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The first session on day two of the northeast fest “Cultures of Peace” focused on the difficult question of looking at the past, the current realities and the future of the northeast. The session included two enlightening lectures by two eminent scholars Sanjoy Hazarika and Laxmy Murthy.

In the first part of this series we bring you excerpts from the speech of Sanjoy Hazarika, Research Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and a former New York Times correspondent. Mr. Hazarika poses questions about the northeast that needs to be listened to.


Apart from the general perception that things need to change and that illegal migration is unacceptable, little has changed. Movements of people continue to come and we have a tragedy where rhetoric takes over reality. We have to pay tribute to those who fought illegal migration from the 70s and 80s because it is as a result of that these issues have become an issue of national concern. Again the periphery addresses the center again the center must take notice of what is the situation on the periphery but which is integral to the idea of India.

It is important to understand that we can’t end migration whether it is from Bangladesh or from other parts of the country to the northeast or to Delhi. History of the world says that migration is most resourceful if you are prepared to take the risks.
The threat to our region is often from within and from our own deliberate neglect of regions which we see as marginalised and migrant producing especially the river bank areas and the lower Assam areas. If you talk to people in Gauhati they would say that those areas are taken over by Bangladeshis. While we may have Bangladeshis there, the majority of people are still Assamese. They happen to be of Muslim or Bengali origin. The threat to security comes from the neglect of these regions.

If you look at infrastructure, across northeast it is bad; in these areas it is worse. There is no electricity. There are no schools or hospitals. As a result maternal and infant mortality is extremely high.

Unless people and communities in these areas who are Indian national but are marginalised. Unless they do not feel a sense of inclusion, you will have opposition and security threats emerging. On the whole they would feel disenfranchised, marginalised and deliberately neglected. If we talk of alienation from the center, there are places in northeast which are alienated from us.

The audience

The audience

We need to be realistic. We need to temper our rhetoric with realism. We must understand that there must be identities which are established. We can issue work permits which will enable people to come, work but not settle. What has been happening now especially over last twenty years is that people come in from Bangladesh and settle in and becoming citizens. That’s a real thing and we may not be able to change that. No government can ensure it doesn’t happen. But, if you can give them work permits and an identity migration can be a resource.

The media can’t become part of a campaign that discriminates and demonises the other. In this country we don’t know how many refugees exist, how many have migrated internally. We need to have a larger perspective that looks at these areas perhaps with some sort of immigration commission as in the US and focuses on the development of these regions.

When I came to Delhi from in the 80s there were just three reporters from the northeast. Today there are well over a hundred in different media. Today no one can bury news from northeast. It’s open.

As far as the conflict is concerned, in the context of AFSPA there are some points which need to be discussed.

By the central government’s own admission the insurgency in the northeast is winding down. Bangladesh has handed up virtually the entire leadership of ULFA barring its military commander who is in Myanmar to India. They have been released. They are in talks among themselves and talks with government will also begin hopefully in the next month. There is ceasefire in Karbilanglong and North Kachaar with two small insurgent groups. Other parts are also in peace. If you look around the India of today is no longer what it was in the 70s. In that case what is the necessity of Armed Force Special Powers Act?

If by your own admission, all the movements in the northeast are in the process of negotiation or in detention then why do you moot such a draconian act. It remains one of the biggest democratic deficits of this country. It reinforces the power of impunity. The concept that someone can get away with murder is the collapse of the judicial system and civil administration in Manipur. The growth of insurgency there is the byproduct of the state’s unwarranted intervention and failure to ensure political dignity, justice and equality.

Sanjoy Hazarika and Sudha Murthy

A few weeks ago a commando in Manipur shot and killed a young man. They offered the family a compensation of Rs. 50,000 and told not to bother filing an FIR because you can’t succeed. This is part of the confusion that application of AFSPA is created. The police are not protected by AFSPA. Only the army central paramilitary forces are protected by it.

They enjoy, in their mind, impunity and enable this climate of impunity to flourish. This, we can’t allow to do unhindered and undeterred. We must constantly challenge, challenge, challenge. The center must listen.

All of us would agree that bad governance is one of the prime reason of the angst and alienation of the northeast. Instead of just talking about it what can we do?

From several years of travelling across the Bay of Bengal on road, foot, on cycle enabled me to understand one thing. The most marginalised and most vulnerable of the groups live on the islands of the Brahmaputra. They are socially and geographically excluded. There are 3 million of them on around 3000 islands. They have no service access at all.

I thought of an idea that we can ensure delivery of health services to such people. There must be a ship of hope. There are four Ds. We must dream. We must design that dream. We must develop and we must deliver it. It’s not good enough to have ideas but to develop a realistic programme of implementation. Not just talk about it fervently but we must design a way of implementing.

What is a good idea? An idea that is implemented is good. We reached 14000 people in 2005 and today we have reached 500,000 people with sustained healthcare in collaboration with National Rural Health Mission. Six years ago we had six doctors with us. Today we have 250 doctors of which 30 are full time. It is now regarded internationally as an example of inclusive healthcare.

It is one idea and one person. But if you are determined and if you design the idea to implement it as many of you are doing, you can change the face of the world we inhabit. We can’t change the world but we can certainly change the world we inhabit.
In the process of doing such things you deal with governments, transparency, corruption and the inability of systems to function. But if you find good partners, you can make the change you want.

Those of us who are from northeast, we can’t remain content with advertising, pushing our concern. We must reach out to central India where once again the impunity of the state is involved. Our experiences of pain and suffering should enable us to feel that of others. We must always ask one question to ourselves that is it enough. And we must assert every time that it is never never enough.

What is your take on the future of northeast?

Related story: Northeast: Seven Sisters, one brother and a step mother

Next in the series: Excerpts from speech of Laxmy Murthy.



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