By Humra Quraishi

Recent elections in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura brought the North East into some level of focus. Temporary focus! Perhaps, these election results, to be declared on March3, will be another occasion for another round of this focus to continue for another few days.

After that, what? Will there be any consistent effort by the government of the day to connect to that region. Do we, the masses of this country, know what’s taking place in the North Eastern states of the country? What is China doing, rather undoing on our Eastern borders? Are infiltrations on or off? Are our border posts intact? Are the people of the North East living secure or are internal conflicts over showing threats from the neighboring countries? Are the much-flaunted Accords and negotiations making a difference on ground? 

The reality is that we, the masses of this country, sit unaware of not just the build- ups but even of the ground realities to the North East. All that one gets to hear is the BJP’s hyped claims of making systematic political inroads into the region. Expansionist designs, where all that seems to matter to the politician is to grab power. Just about somehow!

No questions and queries entertained that how will they manage to retain that power in the midst of refugee crisis, internal displacements, ongoing insurgency, and enemies lurking at the borders. No, no official or even unofficial updates on Chinese or Bangladeshi intrusions into our North Eastern borders. With the government’s entire focus on Pakistan, are they overlooking China and its potential threat?

In fact, Right-Wing’s desperation to grab power in that region was writ large during its recent election campaigns where the BJP made promises to send senior citizens of Nagaland on ‘religious trips’ to Jerusalem. Blatantly wooing the Christian population of Nagaland by setting up a senior citizen board, which will annually select 50 members through lucky draw for a free trip to the Holy Land of Jerusalem. This tactic of the BJP is another of those double standards it’s infamous for! Not to be overlooked is the fact that just weeks back the NDA government scrapped the Haj subsidy for the Muslim community of the country. And whilst on double standards, I ought to mention  that whereas the very utterance of the word ‘beef’ could get one lynched  along the  highways or  in the inner lanes of North India, but  BJP ministers hailing from the  North East openly and blatantly flaunt their  beef -eating ways! No, they are not touched, whereas you and I can be killed by gau –goons on the beef alibi…and our killers will roam about scot free, for another round of lynching!

Of course, people of the North East do realize what’s going on in the name of religion and region. Instead of these tactics and strategies it would be prudent if the government not just reaches out to the people of the North East with a genuine ‘survival package’ but also connects us to them!  Right now, connectivity is low if not zero, in every sense of the term.

As I got talking to young men and women, they were unaware of even the significant towns and cities in the North Eastern states! Their limited knowledge about Assam and that too in the backdrop that Assam is the only state in India where the ‘National Register for Citizens’ exists. Though it was created way back in 1951, its update underway now. The current update has been undertaken under Supreme Court monitoring. The first draft released on January 1, 2018, carried 1.9 crore names in a population of 3.4 crores.  Several lists are expected as the year progresses. Till then hundreds in Assam sit in suspense and in fear of getting deported!

Also, to a great majority of Indians, it came as ‘news’ that a large percentage of Muslims reside in the North East. And Muslims in the North -East face not just the usual set of discriminations but also the additional burden of trying to prove their citizenship! Unending cases of ‘denial of citizenship’ to Muslims in Assam, after getting labelled Bangladeshi migrants. In the backdrop stands out the history of the conflict between the Assamese and Muslims and Hindus from West Bengal, who were encouraged by the British in the pre -Independence years to settle and cultivate land in Assam for the very obvious –political and economic reasons which suited the British rulers…A new dimension was added to this issue, soon after the formation of Bangladesh when a large number of Bangladeshi citizens migrated to India, particularly to Assam. Chaos reigned as political lobbies labeled even the genuine Muslim citizens of Assam as Bangladeshi migrants. The discontent against these Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus still persists and they are arbitrarily denied their citizenship rights by the State, by way of the ‘D’ voters list.  ‘D’ stands for doubtful voters and this is an insidious way of religious profiling resorted to by the State to marginalize the disadvantaged minorities.

In fact, there is so much to the North East which we, the citizens of the country, sit unaware of. Tell me where are the books on the North East- on its rich past and turbulent present and hazy future? Yes, novels and  novellas and verse by  writers from the  North  East are  published but  what about  non-fiction works which ought to bare out the dark realities to the  day- to -day  living of the hapless out there…Activists working in that region have detailed to me that ground realities in the  North East are similar to that of the Kashmir Valley; where an apolitical is at the mercy of the political mafia together with the onslaughts by the state machinery and security forces. Yes, it’s a people surviving just about somehow, battling on the so many fronts!