Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Love for Northeast India

Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet two people who fired up my imagination and gave me ample things to think about. I had known people from Guwahati before, but back then, Guwahati seemed like any other city. The only reasons I ever cared about Guwahati is because there is an IIT over there and it took me a long time to convince my parents that I would not be killed by the ULFA!

However, my encounters were not with people from Guwahati, but from the original great city of Northeast India: Shillong. I must admit that when they first told me where they were from, it took me some time to understand where it was. That shocked me because I can usually pinpoint any major city in India - particularly State capitals - instantly. And a little more reflection made me realize that I actually know very little about Northeast India and that my entire knowledge of Indian history had a gaping hole in it.

That was unacceptable to me. And so I went on a learning spree. The Mahatma Gandhi Central Library, fortunately, has a lot of books on the Northeast and I took my time to read whatever I could get my hands on. Simultaneously, I used my new friends to gain a lot of knowledge. and of course, I have always loved reading blogs from the Northeast (they're better than most from the 'mainland') and I continued with that, as I have been doing for years.

And I came to the conclusion that we have been treating the Northeast as a colony! It is so common to hear people declare that the Northeast is so absent from the Indian imagination that it is virtually non-existent: a claim that people in the region also make. But the degree of racism and sheer ignorance with which common Indians regard the Northeast is alarming. It makes me wonder whether all our indoctrination about unity in diversity really adds up to anything or whether a set of people can be treated as second class citizens because they look different, talk different and eat different.

Indeed, I have discovered that racism is such a powerful element in an average North Indian person's mind that all of India except the Hindi belt and Delhi-NCR might as well be excluded from the national mainstream for them. People from Delhi in particular are racist, with exceptions of course. And with a lot of thought I have come to question my own patriotism and whether I would like to live in a country where the people of the Northeast are treated as second-class citizens merely because they look, talk and eat differently.

And my answer is no - that is not the India of my imagination. India is a country of all races, a country where diversity is celebrated and no group can be excluded or discriminated against just because they are different. That is the India I am loyal to and the test of that is Northeast India. The day the Northeast is so badly discriminated against that it secedes is the day that I will cease to remain loyal to India.

The Northeast has given me a new quest of knowledge: to learn about a people who are so different yet are my very own countrymen. It is unacceptable to me to have such a large portion of Indian history excluded from my knowledge. Tribals, non-tribals, insurgents, hills, plains: these terms have taken on newer meaning as I continued to acquire knowledge on the subject. And the quest goes on. One day, I hope to visit Guwahati or Shillong and really see what India's northeast is like.

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