Speaking at the 17th convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Zubin Irani made a highly significant promise that could go a long way in integrating India’s Northeast to the mainland much better than we have been able to do since India became independent. Smriti Irani said that the government of India would soon organize a tiol conference to seek opinions of all stakeholders on the issue of including the history, culture and other subjects related to the Northeast in the tiol education curriculum. Unfortutely, so far, in the textbooks of history and geography used all over the country—not to speak of other subjects—there has hardly been any mention of the Northeast. The partition of 1947 and the creation of East Pakistan greatly reduced the size of the physical link that this region had with the rest of the country. Barring the 38 km-wide ‘chicken’s neck’ that links the Northeast to the rest of the country, this region has far longer boundaries with other countries than with the Indian mainland. However, apart from the physical isolation, there has been a far greater psychological isolation due mainly to linguistic, cultural and racial differences with the rest of India. The mes of people in this region are generally different, the garments that women of this region traditiolly wear are different, our food habits are different and so are the languages spoken in this region. Whatever the reasons, there has been a glaring neglect of this region in textbooks that children in India use. If one were to look at the textbooks that the children of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra use, one would be shocked to find virtually no reference India’s Northeast except in the atlases where this region is shown as part of India with a tenuous link with the mainland. Going by the textbooks that children use in the rest of the country, it would seem that this region had no history or culture or language worth talking about. As such, any initiative to introduce the geography, the history and the culture of the Northeast in the tiol curriculum will be a major step in integrating a long neglected region of India with the rest of the country. At the same time, it would not be possible to do any justice to the Northeast if the entire region were to be regarded as a single entity rather than as a combition of States with their unique languages, histories and cultures. The very inclusion of the Northeast in the tiol curriculum will be an initiative that will do much more to integrate the region with the rest of the country than all of the so-called development grants of the Centre that have generally been misused, misappropriated and looted over the years to give the region a bad me. Along with the inclusion of the Northeast in the tiol curriculum, there are other important steps to be taken to integrate the region as an equal partner in India’s progress and future. This cannot happen as long as the region is starved of major industries and industrial development, leading to large-scale unemployment. And in order to bring about a sense of equality, it is essential that the States of the Northeast are no longer treated as special category States. They must be made to come up to the level of the advanced States of India within a timeframe of 10 years. One is astonished to see ministers, ex-ministers and former bureaucrats ceaselessly recommending the continuation of the special category status to the States of the Northeast. This is the surest way of crippling the people of the Northeast from rising to the level of their true potential. The present dispensation of classifying the north-eastern States as special category States is a way of giving crutches to perfectly normal people and telling them that they must walk only with their crutches. This is the surest way of making healthy people sick. Fourteen years of licence to loot Union government grants with the blessings of the State government, has so destroyed the ethics and values of people that there is now need of major surgery to rid them of a very major ailment, mely, easy access to public money and to a life of luxury without any work. As we all know, any major surgery to restore good health is a painful but inescapable process. We must accept the challenge of competition based on merit just as people of other States have to do.
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