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Divided by thin red lines, united by sisterhood

They may be divided by boundaries but a common thread runs through the four states going to the polls tomorrow.

It has been an unending fight to secure their identities, land, language, development as well as acceptance by mainland India.

Though it is no different on poll eve, voters of these states want the new government to set things right.

Strangers in their own country

On Wednesday morning when Yalam Taying will cast her vote for the Arunachal West Lok Sabha seat, she will be doing so with a prayer in her heart for Nido Tania, the 19-year-old college student from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death in the national capital earlier this year.

A young businesswoman, who graduated from a Bangalore college, feels parliamentary elections are irrelevant for the people of the region if they continue to face harassment.

“It doesn’t matter which party comes to power. As citizens of the country we just wa-nt to see an end to attacks on people from the Northeast.”

Jimsi Tassar who spent a decade in New Delhi, said: “There needs to be a change in the thinking process of mainland India.”

Renu Takhellambam, president of Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, said it was the duty of the state’s MPs to make their voices heard to stop discrimination of people from the Northeast.

Lalmuanpuia Punte, a student activist-turned-politician from Mizoram, accused mainland Indians of intentionally mistaking northeastern people as foreigners. “The next Indian government must ensure the fundamental rights are equally enjoyed by all its citizens,” he said. Mizoram was scheduled to go to polls tomorrow but it had to be deferred to April 11 following a strong protest against voting by Bru refugees lodged in Tripura relief camps.

Language rights

Mizo language is yet to be included in the Eight Schedule. Lalthangfala Sailo, president of Mizo Academy of Letters, feels that this can be achieved at the political level.

“As a member of Sahitya Akademi, I have made efforts for inclusion of Mizo language in the Eighth Schedule. I have failed so far. If the Lok Sabha MP takes the lead and the state government and all political parties back him, I think we can achieve the goal,”he said.

Meghalaya’s Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) president Daniel Khyriem echoed him. He said the inclusion of the state’s languages is essential as a statutory recognition of the languages would strengthen the identity of the indigenous people.

The other border

On January 29 this year, when 10 people along the Assam-Arunachal border in the Behali-Tarasso area were killed by an attack alleged to have been made by perpetrators from Arunachal, it highlighted the fact that the border issue that needs to be tackled urgently is not the one that the state shares with China but with neighbouring Assam.

Raju Pradhan, a native of Dhekiajuli in Assam who is working as a marketing executive at a media firm in Itanagar, feels the border row requires urgent attention from the next government. Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland too have border issues with Assam but all want it resolved.

Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) president Daniel Khyriem feels the border stalemate with Assam can be resolved if the Centre intervenes.

“Meghalaya had suggested the institution of the Boundary Commission, but Assam rejected the idea. The next government should intervene to ensure that Assam becomes part of the commission for resolving the border conflict,” Khyriem said. Mizoram’s apex students’ organisation Mizo Zirlai Pawl president Lalhmachhuana echoed Khyriem.

Silencing the guns

Insurgency, triggered by the Centre’s alleged indifference towards the region, is another area of concern in Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

Y. Nabachandra, president of the United Committee Manipur said the delay in concluding the NSCN (I-M)-Centre talks was creating divisions among the communities in Manipur. This issue should be taken up very seriously, he said.

Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio, who is contesting the lone seat from his state, said he was making a switch to national politics to see an early resolution to the “Naga political problem”.

Talks with the NSCN(I-M) have been on since 1997.

Renu Takhellambam, president of Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, said the Centre had not paid serious attention to the problem of border dispute with Myanmar and also the issue of human rights violations by security forces under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a festering issue in the Northeast.

Tackling influx

KSU president Daniel Khyriem said the Centre should introduce a strong law, which would help identity infiltrators before deporting them across the border. The Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950, should also be scrapped from the entire Northeast to prevent illegal immigration. “We are also not against those who come here for carrying out economic activities, but why should they become voters? They should vote in their respective states,” Khyriem said.

Arunachal, Nagaland and Mizoram also have strong views on the issue and want the Centre to check influx which, they see, as a threat to their survival and identity.

“This election is important for the people. It is the opportunity to elect the right candidate, who can perform, highlight our issues and draw the attention of the Centre so that our pressing problems are addressed,” Y. Nabachandra, president of the United Committee Manipur, said.

l The four states vote on April 9


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