A Disturbed Existence in the Backdrop of Serene Green? A Literary Analysis of North-East India

Essay, 2015

25 Pages


Table of Contents

Introduction ... 2

1 Reorganization of States at the time of British Raj and Second World War: Literary representation of the roots of Insurgency ... 3

2 Christianity and Missionary Education ... 7

3 Immigration Issues ... 9

4 Socio-political and Ethnical Crisis: Conflict between Tribes and Outsiders ... 11

5 Indifference of Government ... 13

6 Birth and Growth of Militants’ Group ... 16

7 Secession Movement ... 18

8 Literature of Protest ... 19

9 Conclusion ... 20

Work Cited ... 22

Selected Bibliography ... 24

‘Stop this nightmare, I pray/ Where my people, victims of/Geography, History and Politics/Have become prized booty/ To be overpowered and possessed.../ Stop, I beseech this nightmare/ Perpetuated by those who believe power/ Flows from the barrel of the gun.’
(“Stop this Nightmare”, Monalisa Chankija)


North-East India as we call it a land of ‘Seven Sisters’ consists of the states namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and the lately added Sikkim with 250 social groups and more than 175 languages. This North–East part of India is connected to the rest of India through a narrow strip of 22 kms called the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken’s Neck. Interestingly, it also shares a great part of its border with the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, and Nepal. So, it can be seen that the people of these states must have social, political, cultural and linguistic commonalities with its neighbouring countries and therefore the region embodies a rainbow of cultures and traditions that varies a lot from the rest of India.

Unfortunately, the histories, cultures as well as the literatures of the North-East India have always been perceived as a monotonous and homogenous entity, without really pondering over the myriad problems that permeate the geographical, cultural, religious, literary and political borders within and outside the North East. It would do well to recall how J. B. Bhattacharjee’s Roots of Insurgency in Northeast India (2007) points out the ‘real’ insurgency and the ‘made-one’ while at the same time appealing not to homogenise.

Similarly, as against such generalisations, we have certain North Eastern writers such as Indira Goswami, Temsula Ao, Mitra Pukhan, Mamang Dai, Easterine Kire, Sanjay Hazarika, to mention a few, who problematise and interrogate such oversimplifications and apathy of ‘mainland’ people, writers, leaders, even several other Indian and foreign governments. Taking such a vast and vibrant body of North Eastern literatures into consideration and taking recourse to several other archaic and socio-cultural literatures on and about this region, the present project seeks to analyse and reinterpret the way North East has been historically portrayed to the world. Thus the study challenges the essentialist and hegemonic discourses that have been instrumental in stereotyping North East and intends to focus on various individual and peculiar voices emanating in different forms from this region. It intends to take into account both the colonial and post-colonial interpretations of North East India pertaining to its metamorphing social, cultural, religious, literary and political anxieties and aspirations.

North-East writers attempt therefore tireless efforts to exercise their writerly responsibility to awake, revive and induce in them a true search for ethnicity, identity, their shadowed history. They entail the task to educate public about their rights and responsibilities as well as to expose them to the arbitrariness of the Indian government or military establishment. Their writings reflect their writerly positions to delineate upon Nationalism, making it obvious of the complex and pluralities of North East rather than any distinct and fixed interpretation of North East India. Being very picturesque, cultural, and political in nature, these texts elevate their readers to indulge in and ponder over the maze of horror under the false cover of ‘heavenly peace’. Tilottama Mishra’s Oxford anthology of short stories, Writings from North- East India (2011) is a bouquet of first generation writers like Lumer Dai, Yeshe Dorjee Thongchi, Temsula Ao, Mamang Dai, Easterine Kire, etc. who evoke us with the rich cultural diversities of North-East. So, my study will seek to provide a cumulative aspect of the rise of the political insurgency and historical violence throughout years in North-Eastern Hills. I am going to analyse these different facets through the following eight sections – Reorganization of States at the time of British Raj and Second World War: Literary Representation of the Roots of Insurgency, Christianity and Missionary Education, Immigration Issue, Socio-political and Ethnical Crisis: Conflict between Tribes and Outsiders, Indifference of Government, Birth and prosperity of militants, Secession Movement, Literature of Protest.

