Strangers No More
Shortlisted | Book Awards 2019 | English Non-fiction
Strangers No More
Over twenty years ago, Sanjoy Hazarika’s first book on the Northeast, Strangers of the Mist, was published to immediate acclaim. Hailed as an exciting, path-breaking narrative on the region, it has been cited extensively in studies of Northeast India, used as a resource for scholars and journalists and adopted as course material in colleges.
Two decades later, in his new book, armed with more stories, interviews and research, and after extensive travels through the region, Hazarika explains how and where things stand in the Northeast today. He examines old and new struggles, contemporary trends and the sweeping changes that have taken place and asks whether the region and its people are still ‘different’ to the rest of India, to each other and whether they are destined to remain so. While it may not be possible to overcome lingering hatred, divisions and differences by brute force, economic might or efforts at cultural or political assimilation, there are other ways forward. These include the process of engagement—of accepting, if not embracing, the ‘Idea of India’ and working on forging connections between disparate cultures to overcome the mutual suspicions that have existed for decades. Hazarika tells little-known stories, drawn from personal experience and knowledge, of the way in which insurgents operate, of the reality of border towns in the region, the pain of victims, and the courage of fighters on either side of the ideological and physical conflict, in the jungles and in lands awash with rain and swamped by mist. He travels across borders and mountains, listening to tales of the people of the region and those who live in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. He challenges the stereotype of the ‘Northeasterner’, critiques the categorization of the ‘Bangladeshi’, deals with issues of ‘race and discrimination’, and suggests best practices that could be used to deal with intractable issues and combatants. Critically, he tries to portray the way in which new generations are grappling with old and current issues with an eye to the future. Extensively researched and brilliantly narrated, Strangers No More is arguably the most comprehensive book yet available about India’s Northeast.
Sanjoy Hazarika is Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Earlier he was Director of the Centre for Northeast Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia.
He is an award-winning journalist, formerly with the New York Times. His books include Bhopal: The Lessons of a Tragedy; Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from India’s Northeast; Rites of Passage: Border Crossings, Imagined Homelands, India’s East and Bangladesh; and Writing on the Wall, a collection of essays. As a columnist and specialist commentator on the Northeast and its neighbouring regions, Hazarika has written and published extensively on draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Eastern Himalaya, and freedom fighters from the Northeast. He is founder and managing trustee of C-nes (www.c-nes.org) which has pioneered the work of boat clinics on the Brahmaputra River; these provide nearly half a million people every year with regular healthcare. Hazarika has made over a dozen documentary films on a number of subjects including the Brahmaputra, the endangered Gangetic river dolphin, and the danger that women face in conflict situations. The films look at how communities and individuals, especially women, cope with conditions of acute conflict as in Rambuia, his latest documentary on Mizoram. These have been screened across India and at national and international film festivals and also in Dhaka, London, New York, Washington, Berlin, Göttingen and Vienna.