Saturday, August 9, 2008


Update: This post been cross-posted at YouthKiAwaaz


This is something which I have been thinking about for quite some time now. How much do we Indians really know and care about the North-East? I personally feel that the seven sisters and Sikkim (maybe with the exception of Assam), have been a neglected lot in our country. This goes not only from development point of view, but from other aspects as well like sports, culture, entertainment – Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh – are pretty much obscure as far as the rest of the country is concerned.

Lets start with the example of Television. All movies, serials, news channels concentrate on “mainland” India. Its all set in Delhi, Mumbai or Punjab. These days even South India is figuring in movies and television. But, what about the north-east? The consequence of this is not limited to entertainment alone. Thanks to TV, your average Indian aam admi in the Rest Of India (ROI - I call it that for a want of a better term – no intention of “dividing” NE from the ROI) has a fair idea of what life might be in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat etc. This is true even if that average Indian has never been to any of these places. But, do we have even a remote idea of what its like in the NE? The only TV program where I have seen extensive coverage of the NE is the travel show called Exotica, on StarOne.

Now come to sports. Other then Baichung Bhutia, the football star of India who hails from Sikkim, there's hardly any mainstream sportsperson from the NE. I cannot recall any cricketer or tennis player or even hockey player from NE (again, that might be due to my ignorance too). I suppose there are a few names from NE in the athletic and sports meets who get us medals at SAARC games etc (for example in sports like archery) – but hey don't u know that in India, “sports” equals “CRICKET+Tennis+hockey+f1” ?? The rest of them dont qualify – their achievements are not counted. Anyways – that's not the topic of this post!

I am unaware about how ROI is perceived in NE. Is the influence of Bollywood present in NE? Does the aam aadmi in NE have a fair idea about life in ROI? Do they follow cricket and national politics just as we in ROI do?

Successive governments at the Centre have been announcing special economic packages for the development of NE. I am not aware of how much of this has really translated to results. Maybe the one aspect that stands out in this regard would be the road infrastructure development projects (NHDP) – these seem to have made a positive impact during the last few years.

The encouraging trend is the good representation of NE in reality shows. Remember Amit Paul from Meghalaya who was the runner up in Indian Idol 3? Remember the host of singers from Assam (Debojit, Kalpana, Prakriti to name a few)?

The reasons for the negligence about NE in ROI could be many. For one, the North-Eastern states are geographically isolated from ROI. They are “connected” with ROI through a narrow strip which is just 20-odd kms wide (this is called the chicken's neck and is situated in Siliguri in West Bengal with Nepal in the North and Bangladesh in the South). Secondly, the NE states are culturally very different from the ROI – the culture here has elements of South-East Asia and China (Tibet in particular).

Nevertheless, the NE states are part of India; NE contributes to a sizable chunk of the India - area-wise, population-wise and culturally. Thus it is imperative for ROI to start viewing NE as they would Rajasthan or Punjab or Tamil Nadu. And also for people in NE to get a feel of what life is like in ROI. Only then would it be possible to foster a sense of unity and oneness. And, in my opinion, the media plays the most important role in increasing awareness .

ROI needs to know that just like elsewhere in India, NE too has a diverse culture. That there are several languages spoken here. That the climate, vegetation, topography, flora and fauna are as varied here as in ROI.

ROI needs to know about Assam's natural beauty, the tea gardebns, about Kazhiranga and the rhinos, about the ULFA's, about the political scenario and about the issues facing the nation along its border with Bangladesh.

ROI needs to know about the Chinese Government's claim to Arunachal Pradesh and about how the Army is on its toes there to prevent China from making mischief. About the sixth Dalai Lama being born here in AP. That there exist places in India where your constitutional “right to freedom of movement anywhere within the country” is restricted – that one needs a permit to enter some places in AP.

ROI needs to know about the mostly Himalayan state of Sikkim, the second smallest State in India by size and the least populated. ROI needs to know the history of the Nathula pass, the flourishing trade route which passed through here, and not to forget the Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world.

ROI needs to know about the WW-II battles fought in Manipur which stalled Japan's progress and which had a major impact on the outcome of the war. About the history of the princely state of Manipur (just like many more in ROI) before it was integrated into the republic of India. About the UNLF, its demands and its activities in Manipur. About the troubles along the border with Myanmar.

ROI needs to know about the history of the mountainous state of Nagaland, about the Naga tribe, about how Nagaland was part of Assam and underwent lot of unrest before being declared a state in early '60s. About the present-day culture which still revolves around the tribes and their shawl-weaving tradition. About the 90+% Christian population. About the Nagamese language – which is not the mother tongue of any of the tribes in Nagaland, but is the common language spoken everywhere in the state.

