‘Our attitude, one of live and let live, is taken for granted’

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Jimsi Tassar, 28

If one takes a close look at the Indian Map, they would see that almost 98 percent of northeastern India forms an international border with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), China or Nepal; and only a bottleneck strip lying between Sikkim and Bangladesh connects the eight states with the rest of India. And I am amazed with the fact that the Indian government has absolutely neglected this fact for the past six decades and did not make the most of this. Instead, we have seen cross-border migration from Bangladesh leading to ethnic tension and clashes. How sad is that?

The saddest part, besides the absolute standstill of the Northern Railways and the death of more than 70 people in the Kokrajhar district of Assam, was the reaction it created in certain major cities of India, with atrocities meted out to Northeast people on face value and putting all eight sisters in the same platform.

The violence reflects upon the people’s inadequate knowledge of their own countrymen and, in fact, questions their own identity as Indians. It is a fact that India is a nation formed out of many nations and the diversity, with immense richness in its culture and history, that exists within India has no parallel in the world.

Arunachal Pradesh was granted statehood on 20 February 1987, becoming the 25th state in the Union of India. It was initially a part of the North East frontier Agency (NEFA), set up for the purpose of administration by the British Indian government, and granted the status of a union territory in independent India in 1972.

There is no factual record of our prehistoric times but we have our own very unique customary laws, traditions, beliefs and cultural practices based on oral traditions, with no parallel to India, or the world for that matter.

Arunachal Pradesh finds mention in the ancient Hindu text Kalika Purana and the Mahabharata, and its name in Sanskrit means ‘the land of the dawn lit mountains’ or the ‘the land of the rising sun’.

The name is inspired from the first light of the sun ray cascading through the easternmost Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas in India, which falls in a place called Dong in eastern Arunachal. (There was a call for a change in the time zone by the North East Students’ Organisation, but it was overlooked by the government). We Arunachalis are peace-loving people, grown up in the lap of mother nature: the lush green forests with diverse flora and fauna, and criss-crossing rivers and streams. You might call it a jungle, but we feel blessed to be born here, and will protect our homeland from any form of exploitation.

We are a land of 20 major tribes, and more than 500 sub-tribes, and each one of us has their own unique dialect and sub-dialect, but with no common language or scripture and, therefore, English, Hindi and Assamese are used in common parlance. Arunachal Pradesh is a land of diversity, within the diverse India. And we are very proud to have learned to live in communal harmony, tolerance and fraternity amongst each other. We put honour, honesty and loyalty as our highest order of virtues and, therefore, we do not believe in harming anybody unless provoked.

It saddens us when our innocence and our simple tribal attitude of ‘live and let live’ is taken for granted. Sadly, history has always been bloody and is a testimony of aggression and bloodshed world over, and so we have suffered at the hands of our own Indian brothers in ‘mainland’ India and also, few of our own tribal people in the state government.

Arunachal Pradesh (then NEFA) has had around 2,748 Chakma and Hajong families (14, 888 people), refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), due to religious persecution and partly due to forced displacement with the construction of Kaptai Dam in 1962- 69.

PM Sayeed, then Union Minister of Home Affairs, announced on 7 July 1994 that those Chakmas who migrated to Arunachal Pradesh before 25 March 1971 would be considered for Indian citizenship. The decision of Government of India to grant Indian citizenship to Chakmas only if they prove their loyalty to India was overlooked. Also, it further created resentment when various petitions and memorandums of the state government, zila parishads and students unions on the Chakmas’ criminal acts of murder, forceful possession of land and atrocities on the local tribesman were not taken into consideration. Also, the NHRC filed various petitions on violation of human rights in the Supreme Court, without taking the local tribesmen into confidence and looking into their concerns and interests.

The Bengal Eastern Frontier Act, 1873 and the Arunachal Pradesh Land Regulation Act, 1978 permit non-Arunachalis as well as Chakmas to stay in the state but only with an inner line permit, and prohibits possession of land by them.

