Of all the books I have read for the past few years, this has taken me the longest time to complete. Half the size of a Game of Thrones book but longer it took for comprehending and understanding the connections, the stories, the emotions, the actions and the consequences and it was far more deeper for me to live along with the author through his journey of compiling this detailed document of the North-East and beyond.
I got all 7 states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram) intertwined in this one book. So, this was kind of a 7 in one combo offer and I gladly took it. India takes pride in showcasing the beauty of the states in the North-East for its ‘Incredible India’ ads, but why has this Nation given it a feeling of seclusion? Pretty sure when you see a person from that NE, you would have got two [kinds of] thoughts; doesn’t look like an Indian or India has people looking like this as well. Did you get the same feeling when you saw someone from Delhi or Rajasthan or the South? I feel that holistic development of India can happen when differences, although shattered, are eradicated.
The book opened up with a question that I, as a citizen of this Nation, never thought of. Why is India still having only 1 time zone? In reality, the workplaces I am in or visit, have a lot of people from the North-East and from Bihar as well…why?… for cheap labour. Such is the need for the people of the North-East to travel across the nation to work for whatever salary that is offered. Bad leadership and painstakingly slow development rates have forced them to migrate leaving their home and identity as well. This is no different from the global refugee crisis some European countries are facing. Having different time zones would mean that their work day will be according to the Sun’s position and not the [gate] timings of the capital. If there is a time zone difference, the North-East would be exactly 126.8 minutes in front of the Capital. To give an example, if work starts at 10 in Delhi, it would be 12:07 pm in the NE and the irony is, people would finish work on time, i.e. 5:00 pm. Sometimes even earlier. Where is the time needed for proper development? Had this been implemented we would have seen the NE become globalised and enhanced in trade, thereby giving no reason for migration.
“Sun rose at the North East and yet India remains in the dark” – Sanjoy Hazarika
The land where we go by atithi devo bhava has ended up getting 30% migrants from bordering nations due to war and conflict. The East Bengal, when separated from the Nation and also because the local tribes were able to relate themselves with people from Mongolia or China or further down, Thailand, people were not able to see where and how they fit in. It is after all the nature of a human to create a self identity based on relation with the society he/she is in. This lead to a huge migration problem and the state witnessed hoards of people coming in from the present Bangladesh. Initially it housed 63 people per sq kilometre, but now it houses 969 people per sq kilometre. Due to lack of space and lack of opportunities we now have 60% below the poverty line causing a huge drop in the Nation’s average GDP. India is a nation rich with resources and opportunities to feed the world. Has the political system become inefficient to tackle or have we learnt to ignore the inefficiency?
But in times of adversities, the NE has also witnessed some of the greatest insurgent leaders. Nagaland in particular got people like Phizo. This, although, lead to grave consequences, in a way gave hope to the people of Nagaland. Somewhere during the insurgency, there was minute gap between the insurgency and the reaction by the capital, that was mis-comprehended. People forgave, but did not forget. During this uprising, the capital was forced to take action that lead people to take another identity. The region saw the ‘iron hand’ form of decision, which lead to greater and never ending conflicts. Even the strongest of the strongest broke down during the clash between the two sides. There are parts in the book that spoke about how desolation was after the smoke settled and also how bodies of infants were severed and kept alongside the mother. The beautiful land has been flooded and washed with blood, but, did it deserve it? Families and generations wiped clean out of the face of Earth and taking pride in calling it a part of India…Such stories hidden from the lime light and not told or talked about in our primary education history books. The book clearly has showcased why there was such unavoidable situations, why it even started. Was this the only way? No, definitely NO! I have also been thinking of other diplomatic ways that could have been taken, but have not been able to arrive at one.
The state of Arunachal Pradesh has 50 spoken languages and 53 major tribes. Such is the diversity on the land. Added to this there were migrants coming from Bangladesh and their fight for survival has also got mixed up in the rebellious period for identity. Indians take a lot of pride in legacy. Even-though I do not have documented books that talk about my lineage, I know my identity to a certain extent, but imagining the plight of one from the NE has got me thinking of the authority that was self taken by others(Government) in telling them who they are and what they should be doing was wrong. The book gave untold insights of the rule of “great” leaders like Indira Gandhi.
On the other hand the ULFA(United Liberation Front of Asom) infiltrated the system and was running a parallel government all together. The Robin of the NE, was not as pure as some thought it would/could be. The governments became so corrupt, that top leaders showed support out of fear and not vision. I would blame the approach some had taken. Assam, known for its tea plantations, was severely affected. The stories of the group taking the managers as hostages of the tea plantation companies and forcing to pay huge sums of money rattled me up. When family is kept at gun point, what more can you do? This prevented from businesses from reaching its full potential. The money was later used to buy weapons and ammunition. With training done in Bangladesh and Pakistan, the insurgent group could not be shaken easily by the Indian defences. Through years of patience and planning, the Liberation Front finally broke down. There was no question of right and wrong, but the only one that lingered on was, why the difference in thinking from both ends? After all we are fighting the same war and that is for survival.
The book spoke in a far more detailed manner on the various leaders and political environment during the years that shaped the history books of the NE. I have not read a book that is more detailed than this. The conflict although not consistent as of Kashmir’s, has left a deep scar on the hearts of the people of NE. Even today we are facing problems such as encroachment and such, but I feel that the severity is not as big as Kashmir. It could even be because of stories untold by the media. The environment has left with what you call as residual criminality. A term used by the professionals that implies that the urge to fight will linger on and the responses taken by the capital will have to continue for a period of time in the coming years as well. There will be fights and people will stand for their cause.
The NE has a lot of opportunities untaken or I would say, under-utilised. Oil, tea, spices and human resource are all components of limitlessness. Trade, if properly flourished, can help the government take care of its people and ultimately leading to an upgraded NE, both physically and mentally. Given the right space and freedom, our 7 sister states will be home for us too.
The MAK Tip from the book:
Have the skill of lateral thinking and the ability to feel from the other’s perspective. When it comes to leadership one must understand everyone. This in turn will help you make the right decisions, because, a leader has to do things right and also has to do the right things.