"Restrictive ideas won't work in the region"

"Restrictive ideas won't work in the region"

A writer, filmmaker and academician rolled in one, Sanjoy Hazarika is an authority on the northeast India.

Hazarika is the Chair and Professor at the Centre for North East Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia.

A former New York Times correspondent, he has written extensively about the
region and made a series of documentaries, especially on Brahmaputra.

Hazarika spoke to Shemin Joy of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:

People from the northeast feel they are targeted while the rest believe they are the troublemakers.

Most of the stories of harassment and discrimination come from Delhi. Such cases from Chennai or Bangalore are very less.

However, the case of discrimination work both ways.

If northeast people face harassment in other parts, people from outside face same problem in northeast. I always believe racial discrimination has to be addressed by a very strong application of laws.

You have the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act.

It is a legal remedy has always been there for quite a long time but very few had used it. Another point is that law enforcement has to be very strong.

There is a feeling that northeast has not integrated easily with what may be called the Idea of India.

There is aloofness, isn’t it?

There is a perception problem on both the sides. It also very difficult to integrate a region, which is so complex, into an area with which it does not have very long history.

It takes time. When we talk of aloofness, there has always been a sense of emotional, physical and political distance.

Many people do not know about the participation of Northeast in freedom struggle. That is something that needs to be understood and appreciated.

Even at policy level, our policy makers do not know much about the region.

Last year in Meghalaya, there were demands to issue permits to Indians from outside the state for going there.

You are saying, look, you may be an Indian but you need a permit to come here. That is not how you welcome investment or make friends.

You want special treatment but you do not want anybody to come.

That is not going to send right signals.

We cannot have ideas, which are restrictive and expect to live in an inclusive country like India.

The demands for independence and separatism have come a full circle. You go to Bangalore or Chennai. You find thousands of northeast youth.

There are farmers working as security guards, students working in hotels and professionals running start ups.

So here is a new generation, which is speaking a different language – that of competition, education, understanding – and letting their abilities speak rather than where they are from.

So reconciliation is building up..

Except a few hardened armed groups, which are interested in moneymaking and extortion, every single major insurgent group is in talks with the Centre.

It is important to recognise while problems arose in conflicts, the actual organised political violence is almost over.

Why?

Principal reason is that people are fed up with violence.

In Nagaland, people do not pay tax to the Centre but have to pay it to four or five insurgent groups. Everybody is extorting from everyone.

A movement against this picked up and an angry NSCN (IM) attacked a public meeting in Dimapur last year.

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities?

Challenges are obvious.

One is connectivity – physical, political and economic – with the mainstream. Second is the need for results on projects, which have been in very long gestation period, be it highways or bridges.

For instance in Dibrugarh, a bridge across Brahmaputra was to complete in 2007 but it has not.

Now it will be completed in 2016. People have a lot of cynicism. So the big-ticket ones need to be implemented with speed and commitment.

The third is about negotiations, which are going on with militant organisations, to establish some sort of peace.

The problem with peacemaking in northeast is the problem of discord comes from the political divisions within groups.

The current leadership is aged but perhaps they are the best ones to deal with. The others may not be capable or have the calibre or support within to ensure peace.

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