The apathetic attitude as well as the unilateral decision of the Centre to implement the Indira-Mujib agreement without the acknowledgement of the indigenous tribes created discontentment and led to an Arunachal Bandh in 1980, as well as forming of a regional government – the Arunachal Congress – in 1996.

The apathy of the Central government towards Arunachal Pradesh is reflected in the absence of any railway station and airport in the state, with excuses made on grounds of topography, and a certain policy of isolation. It especially pinches us when we see the Chinese government building a super fast train station across the so called Line of Control: the McMahon Line.

The fear psychosis of the Chinese aggression of 1962 is still alive among us youth, told to us as a bedtime story by elders who faced it. And the recent Chinese claim of Arunachal Pradesh being South Tibet has added to the entire confusion. It really doesn’t help when we get no assurance from the Centre on this, but are instead called anti-Indians and branded Maoists. Why? Because we objected, in a democracy, to the mega dams being constructed in the upper and lower Siang in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. It is to be noted that Arunachal Pradesh falls in a dangerous seismic zone, and it has been scientifically proven that such mega dams will only bring destruction as witnessed in Sikkim very recently. Are we to believe that the lives that will be lost would not be Indian?

We have understood that your eyes are on our rich natural resources, but you have no emotional bonding with us. The British had the same intention when they tried to construct a road connecting India to China for the opium trade. So, what is the difference between you and the colonial British? Are you not trying to colonise your own people?

The youth of Arunachal Pradesh today feels hopeless and there is an air of dismay, especially among those of us who have been out for higher studies and have been exposed to other, more developed, parts of India. They are highly qualified and want to serve the nation or the state, but find no job. There are no avenues of job generation and a mass of unemployed youth in Arunachal. And the level of frustration gets higher when in a job interview, the interviewer, without looking into the merit of the candidate, asks for huge capitation fee that goes up to Rs 2 lakh for simple clerical jobs with the state government. It adds to further dismay when a qualified and able candidate is rejected and a son or a daughter of a political leader or a higher official is chosen for reasons other than merit.

I understand such sad practices are prevalent all over India, but what adds fuel to the fire is the fact that there are no avenues for people to take up entrepreneurship. There are no means of proper public transportation and, most importantly, no proper roads connecting places within the state.

The police system is inadequately equipped and, in fact, there have been reported cases of certain police officers indulging in illegal activities – such as making a forced MMS of a couple in a compromising position and getting it viral – and torturing the innocent public, causing a widespread outcry across the State capital. There is no official follow-up on FIRs, and those found in cognizable offences are not arrested. The police is handicapped when it comes to arresting people in the higher political positions. The legal system is inefficient and PILs and petitions filed are given no heed. And very ironically, those of us who try to voice out such grievances on public platforms are shut down with heavy hands.

The recent shooting of a senior journalist of The Arunachal Times that almost left her paralysed for life is alarming. It has been almost two months since the incident and the assailant still roams free. Another incident of ruthless battering of an aspirant advocate, leaving him in a coma, has created a fear psychosis among those who voice out for justice and also, the general public.

A certain Pradeep Thakur from The Times of India recently commented on communal lines and stereotyped a certain tribal group, causing unrest and communal violence, destruction of private and public property and the death of an innocent boy caught in the police firing that ensued.

A senior tribal leader and politician very candidly mentioned in a news magazine that he feels insecure to be in Arunachal Pradesh as there is no strong legal system and police enforcement. It was amusing to see this coming from a senior and experienced leader who has the authority and the jurisdiction to influence the legal system and its infrastructure.

Lastly, I can only conclude by saying that Arunachalis are very patriotic people, and have respect for the Indian history and culture. Yet, India is a nation made out of nations, and it’s a fact that we are all minorities in India, and therefore, like most of us Indians, we Arunachalis also have have very strong loyalty to our state, our culture, tradition and communities. India is a democracy, and we shall voice our opposition whenever these are challenged.

Tassar is an advocate, human rights activist and an environmentalist

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