Sunday, November 25, 2007

The predicament of being North-eastern

When most of us were busy watching the India-pakistan test match, somewhere in the north-eastern state of Assam, tribals and villagers were being brutally beaten by a mob comprising the local 'urban' people and police personnels.

Their crime : They had taken out a procession demanding ST status and were on their way to stage a dharna in-front of the assembly.

What was meant to be a march for demanding their legal rights soon turned into a ‘rural versus urban’ battle. In the ensuing use of force more than 15 tribals were killed and more that 250 including woman and children were seriously injured. Those who died didn't fell to bullets but were beaten to a painful death.

The tribals who according to media reports were armed with bows and arrows were hopelessly outnumbered and when they sought protection from the police, the police threw them to the urban-educated-class who assaulted them with sticks and blows. In one of the TV footage a constable is seen handing over a teenage-protestor to his would be killers.

Amazingly the print media neglected the whole incident and most of them including The Times of India decided that the suicide attack in Pakistan was more important and as a touching gesture placed the Guwhati incident in s four line snippet with the details in the inside pages.

A couple of months back one of my colleagues in PTI who hails from Silchar, Assam expressed his sense of dejection and hopelessness after he saw a shootout in Mumbai where two gangsters were killed was given more media attention than a bomb blast in Assam where 15 innocent people lost their life. He sadly yet candidly said that life in the north-eastern states is cheap and expendable.

Sadly the term "Quality matters not the quantity" is now increasingly being used by the media houses to decide how important the news is.

Some section of the state population of the seven remote states of India are demanding separate statehood. Doesn't the step motherly treatment that has been meted out time and again by the Center to them justifies their demand ?

A journalist is manhandled in Bihar and the whole administrative machinery stirs up into action. Central ministers condemn the incident , talk shows on news channels take the front seat and the whole media unites in protest the assault.

But in these hill-locked states local journalists are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea in the form of the army and the militants. There have been instances where editors have been threatened for refusing media coverage to the militant organizations. Those who bow down to their demands are harassed by the army and police on charges of assisting the militants.

The region is also known as the land of seven sisters. The North eastern states are very different in many ways from the other part of India. These States have the maximum number of Tribals living within. Many tribal languages are spoken throughout these seven states. The northeastern states have the highest percentage of Christians. Territory wise this region is the most sensitive region touching many countries like China, Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar & Bangladesh.

Both Kashmir and NE-states face the same problem, extremism and lack of economic developmet. But Kashmir gets more attention and a seperate article of the constitution governs the state. '. Why are the North eastern states provided with the same exemptions and economic subsidies ? Is it because Kashmir is more important internationally?

Is Delhi waiting for situation is the seven states to get worse? or does it imply that until the Northern states encounter militancy of the same magnitude they won’t be attended to? Here comes the notion of "step-motherly treatment

It is hardly surprising that though India has made rapid industrial progress with growth rate touching 9% the entire northeastern region has remained largely an agrarian economy. The only industries that came up were set up by the public sector. The North East’s ties with the Indian hinterland have been expensive and regressive. The presence and discovery of oil reserves has brought some respite but that is not enought

The successive regimes in Delhi have not been able to appreciate the consequences of their isolationist policies.

To ‘fair-minded’ regimes who are more interested in consolidating power in the centre of Delhi , the North East are a burden , best left to army and police to manage. In the name of development military-used infrastructures have been erected.

India in recent years has embarked on a "look east policy but will it usher in a new era of economic growth and increasing trade and commerce in the region is a million dollar question.

The eastern region has absolute poverty ranging between 42-58% making it one of the most backward regions in India. Its per capita income too is far below the national average, with Assam having a per capita income of Rs 10,000 in 2001-02, compared to Rs 18,000 for India.

Intelligentsia and political leaders are raking up the issues of civil society, rule of law in view of the Nandigram violence. Authors, writers, artists are pressuring the government to protect Taslima and uphold the freedom of speech.

Less than 24 hours have passed and Assam has been forgotten.

What about these 'trivial-not so important states' ? Aren’t principles of civil society , rule of law and intellectual thinking applicable to these states?

Does the number of parliament seat allotted to a state decides the level of favour granted by the Centre? Is that why UP, Maharasthra and the south states more important for people sitting in Delhi?

It’s a very simple fact yet a very important one : 28 states constitute India not 21.

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