I am what I say I am

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THE EXODUS of Northeasterners from Karnataka and other Indian states shows just how far we have veered off our founding fathers’ path of ‘unity in diversity’. That was the basis upon which they set us off on the national journey. But nestxed between Myanmar, China and Bangladesh, India’s outstretched arm to the East barely exists in the minds of average Indians. The terms ‘Northeast’ and ‘mainland’ are not merely symbols of this disconnect, but also project a false idea. An idea that the Northeast is a unified region consisting of a singular Mongoloid race. In truth, it has eight states, each with its own problems and demands, 272 ethnic communities, each with their unique identity, customs and traditions. A Naga is culturally, historically and physically as different from a Khasi as he or she is from a Tripuri, Assamese or a Punjabi.

At the same time, the idea that there is a ‘mainland’, a geographically united and ethnically similar space, where the government simply cares more, provides development, creates opportunities and look after the rights of its people, is also false. In this ‘mainland’, too, there is poverty, lawlessness, failure of governance, lack of basic amenities and a fear of outsiders.

While there are pockets of integration, mixed marriages, associations and friendships, a larger consciousness and acceptance does not exist. Today, a Banarasi man married to a Sikkimese woman cannot walk down the streets of the national capital without being stared at. A Northeasterner studying or working in any other part of the country is inevitably labelled a ‘chinki’. There was a time when everyone from south of the Vindhyas was a ‘Madrasi’, but today that has changed. In India, each state has its unique history, identity and culture. This is equally true of the eight states that we have clumped under the undifferentiated umbrella term, the “Northeast”. In a two-part series, eight individuals from each state tell us what it means today to be from the neglected Northeast.

Avalok Langer is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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