen, of course. I found him later sitting quietly in one corner. When I told him about the locals occupying reserved seats, he philosophically shrugged and said this was the norm in North MP, East UP and Bihar4, and that the best thing was to ignore that, in these lawless lands.

    There is one group of travelers, however, whom these lawless locals rarely tangle with - folk from the northeastern hill states. Once I shared a compartment with around 10 students from Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland; they were returning home from New Delhi, in high spirits, playing guitar and singing throughout the journey. At a station the locals banged windows from the platform, demanding that the door be opened. One window flew up, and a fierce scowl sent the local scurrying away to another compartment.

    This impression of folk from the hills around the Brahmaputra valley being from another planet is possessed not just by the bullying bhaiyyas5 from the Gangetic plains, but also in Delhi and other towns where northeastern youths head for their undergraduate education. Stereotyped as fierce tribals who love very hot food and are good musicians and soccer players, most of peninsular India is not familiar with the history, culture and values that have evolved in the eight sisters, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim/Sub-Himalayan West Bengal. Madhur Jaffrey’s otherwise delightfully written book on Indian food preparations, “The Taste of India”, has an map that does not even feature the northeast. Media coverage of the northeastern region is sparse and skewed towards insurgencies, of the incessant fighting between rebel outfits and the Indian army. Added to that are certain anti-tribal attitudes inherent in sections of Indian society, where tribals (adivasis) in both peninsular India and the northeast are considered uncivilized, having a primitive hedonistic outlook and of not being capable of intellectual development. How extremely unfortunate and unfair.

    Such are some of the blues of the northeasterners. The northeastern region was never a part of India, they maintain.”Arreh, we tribals are not Indians! When the British ruled India, did the Indians become British or what?"

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    Compounding the feeling of unwanted inclusion into the Indian Republic is the issue of natural resources such as timber and petroleum being extracted and sent to mainland India by the Central Government, without any infrastructure development in return. The northeast is hampered by a sparse road network (often dysfunctional due to frequent landslides), few industries and very few institutions of higher learning. The economy is still agriculture based, much as it has been for centuries, and the region lags behind most of India in terms of development. Meanwhile, the extraction of natural resources is often carried out with scant regard to the accompanying devastation to the environment. Widespread dam construction for hydro power generation “in the national interest” also destabilizes hill slopes, increasing soil erosion into mountain streams. Thousands of men and women are brought in from other parts of India to work as cheap labor on dams, who then have no recourse but to denude surrounding forests for their firewood needs. Sewage treatment facilities being non-existent in labor camps, the hill streams become toilet drains. The ongoing protest by Khasi students against Uranium mining in Meghalaya that can contaminate the surroundings with radioactive mine waste is another example. The lack of job opportunities together with the simmering dissatisfaction leaves a large faction of the youth with no choices but to either join the corrupt state ministries or go underground with separatist movements.

    However, the universe is a two way street. The northeasterners are just as guilty of an “us tribals and them Indian dkhar6” attitude, that largely stems from ignorance of the sheer diversity of ethnicities, language, culture and religion in peninsular India, or what northeasterners term “India”. There are other mongoloid people in India, all along the Himalayas and in pockets of forests in central India. India is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile. Other Indians are a mix of the original Dravidian people and migrants from Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe who have arrived and settled down in the subcontinent over millenia.. The northeastern hills and valleys are not isolated islands; they have had trade and cultural exchanges with peninsular India. Today, trainloads of food grains, medicines, electronics and other supplies roll into Guwahati every day from where they are trucked in to all seven states. Yes, neither the Brahmaputra valley nor the surrounding highlands were politically a part of India before British Rule, but was there India before the British? No! India as a political unit is a British creation. Before that, South Asia was a continually changing mosaic of kingdoms and tribal lands. Culturally and ethnically the Tamils are as different from Kashmiris as from the Mizos, or Gujaratis as different from Bengalis as from Lepcha7.

    [​IMG]

    Society cannot continue to live in the past. The universe is always in flux. The current geopolitical, environmental and economic realities suggest it is vastly more advantageous for the northeast to be part of India, than be independent and thereby face the danger of coercion into a vassal status by other large powers in the neighborhood, or worse, be swallowed up. China’s invasion of Tibet, just across the border with northeast India, the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the outnumbering of Tibetans with immigrants brought in from other arts of China is something that the intelligentsia of the northeast are very aware of. India, for all its faults, they agree, is a democracy, with freedom of expression and movement.

