Being a Northeastener (4 of 12)
Narrating one's experience of being from Northeast India cannot be defined by being a northeasterner alone but as an individual responding to the functionary mechanisms of the State. One cannot forget his roots or community because of cultural attachment. Identity is the most important element of life, as much as our names are. Life is imperfect. That does not mean sections of society be deprived for being simple and ignorant.
Let me be very precise: in 2005 having graduated from St. Anthony's College Shillong, I came back to Tripura after almost a decade. The first surprise and shock that I received was when I was asked by a rickshaw-wala if I was a domicile of Manipur or Meghalaya.
I remained silent for a while and to my disbelief, when I replied saying that I am from Dwar Kai Kalai para, he responded asking if this place was in Mizoram. When I said it is in Tripura, he was not convinced. I then asked him where he resides; he said close to Tripura Bangladesh border. He comes to Tripura every morning and goes back to Bangladesh in the evening after earning for the day. After 15 – 20 minutes of the ride I reached Krishnanagar and asked how much the ride cost.
From Laxminarayan Bari to Colonel Chowmuni, he asked for Rs.50. I called a friend and told him the rate. My friend was shocked. We offered him Rs. 20, which was still high for the rate in 2005 but the rickshaw-wala refused and blamed me not asking him before getting on to the rickshaw. We started arguing when I saw a man come out of his house and asked my name, I replied, "I am Johnson". He responded saying that Christians were responsible for all fights! He warned me and forced me to pay Rs.50. Having no other option we paid up and the man went back to his house, one surrounded by red flags and the entrance of which has a board announcing "Party Office". The situation left us feeling helpless and I asked to myself, "How can we be strangers in our own land?" I realized we are politically displaced, religiously divided, educationally backward and economically weak. This bequeaths an opportunity to the recluses to grab. Is this the price we get for being a northeasterner in our land? Have we lost everything?
There are several incidents I could narrate which highlight the truth of being a northeasterner. Unfortunately all these narratives are not happy ones but mostly of discrimination and experiences of deprivation from social economic and political justice.
It hurts me while when I cross one of the most historical places of Tripura, 'The cremation ground' of the Manikya dynasty, shattered and scattered like the leaves far away from its tree. It may be politically incorrect in saying this, but a fact is always a fact. Recluses perceive the cremation ground of the royal family as the cremation ground of the "tribal" kings and murmur, "Oh they are the kings of the Pahari". They take no accountability there is basic maintenance of the site, which in reality is a historical symbol of the state and its people. Had this cremation ground been in Delhi or Mumbai, I don't think the situation would have been the same. Take the example of The Taj Mahal.
Skepticism and distrust of the state representatives in power and of those in the center prevail. Maybe they don't feel and cry for us; in fact nobody we are turning ourselves into microscopic minority in our own land. It is glamorous to read the fundamental rights in Indian constitution; but does the state machinery take care of them? Changing names of places in Tripura, excluding certain sections, depriving them from their rights, framing cases against innocent people have become a trend and trademark. The democracy exercised in our state is in question and most of the indigenous population feels alienated from the development policies. Are they in favour of the people of Northeast? If not for whom and why ?
Recently I met an old man whom I knew since my childhood. He had three daughters and one son and was doing well. Today he was selling fruits in a local market for his living. On questioning, I learned his ancestral property was taken away as forest reserve, one of his daughters was gang-raped and killed, the other two are still missing and his only son lost his life during the encounter between the rebels.
These are a few of the ground realities that I witnessed being in the Northeast and being a Northeasterner.
(By Sunil Kalai)
(The author is an Assistant Professor, Tripura University & Ph.D Scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)