Anti-Act NE voices add flavour to litfest
Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Bang bang, shot dead
All I want to say is that
They don’t really care about us
Hundreds of people shouting slogans, raising placards and marching on the city streets for their rights reminds Saikh Md Sabah Al-Ahmed of this famous protest song by Michael Jackson.
Al-Ahmed, a poet and teacher of English and social science at Don Bosco High School in Guwahati, believes that by introducing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) the Centre proved that “they don’t care about the sentiments of the people in the Northeast”.
“The Northeast is already full of illegal migrants. We cannot take the burden of a single migrant anymore. CAA was unnecessary,” said Ahmed, who lives in Guwahati, during the discussion, In or Out: Northeast India and Questions of Belonging, held as part of the 11th Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival at Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan here on Sunday afternoon.
The rest of the three speakers, along with Ahmed, unanimously depicted updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and framing of CAA as “autocratic initiatives by the Centre that ignore the demands and emotions of the northeastern people”.
Another speaker, author Samrat Choudhury, who was born and brought up in Shillong and has travelled length and breadth of the region, said the widespread agitation was predictable given the complex history of anti-outsider politics of the Northeast.
“There are diverse communities, tribes and groups in the Northeast. The very idea of bringing all of them under an umbrella of a Hindu nation, as propagated by the RSS, is faulty and unfair. The government should have preserved the unique cultures of the Northeast and respected their indigenous identities,” said Choudhury.
“The only hope of resolution now is the Supreme Court. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee suggested initiating a single-point referendum on CAA. It could be considered if they law is not repealed,” Choudhury said.
Author and translator Bijoya Sawian, who lives in Shillong and Dehra Dun, underscored the role of religious heads to restore peace and stability, a requisite for development, across the region. “It is the time for healing. We should realise that religion is being used as a divisive force. The role of religious heads of all faiths is vital now as they can revive the spiritual consciousness among us. Orientation classes could be another way to bridge the cultural gap between the people of the Northeast and the rest of the country,” Sawian said, adding that she believes in the power of youths who are fighting against the hegemony for their rights across the country.
Institutions like Ramakrishna Mission have played a key role in keeping the indigenous faiths in the Northeast intact and advocated for development of rural areas in the region, she added.
Journalist Manogya Loiwal highlighted the need to upgrade basic amenities and infrastructure across the Northeast.
Students, poets and rights activists among others, who participated in the discussion, spoke on their lives and visits to the region.
They sought the need for widespread awareness to curb stereotyping of culture and beliefs associated with the Northeast and discrimination against the people.