Nestled in the north-eastern corners of India lie the seven states that have long remained ignored and if in news for all the wrong reasons. As the information age is progressing, this region is slowly lifting itself out of the situation it used to be in. Till late 1970’s this region lacked the coherence of the developed states within the country due to the presence of several tribal units that had for centuries survived unchanged. The global wars brought this region into news as it formed a formidable barrier between the Burmese and Chinese borders and India during World War II. Since then this area has had its share of upheavals. Assam of course developed thanks to the British exploitation of the land for Tea plantations & the discovery of oil reserves. This though didn’t entirely help in keeping trouble out of this state. The other northeastern states moved at a negligible pace towards development. Meghalaya & Nagaland though have moved considerably ahead of its neighbours. The missionaries and NGOs that came here after India’s independence helped to build up the societies here. Of course much of the old ways of life in these regions have been lost to Christianity. But on the other hand the progress in the Christian dominated areas has been very optimistic and these regions are still developing further.
Each of the NE states is richly endowed with ecological diversities and an equally rich cultural heritage. It is unique from what you get to see in the other parts of the country. The flora and fauna, the culture, language and way of life are distinct and surprisingly multi-varied here. The features of the people here are dominantly Mongolian and language and culture an interesting mix between mainland India and the Mongolian races. It is here that the Dravidian, Caucasian and Aryan blend with the Mongolian… hence you get to see a wide range of anatomical variations. Of course, from the great Hindu epic Mahabharata, you also get references of this region signifying the recognition of the region across texts & over centuries.
This region also has its own share of global contributions. The game of Polo has its origins in Manipur. The great Indian Rhino has its habitat in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The Brahmaputra River carved out the largest mud island – Majuli, on its course in Assam. Manipuri dance is highly admired all over the world. The Naga tribes still invoke an ancient world charm and are part of the world’s indigenous peoples, just to name a few.
The biggest problem that this area faces is that of regional unrest. Political and social divisions here have created violent rifts amongst the people of this region. Insurgency is a major problem here. What started out a few decades ago as a resistance to political corruption has now taken on a different meaning altogether! Militancy and insurgency makes this region unfavourable for development of any sort. Attempts of industrialization and development have been grounded due to the presence of such anti-social elements. Many states of course are now realising the need to modernise and develop their territories if any progress is to happen. Nagaland and Meghalaya today are completely different from what they used to be. Shillong and Kohima are now urban cities perched in the most coveted laps of nature and are attracting people from all over the world. Shillong has been in the news recently owing to its people setting the World record for largest number of people drumming together for a given period of time. It might sound like a small thing but it has finally brought this region to the world’s attention.
Another aspect of this region is the presence of a textiles & handicrafts industry here that has existed for centuries. Almost every traditional house owns a loom – be it a handloom or a hand-held loom. One can go into even the most interior of places here and one can find evidence of the rich textile heritage of this region. It’s not only a means of livelihood but it also defines the people. Many well known Indian designers head here to pick up the well crafted cane products. This sector is unorganised as the crafts started more as a way of equipping the locals for their daily life and not for commercial purposes. Non-governmental organisations are now trying to change this scenario and make things more accessible not only for the consumers outside but also for the local craftsmen.
Tourism should boost the economy as this geographical area has a wide variety of activities to offer and the region is largely unspoilt by industrialisation – the only thing good that came out of the decades of non-entry of development! The local people will also have to make a collective effort keeping aside their differences and move towards developing infrastructure facilities and restoring regional pride.
There is much to be done in this north eastern corner of India and there is a need for a change in attitude not only of the local people but also of the rest of the nation. If only the mega industrial houses of India look east and see the overwhelming potential that this region has to offer. There is a customer base here that will lap up new technologies, new fashions and new anything at a neck-break speed as long as it is the latest that the world has to offer! It is a place that has an underlying hunger for change even if it is largely a need for the latest consumer products available.
Despite having grown up outside of this region, I feel strongly about it. I feel strongly about the lack of industrial development, the animosity between tribes& peoples, the absence of a good rail/road network across the region, the gigantic potential for eco-tourism in these states, the beauty of the region… I can go on & on about it.
The alienation of this region has existed for too long now and this alienation has become the identity sadly of some of the anti-social groups in the region. So many of the youth don’t identify themselves with the rest of the nation & vice versa. There seems to be some comfort in being alienated as well. That ways they don’t have to deal with finding new jobs where they have to work hard & earn less than what they can through extortion & exploitation! But for how long… I wonder if sometimes.. dont they want steady jobs with steady incomes where they are not hated..or feared… but respected, have families that don’t have to worry about getting ‘bad’ news from police or the army or their neighbours!