Listen Indian Liberals, You Know Nothing About North East India!

Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) after it lapsed in Indian parliament early this year, BJP promised to bring it back in its manifesto. As promised, the bill got reintroduced in December 2019. The centre this time resorted to a tactic of favouring sentiments of northeast states by extending Inner Line Permit (ILP) to Manipur and Dimapur district of Nagaland, in addition to assuring exemption from CAB to areas in North East covered under Sixth Schedule. This still leaves out major parts of Assam and Tripura which are most likely to be affected by CAB. Despite these assurances, all the northeast states continue to protest against CAB.

Northeast people are the only groups who were protesting against CAB earlier this year, and they continue to protest against CAB around this time again. On this regard, people in mainland India look upto protests in northeast against CAB while they register their dismays against CAB for not being secular. Echoing similar sentiment, senior journalist Sreenivasan Jain dropped a cheeky tweet,

Congress Spokesperson, Salman Anees Soz also tweeted on northeast

I responded to him by agreeing with his views on northeast leaders who support CAB but pointed out to him that showing empathy, and condemning racism are basic duties of every human beings which should not be reduced to as a form of transactional duty. He agreed to this, yet his tweet stays gaining huge traction from his followers.

I am pointing out these tweets for the kind of tone and caricatured understanding it implies towards northeast. As for Sreenivasan Jain’s tweet,  it is reflective of Indian liberals outlook towards the people of northeast India. It is also imperative to point out that their consistent inability to grasp the voices, realities and histories of northeast people may also be because their media houses do not have employees  from northeast region.

The liberals tend to view protective mechanism for northeast people as a favour being done to them. The existing autonomous units (including Sixth Schedule) and ILP are very much a feature of the Constitution to protect and preserve the interests, aspirations and concerns of tribes/indigenous people of North east region. On that line, the protests in northeast keep alive the secular and democratic ethos of pan India (if that’s what they are searching for in northeast).

If these existing provisions in northeast are still considered as exceptionalism in liberal ecosystem, it might be worth their time  to deliberate on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to clean up their  liberal lens view of northeast to help make up their minds on whether northeast people are still treated as equal people.

Liberals are aghast on finding out that northeast don’t toe their Indian Liberal consensus. It is also quite a frank admission by liberals that they have been lazy all these times to wage protests and are using ‘northeast protests’ as a prop to passively advance their protest cred.

The fear and insecurity of northeast people is valid considering the history of acculturation, demographic change and colonialism in the region. In the words of Sreenivasan Jain, “universal inclusion of illegal migrants” is incongruent to indigenous people and their lands across the world. The Maori of New Zealand, indigenous people in Canada like Inuit, Metis and the rest, in South America, USA, etc. consider ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘racism’ as curse inflicted upon them from the past.

The Indian liberal ec(h)osystem needs to deal with the kind of ‘racism’ it enables against the tribes. Why is it so hard for Indian Liberals to understand that CAB is both anti indigenous people, and anti secular? To label the protests in northeast as a call for “everyone kicked out” and xenophobic is simplistic and historically ignorant when there are ways to seek solutions without the need of inconveniencing, traumatising, and harassing people who do not belong to indigenous people.



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Richard Kamei Written by:

Richard Kamei, PhD Candidate, School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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