Interaction with locals will bring northeast people closer to India: M P Bezbaruah

Bezbaruah, a retired IAS officer and member of the north eastern council speaks about the framework of his committee report, and the solutions it presents

yogesh

Yogesh Rajput | January 21, 2015




Do you feel that discrimination and violence against people from the northeast is more prominent in Delhi as compared to other metro cities?

After visiting several metro cities, the committee observed that the number of people from the northeast living in Delhi was much higher. This can be a reason for larger number of such incidents taking place in Delhi. People from the northeast usually look for cheap accommodation, which they tend to find in areas usually occupied by people who have conservative lifestyle. It apparently contradicts the modern lifestyle of people from the northeast, which creates friction.

In metros like Bangalore or Pune, this contradiction seems to be less prominent. Here it was observed that people from the northeast interact with the locals; also take part in their activities, thus building mutual trust and understanding. Delhi, on the other hand, lacks such interface and interaction which can be seen as a major cause behind the problem. We have suggested encouragement of such interactions in residents welfare associations with the Delhi administration possibly taking the lead in making the northeast people and other communities bond with each other. We are very clear in our minds that this process has to be a ‘two-way traffic’.   

Why do you think such an important aspect has remained neglected for the past many decades even though cultures of other states have always been widely promoted?

It is difficult to say why this aspect has remained neglected for the past few decades but I think there is a sense of being isolated in the northeast, largely caused by the partition of India. One reason could be what people often talk about – the disadvantages of the Chicken’s Neck (22-km long stretch of land connecting the northeast states with the rest of India), due to which even though physically northeast is one unit, communication with the rest of India has been a problem for a long time. Things, however, have improved now and communication is much better. In the 1960s and ’70s, people who used to migrate to metro cities from the northeast were very few in number, and though they did witness some light-hearted jokes and pranks, they were not subjected to any serious form of discrimination  unlike in the recent past. As the number of migrants has increased now, the problem has come to the forefront.
      
The report mentions that migration is largely due to insurgency and lack of educational and economic development in the area. How do you think the region can sustain the brain drain?

A key recommendation of the report was to provide better educational facilities like setting up of institutions of excellence in the northeast. We found that a large number of people moved to Delhi and other metros to study in prestigious institutions like the Delhi Public School. We observed that after DPS opened its branch in the northeast, the number of students going to Delhi has reduced considerably.

The committee has also asked people from the northeast to gain knowledge about the metro cities they live in, their culture and lifestyle, for better interaction with the local community, so as to avoid misunderstandings. How much of this is possible?

It is very much possible. To ensure that those moving to Delhi adapt to the local culture and needs, state governments and local resident commissioners should play a proactive role in orienting them for the new place. Secondly, learning the local language has been a key recommendation of the committee after we were told that most cases of discrimination and violence arise due to lack of communication. We have suggested encouragement of spoken Hindi classes for people from the northeast.

What prompted the committee to lay a major emphasis on promoting the northeast region through the medium of sports?

Northeast has tremendous talent in sports; especially in Manipur which is known for traditional sports. Football has always been a popular sport here among the youth and has generated star players. When people play together, the arena of sports becomes a binding factor for people from different communities. The national games in Guwahati (held in 2007) had created a great impact in bringing the northeast and the rest of India closer. We felt that if we could encourage more sport activities in the northeast where people from outside could come and participate, then they would get to know a lot more about the people of the region. We have suggested that students should come and stay in villages of the northeast during summer vacations and interact with the local families. Similarly, people from the northeast too could visit different parts of the country and interact with local communities.        

One of the committee’s  recommendations talks about the need of a database to track the movement of people from the northeast. Do you feel lack of such a data was a major hurdle the committee faced while studying the demography?

There is no information at all. We wanted a database which would not just serve the purpose of a regular database (carrying statistics on the movement of people from the northeast) but will also help to monitor criminal incidents taking place in Delhi and automatically alert all concerned people about the situation. Such a futuristic database, where all information about people from the northeast and related incidents could be found, is one of the key recommendations of the committee. It is essential and would also act as one-stop help for the people.      

