‘The northeastern identity is a comfort zone for us’

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By Aiyushman Dutta, 27

GIVEN THE fact that issues of perception and identity in inter-cultural communication have been topics of much debate and concern in various circles, I feel the long-drawn talk of discrimination and alienation of Assamese and Northeast Indians in the mainland is not surprising, especially when we take into account the heterogenous and multicultural fabric that exists in the Indian society.

While I would not like to harp on the issue of discrimination based on the age-old debates, the fact remains that at present, it is not easy being an Assamese and a Northeasterner in other parts of the country. I, however, feel the problem boils down more to the inclusiveness of the identity itself, rather than anything else — the fact that it is an accommodating paradigm rather than a neatly defined whole.

Illustration: Rishabh Arora

This sense of alienation is not unique to the average Assamese or Northeasterner. Different communities and nationalities face the same sense of alienation. When we are talking of inter-cultural migration, that too at different layers, a huge cultural gulf, differences in ethos, and, most importantly, prejudices that haunt either side, are bound to exist. A kind of fear psychosis is embedded in the migrating community, while suspicion and, at times, discontent generally prevail among the natives — and this prevents the opening up of both sides.

Alienation is a two-pronged malaise — the migrants and the natives contribute equally to it. The fact that people from our region are taking up high-paying jobs in swanky offices in newly developed areas, which were earlier considered backward, while the natives are still stuck with low-paying jobs might be a reason for discontent among them. At the same time, the uneven pattern of development in the Northeast as compared to that of the mainland is another reason for our discrimination against outsiders.

But while we are talking about people from Assam and the Northeast being discriminated against in New Delhi, aren’t people from other Northeastern states subject to a similar kind of situation, albeit at a different level, in Guwahati too? What I seriously feel is that we too should stop living in ghettoes, try to wean away from the collective Northeast Indian identity — a comfort zone for most of us — fan out and intermingle with other communities. Food is a great integrative tool, as is language. Embracing both should be a natural way to fit into the bigger picture. Cosmopolitan cities like New Delhi do indeed provide the scope for existence of many different communities.

In civil society, alienation is a twopronged malaise — the migrants as well as the natives equally contribute to it

Many of my friends would say that assimilation and integration cannot be a one-sided approach, but I would also like to remind them that this is not something that we can impose on anyone through any law or regulation. If we are looking for a change, it has to start in the very mindset of the people, the way people think. Enactments and regulations cannot change our psyche, it can only be done through more interaction — when we give ourselves more space to understand each other. And of course, it needs time.

Dutta is a Guwahati-based writer-researcher engaged in documentation of Northeastern folk traditions

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