North-East India: A Clarification

After years of indignation and crying themselves hoarse against generalized apathy and blithe ignorance, North-East India and especially Assam has been propelled into the national limelight for reasons that has only fanned the damaging notions harbored in the minds of the rest of the Indian population for whom the eastern boundaries of our country used to end in Bengal; and for the more geographically gifted intellectuals in a triangular lump of land called “North-East”.

Yes, North-East India does have its problems: illegal immigration through porous borders and its consequences, flood ravaged lands every monsoon, indigenous tribes facing years of neglect till it sprouted groups to fight for their rights but lost perspective under influence of selfish political agendas and personal gains giving birth to militancy, the constant need to prove themselves and to fight for equal opportunities and acceptance by fellow Indians, a frighteningly indifferent government at the Center with delayed reactions to the region’s problems, slow growth of industrialization, relative lack of funds and infrastructure etc.
But in the collective imagination of a large subset of Indians the ‘State of North-East’ has been attributed with a lot of misleading beliefs, and these have been faced in form of curious questions or ignorant speculations by self, friends, family and acquaintances.
This is a miniscule attempt to clarify few of those ‘beliefs’ and lessen the prejudice against North-East India:
1. Not all of its inhabitants have the convention-defying slant of eyes. It’s derogatory to club everyone as ‘chinky’; the label itself reeks of regionalism.
2. Its not about degraded moral values but a more liberal mindset; and hemlines might be high but the girls aren’teasy’. Remember that.
3. Appetites don’t get whetted by the mere sight of pigeons, pigs, bulls or dogs and it’s just about ‘different’ gastronomical preferences. Respect that.
4. People don’t harbor an unabashed disinterest in Hindi film music; they just happen to be connoisseurs of ‘good music’ and not limiting themselves to just one genre. And yes, they are ardent followers of rock music.
5. Guns and ‘khukuridon’t lie under every pillow and everyone doesn’t have at least one ‘militant’ acquaintance. People share the same dread for them as the rest of the country.
6.  People aren’t (and never will be) immune to the horrors of militancy and riots; and don’t have infinitely pliable capacity for facing them. An act of violence in Manipur is worth the same concern as one occurring in Mumbai. Understand that.
7.  They aren’t the ‘poor cousin’ devoid of the intoxicating mix of night-life, fast cars, designer clothes, page 3 society and  iPads; and resigned to the medieval pleasures of guitar-strumming, reading a book and writing in cafes. They don’t necessarily miss the fast-paced life and have been known to hold rock concerts in garages and parks; go skinny dipping on New Year’s Eve; hold strawberry pie bake-offs, flower shows and barbecues; and picnic on river banks and green valleys. They delight in these ‘medieval’ pleasures.
8. Weed and alcohol aren’tkept in secret stashes in the rooms of every boy past the age of fourteen.
9. They don’t have a blasphemous preference for ‘English‘ over the national language; and barring North India, the rest of the country still struggles with their Hindi diction and continue to speak with an endearing mixing of genders in every sentence.

10. There isn’t a sad lack of panache, suavity and swagger in the people from North-East India. They are comparatively less used to the limelight (but quick to adapt) and relatively mild-mannered; and they are patient listeners not unquestioning followers.
11. North-East India isn’t a shallow pool of talent; it is a goldmine of emerging talents in all spheres that can bring glory to the country when given an opportunity. They just get attention only when they surpass the ‘trivial’ like winning five world championships and do something more popular like winning an Olympic medal!
12. It is not that far away, it’s not another country. Come visit us.
13. Sex-starved men don’t roam around everywhere. Women-wives, mothers, daughters, sisters-enjoy a higher social status compared to rest of the country; matriarchy is valued, opinions often heard and respected. The society is more accepting of ‘love’ and one doesn’t fret over trivialities like caste and religion of a prospective spouse. Dowry isn’t rampant. And the years of maintaining it so shouldn’t get negated by the heinous act of a bunch of inebriated beasts groping a teenager in public. One shouldn’tgeneralize all men from the region to be ‘closet rapists’.
14. Dagger-brandishing murderous tribes don’t go around inciting communal disharmony. The recent Assam riots are not colored by religious differences. It’s a far more secular and accepting society than the way it has been projected. The region has been witness to the peaceful co-habitation of various religions, tribes and sects. It’s onlywhen individual territories are threatened and rights are violated that people stand up to defend what rightfully belongs to them, irrespective of the tribe or religion they belong to; and there are anti-social elements who await such opportunities to fan the flames of intolerance and indignation to create mob violence, disharmony and panic. The Hindus of Assam don’t hate the Muslims of Assam, and the reverse is true too. It’s the dispute of indigenous Assamese (Indians comprising of both Hindu and Muslim populations) and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants (which again consists of both Hindu and Muslim populations); and that is the only cause of the recent riots.
15. On a lighter note, elephants aren’t the equivalent of auto rickshaws as a mode of transport. It’s not a mosquito infested jungle; there are cars, bicycles, rickshaws and two-wheelers that ply on ‘proper’ roads and create the nuisance of traffic jams. And yes, the roads have pot holes and gets water-logged during the monsoons, just like it does in Mumbai or Kolkata.
16. People don’t tend to cluster around the lower range of the IQ spectrum and one doesn’t need to be spoken to in simple sentences. And yes, they get your jokes. They might not be too vociferous but they listen, understand and form opinions just as well. Hear them out. Don’t patronize them.
17. Death doesn’t await people at every corner in the form of bombs, bullets, vicious headhunting tribes that collect tourist heads as trophies, murderous rapists and drug-addicts, infuriated mobs and accidental ingestion of bull testicles instead of the chicken biryani one had ordered. People can survive here.
18. The ‘North-East is not a state; it’s formed of seven beautiful and picturesque states, where the people generally have simple hearts and warm smiles.
19. You don’t need a passport to visit the North-Eastern states; the people here are Indians and only a chicken’s neck away!