Manipur student Richard Loitam's death, the boat tragedy in Assam where 113 have so far died and the death toll is still mounting, and a young woman from Manipur assaulted on Monday in Gurgaon. These are the recent shocking stories involving people from the North East.
However, the debate still rages on as to how the North East can be brought into the mainstream. The issue has been taken up by IBN18 Network Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghosh on her show Face the Nation.
Here's the transcript of the discussion with a distinguished panel:
Sagarika Ghose: Hi there. We're continuing our 'Face The Nation' campaign to bring the voice of the North East to national audiences. Manipur student Richard Loitam's death, the boat tragedy in Assam where 113 have so far died and the death toll is still mounting. And a young woman from Manipur assaulted on Monday in Gurgaon. These are the recent shocking stories involving people from the North East. We're asking if the integration of the North East is still a distant dream.
How can the North East be brought into the development as well as the cultural mainstream of India. This is just a first of the series of the programs we want to do. That's our question, joining us Sanjoy Hazarika, Director at Centre for North East Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia. Joining us Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, Tituraj Kashyap, general secretary of the North East India Image Managers, which has just come up with a survey on how the North East is perceived in different Metros of India.
Let's kick it off with Sanjoy Hazarika. Sanjoy Hazarika we are talking about the development as well as the cultural integration of the North East. Now the forensic report on Richard Loitam's death has come out and there it has been established that there was no drug abuse nor was there any evidence of a fatal injury. So at the moment it cannot be seen as a hate crime. Is it therefore important that people from the North East in the quest to integrated not jump to conclusions about hate crime and racism? There is a change, a small chance that the death of Richard Loitam could be the result of a college broil. Now is that also a possibility that has to be taken into consideration and we don't stretch the narrative of alienation and racism.
Sanjoy Hazarika Well, you are talking about one individual incident. And this tragedy in Bangalore, what ever the reason, what ever the forensic report or the post-mortem report what ever it is, you cannot ignore the fact that for decades people from that region have felt the sting of discrimination in this country, specially in the north. I mean, I faced it, I'm sure Binalakshmi Nepram has faced it, Sangma, the minister has talked about it. So I think what you are talking out is not integration but respect for each other. And that is really critical because if you don't have respect you can't integrate. And if you are going to treat people especially with special laws. And whether the Arms Force Special Power Act or somebody wants special laws to treat crime against the people of North East that is not going to answer the problem, it is going to make it worse.
Sagarika Ghose: No, that is a point. And that is of course the point. But Bina you have been so passionate about the Richard Loitam's death. You have been passionate about the Dana Sangma's death; you have been campaigning for justice. We have been by your side campaigning. As I say and I speak here as a sympathiser of the North East cause. Is it important not to see racism, not to see violence where perhaps there isn't? Because there are also many example of many people who are from the North Easr, who have come and become great success story. Baichung Bhutia, MC Mary Kom are only two examples. A very popular anchor in a rival news channel is also from the North East. So we also need to be nuanced in the way we view crime against people from the North East because if we see racism and hate crime where there is none that could also be counter productive.
Binalakshmi Nepram: Yes, Sagarika right now I'm thinking when you asked me this question. When I was in Delhi University, we campaigned to remove the word 'chinki' from Delhi University because at that time we were all the time on the streets of Delhi University, Kamla Nagar and other places. There kinds of continuous abuse in language have been happening, as Sanjoy said for like decades. We are not trying to make this as a racial argument all we are saying, if Richard Loitam case is reported, Sagarika, let me tell you there are three times unreported cases of violence against both women and men from the North East. So all we are saying is wake up. There is a problem, if we have a pain in our heart, if we are having a pain in our body all we are saying is that there is a pain so please address it. This is not about racism; this is about letting India wake up to the fact of these two deaths with in a span of one week. It shocked us, it shocked the people of the North East. And that's all we are appealing. Justice, wake up so that these kinds of killings do not happen again. So there is a problem and it needs to be addressed.
Sagarika Ghose: That's a very good point. What ever the exact circumstances of the death, the fact is that the perception was that it was a hate crime. The perception among the hundreds of North East students who are studying in different cities is that this was a hate crime born out of racism and that is important. It is the perception that has to be addressed. Let me bring in Tituraj Kashyap, you have just come up with a study which is a perception study on North East India and it exposes the glaring gaps of knowledge that exist in other cities about North East. You say 87 per cent of working professionals can't even name all the states of North East India. So is there a huge communication gap that exists between people who are coming from the North East and the different cities.
Tituraj Kashyap: Absolutely! That is the point. When we started this survey the idea was to establish a perception that there is a communication laps between what we call as main land India and the North East India. But we didn't have any scientific document that will substantiate that communication laps is there. What we have done here, in this image audit, it is an interim finding that we have came up with. And this establishes that people don't understand, people don't know about the culture, the geography of the North East.
