For a state so strategically situated and so economically vital, Assam has rarely ever found itself sharing any common history with the rest of India, let alone the acknowledgement that it has deserved. Ignorance of its culture, its people (not to mention the ignorance of the entire North-East region), its continued isolation from the politics and society of the rest of India rarely finds any mention in intellectual circles of India, probably because it isn’t chic enough.
The recent floods in Assam and the rest of India’s apparent apathy at it only goes to display the loose rope that binds the region with the rest of India. In contrast to Kashmir, over which every Indian claims a right, if any state in the North-East were to secede from India tomorrow, I think the initial reaction of the rest of Indians would be, “didn’t know that state was a part of India.”
North-East Indians have no illusion about it, they know the position they are in. Even when a historian like Ramachandra Guha laments over the lack of research material on the history of the states of North-East India, we know how ignored the region has been over the years.
It is funny that both Assam and Kashmir have seen their states embroiled in independence movements and mostly for similar reasons – exploitation of its resources by the Centre, cultural and social isolation of its people, lack of a commonly shared history with the rest of India, and of course, the Indian forces’ occupation of the states and the subsequent human rights violations against the people, but the former cause has rarely found any sympathies or even coverage by both the national and international media.
The recent events in Kashmir have led me to question – would this be okay with me if the Centre had done such a thing with Assam, or for that matter any state in the North-East, that is, change its basic structure without asking its people, it would be a resounding no. Kashmir has enjoyed the greatest self-determination policy over the years and it would make sense to someone only when one is put in the position of a Kashmiri or an Assamese or a Naga or a Manipuri, trying to “blend in” with the rest of the country. Unity is a two-way thing – and certainly not possible when only the oppressed are supposed to be “blending in” and “cooperating with the rest of the country”. Both Kashmir and the North-East must strongly reclaim its right to self-assertion.
Swagat Baruah is writer/editor for Catharsis Magazine.