1 Reorganization of States at the time of British Raj and Second World War: Literary representation of the roots of Insurgency

The conflict of Northeast India and its possible resolution has been discussed many times. But the problem is that it deals simply with the paradigm of the endless act of violence and disturbances hardly touching in detail the roots of such insurgencies. The news paper headlines, the sudden act of army personnel’s disruption of the fundamental rights, the problem of homogeneity and indifferent attitude towards the Northeast people and problem evoke the trouble of misunderstanding and misinterpreting more. In this heap, the lack of proper study and analysis to search the roots of these problems suffer a setback. So the problems which we see may appear as ‘made- up’ in some contexts. While reviewing the works which deal with the roots, I attempt to highlight the roots or the source of acute problems. This will take an analytical, theoretical and expository approach. It includes inputs from thematic analysis, textual interpretations. This analytical study illuminates this age old North Eastern problem, its yet ‘unavailable’ solution, the politics and political apathy behind it as well as the sacrifices of innocent people who are under the constant State surveillance, not to mention of the gaze of Death. For example, if we delve into the history of the colonial India when the act of the reorganization of states started under the authorization of the Britishers, we can see how the Independence movement of India did not induce a great effort in this Northeast Part. An attempt of secession from India by people of Nagaland, divided opinions of people from Mizoram and strong resistance from the groups of the people of Manipur to join the Indian Union erupted at the same time. Several procedures for reorganizing Bengal and Assam in 1874, 1905 and then in 1911 had already created the environment of tension and conflict. J.B. Bhattacharjee traces this facet very carefully in his book called Roots of Insurgency in Northeast India. He analytically observes how,

‘In 1874 Assam Division... was separated from Bengal ... with a large indigenous Bengali Population... The Garo Hills and the Lushai Hills were also transferred to this new province. The creation of this multi-ethnic and multi-lingual province, in which the traditional Assamese area and population formed a minor segment, created the initial conditions for future conflict.” (8)

Bhattacharjee goes on to focus also on the after effects of the partition of Bengal (1905) and the starting of the immigration problem; how the ‘colonization scheme’ continued even though the partition got counterbalanced and thus how ‘the British colonialists planted the seeds of future discord, and this may be seen as an important root of insurgency in the post-colonial period.’ (9)

However there are drawbacks in Bhattacharjee’s observation. He does not acutely account for the reasons of the initial disturbances apart from the colonization policy. The source of the Naga conflict and Gopinath Bordoloi’s attempt to keep Assam in India are to be more crucially assayed to bring out the intricacies written in the formation of history. So, we need to look forward to other two great critical observers like Sanjay Hazarika and Subir Bhaumik for this clear anatomization of facts and fictions. Sanjay Hazarika in his book, Writing on the Wall (2008) critically extends his observation from the change of power from the colonial stage to post-colonial stage. He analytically traces out the fact how Gopinath Bordolai played the role of builder for the Assam. He remarks:

Bordoloi’s greatest test came in 1946: .... The Cabinet Mission had ... mandated to hammer out a compromise formula for Indian Independence. After weeks of Discussion... it announced its plan.... One Section clubbed Muslim- majority Bengal with Hindu-dominant Assam.... This plan would have handed Assam on a platter to the future East Pakistan.... Bordoloi and his team, backed by the Mahatma, stood firm and campaigned even against Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel on the issue... The Mission collapsed. (31)

Besides he is the person under whose leadership the Sixth Schedule[1] was drafted which ‘provided legal protection to the traditional and political rights of small hill groups.’

Subir Bhaumik’s Troubled Periphery (2015) also focuses on the time since the Britishers drew the borders and its continuous conflict till independence. It encompasses various problems starting from language, culture, tradition, ethnicity and ‘crisis of development’ with a keen journalistic view.

While reviewing the works, I shall lighten the lacuna of their objective observation while analysing the crisis at the time of the Second World War and the effect of the Japanese’s attack on Nagaland specially. The great writer like Birendra Bhattacharya’s Love in the Time of Insurgency (2005) explores vividly the difference of opinions among Nagas regarding the secession movement from India. He skilfully shows how Rishang’s thoughts are different from the militant leader Videsselie. He answers very ‘convincingly’ to the pertinent question,

‘Are we Nagas a separate nation or not?’ ‘No!’ Rishang said, ‘the Nagas are as much Indians as the Assamese or Manipuris. We live in a common territory and under the same administration, and share the same economy. Our present and future are bound up with the fate of the country as much as our past was.” (230)

The two opponent idea holders of that moving fiction come across a conversation to explore the root of the differences and the real of their ‘goal’. When Rishang asked Videsselie what he could offer to his people in return of the violent acts, he said,

“I have nothing to give to the people at this moment except freedom.”
“And what is this thing called freedom?” asked Rishang
... “I want an independent Nagaland where a Naga can feel that he is somebody and can be his own master. Life will then be worth living.”
...”You are obsessed with the idea of a separate Naga Nation”, Rishang said. “The Nagas are a distinct group no doubt, but they belong to a great family, I mean the Indian Nation.” (205-206)

We find the same tune of conflict in the post-independence era in Easterine Kire’s Bitter Wormwood (2011). But it does not fall totally for Rishang’s voice. Here we find a strong support in the side of Videsselie. Here the Nagas are represented to support for a separate nation and expressed its discontentment when Nagaland is not separated from India at the time of Independence. So when the protagonist Mose, the child of the conflict, makes his grandmother, Khrienuo, understand that Nagaland is not allowed to be apart from India, she says in wonder, “.... We have never been a part of India before. Why should we join them now?” (53). Even the anger bursts out when people are tortured for their demand without a proper understanding.