Sagarika Ghose: But isn't it up to you to mingle with people and tell them about what your culture is and what your society is.
Tituraj Kashyap: We do mingle Sagarika because 56 per cent of people have told me, in the survey that what ever they know about the North East, they knew by communicating or interacting with the people from North East. Yes, I agree that we have to do more. We have to conduct many programmes too.
Sagarika Ghose: So you should not remain trapped in the victimhood. That's what I'm pursuing Sanjoy Hazarika. Let me ask you the development question. Now we have talked about this question repeatedly when the Sikkim earthquake happened last time we spoke about the development. When the boat tragedy happened, we spoke how the Centre is neglecting the North East. But can we always put down the development of the North East to the Centre. Because if you look at the governments that exist in the North East. In Assam Tarun Gogoi is in his third concentrative term. In Manipur O Ibobi Singh is in his third concentrative term. In Tripura Manik Sarkar has been the Chief Minster since 1998. In Arunachal the Congress is in power since 1999 except for a small period. What I'm trying to get at is, if these people are for so long, have the chief ministers of the North East also become anti-development.
Sanjoy Hazarika I don't think they are anti-development, but I think you work with the tools that you have. And quite frankly governance, delivery of services, implementations of promises in the North East is as bad as any were else, perhaps worse. So some of those points are valid.
Sagarika Ghose: But the other states are getting their acts together.
Sanjoy Hazarika The ferry disaster on the Brahmaputra tells you one simple think, there are entities there that recognise no human control. And I will tell you why this geographical reality is important. Because for four months of the year the North East is virtually cut off from the other parts of the country. You have not a 12-month financial year; you have an eight-month year when you have to actually work. You go to Manipur, Imphal is cut off during the monsoon. If you go to upper Assam there is something over there. If you go Meghalaya, one side of Meghalaya you cannot connect to the other because there is not even a road, you have to go through Assam. So there are many, many complex problems. And I think it is very important that in the North East, we must push and drive for commitment, for change. And the kind of implementation of issues of so there is no point in just blaming Delhi all the time. We have done it for 60 years. We have to push change at the local and at the regional level. Delhi is not interested in change. We have to be interested in change, to force that change. And this point about racial discrimination, I want to make a point, we are just starting a research on discrimination against women in four Metros. And I think this is the first time something is being done. I am amazed why such study has not been done earlier. That shows the gap.
Sagarika Ghose: Bina, let me get you in here. We are pursuing central neglect and the responsibility and lack of responsibility of state governments with in the North East. Now, Sanjoy has often pointed out that there has been that vision of North East 2020. There has been the Jain Committee report. There have been a number of Planning Commission documents. So on paper it looks that the Centre is trying to take initiative, but how far are the North East governments themselves taking any initiatives at governance.
Binalakshmi Nepram: Absolutely, Sagarika, let me answer this. In fact you have asked the most important question of this evening. While all this talk about pointing fingers at the Centre is there and definitely Centre has a hug responsibility, they are like mother and father of your region. But at the moment what's happening is that we do not have a political leader. People of North East India are really craving for a leader, in the truer sense of the term. A statesman who can really take the region out of the morose it's in. We don't have that. So there is a tragedy of a lack of leadership, a lack of political will. That is number one, but what is also being done is with due respect to the Centre, it is Congress government in Manipur, Congress here is Delhi, Congress in Assam. Now what we know as young Indians from that region is that if you pay Rs 100 to the North East, we heard that Rs 80 is send back to Delhi. Is this the kind of development you are talking about? Centre cannot do that to us. If you say we are giving this amount… so as a result as much as our chief ministers want to do something. As I said we blame our chief ministers, our MPs who have not raised anything properly and fought for us. But at the same time there is a problem in our Indian political system. For people of 40 million we have just about 30 MPs. The kind of political representation of North East is very wrong, Indian Constitution needs to change.
Sagarika Ghose: So there is a crisis of leadership.
Sanjoy Hazarika You have the Prime Minister from Assam and he still cannot do anything. So there is no point in saying that these people cannot do anything. The change has to come from there (Centre). Leadership has to change from there (Centre). Development, justice, these issue have to be resolved there. And I think a very important thing is that the tragedy of Richard, the tragedy of Dana shows a tremendous thing. These people came here to study to work, to find place for themselves and to establish themselves. And the tragedy is what happened to them. They seized an opportunity which became a tragedy. Instead of a tragedy becoming an opportunity.
Sagarika Ghose: So the tragedy of Richard and Dana is what is creating this new awareness. But I again want to return to the point of what Sanjoy Hazarika is saying about the people of the North East not be trapped in the victimhood syndrome. You know, of blaming Delhi, or feeling neglected often. Why not take your fate in your own hands. Pull you self up by your bootstraps and plunge in to the metros.