ROI needs to know about the plateau of Meghalaya, the Garo and Khasi hills. About the matriarch system followed by many of the more populous tribes in the state. About Cherrapunji, which was once the wettest spot in the world.

ROI needs to know about Tripura, the second-most populous among the NE states (even though it is relatively small in area). About the Bengali-dominant culture of the state (Tripura is surrounded on three sides by Bangladesh and is around the same latitude as West Bengal); about its festivals, indigenous dance forms and music. About its millenia-old history (Tripura is said to have had mention in Mahabharata).

ROI needs to know about Mizoram, the Indian state with the highest literacy rate. About the events which led to the formation of the state (famine, insurgency, bombing by the Indian Air Force to quell this insurgency); about the largely unexplored bamboo forests which covers about one-third of the state.

I think that Indians need to take a keener interest in the North-East. Probably if a few people from NE broke into the scene in some mainstream field, then that would function as a catalyst to increase the visibility of the NE states among ROI. This does not mean that they have to deviate from their culture and adopt cricket as a religion or get Bollywood-crazy. The NE is rich in dance and music. It would help if the media and entertainment industry took the initiative to showcase this cultural diversity to the rest of the world.

With the spurt in domestic tourism, more Indians are exploring “far-flung” regions within the country, including the NE. So also more people from the NE states are flocking to the mainland, be it for tourism, education, business or jobs. This exchange will only be for the benefit of either side.

I am hopeful that there will be more cultural, economic exchange between the NE and the ROI in the near future. Looking forward to an India where there is tighter bond between North-East and the Rest of India. JAI BHARATH.


illusionaire said...

Great Post! Great write-up, interesting build-up, well covered topic with obvious intensive research done, and an amazing headline - Very catchy and creative! Kudos to you for that.

itsme said...

research is pretty thorough.. nice write-up

AG said...

Nice write up Kiran. Keep up your good work...

swadesh said...

Kiran,great article. The NE-states in all its beauty and diversity has been artistically described you(wonder how you know so much about them). It is sad that we have to use the terms ROI and NE-region(showing the great divide). The disparity in my opinion is due to many reasons, the difference of races being one of them. The terrain is extremely mountainous and the population density is really low. The NE is the transition region where Indian culture(let me take the liberty and call it hindu culture) transforms into the chinese/south asian cultures. Although the North East Council(under ministry of HRD) has been trying hard to develop the region, it is happening too slowly. The insurgency situation(created by the govt. negligence) and lack of economic development means that the private sector is not looking at them as any kind of business opportunity. Most people(other than in assam and tripura) associate themselves more with thai/chinese than Indian. Hope all this changes and the world gets to explore this beautiful piece of land.

Kiran said...

@ Illusionaire, itsme and AG: Thanks for the comments!

@ Swadesh: Thanks for the compliments. I agree with your comments - the very fact that I had to use terms like NE and ROI shows the extent of the divide.

I suppose the difference in race is more prominent a reason for the divide than any other which I have mentioned! Furthermore, its sad that most of the NE is not at all on the private sector radar.

However, things are changing for the better now. Lets hope that tourism and economic development succeed in bridging the chasm and improving the quality of life in NE.

BK Chowla said...

Kiran,very well written.It seems a lot of research has been done by you.I would also like to add one more reason for neglect of N-E.
All the actions in India are politically motivated.How many Lok Sabha seats does N-E offer?Attention a state gets is in direct proportion to the number of seats it can give.Would'they spend the same time in UP or Bihar where the stakes are high?

Kiran said...

@BK Chowla:

Yes - Now that you mention it, The relatively sparse population - which translates to fewer LS seats - does come across as a strong reason for the neglect of NE.

Although there are a few examples to the contrary. For example Goa, which has only 2 LS seats, is not all that neglected (I guess this could be attributed to the efforts of the state Government too).

If the low number of MP's from NE is indeed the reason for giving step-motherly treatment to NE, I am hard-pressed to come up with a solution! I guess we, the public, will have to play the "minority" card - probably something like "regional minority" - to get the Central Govt to improve the state of affairs in the North-East.

BK Chowla said...

Kiran, Goa is an exception.It is not what it is because of the Govt.It is because of their next door neighbour Bombay.Goa was developed by Bombay and the Portugeese

Kiran said...

BK Chowla,

Yes I suppose you have a point there. There has been some impetus for the parties involved to develop Goa - but there's no such impetus as far as North Eastern states are concerned.