Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Reality of an Outsider in the North-East

Human behaviour can be most erratic, fascinating and cruel. I was born in Dibrugarh, a sleepy town (there was the temptation to prefix town with little, but at a population that is hovering around the 3,00,000 figure that may not be the correctest adjective to use) in India's north-east. Now i am a Marwari - it is a trading community that takes its name from the place of its origin, Marwar in Rajasthan, and even as I entered my early teen years, I soon realized that Dibrugarh and for that matter the entire north-eastern region was not the safest place for a Marwari to be living in. In Assam, the dominant Assamese speaking people loathed the non-Assamese communities, with special disdain for Marwaris, Bengalis and Biharis. The same was true, with minor variations, across the north-east. Now the rest of India may think so, but the north-east is no homogeneous belt, and each one of the seven states has its own separate languages, cultures, caste-systems and degrees of disdain for the non-natives. Two states which were the worst for the outsiders (sic) were Nagaland and Meghalaya.

I migrated from Assam to Delhi in the early summer of 1993, a good fourteen years back, and the situation may since then altered, but only slightly and not necessarily for the better. That's why these stories are interesting.

Debojit Saha is one of those outsiders - a Bengali living in Assam. But when he captured popular attention in Zee TV's hugely popular reality show Sa Re Ga Ma in 2005, these same people forgot all their hatred and dislike for Bengalis and voted enmass for Debojit to ensure him a grand victory. This temporary amnesia was not restricted to the common people - even student leaders of the All Assam Student's Union (AASU) who are typically at the fore-front of fanning such anti-outsider hysteria went out of their way to prove that 'this Bengali' was one of their own. In fact, when the victorious Debojit reached Guwhati, the press conference was conference was organised at the AASU office!!

While the press hailed it as a great symbol of Assamese-Bengali unity, nothing really changed at the ground level. The rest of the Bengalis were still outsiders; Marwaris were still disdained and the Biharis would soon be the newest target of this fanatic ire.

Fast forward to circa 2007 - this time it's yet another Bengali boy, this time from Meghalaya who has united the Khasis, Garos and the outsiders - but i guess only for the purpose of voting, SMSing and singing praise of Amit Paul, the hero of Indian Idol, another TV reality show. Communities are being formed in Shillong to ensure victory for Amit in the final round. This time the politicians have joined in in the bandwagon, and with full gusto. On August 29th, Meghalaya Chief Minister DD Lapang along with three cabinet ministers, the chief secretary, additional chief secreatary and two additional DGPS of the state met to chalk out a strategy to ensure the local outsider goes on to become the Indian Idol.

What for Mr. Lapang? You would be better off ensuring the safety and security of every Indian living in your state rather than garnering popular support spending time on such rubbish. Yes, if the citizens of India are safe in your state irrespective of their caste or creed and the basic tasks of the government have been taken care of and you still have time left, please vote for Amit for all i care. Right now, Meghalaya and India would be better served if you shift your attention from the reality shows to the reality of life in Meghalaya.


Beena said...

ok, this is completely out of the blue, BUT:

are you by any chance the same Amit Bajaj who had pen friends from TARGET the mag?

if no, sorry! guess I got the wrong amit bajaj!

Amit Bajaj said...

yes...thats me Beena!! how have you been? do leave your e-mail id behind the time you are here..