Over the past year, the dominant news coming out of the Northeast has been the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. The NRC exercise was not only a huge upheaval for Assam, but also other Northeast states by extension. This is because in the process of identifying who is a citizen and who is an illegal Bangladeshi migrant, the exercise raked up several dormant identity issues. And given the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the Northeast, this can be problematic.
For, identifying and keeping ‘outsiders’ at bay has been an old tendency in the Northeast with several nativist movements demanding a separate homeland, a greater statehood, autonomy, inner line permits and exclusive protective rights for sons of the soil. The NRC exercise and the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill that looks to grant citizenship not just to Hindu Bangladeshi migrants/refugees but also to Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Hajongs, have again amplified the feeling of otherness among Northeast communities.
True, illegal migration to the Northeast is a concern and any sovereign government has to take action to prevent this. But at the same time this should not create more divisions in the Northeast. This is because the Northeast as a region can only grow by embracing its cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversities. Therefore, following the NRC exercise, the region needs to get back to celebrating its multiplicity.
It is in this context that the 7th North East Festival in Delhi (8th to 10th November) needs to be seen. The festival is an annual kaleidescope of Northeast culture, fashion, food, art, music and handicraft. This year the festival aptly seeks to celebrate the linguistic diversity of the Northeast comprising over 220 ethnic languages. Very little is known about these languages in other parts of India and getting to know them and even learn some of them is crucial for other Indians to form a strong bond with this part of the country. Then of course there is the sumptuous cuisine of the Northeast which reflects the simplicity, honesty and wholesomeness of the people of the region. The taste will never leave you.
At the end of the day, the diversity of the Northeast can be used for either dividing people and pushing them into ghettos or for uniting people and creating something beautiful and bigger. It is only the latter option that can truly transform the Northeast, unlock its true potential in tourism, services and natural resources, and make it a bridge between India and East Asia. Dividing people only benefits politics. Events like the North East Festival empower people and unleash their true creativity.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.