The report mentions that people from the northeast not only lack interaction with the local comm-unity but are also apprehensive of the police. What do you feel are the reasons?

I have seen that a major problem people from the northeast face is that even when they are affected by incidents of criminal nature, they are reluctant to go and file an FIR because of the hassles involved in the process. People from the northeast living in Delhi have to run from one police station to another for help. Instead of getting any relief, they are cross-questioned by the police. Why can we not have e-filing of FIRs, not only for the people from the northeast but for everyone? However, this was not part of our report but is my personal opinion. A major recommendation of the committee was to form a northeast special police unit which would have the power of a police station.

The committee had invited suggestions from the general public. How was the response and to what extent was it helpful?

We got quite a large number of responses from the general public which were fairly helpful in identifying the issues, primarily relating to lack of understanding between people from the northeast and those belonging to other communities. We felt that there was a simmering anger among the northeast community which feels that discrimination and violence is usually intentional. Other suggestions and recommendations were largely part of the deliberations. 

While approving the recommendations, do you feel that any important point was left out by the central government?

As per news reports, the home minister has clearly referred to all the measures supposed to be undertaken within six months now. I am sure the government will come out with what needs to be done in the long run as recommended.    

What do you feel are the challenges the government might face in implementing the approved recommendations of the committee?

The response that we have seen from the government till now does not indicate any problems. The government’s swift response shows that the recommendations are not only necessary but also doable. We had thought that maybe amendment of the Indian Penal Code could take a long time but the home ministry has already accepted it. From that point of view, the impression I gather is that the government is not facing any hurdle in implementing the short-term recommendations. As for the long -term ones, we will, of course, hear later. 

Any challenges the committee faced while forming the report?

Time was perhaps the only challenge for us. If we had more time on hand, we would have liked to explore more on profiling people from the northeast, reasons on why they are going to metro cities and how it is going to affect their living conditions. There was one issue which some members of the committee felt should be taken up strongly. It was argued that an anti-racial law should be proposed but upon discussion we agreed that it is something which needs to be discussed and debated by the government and that pursuing it may take away our attention from the immediate requirements needed to resolve the problems of people from the northeast. Hence, we focused on recommending amendments in the existing law which would make anti-racial remarks and violence punishable.


Key recommendations of the committee

Immediate – To be implemented within a period of six months to one year
•    Either promulgation of a new law or amendment of the Indian Penal Code to make racial remarks and violence punishable
•    State to provide legal assistance to people from the northeast as well as spread legal awareness
•    Set up a northeast special police unit, which would have the powers of a regular police station
•    Fast track courts on cases of racial remarks and violence for speedy delivery of justice
•    Recruitment of police personnel from the northeast states in the Delhi police
•    A special helpline number to address complaints of people from the northeast in synchronisation with helpline no. 100
•    Regularly hold national and international sports events in the northeast region
•    Teaching school and college students about the history and culture of the northeast region
•    Delhi government and ministry of development of north eastern region (DoNER) to explore measures to deal with the problem of       accommodation and high rent factor faced by students and professionals from the northeast in Delhi
 
Short term – To be implemented within one-and-a-half years
•    Set up database to track the movement of people from the northeast to various metro cities
•    Organisation of cultural exchange programmes for students
•    Set up infrastructure facilities in the field of sports in the northeast
•    Set up prestigious educational institutions in the northeast
•    Delhi administration and residents welfare associations to promote interaction of people from the northeast with the local community   through cultural programmes
•    Government to promote the northeast region as a tourist destination
 
Long term – To be implemented within three years
•    Debate and discussion by the government on the necessity of an anti-racial law
•    Set up a northeast centre in Delhi, preferably under public-private participation (PPP) mode. The centre would help people from the northeast in redressing their grievances, have an elaborate database on information on all aspects about the northeast and its people, a trauma centre facility and also act as a northeast cultural centre



(The interview appeared in January 16-31, 2015, issue)
 

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