Call for formation of a Northeast Collective
(From Left to Right) Gitanjali More, Pradyot Deb Burman, Binalakshmi Nepram, Sudeep Chakravarti, Mr Utpal Borpujari, Patricia Mukhim, Ajailiu Niumai, BG Verghese.
New Delhi, July 4 (MExN): The Control Arms Foundation of India in association with the Heinrich Boell Foundation organized a panel to discuss solutions for the peace building process and development in the North Eastern states of India. The event was held on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at India International Centre, New Delhi.
A press note issued to the media stated that the meet was attended by some very influential decision makers and civil society actors, discussing a controversial and much ignored area of concern for India, the panel attempted to address strengthening inter-community peace-building efforts and to act as a pressure group in highlighting Northeastern concerns at the national level. The event looked at involving diaspora communities of the North East in conflict resolution and peace building in the region. There were several panels consisting of people within Delhi as well as academicians and activists from the North East.
The note mentioned that Binalakshmi Nepram opened the event, setting the mood for the discussions by asking, 'how can we all put our hearts minds and heads together to shape the Northeast region we want to see?'. Nepram pointed out the value of such a session, being the first ever convening of the Northeast diaspora. The Guest of Honour, B G Verghese, who is a renowned author from the Centre for Policy Research spoke about the need for common goals in India. 'The genius of India has been the ability to accommodate and resolve'. Verghese pointed out that there is an important distinction between discrimination and ignorance: 'In Kerala, we grew up thinking everyone past Assam were Nagas and everyone in the North were Punjabi. It is not malice, it is ignorance. And ignorance is easier to change than hate'. Verghese also poetically mentioned, “India is the most diverse country in the world and the Northeast is the most diverse part of India. I don't know of anyone who has visited the Northeast without falling in love with it”.
The first primary theme to emerge from the meeting was the need for practical solutions, under a common umbrella that reaches out to the diaspora and people in the Northeast alike. Patricia Mukhim of the Shillong Times asked some very pertinent questions like: who stands to benefit from conflict? and is our (civil society) voice loud enough for the Prime Minister's Office to hear? She stressed the need to let go of the 'victimhood syndrome'.
Author Sudeep Chakavarti stressed the need for economic development rather than focusing on solely conflict discourse, 'stop fighting the Indian army, start fighting the companies. The army have AK-47s, Tata Steel only have suits. We should focus not just on conflict resolution but resolution, period'.
Pradyot Deb Burman agreed, and emphasised the need not just for investment but for smart investment that benefits local communities. He pointed out that three groups benefit from the perpetuation of insurgency - the human rights organisations who gain funding, the state governments who receive extra resources for security and the intelligentsia who have something to deliberate. He argued that we need to create jobs so that young men do not join insurgent groups and this cycle is not sustained.
The second panel consisted largely of journalists, who discussed the proliferation of new media technologies and the way that these can now assist Northeast populations in telling their own stories. Panelists lamented the fact that the Northeast only reaches mainstream media in terms of violence and crime. Challenging these stereotypes, a documentary was presented about an annual festival in Assam celebrating Bob Dylan, called Guns and Guitars by Utpal Borpujari.
Another theme which was strong in the meeting was the necessary link between women's empowerment and development. As Dr. Ajailiu Niumai put it, 'Peace cannot be obtained until and unless gender bias and inequality is addressed'.
The role of North East diaspora and their contribution to the peace process was discussed in the third session. The final dominant issue examined was the role of young people in the development and peace processes. Prominent student activists and college staff spoke on the discrimination faced by the diaspora in 'mainland' India, how students are forming networks and holding events to challenge ignorance.
Policy tools were discussed with the aim of breaking out of the existing paradigm, namely through investment, media technologies, women's development and avoiding the 'brain drain'. Suggestions for targeted initiatives included information campaigns, scholarships and human capital programs.
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