    Unfortunately again, the Indian Government, for its part, appears to have no coherent policy for the ecologically sound development of the northeast in such a manner as to improve the lives of the local people. Environmentally destructive projects, corruption in state ministries, insurgencies and China’s political ambitions all combine to form a ticking bomb. The Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh has repeatedly warned the Indian Central Government about China building roads, rail links and airports on the plateau over the mountainous frontier , of periodic Chinese incursions into Arunachal Pradesh and of Chinese propaganda amidst Arunachali villagers that China cares for them and not India. That China in its vision as the supreme Asian power needs access to the Indian Ocean, as well as keep India in a state of internal instability is not well realized amongst the Indian population, nor by the Central Government which remains myopically focused on Pakistan.

    Thus the media has to play the critical role of voicing the importance of unity to people all over India, as well as focusing on the problems in the northeast. For, in the end, India, despite all its myriad problems and faults, is a collection of ethnicities bound by a degree of tolerance and coexistence seen in few other places on Earth. India is considered to be a rising superpower along with China, Brazil and Russia. One hopes that the quality of life will get better for every man, woman and child in every corner of this insanely diverse nation.

    Unfortunately again, the Indian Government, for its part, appears to have no coherent policy for the ecologically sound development of the northeast in such a manner as to improve the lives of the local people. Environmentally destructive projects, corruption in state ministries, insurgencies and China’s political ambitions all combine to form a ticking bomb. The Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh has repeatedly warned the Indian Central Government about China building roads, rail links and airports on the plateau over the mountainous frontier , of periodic Chinese incursions into Arunachal Pradesh and of Chinese propaganda amidst Arunachali villagers that China cares for them and not India. That China in its vision as the supreme Asian power needs access to the Indian Ocean, as well as keep India in a state of internal instability is not well realized amongst the Indian population, nor by the Central Government which remains myopically focused on Pakistan.

    Thus the media has to play the critical role of voicing the importance of unity to people all over India, as well as focusing on the problems in the northeast. For, in the end, India, despite all its myriad problems and faults, is a collection of ethnicities bound by a degree of tolerance and coexistence seen in few other places on Earth. India is considered to be a rising superpower along with China, Brazil and Russia. One hopes that the quality of life will get better for every man, woman and child in every corner of this insanely diverse nation.

    Footnotes:
    1. Tea sellers
    2. Betel nut, lime and some spices wrapped in a betel leaf and chewed.
    3. Little cigarettes of tobacco rolled in leaves of tendu or apte trees, a big source of income for village women.
    4. States in north-central India
    5. Men from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. More generally, this word refers to ‘brothers’.
    6. Khasi word for non-tribal settlers in Meghalaya, one of the states of NE India
    7. The ethnic group that has been in Sikkim the longest

    Source
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
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  3. rcscwc

    rcscwc Tihar Jail Banned

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    AS should stick to his ecomics. Anyway, he is a US citizen.
     
  4. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

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    Read the name correctly, if you did not bother to read the post. The author is Amartya Saha not Amartya Sen.
     
  5. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    Does the author have commie leanings? If not, I will read the article...
     
  6. Bangalorean

    Bangalorean Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The article does send out a good message, but I firmly believe that economic development solves most of these issues over time. As factories are established, trade in the region increases, the N-E cities become bigger and bigger, things will improve perceptibly. But the government really has to provide good incentives for N-E development. Provide tax breaks and other sops for industries in the N-E, push forward infra development, and do this fast! If a few such proactive steps are taken, I predict a maximum of 10 years for articles such as these to become irrelevant.
     
  7. Phenom

    Phenom Regular Member

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    It is a fact that people from NE are discriminated is rest of India. Often derogatory terms like Chinkis or Ching Chong is used to address them. The govt needs to teach the people that NE is Indian as much as Bihar or Gujarat or AP.

    Having said that people being moved from their seat in very common especially in the Hindi heartland and it doesn't affect just the people from NE, even south Indians face the same treatment. It's probably the result of all those years of misrule in the hindi belt, hopefully with rule of law returning such incidents will also be reduced.
     

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