Views | This exodus is a national disgrace

Views | This exodus is a national disgrace

For the past two weeks, we have been witnessing perhaps the largest displacement and mass exodus of Indian citizens in the history of independent India. Thousands of Indians from the north-eastern part of our country have been fleeing the big cities where they came to work and live. Last night, four of them even died when they fell out of an overcrowded, unreserved compartment of a train.

The home secretary says the threatening phone messages that triggered the panic were engineered from Pakistan. It may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that some anonymous cellphone messages and rumours could make so many Indians feel insecure enough to leave their jobs and head back to distant homes and an uncertain economic future.

View slideshow | The north-east of India

Each of the seven sisters, as these seven north-eastern states are popularly known, is a gem in its own right with a distinct identity and a rich culture

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That is what we should be ashamed of as a nation. That after six-and-a-half decades of independence, we have millions of citizens from seven Indian states who feel they are in physical danger if they venture too far from home.

Of course, the crowning irony is that our Prime Minister’s permanent address is officially listed as House No. 3989, Nandan Nagar, Ward No. 51, Sarumataria, Dispur, Guwahati, District Kamrup, Assam – 781006, a house he rented from the family of the late Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia. But let that be. It only adds insult to injury for the hapless, frightened people trapped in this national disgrace.

The truth is: for decades, we, of so-called mainland India, have looked at north-easterners as exotic creatures, and have made sure, through thought, attitude and action, that they remain alienated from the mainstream. Will even 10% of our graduate population be able to name all the seven states that make up the north-east? I doubt it very much. Otherwise, we would not paint all of them in one broad brush stroke; we are utterly clueless that a Mizo is as different from a Manipuri as a Maharashtrian is, say, from a Malayali. To us, they are all chinkies.

In our urban centres, especially in north India, young women from the north-east, because they are westernised in dress, are constant targets of sexual harassment fueled also by the basest cowardice—the knowledge that these girls are at least a thousand miles away from home. I have seen north Indian businessmen automatically classify anyone from north-east India as fit for only blue-collar work, even before enquiring what the person’s educational qualifications are. Why shouldn’t these people be frustrated and scared? Why shouldn’t they, in fact, hate us?

The state of affairs in these regions is hardly ever reported in the national media (unless large numbers of people die and embarrass us), because “no one is f***** interested". We are just happy to get the oil, the tea and the other natural resources the region abounds in. We are happiest watching their folk dances on Republic Day floats. That’s what they are, for us—noble savages who make for smirking conversation about the diversity of our nation. And none of us would ever go there and see for ourselves, though all of us know someone who’s told us that the Tawang valley is more beautiful than Switzerland.

As thousands of people packed the railway stations in western and southern India, did any leader from any political party visit them and convince them that they should not believe rumours? Did any leader put his foot down and say that no, we will not let you go, and if anyone tries any violence against you, we will make sure that person repents for the rest of his life? Did anyone of our political worthies even think that if we let the exodus happen, it strikes at the very roots of the idea of India (empty official statements and debates in Parliament don’t count)? Instead, one can almost sense the glee in some political quarters that a new vote bank could be created out of this disaster.

This is what India has come to, this is the way we have demeaned ourselves as a nation. In today’s Mint, columnist W.P.S. Sidhu mentions a United Nations poll of top international affairs experts. India was their first choice to be a permanent member of the Security Council. I would recommend some field research for these international experts. For a start, they can be crammed into an unreserved compartment in a train bound from any part of the country for Guwahati.