By Pronita Saxena with critical input from Kavya Ramesh
One of the main foci of this year’s BLF is North East India and the grievances of this region. At the start of the session, the moderator, Nilesh Mishra bemoaned the categorization of a varied region with false generalization, one that ignores the beauty that exists in its diversity. Poetess Binalakshmi Nepram asked the audience: “what is our definition of the “Northeast?”
There are various false notions regarding this place: we conjure up images of a jungle, a land meant for exploitation and building up hydro-electric plants, a mass of land where half nude tribals live. These notions have to be abolished, she proclaimed.
In reality, the Northeast has a varying geography and holds 45 million people. With a long history and a very rich culture of its own-a culture that is specific, varied, and unique. The region is blessed with myriad natural resources – an abundance of minerals and where oil an uranium were found.
Nepram is bewildered by the notion that there’s a need to “civilize” the people of the Northeast. Not only are their cultural traditions imbibed with respect and humility, but there’s far more the “civilized” world could learn from their matriarchal structures.
Dhruba, points out at the phrase “Northeast” itself was a British invention and the concept didn’t even exist before their arrival. All of the eight sisters were simply “Arunachal.” Politicians and media professionals were the first to absorb the colonal term and it soon caught on. Still, Dhruba points out that the eyes with which the rest of India sees the Northeast are not embedded in feelings of belonging or unity. Perhaps due to earlier migration from Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, there’s always been an “otherness” associated with the way in which Indians on this side of Bangladesh view their nationalistic brothers and sisters on the other side.
Prodyot emphasized heavily the diversity inherent in the region and rejected attempts to club it into one homogeneous entity. He blamed the centre for marginalising people from the Northeast, especially the way in which a negative connotation and classification has become common practice with how this identity is perceived. Prodyot also found fault in the poor quality of leadership that has emerged from the region with few capable appointments, causing massive failures in governance and administration. Despite the amount of money pumped into the region over the years, he feels there has not been considerable development.
In the end, the panelists all agreed that if people from this side of India visited the eight sisters more, got first hand experience, and built relationships with people from the region, the reality of alienation and disempowerment could be improved.