By Aditya Manubarwala
The seven sister states of North East India along with the Himalayan State of Sikkim can easily be described to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque regions of not only India but also South Asia at large. Apart from the vast, untapped tourism potential this region possesses, it also serves to be of immense geo-strategic significance for India. The significance of the North East cannot be understated. It is India’s gateway to South- East Asia and beyond. The entire region is brimming with both Human capital in the form of Human resources as well as a variety of tural resources, including vast reserves of energy, oil, tural gas and limestone reserves. Its geo-strategic location coupled up with tural resources makes it a potential powerhouse of India for prosperity, progress and all around inclusive development.
Sadly, there persists a degree of administrative apathy, various perception issues and a general sense of trust deficit between people residing in the North Eastern parts of India and people residing in the rest of India. These have become a major cause of concern, which coupled with the presence of insurgent groups, act as potential road blocks for the development of the North East. How often is it seen that people from the North East are discrimited against on racial grounds in prominent Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore to me a few. How often are cases reported of people being labelled ‘Chinkis’ and being troubled, often physically assaulted and abused. Incidences like these bring shame to the very Idea of India and hit at the very roots of a democratic inclusive country like ours. The first step towards remedying this malady would entail changing the rrative in India through public information campaigns. In fact quite often ignorance too plays a major role in perpetuation of this discrimition.
I have persolly observed an instance where a friend of mine from Manipur was consistently being labelled a Chinese woman by a teege canteen boy. One day when the girl was outraged beyond toleration, she went to him, removed her phone and showed a map of India, pointing Manipur to be her place of birth. She asked him whether he still considered her to Chinese. His head hung in shame, after which he never repeated his behaviour. A sustained public information campaign can go a long way in addressing the issue of discrimition. Apart from this, it’s about time that the MK Bezbaruah committee recommendations are accepted, and sections 153c and 509A are introduced in Indian Pel Code. These sections propose crimilizing calling people of the north eastern region by “derogatory” mes, making it a non-bailable offence, with jail for up to five years.
Amongst other grievances, what often act as road blocks for the regions development is a deep seated fear of Indian homogenisation and a loss of a separate identity. Such fears, though legitimate to crop in are completely misplaced. At the onset it is imperative to mention that the very Constitution of India provides for special provisions under articles 371A, 371B, 371C, 371G & 371F which grant a distinct and special status to North Eastern States. It also must be appreciated that though there have been demands from multiple quarters in India to abrogate Article 370, which grants a special status to Jammu & Kashmir, no similar demands have been made to abrogate the special status granted to the North- East. The very idea of India is based on a spirit of inclusivity; historically too India has never invaded foreign lands nor has usurped ethnic cultures.
An apt illustration is the history of the Chakma refugees based in Aruchal Pradesh. During partition, the Chittagong Hill Tracks CHT) where a pre domint population of the Buddhist Chakma resided became part of Bangladesh. Around 1952, due to severe persecution and systemic ethnic cleansing, the Chakma’s fled to India. They were rehabilitated in Aruchal Pradesh and continue to live there peacefully without disturbance, enjoying India’s democratic vibrancy and protection. On the other hand the systemic ethnic cleansing practised by Chinese against Tibetans or Pakistani’s against Shias, Ahmedias, Hindus, Christians and Balochis is well known and well documented. In fact, even disturbed regions like Jammu & Kashmir enjoy their separate identity and democracy through free and fair elections; this is in sharp contrast to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where due to systemic migration the Kashmiri’s have themselves become a minority in their own land.
The development of the NE region has received a fresh impetus since the rendra Modi-led dispensation has taken over at the centre. The Government has shifted from a ‘Look East Policy’ to an ‘Act East Policy’ As part of this policy, the focus is on reducing the isolation of the region by improving all round connectivity through road, rail, telecom, power and waterways sectors. A specialised highways construction agency exclusively for the North East has been created. Some 34 projects are already in implementing stage covering a length of 1001 kilometres at a total cost of over Rs 10,000 crore. The Ministry of Power and Railways are conducting massive expansion of capabilities for development of the region at an estimated cost of some 10,000 crore each. In fact, in the recent budget some 30,000 crore rupees have been exclusively set aside for the North- Eastern Region. All of this and much more is being planned for the development of the region.
The North East is India’s Gateway to South-East Asia, a land bridge to Myanmar and Bangladesh as well as to the prosperous regions of South Western Chi. Its proximity to these intertiol markets makes its potential of economic growth immense. Merely establishing connectivity to countries like Thailand, Bangladesh and Myanmar can reduce costs and lead to free movement of goods. Accessing the Bay of Bengal through these countries can immensely benefit the North East. Keeping these realities of economic progress and prosperity in mind, there surely exists no space for a separatist mindset, insurgency or economic blockades, which only derail the entire developmental process. With certain preconceived notions and misplaced prejudices gone, and the rrative changed, there will exists no road blocks in the development of this great country and region.
(Aditya Manubarwala is the 2nd youngest Indian to have appeared before a Committee of Parliament in Indian Legislative history. In the past, he has been an attaché with the Office of the Speaker of the Lower House of the Parliament of India and a Law Trainee with a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. He has also represented India at the Harvard Asia Conference organised in Hong Kong.)