From Kashmir to Meghlaya: The enemy within
Over the recent past, India has been losing its foothold among ‘friends’ in the South Asia region. It may have forced, rather than fostered, friendships with its neighbours, flexing its Big Brother muscle, but now even those forced friendships are showing strain. Nepal has courageously exerted its territorial claims. Pakistan never cowed down to India’s show of power and India remains aware of this neighbour’s nuclear power and military strength. The other countries too are shedding whatever little subservience they may have displayed. Even the firm and fast friend Bangladesh has for quite some time now been looking East, with China pouring in investment. Indian foreign policy may need a thorough refurbishing, regional analysts say.
However, it is not just the border-lying countries that are displaying dissent to India’s role as the ‘neighbourhood bully’. Within the country itself, particularly in border-lying states, disillusion is leading to dissent. Neglected, downtrodden and overlooked, the people of these states are losing that sense of belonging to the country. If India does not care for them, how much longer can they be expected to care for India?
Recent unfolding events in the northeastern state Meghalaya are evidence of this disconnect. In fact, there is even talk there of joining Bangladesh! Some people have voiced this choice for the sake of development rather than remaining in a state of neglect and deprivation.
According to news reports, villagers of Meghalaya living near the border with Bangladesh, has asked that four of their villages, along with the residents, be handed over to Bangladesh. They are frustrated that the government has not bothered to construct a decent road for them. This has posed as an economic and development issue for them. To make matters worse, they lack mobile connectivity and medical facilities. More often than not, they turn to Bangladesh for their very basic needs since their own government has deprived them.
Meghalaya is just one of the ‘seven sisters’, the seven states of northeastern India which have been completely overlooked by Delhi. Insurgency has brewed there for long, as the people feel neither owned by India or have any feelings of ownership of belonging. Rather than appease the people and develop the resource rich region, the government has used its security forces to quell any protest and instill fear in the people.
That is nothing new in the country. On the other side, to the western part of India bordering with Pakistan, the injustice and the tragic are all pervasive. The seething anger among the people is tangible. This is Kashmir, the Indian occupied part of Kashmir. The status quo of the region is no secret and needs no recap. But sometimes certain incidents reek of sadistic cruelty. Does that sound like an extremely and harsh criticism against the Indian establishment?
It is nowhere near the extreme harshness seen in the streets of Kashmir. Only recently an image caught on camera shook the region, shook the world, though perhaps failed to shake the conscience of the Indian establishment.
This was a picture of a little boy sitting on the chest of his grandfather. He must have sat like that so many times on his beloved grandfather’s chest, playing, laughing and talking together. This time it was different. This time his grandfather was not alive.
The three-year-old boy sat wailing on his grandfather’s dead body, in Sopore, North Kashmir. He was petrified, having been caught up in crossfire. He saw his grandfather being shot dead by the Indian armed forces. How can a child take such a shock? How will he go through life with that scar? But so many children in Kashmir, in Nagaland, in Jharkand in so many restive spots of India, have not been spared from such sights, such brutality.
Muslims in India, having lived for generations in the land of their forefathers, feel threatened of being driven out as non-citizens. If you are a Bengali-speaking Muslim, you may even be pushed into Bangladesh, a land where you have never been before, but the authorities say you are an illegal trespasser from Bangladesh. In other parts of the country, Muslims are being harassed for their faith. What else could one expect? Gujarat memories linger.
India already likes to claim to be a regional super-power. It boasts of being the biggest democracy. It boasts of development and economic growth. But how long can it keep up this charade? Its own people are no longer duped. When you have an empty stomach or a bullet lodged in your body, rhetoric won’t fool you.
So where is India heading? The sheen of its ‘shining’ image has worn off. It is crossing the borderlines of humanity and justice. In response, the people just may want to change the borders. The grass really does seem greener on the other side. And if the spirit of those Meghalaya villagers is any indication, they just might decide cross over, bag, baggage… and land!