Price of living in a networked world

By Patricia Mukhim

The exodus of students and professionals from the north east who are based in Bangalore and Pune amongst other cities on account of an MMS message that spoke of the persecution of Muslims in Assam and the subsequent attacks on people with Mongoloid features has created a crisis of grave consequences. The riot that took place in Mumbai last Saturday started because of an MMS which spoke of the assaults on Rohingya Muslims settled in the Rakhine region of Myanmar, by an otherwise benign Buddhist majority community in that country. The polarisation and radicalisation of religious categories is always a dangerous spark that inevitably leads to uncontrolled conflagration.

Thanks to the 24×7 media coverage which showed North Easterners swarming the railway platforms with their bag and baggage ready to return home, the youth here are also beginning to send text messages that tantamount to a call for a tit for tat reaction. This copycat reaction has dangerous portends because we are no longer neat islands inhabited by a homogenous race. India itself is a melting pot and every part of India can be my home if I wish to take residence there. Examples of people from the North East not being accepted elsewhere are rare exceptions. As one who travels in and out of Shillong frequently and meets with the diaspora from Meghalaya and other North Eastern states I can say that many have adapted very well outside their comfort zones in Shillong, Kohima, Imphal, Guwahati.

If the North Easterners did not feel at home in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune etc we would not have so many flights out of Guwahati, Kohima, Imphal and Agartala carrying hordes of passengers on a daily basis. Manipur alone has four flights linking the state to New Delhi. The flights out of Imphal to Delhi are always full. Why would people go to Delhi so often and why would they live there if the environment is so hostile? You see elderly men and women on the flights and when you talk to them they say they have children working in Gurgaon or Noida or Delhi and are going to spend time with them. Often our cry against racism also lies in our own inability to integrate with the mainstream population. Surely we cannot be wearing our ethnicity on sleeves. The rest of India does not do it. No one cares if someone is a Punjabi, Malayali, Tamilian, and Kannadiga in Delhi. People are too busy with their lives to allow such things to matter. At best we can act out our value systems. But Delhi in any case is unsafe for all women and not just for women from the North East, Everyday women and young girls are raped and molested by some jerks and perverts. It’s not specific to people of the North East.

The thing to do is to negotiate drops back from home with the company one is working with and perhaps not to frequent some of the more shady areas of Delhi. Until the city turns safe, individuals will have to ensure their own security. We have our rights as citizens and we have the right to a safe and secure environment. The state is duty bound to provide us that. But we know better that there is a huge gap between what is desirable and what happens on the ground. We therefore have no option but to watch our backs. Even in our own state, young girls get raped all the time and even four and give year olds are not spared. Rape is an expression of male domination and is the result of repressed sexuality. It is, unfortunately the sin of every community across the world. As women we can only try and be more cautious and impress upon the law enforcers to be more vigilant.

Let me come back to social network sites and the power they have to evoke communal passions. Cell phone and internet connectivity or ‘connectivism’ has often pushed people to take sides even before studying the problem dispassionately. A text message can go viral within hours. It connects people miles away from each other who believe in the same cause. It can send them into a tailspin. They can react viciously and illogically. That the incidents in Myanmar can trigger violent responses in Mumbai or that the recent communal bloodbath in Assam could reverberate in Karnataka and Maharashtra cautions us of the pernicious effects of social networks. One invidious, inflammatory message can kill and injure many. The radicalisation of youth of all categories does not bode well for this country. You may wonder at the ability of radical groups to drum up instant support for such ignoble causes. But we see it happening with greater frequency and we need to address the roots causes of such radicalisation.

The recent flare-up in Bodoland has raised the hackles of all the tribes of the Northeast. Suddenly they are conscious of their land and how much it means to them. The cry of the Bodos against the unabated entry of illegal immigrants and their occupation of the Bodo homeland is now resonating with the other tribes in the region and mainly through the internet. The paranoia too is spreading through the same medium. The danger is that paranoid people, especially youth whose actions are often dictated by emotions rather than reason, tend to also become illogical and violent. The Kokrajhar incidents therefore have the propensity to be repeated with equal ferocity not only in Assam but in other states, as people go hyper about becoming minorities in their homelands. And there is also the real possibility that these tremors in the northeast will reverberate in other states of this country where the narrative will have been turned on its head and Muslims will speak about being persecuted in their own country. It’s a very frightening scenario.

Unfortunately, the state is caught in a bind. Neither the central or state governments have easy answers to controlling influx because the border sealing experiment has failed miserably. Deportation is a futile dream because the Bangladesh government has never ever admitted that their people cross over to India on a daily basis. State governments whose politicians depend on the votes garnered from illegal immigrants will hardly stir. So what’s the way forward? Its time to seal the borders now! And as someone has rightly suggested its also time to have a three-tier identification of citizens. The first being permanent citizens, the second will be the semi-permanent professionals and the third, the migrant workers whose permits have to be freshly renewed periodically. This may or may not work but unless we test check something, how can we say it does not work.

If we engage as online citizens lets also try and find solutions instead of merely expressing our collective wrath. That’s responsible citizenship! Netizens and young people with smart I-phones ought to make better use of them than to simply spread fear psychosis and play the blame game. Let’s admit that we too are not too far behind in treating others as third class citizens. This is the time to debate and discuss and engage with others to find solutions not to exacerbate the problems.

We have seen swift action by the cops in Pune in apprehending those who spread the “defend the Muslim brotherhood” canard. Perhaps the police in Karnakata too will soon round up the hooligans who have lit the communal bonfires. Looking towards Delhi for solutions is futile. Delhi has enough of its own problems to be fire-fighting in the Northeast Its time to hold our own leaders responsible. Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma has rightly said that in a democracy citizens don’t just vote; they constantly engage. We have the right to tell the government what it needs to do. But as citizens we must also have a blueprint for action. Just the usual carping and bloodletting at politicians will not do.

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