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North-East paradox: Why the historical glory is suffering!

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  26 Feb 2015 12:00 AM GMT


Priyanku rayan Baruah

Although the multi-ethnic social base that has historically evolved in Assam stood on the way of making Assam a tion province for the Assamese, following the rules of the game of carving out provinces in independent India based on ethno-linguistic identity, ethnic Assamese elites vigorously strived for it. The expediencies of electoral politics as well as the aspiration for making Assam a tion province for the Assamese led to the widening of Assamese linguistic identity in order to accommodate the Muslims of Brahmaputra valley as well as the tea tribes within the fold of Assamese tiolism. Muslims of Assam were rechristened as Asamiya (New Assamese) and encouraged to barter their identity for security by way of reporting Assamese as their mother tongue in census returns in order to strengthen the claim to make Assam the tion province for the Assamese. It may be pointed out that, at this stage, the Congress-led ruling elites in Assam tacitly encouraged the immigration of Muslim Bengalis from East Pakistan. As the immigrant Muslim Bengalis readily shifted their ethnic identity in favour of the Assamese, they became useful not only as a ‘safe vote bank’ but also to realize the majority claim of the Assamese (Das: 2001a). Many debates have been raised on the struggle and the identity of the tea garden labourers in Assam as an aftermath of the incident at Guwahati on November 24th, 2007. In the media it was portrayed as an age old enmity between the Assamese and the labourers. The incident is also seen as an ultimate expression of the inbuilt prejudice and class hatred which marked the approach of a sizable section of Assamese middle class towards the tea garden labourers (Gohain December 8, 2007). The civil society in the state acted with alacrity and condemned the incident with one voice while at the same time asserted that the November 24 incident should not be viewed as an Assamese-Adivasi clash (Misra, December 22, 2007). Although, the incident of 24th of November, 2007 was condemble in every sense and every news paper, electronic media and civil society organization expressed deep concern about the community but the larger debate over the issues of the socio-economic development of the tea garden community in Assam has not come out in the context of the rise of Adivasi identity politics. Demographically, Tea garden labour community of Assam represents around 20% of the total population of the state accounting more than 45 lakh tea garden labour population in the state and is one of the biggest contributors to the organized workforce as well to the economy of Assam both directly and indirectly. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in tea industry. Among them, around 50% of the total workforces in the tea gardens in Assam are women.

Politics in the Northeast is not based on democratic norms as understood in the western model of democratic system. The democratic system which they practice is very different from this model. Though in one sense the tribal societies are truly democratic; they have characteristics of a strong cohesive community in which every member of the tribe lives and works for the entire tribe. The rise of corrupt, greedy and power-hungry elite is more the product of the distortion of the India democratic system as practiced here. The concept of private property is relatively new in these areas. The economic structure was relatively simple. Everyone in the tribe and the village contributed one’s bit in fighting tough battles of survival. The village was a self-sufficient unit. The traditiol system of ‘gaon bura’ tells its own story. This traditiol system exists even today in galand and some other areas. However, it has lost much of its shine. There has been steady erosion of this once strong institution due to many factors; the most important being its virtual replacement with the so-called modern democratic institutions.

The duality in the administrative and political system has also created serious problems. The formal structure has all the trappings of the modern system, but lacks substance. The concept of rule of law on which all the democratic institutions rest is very different in the tribal societies. All functiories of the government are expected to favour their own tribe members and not members of other tribes, even in doing so, violate the “rule of law”. The members of their own tribe are more equal than the others. Everyone is not equal before the law as understood in these societies. Outsiders will remain as outsiders even if they have lived in the area for centuries

In the Assam-Bangladesh border areas, it is unlikely that any anti-infiltration measure would meet with success without taking them into confidence (Das: 2006). Thus, a fair deal to the existing Muslim population can only prevent the unfair immigration, which the ethnic Assamese views as the threat to their identity. “(Edited Source from Gurudas Das,Article on ethnicity)

Besides resolving the Muslim question, polity magement in Assam has to be inclusive so that minority tribal and non-Assamese ethnic groups can play some role in decision-making. Practice of consociatiol democracy (Lijphart: 1989) instead of electoral democracy based on majoritarian principle may be an option to accommodate the interests of the smaller identities in a multi-age, lbariethnic society like Assam.

As reports say; for the last three decades India’s north-east has witnessed various forms of unrest, conflict and violence. In Assam, the region’s largest and most populous state, these were manifested in an anti-foreigner movement, insurgency and ethnic violence. In the tribal-domited hilly states of Manipur, Mizoram, galand and Tripura, the secessionist movement took violent turns aggravated by army operations. galand, like the seven other states that are clubbed together as the ‘North-East’, does relatively well compared with the country average in terms of literacy rate (71% for male and 61 for female; all-India percentages are 75 and 54) but, like the others, suffers from an unusually high percentage of school drop-outs. In these villages, scattered across the rugged ga hills that lie between the plains of lower Assam and the frontier with Myanmar, it is the girl who is most likely to drop out of school and least likely to return.

(Priyanku rayan Baruah.Lecturer, R.D college, Digboi can be reached at Ph#.8811836885 & (To be continued)

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