Standing on the threshold of the 70th year of the Independence of India; I think it is high time to introspect what ‘Freedom’ means to the people of North East India. North- East India is a conglomeration of people belonging to diverse ethnicities. A home to more than 250 ethnic communities North East has been a space for contesting socio-political desires. Ranging from issues of armed rebellion to that of state sponsored terrorism under the garb Draconian legislations like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA), as well as the issues relating to the identity preservation of the indigenous communities are now in face of a state sponsored cross border influx from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal been pushed into a seemingly bottomless chasm. There is a if I draw from the eminent postcolonial thinker Homi K. Bhabha an ‘ ambivalence’ in the way the government in Delhi views North East. Constantly, it is seen that the people of North East must learn to speak the Language of the mainland for their voices to be heard. The GOI have constantly neglected this part of India. For instance the ravaging flood that claims numerous lives every year is still not declared a National Problem. There is no coverage by the mainland media about the issues surrounding the region except that of bomb blast, terror attacks, killing etc. The onus is to portray the region in a degenerate light- a paradise engulfed in the all pervading Frankensteinian fire of conflict. This hegemonic mindset is strangely sanctioned by the state at times. In taglines of various tourism promotion programs taken up by the government N.E is labeled as “a paradise unexplored” indicating that the mainland must penetrate this unexplored and dark region. Like Marlow who in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (1899) must become the torchbearer of the light of civilization in Africa; the North East should also be civilized through the light of the mainland. Such nomenclature although is viewed with the ultimate end to harness capital by opening up the region for tourist across various parts of India as well as abroad, it at the same time refurbishes the clandestine aura that has been repetitively associated with the region in the mainland, namely an area of darkness yet to be impregnated by the light of civilization, stories stereotyping the region are rampant in the mainland. This has also been affirmed by surveys conducted about the perception of the Northeast among the people in the rest of the country. For instance a survey conducted by a organisation known as North East India Image Manager in the year 2012 affirmed that for 52% of the respondents the immediate memory about the region was of “ people with Mongoloid features and weird food habits and an alien culture.” Over 400 communication and service industry professionals from Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore participated in the survey. They were not aware that there were ministers from the region in the then UPA government. The survey further reveals that they refused to acknowledge that three states from the region had per capita income higher than the national average. Nearly one third of the respondents said that they would never work in the North-East even if it offered better prospect. But, having said this, the masses of the “mainland” cannot be blamed for their stereotypical attitude towards the region, but this leads us to question the strategies adopted by the important institutions of our administrative as well as socio-cultural machinery towards the region. When was the last time the people from mainland got a real exposure to the north-east, except the stereotypical stock shots of men and women in tribal gear performing bamboo dance in Doordarshan , and the Republic Day parades? Why is our rich socio-cultural and historical aura not made a part of the syllabi of national level educational curricula? The issues pertaining to the region have not been given ample platform in the mainstream media. Except for reports on bomb blast by insurgents, there is not much in print as well as visual media. Positive stories emerging from the region should be given adequate space in the mainland media because N.E is more than its people with small eyes, exotic places. It is also a space where binding traditions, rich mythology, distinctive culture prevails.
In face of all these mental as well as physical domination Independence for this part of the country has not arrived in the real sense of the term. Freedom here is a mirage given to us by the constitution that comes with blood-shed, through mothers parading naked in the streets of Imphal, the martyrdom of 855 youth during the agitation, the tainting of the khadi, the spray of bullets at midnights. Freedom here is entwined with Cholera in lush green Tea gardens, with pyres being lit by youths under the frenzy of Cocainated Nationalism. Freedom here is a to use a term from my mother tongue Axomiya is a Duswapna ( a nightmare).
Yet, the picture is not wholly negative. India’s democratic structure has negotiated the treacherous waters of betrayal and uncertainty for 70 years now. It has evolved in face of the chaos and different ideological terrains it has to traverse. India I believe that once the treacherous waters and the wild fire of chaos start receding a phoenix will rise from the ashes and bring independence wrapped in its feathers for the North East.