The article by Barnes Mawrie: Are tribals of the NE third class citizens? (ST, dated 2nd May, 2012) attempted to draw many issues to our notice. Though his one central concern appears to be the continued marginalisation and discrimination of the people of the NE at the hands of the ‘neo-colonist’ ‘interested Hindu group’ which perpetrated the ‘population-based representation in the parliament’ ‘as a cunning strategy’ to monopoli(se) affairs of the country…’. He then makes a convenient provision for the Christian tribal students from the North East assuming that it is only this category which is selectively made to feel as outcast by the whole nation. He passionately turns to the concept of rights in a free nation that seemingly, the majority are enjoying fully whereas the tribal people from the NE are being deprived of. He blames the media for conspiring against the entire people of the region for not highlighting cases of violation of rights of the tribal people. Some of what he claims is true. However his larger debate is deeply disturbing for he avoids a consideration of the flip side of discrimination: one that is practiced in his state and region and perhaps one, which has become an excusable part of our collective psyche.
First of all, it is true that there have been extremities committed by the Right Wing. However, it was the same ‘interested group’ that constitutionally secured the rights of the underprivileged and oppressed people of India, which includes the STs. It was the same group of people who went beyond themselves and laid the secular foundations of our democracy. If Mawrie is able to practise his religion freely, air his opinions freely without fearing for his life, it is because of such ‘cunning strategy(ies).’ The crores that are given to the region every year for the development of the NE come from the taxes that this ‘interested Hindu’ majority pays. This is an equation Mawrie may consider for analysis.
It is a human tragedy when students are lost forever, whether it is a young boy from Orissa being shot dead in the USA or a Manipuri boy aspiring to be an architect, murdered by his countrymen in India or a young girl committing suicide because of discrimination. It is a collective shame we must share, for the failure is not of a community or a religious group or a nation. It is the failure of humanity. Mr. Mawrie’s heart does not seem to speak of a larger human condition. It does not include anyone else other than tribal people of the region. This is a sad betrayal of the universal love that Christianity has taught the world. Such narrowness is unbecoming of one who is being trained to only love the people of the world as his own.
Further, Mr. Mawrie’s argument turns on its head when we consider the parallel violence that is carried on in the NE against the non-indigenous people. It would be worthwhile thus, to look within first before pointing a finger at the other. To begin with, the Reverend must attempt seriously to acquaint himself with the violence and the reverse racism that has been carried on with impunity in Meghalaya at all levels since 1979. And while there have been gruesome murders, throwing of petrol bombs, daylight lynching, torchings, extortions, all selectively aimed at the minority (even bonafide citizens who are still called ‘foreigners’), there was no effective reporting at the regional or national level. And it is known that very few of such cases were even filed let alone redressed at the administrative level. So which free country is Mr. Mawrie talking about? And who are the third class citizens? However, he is right about one thing. In this country it is the majority that rules the roost, however unjust, unfair and violent it may be. He has just, I presume innocently, made the mistake of sparing the collective conscience of the immediate victim-turned-oppressor.
Just as he thinks that tribal Christians from the NE are discriminated at the national level, non-Christians will be able to cite innumerable instances when they are discriminated against in Christian organisations in the state, be it a hospital or a school, simply because they happen to be non-Christians. Much of the rancour between tribals following the traditional, indigenous religion and Christians in the state is due to this. The bottom line is, institutionalisation of welfare benefits has become universal and there is not just one group that practices it. He comfortably turns a blind eye to such forms of soft violence which have become naturalised in the course of time. His assessment is thus partisan and dangerous to say the least.
I whole heartedly agree that there are illustrious examples of achievement from the tribal people of the NE. And whosoever had deserved dignity has won it with dignity. He has not shouted for dignity to be accorded to him. And if someone as such were to become the President of this country, it would be a proud day for all. However, will this make country less racist? Will it stop all kinds of violence, covert and open?
Impassioned articles in local dailies do not do justice to scholarly perspectives that are due to any society that desires to address serious issues like identity and citizenship. They only incite hatred by obfuscating the real issue with high-pitched rancoteurism. As Mr. Mawrie makes a fervent plea to all political leaders of the NE to unite in ‘one voice’ which includes only ‘the tribal voice,’ may it be put forth unto him as a humble question as to where the least of his brother should go, what should he do to atone for that most terrible of sins: that of being the other? For, by saying so, is Mr. Mawrie too not reiterating the racism he so furiously has set out to speak against?
Finally if I may add, that violence, hatred and racism will always appeal to our baser emotions. History is replete with examples of how easily we fall prey to whimsical politics when we refuse to go beyond ourselves. Until we make that most difficult of moves, of looking within and checking our own vulnerability to such base passions, we will never be able to change ourselves, let alone change the world. The world will always be our own, innermost reflection.
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