Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma

The violent incidents in Kokrajhar in Assam, where hundreds of people, most of them Bengalis who happened to be Muslim, were killed by a segment of the Bodo tribals, were sad and scary enough.  But their aftermath, especially in major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi, could be more threatening to the survival of India as a nation, unless some major steps are taken by the government to address the problem.


The last few weeks have witnessed a major exodus of people who came from India’s north-east, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal, etc., to find entry-level jobs in the more rapidly growing economies of the large cities, but have become too afraid of the perceived or imaginary, rumored or stated, threats to their life and started fleeing in thousands by train back to their native homes.


It is a cliché to assert the substantial linguistic, cultural, and religious heterogeneity of India.  Like all clichés it has a substantial degree of verisimilitude.  Nonetheless, despite the heterogeneity, India is still one country with a constitution that affords each inhabitant the right to reside anywhere in the country he/she wishes and engage in any occupation he/she prefers as a means of livelihood.  Unfortunately, these rights have been repeatedly threatened over the years by right-wing political parties practicing virulent forms of identity politics based on language, origin, or religion.


The worst example, perhaps, is Mumbai (formerly Bombay) where the fascistic Shiv Sena led by Bal Thackeray and its equally reprehensible cousin the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or MNS led by Raj Thackeray have been going around for many years threatening and frequently assaulting “outsiders” (i.e. non-Marathi speakers) who come to India’s financial capital in search of employment.  In the past the targets have included south Indians (Malayalis or Tamils), north Indians (Biharis, UP bhayyas), and Muslims from wherever.  These outright bullies who also cavort with elements of Mumbai’s considerable underworld as well as the other political parties like BJP have managed to instill over the years a certain social “common sense” of fear on part of the majority of the city’s inhabitants that leads to their criminality being either tolerated or accepted by the city’s authorities.  Now this poison appears to have spread to Karnataka, currently ruled by BJP, and its capital Bangalore, the heart of India’s version of Silicon Valley.

However, as far as the north-east and north-west (i.e. Kashmir) are concerned, considerable blame, right from India’s inception as an independent country, attaches to the central government also.  Most of the north-east
states, in particular Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal and Manipur have only a tenuous connection with the Indian heartland and the Indian government displayed its colors as a successor to the Raj by using tools developed by the British rulers to build a united country.

Violent suppression of regional secessionist movements by the Indian government, first perfected in Nagaland and then Kashmir, was used to keep the north-east states from breaking away from India. The Indian Army and the many paramilitary organizations were readily available and they were entrusted with the task of keeping India intact. They did so by the only method they know and are capable of knowing – violent indiscriminate suppression.

Through all these years and throughout the period when India embarked on the path of rapid growth eager to catch-up with China, little attention has been paid to many of the real issues facing India.  The poor did not count, regional aspirations did not matter, and the luxury of human rights could not be afforded.

But objective realities have a way of manifesting themselves and the chickens are coming home to roost.  The poor of Bengal, Bihar, UP, and now the north-east, who are forced to abandon their homes for a meager earning in Mumbai or Bangalore (Bengaluru) are too scared to stay in the places that offered them employment and are trying to run back to safety to their ancestral homes. The Shiv Sena’s gangsterism and Marathi chauvinism is now finding a universal application all over the country.

The government of India is directly responsible for whatever is happening in the north east or the south west. If India is one country, any of its people have a fundamental right to go anywhere for a living.  Unless Government starts devising plans or quotas for internal migration, it should be made to take drastic steps not just to play catch-up in the declining growth rate but to take urgent steps to remedy gross poverty.  India has the resources and the government must be made to do it.

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