Often accounts that appear as ‘small’ like strawberry in comparison to the ‘big’ stories of development such as dams sit uncomfortably in the grand scheme of intellectual pursuits. We feel that it is precisely such distinctions that lead to erasure of ‘small’ developments that stem from what appears as trivial initiatives. Social sciences is often attracted to big stories where there is comprehensive literature and research materials. Thereby, reinforcing dominant epistemological frameworks. After all, development models of centre-periphery in relation to studying Northeast India reduce everything else as marginal. Unless relationships and networks are incorporated into the development, remoteness, and progress model for the region, our research risks being dismissed.
Tag: Northeast India
Indian Constitution, one of the most sensitive in the world to the rights of its minorities, ensures that tribal communities in Northeast states like Nagaland and Mizoram are the sole owners of their land and resources. No act of the Indian Parliament can undo this right. There are however two ways in which that right can be undone: Their own State Assembly can pass legislation abdicating this right. The other alternative is communities or individual land owners can be persuaded to voluntarily sell or hand over their land to government, private companies or corporations for projects that come in the name of their ‘development’.
In the piece “How Hindi helped to build a bridge to Manipur language and culture” published on 12th July in The Hindu, the author of the said article/Op Ed piece Kuldeep Kumar, attempts to make a case for the prominence and historical importance of the Hindi and Devanagari script in Manipuri history and literature. The piece however is littered with factual and historical inaccuracies and worse, an extremely selective and distortive history masquerading as profound discovery.
Writing the northeast, often leads to misrepresentation, distortion, misinformation of the places, peoples and resources. These are not merely floating around in popular mentality, these stereotypes are consciously constructed and maintained in films and also in academic discourses. This particular Call for Paper (CFP) for a journal issue, entitled “Assam: A Citizenship Battleground” (Cached link)to be published under University of York project entitled Rethinking Civil Society: History, Society, Critique caught our attention and quite a few of us discussed it and decided to address the issue.
The result was a statement of concern, which is not about a closed academic discussion but more about placing the northeast of India, Assam in particular in a more complex frame of reference for a global readership. This was also making people of the region aware of the developments taking place in academic circles in the West. The NRC and CAA has captured a lot of global press and as it happens, the margins get distorted in the generalised narrative.
What does it take to build a nation? Hiren Gohain and Sanjib Baruah once had a prolonged debate on the stakes of nationalism during the Assam Movement in the 1980s. Professor Gohain, broadly skeptical of the Assam Movement, argued that it was a bourgeois reaction to the consolidation of communist organizing in the region. Professor Baruah, more sympathetic, suggested that it was a strategic mobilization responding to India’s continued treatment of Assam as a colony. Revisiting that debate, one is struck less by their disagreements— which were many and profound—but by the impossibility of that argument today. This is partly because of the intervening forty years, of course, especially the collapse of the organized Left, the rise (and betrayal) of ULFA, and the saffronization of nationalism, such that even imagining it could be an emancipatory vision seems ludicrous these days. It is also because, as both Professors Gohain and Baruah emphasize in their recent books, the rest of the country never grasped the sheer novelty of the Assam Movement. Most of us today remember the Assam Movement only insofar as it led to the Assam Accord, which we in turn blame for the NRC and the CAA. Read together, Professors Gohain and Baruah offer us an important corrective to that narrow and self-serving narrative, even as they highlight different aspects of the complex history and consequences of that moment in Indian history.
Ever since Covid-19 appeared in public knowledge, a racist approach to the epidemic is witnessed in various parts of the world. The President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump went on to term the Novel coronavirus as the ‘Chinese virus’. In India, the brunt has been borne by mostly people from the Northeast, Darjeeling and Ladakh. There are many media reports and personal narratives of people from the Northeast facing getting targeted and harassed in many parts of the country. Different conspiracy theories have flooded the social media regarding patient zero and why and how it got transmitted, although the actual cross-species transmission is yet to be confirmed. Rumours such as the virus got transmitted to a human body by coming in contact with a host animal carrier and so on are doing the rounds. In the popular Indian Upper Caste psyche, the already available theories about ‘weird’, ‘uncivilized’, ‘unhygienic’, ‘wild’ and ‘very Chinese’ food habits of the communities from the Northeast are enough to create quick racial profiling and targeting of the Northeasterners. We have seen various rumours, widespread conspiracy theories and social media forward messages regarding the food habits of the inhabitants of Northeast India being viral in the Indian social mediascapes.
It was in the winter of 2016, I had gone back to my home in Southern Odisha after almost a year. I had come home with two of my friends from Northeast India and thought of showing them few nearby places. They wanted to know more about the local tribal culture, so we decided to visit the neighboring district called Malkangiri situated at the border of Chhatishgarh and Andhra Pradesh. There is one popular local market there where the Bondas come down once in a week to sell their famous rice beer and bamboo baskets. The Bondas fall under the particularly vulnerable tribal group of Odisha. Less than 5000 in numbers, they live in a hill with very less or no contact with the plains people including Govt officials driven with an idea of protectionism. This has been the case for last many decades and I have been passing through that village since my childhood but this time in 2016, I suddenly noticed few changes and it had to do with the Bonda women. Bonda women usually cover upper part of their body with long necklaces made out of colorful stones and beads but this time they were wearing ‘nighties’ and some of them had sindoor/vermilion on their foreheads. After further inquiry in the nearby shops, I came to realize that sartorial change had been the work of RSS in last few years. Moreover, some of them had turned vegetarian.
Leaders like Meghalaya CM Sangma believe that those who question his kind of thinking are “creating hopelessness and insecurity,” in common people’s minds and this view continues to gain currency promoted as it is by the mainstream media. The reality is that it is leaders like him who are reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, leading the innocent over the cliff to their doom while the ruling class lives on their common properties.
The marginalized of Northeast will be more comfortable in standing up with the Dalits, minorities, LGBT and other excluded communities rather than chest thumping self acclaimed deshbhakts