The state of Meghalaya has experienced many disturbances in relation to the issue of immigration. At the same time, there are historical demographic trends in Meghalaya which makes the case a little complicated. The spectre of the threat of illegal immigrants displacing the indigenous tribal population has been played out since the formation of the Statehood. Fear of being overwhelmed by non-indigenous population (non-tribal) is widespread throughout the State and any perceived threat to tribal sovereignty is vehemently opposed
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.
As of now there are no direct links, and the alliances between the Azadis, in India and in Kashmir. But remarkable and perplexing exchanges are not uncommon in history, and we should not close our eyes to such possibilities beforehand. Kashmiris have demonstrated the ability to patiently out-wait the state, not least of all in this present crisis of the post-370 abrogation. The rhizomatic subterranean diffusion and spread of Azadi into India’s social – slowly navigating across barriers and police pickets, surviving and seeking life – into all different directions, should also be patiently nurtured and allowed to grow for more mature solidarities and struggles to come later in the day. It’s not the responsibility of the oppressed to emancipate their oppressors but somehow Kashmiris might have just given India such a gift. How far India will go with this gift is an open question.
Colonial politics of labelling communities have had disastrous consequences which continue to impact the lives of the colonized. Identities were created and circulated through this act which in turn had categorised, included and excluded the communities living in the colonial fringe. Karbis were labelled ‘heathen’, ‘worshippers of malignant demons’, ‘unwarlike’, ‘timid’, ‘coward’ ‘bloodthirsty’ and such other colonial vocabularies which continue to haunt them. Colonial authorities persisted with the misnomer, ‘Mikir’, over the ancient indigenous nomenclature Karbi and the label remained in force for centuries. Colonial categorisation of Karbis into Hills and Plains simply because of geographical locations continues to divide and distance the tribe psychologically, socially, culturally and politically. The colonizers however saw in the Karbis their ‘industriousness’ as it served the colonial enterprise.
On the 4th of March, 2019, a 16-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree just outside the village of Rouni, nestled in the Sal-forested hills of Jashpur in Chhattisgarh, India. Manita had chosen not to accompany her parents to a meeting on caste certificates held in the village the day before, saying she’d rather stay home and study for her exams. After a few hours at home, she took the cattle out to graze, found a tree at the edge of the village, and hanged herself; the cattle returned alone.
Migration is a universal phenomenon and no part of the world can be completely immune from it. Meghalaya, one of the states in Northeast India, is not an exception and has been experiencing migration of the outsiders particularly the non-tribals over a fairly long period of time. However, it was in the 1970s that the process of its problematization started with the tribal educated elite undertaking the leadership role under the influence of several factors that worked collectively. Though the process eventually led to the occurrence of a series of violent ethnic conflict in the state, yet it was largely responsible for the prevention of the emergence of existential crisis situation for the indigenous tribals.
Though political schisms exist between tribal political subjectivity and forces representing Assamese ruling elites, yet both tribal and non-tribal people of Assam consider continued migration into Assam as a shared problem that must be adequately addressed.
There is no correct political position to be assumed on this issue, except the one which aims at addressing long standing historical demands without resulting in mass displacement and injury to anyone. More than anything, at this particular juncture, one has to be careful about the BJP and the communal forces it is willing to unleash.
I feared and angered
In my younger years,
When men ask me at the bus stop,
Until the numbers
And my own violence
Violated my sisters on the streets.
So now i respond –
“Sau lakh” (or more).
No one wants to give serious thoughts to creating a Meghalaya which is self-sustainable and economically independent. Forget the pre-election rhetoric, the policies do not reflect it. To actually initiate such a task would require work, will power and actual thinking. A Meghalaya that stands on its own two feet is a Meghalaya where the citizens stand on their own two feet, and that my friends, is dangerous for the dominant power structure.
popular discourses on the north-east often project the region as a homogenous socio-political entity undermining the internal contestations of the region. Some hold the State as the main reference point of the socio-political churnings that plague the region. However, a look at contemporary history of these states and the unrest therein shows the dynamic nature of the region which abounds with contestations, namely between tribes, tribes and non-tribes, and over religious identities. Along with the more visible ethnic dimension, conflicting interests over resources like land, and political and economic power are also present in these contestations.
The poor in this country are caught in a deadly pincers of malnutrition on the one hand which reduces the power of their immune system and makes them vulnerable to disease, an almost non-existent public health sytem, a rapacious private health system practicing irrational medicine and a lack of knowledge of basic medicine.
In the recent decades right wing politics has appropriated not merely tribal historical figures like Rani Gaidinliu in Nagaland/Manipur but also many such tribal icons across the country. A similar story emerges within the context of the Indal offerings associated with the tribal Barela and Bhil tribal communities of Western Madhya Pradesh.
The pictures speak of the brutality of the Delhi Police and Manipur Police. The scenes I saw at the hospitals were heart-rending. About 60 people are detained at Chanakyapuri Police Station. I was not allowed to meet the officials or arrested people, many of whom are injured.
Today the fertile valley of Manipur, home to the Meiteis, has been under a tremendous demographic changes wherein Meiteis face the ‘existential’ crisis. A fear-psychosis has been shared among the populace that Meiteis will become a minority in their own land as there is no regulatory mechanism to regulate the unabated migration from other parts of India. Thus to defend the population, there have been popular movements to monitor and regulate demographic changes and land tenure. The recent move to introduce Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) initiated in the valley spearheaded by Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS) is one such assertion urging to protect the ‘indigenous’ people of Manipur, which ended up facing an unprecedented opposition from the highlanders. It was perceived as another move by the majority Meiteis to ‘encroach’ upon territory of the highlands which the Meiteis does not traditionally own, and are owned in a different manner by the highlanders, and delegitimising the citizenship of the highlanders. Till today nine dead bodies remain unburied in Churachandpur signifying the opposition and resistance.