Saturday, August 18, 2012

Understanding the North East: A need to take out the hot pan to stem rumours

Fortunately the fear and fleeing of people from various parts of the North East has come down in the past 24 hours. The government on its part in Karnataka has taken steps to assure the students, workers and professionals that what has happened is the work of a few rumour mongers. Sms’ from the government with this assurance of security and peace has indeed been a step in the right direction.

Bangalore in particular looks ready to handle any situation. The government is positive in its approach, the police are keeping a watch and leaders of Muslim communities are pro active in assuring North Easterners that no hate campaign is going on and are reminding those who come for prayers that this is a season of fasting and peace and no one should be swayed by any campaign whatsoever.

Individuals, groups, institutions and religious groups have all got together to say that no one should leave and those who have left should come back. One should be happy that simultaneously the media, civil society and the government have all come together to ensure peace.

But one cannot but wonder how a few rumour mongers managed to scare so many people in a matter of hours and instigated a panic situation? Will people wilt under the weight of a few sms’? Or is there something more to this? I wonder whether I would have done the same thing had there been similar rumours against my safety. Maybe I would have, as everyone has some sort of fear of their belongings and their life. But this exodus may also be the result of an insecurity felt by those from the North East in various parts of India. The lack of understanding has at least to an extend led to the ghetto-isation of certain communities. This of course is not special just to the North East community. But there has somewhere been an opportunity lost in the understanding of our sisters and brothers.

The very reference "North East people" which has been doing the rounds in all forms of the media and whenever anyone of importance has talked itself smacks indifference in the form of a lack of understanding. The population in Bangalore is a mixed bag of people from various states from the North East. They include Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya to name a substantial lot. There are differences between the various states mentioned and it is unfortunate that for convenience we (including myself) bracket everyone together.

The way forward for now is dispelling any kind of rumours going around. But there is also a strong need to understand our friends from the North East, their culture and traditions. Food is one way of breaking dividing walls and frequent coming together should be encouraged to understand that India is not confined to one religion, region, caste, culture or ethnic identity. This could be a way of making everyone comfortable enough to stay, not with standing any form of rumour. The same institutions which are now playing a good role in re-assuring and offering their places to all should take the role in playing out this role as well.

Religious institutions like theological colleges have an important role to play here. These institutions are a wonderful mix of several identities coming together at the same time and under one roof. There will be several opportunities to get to know each other, taste each others food and understand one another’s culture. Such institutions along with several educational institutions and companies can take the lead to not just bring people together for study and work but also for peace in society.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The freedom to be

Freedom in one’s own country can be seen in two ways. One is the freedom enjoyed under one’s flag. It is a nostalgic, goose bump like freedom felt when the national anthem is sung and several gather together with the understanding that we are all one. The second thought goes against the first one. It goes in the direction of “Am I really free?” One is overly positive and the other overly negative. Both have their right to exist and to be.

The violence in Assam and the follow up in Mumbai and the fear rumours down South in Hyderabad and Bangalore make one think of the country we live in and the freedom we have. One must be grateful for the rights we have and the opportunities one gets because one is Indian. But the lack of opportunities and the refusal of being safeguarded by the Indian constitution will make those who suffer wonder what they get from their own country. Is it right to call those who question their lack of rights unpatriotic?

The Indian constitution is multi faceted and quite comprehensive in itself. Dr.B.R.Ambedkar definitely gave some thought and effort into the process. There may be certain sections which need a revisit because of new additions to the social fabric of life and society. But otherwise there are several commentators who believe that what India needs is the following of the constitution and that in itself will safeguard all citizens of this country and give them the freedom to be what they want to and live where they want to as well.

There are other commentators who would say that the constitution has become redundant and therefore needs a thorough overhaul and even if it is comprehensive other measures are needed to safeguard the people of this country. What I have been hearing in Bangalore for several hours now is very disturbing. Thousands of people from the North Eastern part of India have boarded trains to their home states in fear that there will be some kind of a back lash due to the violence in Assam. This is definitely fact as the Indian Railways had to arrange special trains because of the huge number of people who wanted to leave. What is not fact and definite though is the rumours that are spreading around about the violence that is going to happen. No one is ready to say who is spreading the rumour and sending sms’s. The government on its part is trying its best to assure the people.

Incidents such as these should be condemned and people should get together to assure any community or group of people who are being threatened. The constitution should be followed and rules have to be adhered to especially when people are violated in any way. There can be no ‘us and them’ at times such as these and everyone should rather come under the tri colour to protect rather than threaten. If I cannot do even these simplest of things the head I held high during the hoisting of my country’s flag will go down in shame due to the fact that I did not protect a fellow Indian and a fellow human being. I guess there may be many like me who don’t want great economic progress, an Olympic gold, and a certification from the World Bank. I would rather have the freedom to go and live anywhere in this country, work and just be. I don’t think it is too much to ask for this in this month of Independence.

If we feel we have the independence then so should our sisters and brothers from other parts of India. This then becomes our new struggle for independence where we fight not just for our own independence but for the independence of other fellow Indians and human beings. In the mean time let us stand up for a just cause and tell our friends from the North East that you are a part of this land just as we are. Let us be mutually hospitable to each other and to others.