‘We do not have the numbers. Our voices will never be heard’
By Pradyot Manikya Deb Burman, 33
I COME FROM a place called Tripura, often dubbed as “just another Northeastern state”. But my state has its own unique history, and cultural identities that are socially very distinct. For centuries, ours was a kingdom ruled by the indigenous (tribal kings), which merged with India of its own accord on 15 September 1949, perhaps being the only independent kingdom to do so. Yet, I find educated, smart professionals from the rest of the country asking if Tripura is part of India.
Today, in a country that claims to be a rising power and the cradle of knowledge, the desire to know about a fellow Indian is seriously lacking. People often cite ignorance as the reason. I think that they simply don’t care enough. There is more curiosity to know about what Sunita Williams ate before going to orbit than about the earthquake in Sikkim that destroyed thousands of homes. There are sections of society who just don’t engage with fellow Indians and, I guess, this is not just restricted to the Northeast.
Tripura has had a troubled history since Independence. The atrocities in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) ensured that hordes of settlers came into our state. We opened our gates and granaries, gave them medical help and offered all assistance, soon they outnumbered the original population. Today, since hardly any of them have returned to their country, they are the majority and control the entire state of Tripura.
The politics of identity, which is so prevalent in the Northeast, stems mainly from the insecurity of the local population. Tripura and, more recently, Assam, have become the living examples of the indigenous being outnumbered and losing out to an immigrant population, making this insecurity all too real. National parties have a dual approach. While the RSS and BJP make a hue and cry about Muslim migration, they’ve always been silent on the scores of Hindu-Bengali settlers who have engulfed our state.
Intellectuals and organisations today have called this assimilation of the people and termed migration a natural phenomenon. I feel an outsider is a foreigner and his entry to our country should not be based on which god he worships. When 400 Pakistanis crossed over to Kargil, we went to war. But when thousands of Bangladeshis enter our soil, we call it assimilation? I beg to differ and rather term this as annihilation of our people, culture, land and identity. Demographic changes can never be undone and that’s what has happened in our region, whether it was Sikkim, Tripura or now Assam. Votebank politics is one reason our voices will never be heard. We simply do not have the numbers and in a democracy (unfortunately) numbers matter.
Geographically, only 2 percent of our region is connected to the rest of the country, but in the hearts, it’s much less
Today, we have not only imported voters, but leaders too. It is evident in my state where quite a number of elected leaders are from a neighbouring country or were at least born there. As a conscientious citizen, there are a few questions I need to ask: has the concept of democracy failed in the hill states or tribal region? If so, then why? Our policy of creating a unified India on the basis of reservations, uniform civil code, more autonomy, doesn’t seem to be working.
A region that has been fragmented, isolated and ignored for various reasons will feel a sense of alienation and a loss of identity. Our people today are a good 20 years behind the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure, education, connectivity and the governments. Both the Centre and state need to understand this feeling of discontent. Geographically, only two percent of our region is connected to the rest of the country, but in the hearts and minds it’s much less. What happened in Bengaluru is the tip of the iceberg. Our country should be able to protect its people whether they come from Pondicherry or Aizwal. If we fail here, then the idea of India is under threat.
We, from the Northeast, do not demand anything extra from this nation. Just give us what is guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Ignorance can be bliss to many, in the Northeast, we can’t wait for the rest of the country to wisen up.
Burman is general secretary, Tripura Congress, and editor of TNT - The Northeast Today