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Strangers No More – Sanjoy Hazarika

Strangers No More – Sanjoy Hazarika

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Strangers No More – Sanjoy Hazarika

Shalini Rao

The defeat of Irom Sharmila in the state election of 2017– would I be wrong to think that perhaps her defeat was because people had disbelief in her ways and felt that maybe someone with the knowhow of politics and access to money would be a better answer to solving their issues? Gandhian principles do not work in this country anymore?

I think the fact is that people were taken aback by her sudden decision — although she has, in my view, a right to live her life as she wanted, as an individual — especially the sense that she was settling down with an “outsider “ of whom little was known at the time. There was a deep sense of anxiety about who would carry on the struggle because Irom Sharmila has become known as the Iron Lady, who represented the resistance to  AFSPA. Well, we have found the answers in that the Supreme Court has pushed the CBI to deepen the investigation into 1,528 “encounter” deaths in Manipur demanded by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association. It has also given ringing rulings on these issues. I have faith in the courts even though they are overburdened and the pace of justice appears too slow. Sometimes, it’s just the only resort when other institutions fail, they assert principles, uphold rights and demand accountability and transparency of the government and duty bearers.


The feeling in the youth of the North –East (NE) and also their parents who want to send them outside the state to study and work that NE isn’t moving ahead and lacks infrastructure (Shukla report 1996)- does it still remain true? Is that the reason for less participation of youth in politics who could understand the integral problems of the states and work towards solving it?

The economic migration continues and will do so, that’s a natural phenomenon. People will continue to move for studies, marriage, work and livelihoods. And they will continue to attract more relatives, friends and acquaintances. Today, people from the region are setting up entrepreneurships in Bangalore and Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata, Chennai, Goa and elsewhere as well as being part of a blue collar exodus.  But just visit the towns of the region — not the villages perhaps — the urban centres have visibly changed, they’re attracted internal migrants seeking work, there is the growth of a new middle class and new investment, both private and public. But the economies are not as robust as they could be because in my view priorities aren’t right. For instance, there are four lane highways being built in different hill areas where good well maintained two lane roads would do because the geological structure of the hills, density of rainfall and soft soil does not allow for heavier infrastructure and traffic. We see that esp with the highway between Dimapur and Kohima in Nagaland: they continue to be as bad as ever. There are major allegations of continuing, rampant corruption and poor service delivery on numerous fronts.  Politics beckons to younger people as a career, not a calling, as a means to power and then perhaps being involved in changes; but I don’t think that there’s much trust or respect for many political leaders


Manorama’s story somehow made me connect it to Nirbhaya’s, the way their bodies were mutilated. It made me sit up and think that whether gender sensitization in the armed forces is something that the Govt. of India has totally missed or is misinterpreting, as violence of this magnitude towards women has been unheard of in North East?

I think this attitude among the armed forces is changing — although much more needs to be done, not just among the armed forces but also in the police. Gender violence is not just related to conflict but also seen in its aftermath: issues of PTSS and PTSD go unaddressed in all states and communities which have faced conflict and harm at the hands of the State and also of the armed non-State groups. That is where counselling and care giving is crucial, especially among women and children who bear the brunt of the internecine clashes as well as those between the state and non-State actors. Today, conditions are not what they were 20-30-40 years ago when the insurgencies were powerful and at a peak. On the whole, a tenuous peace holds on the whole as far as the rebel groups are concerned and many are in talks, in detention or observing cessation of hostilities. So there’s less pressure on the armed forces and even the areas under AFSPA have been reduced. The challenges are coming from other areas such as ethnic mobilization, fears of discrimination and identity poltiics.


As Frank Ward said back then “I am fully conscious that a complete account of the regions visited is a task beyond my power”. Is the Govt. of India doing enough to understand the issues at hand in NE and can we equate it to the Central Govt.’s attitude or for lack of a better word, apathy towards our tribal brethren of Orissa, Jharkhand, MP and Chhattisgarh?

The Centre is trying and has tried through numerous efforts — developmental, education, health interventions etc but in some key areas, politics takes the upper hand and local concerns are subsumed. It’s a different thing that local politics now plays into the hands of or sees the need to go along with the politics of the powers in Delhi because that is how smaller regional parties have traditionally protected their turf.  In the process, some of them are on the verge of losing their identity because people, from time to time, demand a change, even a break from the past — they’re tired on the old wine in new bottles. They seek a different narrative, new faces and new ideas. The growth of the BJP in the region has to be seen in that light.


“Nagaland is protected by Article 371A of the Constitution which gives the state the authority to make its own laws and impose taxes. No law passed by the Parliament is binding on the state and the state legislature has to approve of it and pass it” – My question is will Nagaland be the next Kashmir?

I doubt that because Nagaland is not as central to national policy making and integrity as Kashmir is. It is important but not as critical as J & K. The NE doesn’t at the moment present an internal security threat.  In addition, Kashmir’s status has been a fundamental focus of the Jan Sangh and then the BJP’s priority for over 60 years and it has been long and consistently committed to the idea of dismantling the Art. 370 structure.


Insurgency in the North-Eastern states – would it be right to think of it as a ripple effect and showcasing of camaraderie between insurgent groups in the seven sisters that have been wronged by the State’s failure or are looking for easy money and power?

It’s eight states and insurgencies aren’t there in all of them. What started as a fight for separation even independence in the case of the Nagas and Mizos has now become a battle for greater autonomy in the Union of India. A bilateral issue has become an internal problem. That’s a huge narrative change and many haven’t even seen that so far. Constitutions can be changed, not territorial entities in terms of India’s borders.  The romance of insurgency has died, what remains are for the main, groups, small and large, battling for turf influence, funds (percentages of project funds). In the process, their credibility, image and resources have taken a huge beating because people are speaking out against extortion and intimidation. 

About the Interviewee:

Sanjoy Hazarika was born in Shillong, then capital of the undivided state of Assam, in 1954. He studied at Shillong, London and Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard University, and was a correspondent for the New York Times out of South Asia between 1981–1996. Formerly a member of the first National Security Advisory Board, he is now part of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. He has also set up a Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research. A Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, Sanjoy Hazarika is a columnist for several newspapers. He also makes documentaries, especially on the North East, and is completing a film on the Brahmaputra. Sanjoy Hazarika divides his time between the North East and New Delhi where he lives with his wife and daughter.