Notes from North-East: Indigenous Cultures, Demographic Invasion
Another hurried post….essentially a summary of conversations over the last three days (in no particular order). Sorry for the lack of formatting etc.
Aggressive Christian evangelism is a “live” issue across north-east. There have been incidents involving conversions either via direct inducement/ allurement or indirect/ soft persuasion aided by unspoken promises of rewards. I heard of at least two cases of deception and/or fraudulent tactics being used to influence impressionable minds.
Infiltration from across the border continues unabated. I sensed a certain degree of fatalism whenever conversation veered on this topic. This is seriously worrying. The scale of people crossing over the border illegally is now estimated to be in thousands – per day. Almost everyone I spoke to mentioned that it will be next to impossible to identify and deport the vast majority of people who have crossed over. Most of them are well entrenched in the “system” with their names on electoral rolls and/or ration cards.
In Guwahati, I was told most low-level unskilled jobs are being taken up by Bangladeshis. They are also “moving up” to other professions – particularly carpentry and construction. The Assamese feel if things continue at this pace, they will become a minority in their own land. As expected, everyone blames the politicians.
Land encroachment by these illegal migrants is particularly rampant in the border districts and hard-to-reach villages. I was told that even Satra land is not spared; I am awaiting a report that details how up to 7000 bighas of Satra land has apparently been encroached upon in the last few years – almost 80% by illegal migrants. The new generation of migrants crossing over is more brazen and aggressive than before. It is widely believed that everyone is on the “take” – especially in the border regions. Sadly I did not have enough time to visit any of the border areas.
The character of communities where the migrants are settling down is changing slowly but surely…The sounds of “Nam Prasanga” are being replaced by the Azaan(Adhan) and local customs and festivities are being overshadowed by religious processions/ congregations that sometimes take the character of display of strength.
But all may not be lost…There are certain organisations doing tremendous work – especially in far flung rural communities and remote villages. I met the state-wide coordinator of one such organisation: “Kalyan Ashram”. The scope of their work is extensive and probably deserves a separate blog post in itself. Their main focus is to work with the “Janjatis” to help them preserve their indigenous culture, traditions and heritage. There are worries that this is being forgotten…especially as there is almost no tradition of recording events or important aspects of traditional culture.
Most well-read people are aware of – and worried about – the threat from China. Most of the concerns are centred around plans to build a dam across Brahmaputra and the Chinese troops across the border in Arunachal Pradesh. Few people trust the Chinese.
Image courtesy: AssamTourism.org
Insurgency is on the wane (in Assam) but the incendiary ingredients are all still in place – unemployment (and under-employment), lack of infrastructure, deep-rooted corruption and a continuing loss of faith in institutions of the state. Taking up arms can appear to be a very attractive “career option” in such circumstances. You may find this difficult to believe though if you move around in Guwahati. Hoardings of a beaming CM with a list of “achievements” in his nine years as Chief Minister are prominent on major roads (Madam Chairperson of UPA is conspicuous by her absence).
Some of the more “established” insurgent groups are known to be extremely well-organised. Potential recruits are formally “interviewed”, medically examined and sworn to a code of conduct. Being part of such a group is often considered a matter of pride in some communities. I wonder why does the local police force not evoke this sense of pride? Turf wars and “new kids on the block” are frequent triggers for violence. It was mentioned that political parties are also indirectly involved in many instances.
I was told that at least part of the reason for wide-spread unemployment is the absence of a strong work-ethic amongst certain communities in the region. This is mostly based on anecdotal evidence..and I am not sure it is true. I would be very keen to hear readers’ views on this – especially those who are from north-east or have lived/worked there.
Signing off for now. More later.