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.

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