Friday, February 11, 2005

The 'separate' of separatism - Part 1

The north-east, they say, lacks for patriotism.

I'm not about to go into who this 'they' is. I've heard it said enough times by enough people to dump them all under the 'they' category.

India is a weird shape. (Not that a lot of other countries aren't, but I am interested in this particular country) The seven north-eastern states - Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland and Manipur - are sort of concentrated in one arm, geographically distant from the mainland, and surrounded on all sides by other countries.

Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and so on, 'they' are not worried about, for none of these countries would dare to attack us - the subcontinental giant. They are very worried about China though.

China, they fear, has its greedy sights set on north-eastern India. I have heard people say things like, "China is just waiting for the right moment to strike... The local people are of Tibeto-Burmese, or Mongolian, racial origins. Their sympathies are anyway likely to be with anyone but India... As it is, the whole region is separatist... all the states want to break up further... very clannish culture. If given a choice, they won't stay with India... so many of them already say 'we are naga' or 'we are bodo, we are not Indians'... we shouldn't let them get away with it."

This, they say, is one reason why it is in India's interest to keep the north-eastern states a little... well, let's just say, cut-off.

What 'they' mean is that the north-east had better be kept under-developed, the underlying assumption being that if the people of north-east India become self-sufficient (instead of being heavily dependent on central assistance) and develop confidence on their own ability to survive without mainland help, they might leave...
So, let's keep them where they are - no roads, no railways, no jobs, no industries, no great educational institutes, no dreams. Because, 'they sa, "Develop it too much and we might as well hand it to china on a platter."

I tried, vainly, to make them see the fault-lines in this argument. This is the surest way of ensuring that, sooner or later, all seven states will get disgusted with the central administration and the other states' ability to accept them as an integral and important part of India.

I already hear activists in the northeast say that the locals have no respect at all for a central administration that treats them as second-class citizens.

Consider this - Most major banks will not give loans to the north-east farmers.

Because, in most tribes in north-east India, the land is jointly owned. It belongs, not to an individual or a family, but to the village or a co-operative. This land is not accepted by banks as collateral. Therefore, no collateral, no loan.

Why this should be a problem, I cannot understand. All land is actually jointly owned. I mean, the land I may possess today, could just as easily be taken away from me, if the government chooese to make a few constitutional amendments. After all, thousands of people were deprived of their lands when the zamindari system was abolished.

So, what happens if, say, a communist government comes to power? Do banks refuse to accept land as collateral in communist-run states like Kerela and West Bengal?

Consider this too -

Victims of militant violence in Manipur get only Rs 10,000. Victims in Jammu & Kashmir get Rs 2 lakhs each (so I hear, but I have yet to corroborate this). Why the difference? Life comes cheaper as we move east?

And this -

Many north-eastern states are making do with currency notes so badly torn you wouldn't recognize them. One, two and five rupee notes - many of them clinging for dear life to several strands of cello-tape - are still doing the rounds. Often, a single five rupee note is comprised of four different bits torn from what used to be four different notes.
The two and five rupee coins (the latter usually referred to as the 'paanch ka dollar' in rural India) are yet to find their way into the distant parts of the states.

The reason - the Reserve Bank of India says it is too expensive transporting coins to the north-east.

Agreed, maybe it is too expensive. But what kind of socio-political signal do you think it sends out to those seven states?

As one of the activists puts it, "Until recently, one-third of your states were in the north-east, but there still aren’t enough railway tracks. There are so few trains. Travel is expensive. No new industries are being set up. The old handicrafts are more or less dying out. Anyway, it isn't economical because people in UP and Bengal are willing to do the same kind of work at dirt-cheap wage-rates. People here are called lazy.... They’re laidback, that's true. But they're not lazy. Just because they're not willing to work as cheap labour at exploitative rates, you ignore them as a part of the resource base. You stop creating employment opportunities for them... are you surprised that there's no love lost between them and the centre?"

Me, I'm not surprised.

1 comment:

anumita said...

Well written. I didn't know about the joint ownership of land. Does it still exist?
By the way, you missed Mizoram. The seven sisters include Mizoram and not Sikkim.

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