cruel picture of a victimised region

WHETHER coincidence or timely precaution, the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to travel to India. They were informed that the inter-communal violence in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri districts of Assam had caused a number of deaths, injuries, displacements and disruptions in transport services. It cautioned that curfew had been imposed and further violence could occur.

Any Australian visiting India was told to exercise extreme caution if there were plans to go to India’s North-east. The advisory warned of armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism-related incidents. “Insurgent groups have attacked civilians and bombed buildings in rural areas of these states with the increasing risk of terrorist attack in any public place, anytime at the heart of the metropolitans such as Delhi and Mumbai.” It asked its citizens to take note of the major secular and religious holidays that could provide terrorists an opportunity or pretext to stage an attack and not to step out or make such plans for those days.

Such advice and precaution, specifically from foreign countries, seem hardly relevant as far as North-east India is concerned, given that the region is infamously a conflict zone, where interstate communal and ethnic violence heads the list. This image of the North-east is, unfortunately, a cruel picture of the victimised region being given out to the world. While the advisory’s assumption could be brushed aside as a mere precautionary guide for tourists, yet it would make sense if one takes it seriously, given the region’s apprehension about “alien” visitors. The student movement in the districts of Assam and Manipur primarily emphasise the “go back foreigners” protest. In the recent Assam violence, All Assam Students’ Union advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said, “The international border should have been sealed a long back to prevent intruders. It is because of this that we are facing the music.” Such movements were also directed against mainlanders (Chinese), who have flooded the province in terms of the business, labour and service sectors.

One such case involved violence, arguments and analysis that were either diplomatically or otherwise woven around ethnic clashes – with subsequent development focused on relief packages and compensation. At the end of the day, a generalised and simplistic rationale produced the concluding remark that the problems of the North-east were “complex”.

As the situation evolved, then Union home minister P Chidambaram, right after visiting the violence-hit districts of Assam, was no longer holding his portfolio. Will all his “promises, statements and announcements” be reinforced by the high command? And by whom, his successor, Sushilkumar Shinde? One thing is quite evident — inhabitants displaced from their homeland must prepare to remain in relief camps for a considerable span. Indeed, what everyone is aware of is that recurring violence is not the first of its kind, either in Assam or other North-eastern states.

Meanwhile, Manipur’s civil society has once again upped its demand for implementation of the Inner Line Permit – whereby restrictions are applied to Indian states, apart from the seven sisters of North-east, although the Centre has made it clear that the ILP is just not a state subject. To cut a long story short, locals are insecure. Development or progress is equated with an open market and a widening of North-east horizons so as to remove the shackles of isolation and keep pace with the outside world.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to restore peace and order.

It is important that the Centre not only “pays attention to the east” but keenly intervenes in matters that concern not only poverty and special packages but acts to put the region on a par with the other states and reinvent its image so as to attract tourists who would contribute to its economy.

The writer is a Delhi-based freelance contributor

The Statesman Northeast Page
August 19,2012

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