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Understanding the North-East Conflict [Interview]

20th August, 2012

Skimming through newspapers these days is an exercise in proving your moksha – ignore all the troubles of the world and continue living your life in bliss. Rapes, molestation? Nah, I’m more concerned about The Dark Knight Rises. Scams, corruption, inefficiencies? But wait – did you see Rahul’s latest pictures of his trip to Bhutan?

Today was a little different. Something cracked. I couldn’t continue. Headlines screamed that a massive exodus was taking place. Thousands of Indians from the North-Eastern region were travelling back to their hometown. Somewhere in between the milieu was the mention of a conflict, banned SMSes, even doctored tapes by Pakistan.

Why? It just didn’t make sense.

India's Fragile BorderlandsBlisters on their FeetTroubled PeripheryConflict and Peace in India's Northeast

So … why?

To get a broader understanding of what’s going on, I had an extremely-early-morning chat with Maitryee, a twenty-something from Assam. She’s had her share of Delhi and Bangalore, and is now based in Guwahati: just too much for me to not pounce on her with questions!

So, without any further aloo, let’s jump right in:

Me: Alooo! Could you pyaaz tell me why we’re doing this so early in the morning?

M: First of all, your jokes are horrible. Horr-eee-baall. And I also get up early. So. Yah.

Me: Why thank you! I hate my jokes as well. Anyways, let’s hop right into our first question. I understand that the conflict most publicized these days is between the Bodo and Bangla-Muslim communities. But I’ve heard of a tumultuous past amongst other communities as well: could you give me a history lesson on this?

M: Sure sure. At the time of Independence, Assam covered the entire North-Eastern region that we know of today, but consisted of various tribes with different languages and cultures. Over a period of time they all split geographically to form the states we have today.

Me: The Seven Sisters?

M: Yup! The thing is that most of these tribes are linguistically and culturally very different. My father is Assamese and my mother is Mizo, and you can see a big difference in their spoken language! It’s not like, say, Punjabi-speaking and Hindu-speaking people who at least share some common words.

These states were setup to favour their native population. Some states, like Meghalaya, don’t even allow outsiders to purchase land!

In this entire region there is a fight for economic resources.

Me: Really? Why would they do that?

M: Basically, in this entire region there is a fight for economic resources. Land, food, many things are scarce. The problem becomes worse when there’s a huge influx of Bangladeshi immigrants.

Me: Bangladesh? Wow, I didn’t see that coming!

M: It’s true! The Indo-Bangladeshi border is one of the most porous international borders, and there’s a huge influx of illegal immigrants coming into the North-East region.

And you know what? The government hasn’t done anything about it. Look at the India-Pakistan border at Kashmir, why can’t they do the same here? It’s like the government just continues to turn a blind eye to this issue.

Me: I can imagine that the population in these states has shot up in the past few decades. Right? Add to that scarce resources and you’re just scratching the surface of the underlying tensions.

M: Exactly! For example, some three weeks ago, a church on GH Road in Guwahati approached the police to get a Wine & Beer shop (located opposite them) closed down.The owner approached the High Court saying that there are so many other Wine & Beer shops near schools, hospitals, etc. (There’s a law stating that such shops can’t be within 500 meters of schools.)

In the current stalemate, all these liquor shops have been shut for three weeks. That includes all bars, pubs, everything!


This is horrible, this is torture! You must fight this! Poor you, poor you!

M: Seriously.

But you know there’s a lot of politics as well. Some troublemakers can come and start fighting, exploiting the underlying tensions. In the end, it’s always the poor man who pays.

Me: Sad, really sad. There’s one thing that’s perplexed me most. There may be underlying tensions in the Seven Sisters, but why has it spread across the country? Why are tensions flaring in Bangalore, Pune and other cities?

M: Apart from rumour-mongering by some troublemakers, I think a lot of it has to do with a sense of alienation. I’m sad to say this but discrimination is rampant. I remember when I was in Delhi and had to find a place to stay for six months. It was painful. I was even asked questions like “So how many people will you bring to stay here?” It got so bad that we had to ask a family friend, a Sardar, to talk to brokers on my behalf!

The state doesn’t care about us.

Me: *gasp*

M: Also, we’ve lost confidence in the state. I mean, look at the case of Tenzin Dhargiyial, who was stabbed in Mysore. Fine, people protested, but as it dies down you’ll notice that no progress has been made on that case. Why?

All these assurances put out by politicians fall flat. They’re hollow. The fact is that the state doesn’t care about us.

Me: And they’re not helping build any confidence by banning bulk SMSes.

You know, looking at the current status from 10,000 feet in the air, it seems as if there is no simple solution to all this.