Tituraj Kashyap: Everyone has to pitch in. It is not only North East people pitching in, they also have to pitch in…
Sagarika Ghose: But there are so many success stories, Baichung Bhutia, Mary Kom.
Tituraj Kashyap: There are. I'm not denying that there are not. But what I'm saying is that we have a communication gap and that is a social problem. You cannot get a law and get it rectified. But what we need to do, we need to go into the sociology of the problem. 75 per cent of the respondents have said that they don't know anyone from the UPA government. Who is a minister and who is from the North East. So 75 per cent of the people don't know that the Prime Minister is the MP from North East.
Sagarika Ghose: So there is this complete knowledge gap when it comes to the North East. But also the hopeful finding is that 93 per cent of the respondents wish to know more. But I am saying Sanjoy it's positive because the survey is saying that 93 per cent wish to know more. So people of the North East can make a difference.
Bina, I want to put to you the question that we were eluding earlier. Now the tragic deaths of Richard and Dana but on the other hand should people from the North East, students from the North East be in that ghetto among themselves. Feeling alienated, feeling paranoid or should they get out there and actually mingle with everybody. You know, for every Richard, for every Dana you do have Tituraj, who is a successful executive in a firm in Delhi. And there are so many people from the North East who are successfully working and part of a society here. So is there a need to shed that ghetto mentality.
Binalakshmi Nepram: Absolutely, but let me tell you a personal experience Sagarika. If you ask any family in the North East what is the highest form of job you can do in this country, ask a Naga, ask a Mizo, ask anybody and the answer is the Indian civil service. A lot of our parents send us to New Delhi. Send us to many metropolitan cities of India so that we can sit for such exams, be a part of this great country. I was a part of that dream when I came to Delhi. I came to Delhi and it was my experience in Delhi when people started calling me and look at me differently. Then I started realising what is happening. My parents raised me up as a human being; they never told me we are different from India. But when I came to the national capital people whom I met made me feel different. So the tragedy is not about victimhood, Sagarika, it is about what we spoke in the first part of the show. What is the deficit in terms of what has made this gap. And I have been repeatedly calling upon, it is not about the North East boys and girls coming out of the ghetto. But give them a platform, a foundation of knowing who we are, through your text books, through your courses.
Sagarika Ghose: Tituraj has also got thoughts on this. Do you believe that the NCR text books, the way students are taught, the North East must be integrated there? Because unless that has been done there will still be that knowledge deficit.
Tituraj Kashyap: Absolutely, that is the point, if you don't make radical changes, if not radical at least. Yes, there is a freedom fighter Kanak Lata, she was 14-year-old when she was shot dead while she was protesting against, when she was part of the Indian freedom movement. No one knows about her.
Sagarika Ghose: How many of us, in the national capital knows about Kanak Lata, the 14-year-old freedom fighter from the North East. I'm going to give the last word to Sanjoy Hazarika. Sanjoy Hazarika you have campaigned long and hard on preciously this issue for so many years. If you like to see one change in the mentality of the part of Delhi or different metros in India towards the people from the North East. What would you like to see, the security mind set, change the notion that these are culturally alien people. Get to know the people from the North East. What kind of change would you like to see?
Sanjoy Hazarika All of them. But I think one thing we should ask ourselves in the North East is how do we treat each other. I think that is very important. If we blame somebody else outside the North East, we also have to look inside and see how we treat each other there.
Sagarika Ghose: That's a very good point stop the blame game.
Sanjoy Hazarika Stop the blame game but you talked about the victimhood. I think of resilience. I look at Binalakshmi Nepram and think of resilience. I see other young people I see resilience. That you fight for your problem, you fight for change and you don't take no for an answer. You seek to change the no to a yes and convert a tragedy to an opportunity. And I think these opportunities will keep coming.
Sagarika Ghose: And as you rightly say the predicament of women from the North East is particularly heinous in the metros.
Binalakshmi Nepram: Sagarika, it is also a sense of injustice because of imposition of acts like ASFPA, where people feel unequal, to implement the right to life article in the Indian Constitution. What is happening to Irom Sharmila. It is sense of injustice through these things which has culminated even in Richard's case so they have to be unwrapped. We are hear to find solutions.
Sagarika Ghose: But we must hear the voice of the North East more and more. That's what we are committed to on Face The Nation. We will keep bringing you stories, reports, voices from the North East be it the voice of Bina, the voice of Sanjoy, the voice of Tituraj. We will keep bringing their voices because we are part of the campaign to bring justice and end the racism towards from the people of the North East. Thank you! Are there ways now that we can main stream North East into the cultural and development of India?