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Wheels Within Wheels: India's North East
|by Ananya S Guha|
The situation in Assam continues to be heart rending. This particular state of India has a tragic history since the last three decades.
The present situation has to be viewed against the backdrop of the Assam 'agitation' as it is popularly known, which began in the very late seventies and climaxed in the eighties, with mass and popular support, led by students and endorsed by academics and intellectuals. The xenophobia had genuine reasons - fear of being swamped by an alien culture - that of the immigrant from a neighbouring country, and dubbed ingloriously as the ' foreign national'.
The history and genesis of immigrants into India in Assam and West Bengal was a result of the partition of the country, and the pre-partition days of an inappropriately used word 'communal' violence. The word 'communal' in my opinion is wrongly used in our journalistic parlance. The word communal means of the community denoting community practices and culture. In fact these were inter community riots, the basis of which was religion.
Mass exodus started even before the partition of the country, but these were Hindu migrants who assimilated with the local cultures. The Muslim influx perhaps started much later in the wake of the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 or so. In the meantime the British had created the adminstrative unit of Bengal which consisted of the then East Bengal, later East Pakistan, and now Bangladesh, West Bengal and what is now Assam, importing in the process Bengali ' Babus' to Assam.
My outline of the backdrop I mentioned above may not be very scholarly, but I think it at least approximates the truth. The influx of the immigrants have now spilled on to states like Meghgalaya and Nagaland in addition to Assam. In Tripura the local tribal communities were overwhelmed by Bengali migration, after the royal families welcomed the Bengali language and culture. There became gradually a marked ambivalence to all that was Bengali in some of the North East states.
I do not not want to delve deeper into this because of the sensitivities involved here. The dislike was generic and not individual based. This statement may sound like specious analogy, but what I mean is that there was a fanning up of a generalized dislike towards the Bengali community,very much of which the Bengali had to blame for, because of his cultural alienation, superciliousness and condescending towards whatever was not Bengali. Then began the various militant movements in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya which has a complexity about it especially in Assam and now in Meghalaya, because of its bits and pieces and fractious characteristics: in Assam the base was Assamese, greater Assamese and Bodo, in Meghalya Khasis and now Garos. But interestingly in both these states one group fought for independence and the other for a separate state within the ambit of the Indian Union, the latter specifically being the Bodos and the Garos, who coincidentally enough possess a similar language and culture, arising out of the same ethnic stock.
I am not mentioning the Mizo, Naga and Manipuri insurgencies which have different contexts, implications and complexities. Of the three the Mizo insurgency does not exist any more whereas there is an uneasy quiet regarding the Naga question, which is also linked with the hills of Manipur. Any unrest in North East India has to be viewed dispassionately against this general background, although there are far more inner complexities which I have not touched upon, for example the Bru, Chakma and Hmar question in Mizoram; the hills- valley dichotomy in Manipur, the Kuki Naga question there, the Karbi, Dimasa questions in Assam etc. Within a demand for a greater and larger autonomy, like that in Assam there are always inner fractions of ' smaller ' communities. Added to all this the immigrant issue. The complexity has wheels within wheels!
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