But Maitryee, thanks for all your time. You’ve really helped me get a background on this conflict and I just hope  that we, along with the government and everyone involved, take the right steps to tackle it.

M: Thank you!

So .. The Next Steps?

Many in the North Eastern states face a harsh life everyday. Politicians have failed them. The government has failed them. Rising tensions have left scars that can’t easily be forgotten.

There are multiple issues to be tackled here: illegal immigration, ethnic tensions, lack of development, alienation, rampant discrimination; and this is just scratching the surface.

We need the support, leadership and political will to bring positive change.

We need to stop this from happening:


In my opinion, apart from solving those social and political issues, we need a resurgence in Indian nationalism.

We need to remind ourselves that we’re together for a reason.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. 21st August, 2012 12:39 AM

    As the ‘joke’ goes, we Indians are the most racist people on the face of the earth. It is the blatant discrimination against these fellow Indians, lack of sensitivity and eagerness to understand their uniqueness and absolute absence of any sort of understanding of the issues that has led to this situation. North-east is a very complicated maze. So many tribes. So many languages. So many customs. All of them unique. And we try to impose our 21st century modernism on them without asking whether they need it.

    65 years after independence, the capitals of seven north-eastern states are not connected by rail with each other and rest of India. IMO, this symbolises all that is wrong with the response of the government. Check this out:

    • 21st August, 2012 8:22 AM

      Wow. That is such a depressing document.

      Did you see the Challenges / Issues section at the end? Ugh. You know, where there is a will, there’s a way. These aren’t new challenges, but with strong leadership and will they can be attacked.

      (P.S. You can’t shout 65 years. Some of those states were formed in 1960s-1970s. But this is just some technicality: your point is still loud and clear. Complete inaction.)

  2. 21st August, 2012 11:47 AM

    Yes. Statehood was granted later but they have been part of Union of India since independence. Worse still, earlier many parts of the area were under direct federal control. Yes. There have been challenges such as very difficult terrain, forests and wildlife, insurgencies, non-cooperation of residents and their general perception etc. Still, I feel a lot more could have been done, at least at psychological level.

    • 21st August, 2012 12:27 PM

      Easier said than done. Clearly, statements and promises by various people in power have fallen flat. I doubt it can be solved at this psychological level without some actual positive change.

  3. 21st August, 2012 12:11 PM

    It is a myth that India is a secular country. The truth is we are racists!

  4. 21st August, 2012 4:53 PM

    its such a pity to see India, OUR country in such a miserable state.. Newspapers daily screaming a rape case or tension prevailing in some part of the country, racism being practised.. n then we talk of racism prevalent abroad..
    R we really in a position to play blame game.. Sorry bt i really dont think so..
    i wish i would have been born n brought up in UK or USA 😉 😉

    p.s – a great post with the interview.. I am enlightened to some extent atleast.

    • 21st August, 2012 5:17 PM

      You know that there is a directive for Chinese newspapers to emphasize positive news? (More info: In a way the entire population believes their country is doing better on the basis of nice happy-go-lucky news articles! Ha!

      My point? Our country isn’t doing that bad. Sure, we have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way as well. Just because it’s not reported doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened 🙂

      P.S. Good to know you were enlightened – I was too! We’ve just scratched the surface really, a much deeper analysis is required for a more informed opinion!

  5. 23rd August, 2012 9:53 AM

    We are but vaguely aware of what’s going on there – distance has made us indifferent and insular. We need to bring our attention and focus to the problems they face and hopefully there will be many more such articles – individual stories, their culture, their traditions, their beautiful countryside.

    • 23rd August, 2012 4:45 PM

      Exactly: distance has made us indifferent. Wonderful words!

  6. 23rd August, 2012 3:43 PM

    What really gets my goat is the way everything is handled. Leave aside religion and greedy politicians but the way we treat life in our country is disgusting. We do not respect it. A single death changes so many lives and here hundreds are dying and fleeing and no one bats an eyelid. I will start respecting this great nation the day my fellow citizens start respecting life.

    • 23rd August, 2012 6:29 PM

      True, true! Human life is quite low on the priority of things. Chalo let’s blog about it!

    • 24th August, 2012 10:02 AM

      Yeah! Lets blame some politicians and throw some maa-behen expletives at them.

    • 24th August, 2012 10:19 AM

      And then we’ll write a series of “Open Letters” which will get shared like there’s no tomorrow! YES!

  7. 30th October, 2012 12:31 AM

    really funny blog bro!keep up the writing. 🙂

    • 30th October, 2012 12:52 AM

      Thanksies Anjana, thanksies for visiting!

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