This is a region where men do not feel the need to be macho or are bridling with ‘male pride’ and women are not overly coy, feminine or just trying to be sexy. Here, men work alongside women in farms and help with household work. Here, there is no strict division of labour, a men’s work versus women’s work kind of world. Here, if a man beats up his wife, his wife is just as capable of beating up the man. This is a place where men and women are not strictly ‘men and women’, but two sides of being human.
Well its true, the North East – from Darjeeling Hills in the north to Arunachal in the extreme east – is a place which is definitely not like the rest of India. For a deeply patriarchal society that defines the rest of India, the NE can feel like a foreign land. But if one stays in any place in this vast region and experience daily life here, he/she will truly understand just how horribly wrong things are on the other side of the country and probably other parts of the world.
Many feminists may still argue that a society can’t be so perfect. But for me, this is as perfect as it can get. For this is where I feel like a human; this is where I am able to breathe freely.
If on one side, the rest of India seems to have become almost homogenous, the NE on the other side is a kaleidoscope of socio-cultural identities, traditions and stunning biodiversity. I still do not understand the political intricacies of this region well and you can call me selfish, but I want this region to remain as secluded as it is right now from the rest of the country. As a country, we are governed by the same laws and policies, strategy and vision across all states, which at some level do not take into cognizance or acknowledge the huge diversity that once existed and still exists in pockets. For example: the rich anthropological sites of Bastar and Araku Valley will cease to exist in a few years with the thrust on mainstream ways of governance and exposure to mass media. In Ladakh, the ‘Hindu’ law of monogamous marriages did away with the tradition of polyandry which helped to keep the population in check as is required in a limited-resources region.
Take another example of Gorkhaland. It’s a region which is socio-culturally much closer to Sikkim yet it’s a part of West Bengal. In all aspects, Gorkhaland is as different from the rest of WB as potatoes are to fish. And all the successive governments have not done much to recognise the different identity and culture. My project colleague narrated how the current government sent dhotis and sarees during the HudHud disaster which seemed like a complete disregard and affront to the community’s way of life. During my stay in Gorkhaland also, I saw signages and cultural functions being staged in Bengali. I am told that when Mamta didi comes, she gives speeches in Bangla in her effort to create a larger Bengali identity.
I do not like the idea of a separate state as one can see the devastation caused in Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand in the name of development after they became separate states. Perhaps an autonomous hill council like the one that exists or that of Ladakh might work. Or a union territory. Or perhaps we can let these regions and states develop like Bhutan and help preserve their unique identities. I don’t know what the perfect solution is which can work politically, socio-culturally and environmentally too.
As my project colleague mentioned, urbanization, environmental destruction and dilution of culture will probably happen as part of the ongoing process. The question now is who does it and who gains from it – a government who is keen on alienating them or their own people.
This prediction might just be right, but it’s a future which I refuse to acknowledge.
Not for the North East atleast.