“That man Nehru”, the man had shouted, “Do you know what Nehru said when he got his copy of the Naga plebiscite? He shook his fist and shouted, ‘Whether heaven falls or India goes to pieces and blood runs red in the country, I don’t care. Nagas will not be allowed to become independent.’ How can we live under such a man? Can we live under such a government?” (62)

So, this question of Northeast people whether to be a part of India or not is still a confusion which leads to increase violence at the cost of peace of this ‘unexplored paradise’. The seed of conflict which was planted by the Britishers and enforced by the Japanese forces now seems to be fully grown and is spreading its poisonous branches day by day. We can refer to Sanjeeb Kakoty’s analytical observation on the consequences of the drawing of the line of division in his Essay, “Tree Sans Roots? The Story of the Khasi –Jaintia Borderlands” where he analytically observes the very basic roots of these problems, conflicts or disturbance and how the logic of the demarcation of land and hills was essentially flowd which is the reality for the demarcation of International border today. He scrutinizes the fact how the Mon Khamer group in Meghalaya, who for years lives in the hills and cultivates in the valleys below comes to know suddenly that their cultivated lands now become a part of East Pakistan or how of the 34 houses of the village Amlempiang, Meghalaya, 5 remain in India and the rest 29 in Bangladesh or how the pillar no 1267 at Lyngkhat, divides a football into half’. Sanjeeb observes how the greed of the border demarkers plays a role in creating this chaos as he listens to the vexed man who “recounted the time when the survey team sought a bribe of Rs 20,000 ...in order to bestow to the villagers the right to till their own lands for perpetuity. Their inability to pay them the demanded amount led to the peculiar demarcation that split the village, and divested people of their lands.” (106)

Thus the writers attempt to assemble the roots of insurgency which is not one but owe their origin to various complications. The endless conflicts make life a constant test of life and death for the Northeast people. Apart from the political crisis or colonial twist, there remains the sense of alienation which the people of Northeast feel vividly due to their differences from the mainland India. The ‘scheme of colonization’ continued to give the feeling of alienation by the missionary and the relief or escape in their religion. In the next part, I am going to illuminate this perspective.

2 Christianity and Missionary Education:

Bearing the burden of the colonial term “tribe”, the ethnic people of North-East India live a life of alienation- a stranger in their own homeland. Sharing their origin with the Mongoloid race and Indic Asia, they have a very varied cultural and social facet that makes them a ‘distant relative’ of Mother India. Ravinder Kaur while reviewing Rowena Robinson and Sathianathan Clarke’s book Religious conversion in India: Modes, motivations, and meanings critically observes the reasons of conversions in India, its external and internal facets. While reviewing the conversion process in Northeast India, he writes, ‘The paper by Downs on conversion in the North East reveals that, contrary to received wisdom, adoption of Christianity was a response to the need for stability in the tribal system seen as facing a threat from a Hindu nation state.’ (5)

The conversion to Christianity also offers them to be more aware about their individual rights and its rewards while reforming their animistic rituals and age old superstitions. But the helping hand of the missionaries also did not come with unmixed blessings. They seemed to engage with their alternative ways by ‘translating theology’, fusing Hindu philosophy with Christian gospels but overlook the original problems of tribal starting from poverty, lack of upward mobility to push them to the wider community . Bendangjungshi, in his article, “Confessing Christ in the Naga Context: Towards a Liberating Ecclesiology” points out, ‘... more than a century of Christianization among the tribal failed to effectively address the issues tribal realities, such as their alienation and poverty, and the social injustices and economic exploitation they suffered.’ (139)


[1] Sixth Schedule – [Articles 244(2) and 275(1)] Provisions as to the Administration of Tribal Areas _470 [the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram]

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A Disturbed Existence in the Backdrop of Serene Green? A Literary Analysis of North-East India
Banaras Hindu University
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Babli Mallick (Author), 2015, A Disturbed Existence in the Backdrop of Serene Green? A Literary Analysis of North-East India, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/319646


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