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“ Would you mind exchanging  your room with me, please”. said my classmate while I was in the process of shifting from the Paying Guest accommodation to the twin sharing room allocated to me in the campus where I was doing my Masters. The reason cited was that the roommate that my friend was paired up with was a girl from the Northeastern part of India. “ I am not very comfortable with the idea of sharing a room with a North-eastern, they are so different”.  I said yes to the room exchange as one unknown person is as good as another unknown person. I have never regretted this decision 11 years down the line.

The above incident is not an isolated one. The Northeastern part of India has been discriminated against for a very long time. The Region is simply not considered a part of the country.  One does not see many Northeastern Indians in the rest of the Country. Sure you see students from the Region in the big cities like New Delhi and Bangalore but they are hard to spot in any other part   As a nation, we are not used to “openness”  in thinking , actions or relationships . We are a conservative society where  “modesty” is a virtue that is put on a pedestal. Anything that does not conform to the norm is regarded as  culturally inappropriate.  

The  Northeastern culture represents everything that the rest of India is not. It is  a more equal society in terms of gender equality,  in letting people follow their heart and in not judging people by the dress they wear.    However, it’s insurgency, drug addiction , poor economic  conditions and high unemployment rates that come to mind when we  think of the Region. Isn’t every state, every district in India dealing with its own demons and struggling to overcome them?   Why then do we single out the Northeastern Region alone highlighting their problems in a way that does not allow any scope for  the strengths to come out.

The Northeastern Region is the most neglected  part of the country. The neglect is evident everywhere, including in the text books prescribed by the   Indian Certificate of Secondary Education( ICSE), which mention:  Kaziranga in Assam has the one horned rhinoceros and Cherapunji gets the maximum rainfall in the country.  The entire history of the Region dismissed in two sentences. One tends to forget that it is a Region comprised of eight states ( Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunanchal Pradesh.).  There is much more to the Region than Kaziranga and Cherapunji. Each state has its own uniqueness, its own indigenous culture which differentiates it from the rest of the seven states.  The entire Region does not start with and end with Manipur. If there are terrorist attacks in  one part of Assam , it does not affect the people in Shillong which is 600 kms away and in a different state of the Region.  Last Saturday my “ lets  taste the various Northeastern cuisine” in the two day  Northeastern Fest turned out to be a turning point. The food of course was sheer delight.   Apart from this it what was worth nothing was  the varied ways in which the  culture of each of the eight states was reflected in the dance, music, unique handicrafts etc. On the face of it everything looked similar. Butall you had to do was be a bit observant  to understand the subtle differences in the food that you ate, the folk music that you listened to and the Manipuri shawl that you bought and the they  became apparent. The fest also had a Youth icon interaction. I primarily attended because the program mentioned Aadil Hussian, a popular theatre and film actor, whose work I have always admired. The talk  featured not just Aadil Hussein but the  Olympics winner in boxing M.C. Mary Kom and  Kirit Pradyot Deb Barman amongst others.  The talk clearly brought out the anguish that the Northeastern population feels  by the “step” treatment that is meted out by the rest of the country and the resultant marginalization of the entire Region.

One of the things that the talk brought out very clearly and with much pain was the discrimination that the people from the Northeast face because they do not  “look” Indian. The population from this part of the country shares its features with people from  Southeast Asia and Nepal. It is easy to mistake a Naga or an Arunachali for a Nepali, Chinese or a Philippino. To make a mistake is fine but to deliberately call them a Nepali or a Chinese is being discriminatory. This is not only  insulting the people from the Northeast but also the countries with which comparisons are made. A person from the Northeast is as much an Indian as a person from the Northern or Western part of India.  Why then  do we need a North Indian actor playing Mary Kom in an upcoming film instead of someone from within the Region?

Some of my best memories are due to my friends from the Northeast. The way my senior Daniel made me feel comfortable during the entrance exam at TISS, the hostel night with my roommate Meena, the intense discussion on HIV with  my colleague and dear friend Gautam, my conversation about books with Sophie and my daily dose of laughter at work by another lovely friend Dindi.

Let’s make an effort to understand the Region that is till now the most misunderstood. It is an unexplored paradise waiting to be discovered by the rest of the nation. On a slightly different note, three of the eight Northeastern States rank in the top in so far as the sex ratio is concerned. Didn’t I tell you that this Region believes in gender equality and a more inclusive society?  


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