“The people of the hills have had for me a special pull. I feel utterly and completely at home with
my(tribal) hosts. I am, at heart, very much a tribal myself. I share much of the bewilderment and
loss of identity of the tribal of today. ”
The Enchanted Frontiers, Nari K Rustomji
Now falling into the rare books’ category, The Enchanted Frontiers, reflected the true picture of the region which we call the North-East. At VoW, the centenary of Rustomji’s birth was celebrated with this thought-provoking session by Sanjoy Hazarika, Avalok Langer and Parbina Rashid with Bijoya Sawian. Sitting in sheer isolation, the Seven Sisters are often forgotten as part of the larger Nation. These writers, in their own ways, have tried to reproduce the stories of this region for including it into larger narrative of India.
Sanjoy Hazarika, the award-winning writer, has come up with the powerful sequel to his first book Strangers of the Mist. About 20 years after his first narrative on the lesser told stories of the North-east, his latest book Strangers No More, makes the same attempt to enlighten the world about the deplorable condition of the people of that region. In his “deeply personal book”, he writes about the maelstrom of prejudice and cruelty faced them. Beginning with a request to not to call the Seven Sisters “North-Eastern”, which makes it feel like a disconnected part of India. His book tells about the conflict and the challenges of over resolving them. He says the “Idea of India” is incomplete without assimilating them. But with the toxic rumors of the insurgencies and the conflict the area is going through, most Indians look upon them as “foreigners”. The recent NRC bill is trying to integrate the forgotten into the national demographics, though it is being criticized by many.
The dark side of such isolation has led them to remain in an underdeveloped society and largely ignored by the centre. This has led them to migrate to different states of India, where they are harassed and mistreated. But amusingly, they never seem to oppose the inhumanity. It shows how much worse the situation is back in their region.
Avalok Langer talks about the same issue. As a young conflict journalist, he has travelled across the states of Meghalaya, Manipur and Assam to understand the reason for the long going insurgencies. In his book, ‘In Pursuit of Conflict’, he narrates his odd but adventurous endeavors he had in order to get a better picture of the whole situation. As a North Indian, he had to travel and live among the people to understand them. His main objective was to look into the underground workings of the militants. Though at high risk, he had to interview members of drug cartels, weapons dealers and, sometimes, even militants. At the beginning, he knew why the government is fighting them. But by the end of his pursuit he now knows why they are fighting against the government. Often termed as the “Punishment Posting” for bureaucrats, the area is devoid of what the rest of India enjoys. The people just need communication, connect and respect from the centre. There are 260 ethnic groups and they are plagued with the problems which need a separate approach from the centre. Without a complete focus on their issues, the insurgency will continue without any solution.
Parbina Rashid has chosen a different approach to address the issue of North Easterns. She translated the book Ballad of Kaziranga, concentrating only on the region of the forest reserve. The book is not set in Kaziranga, but it is a central theme of the whole story. She talks about the need of conserving the fauna and flora of the region to preserve the natural beauty.
The Seven Sister states of India have had a long series of conflicts. But they can be resolved only if all the citizens of the country work together for their welfare. As Bhupen Hazarika once said, “It is not a dangerous place, it is not a jungle. What’s more dangerous is the human jungle out there. ”
— Abhay Majhi, St. Stephen’s college