The demand for equal opportunities in the northeast is getting shriller now
If they had a sword to slay the metaphorical dragon, the youth from India’s northeastern region would go after the three-headed monster that has held them back for years – corruption, unemployment and conflict.
While ‘progress’ and ‘development’ have come to the rest of the country in different forms, in order for young women and men from the eight northeastern states to experience a ‘normal’ life, which essentially translates into access to quality education and a decent career, they have to pack their bags and move to cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Pune.
The youth from the north east are looking for jobs in their home states so that they do not have to migrate to other regions (Photos: Ninglun HanghalWFS)
It’s not an easy decision for them but one they are forced to take any way in order to escape the threats of violence and overcome the frustration of joblessness.
Lasting change is what they are collectively seeking today. Lanu, 24, from Sikkim, who has returned home after her graduation in Delhi and is well informed about the policies that have been formulated to boost economic growth in the region, would like to see some proactive steps being taken.
She states, “There are funds earmarked for the development of the northeast by the Centre, and yet things happen here at a snail’s pace. Government apathy mixed with corruption, especially at the state level, is responsible for this mess. There is a dire need to expedite infrastructure projects that usually tend to drag on for years.”
Lanu hopes to start a business in her home town, Gangtok, but she is not quite sure of how it will take off considering the many administrative challenges.
In the neighbouring state of Assam, Joutishman Dutta, a young entrepreneur, expresses his exasperation with the prevailing political climate.
He strongly advocates some radical transformation, “perhaps on the lines of an Aam Aadmi Party that won the elections in Delhi”, in order for things to improve.
“What we youngsters want are equal opportunities like everyone else in this country. We don’t want to be left behind. No one wants to leave their home for a petty job, but is there any choice for us?
“I believe that improvement in even basic infrastructure, like roads and power, will encourage industries to come in and that would mean creation of more jobs,” he says.
No one understands better than Jenpu, a Naga from Kohima, the devastating effects that lack of proper schooling and a suitable profession can have.
He has faced a double blow in life: not only did he dropout of high school but he also lost his brother to drug overdose. Yet, Jenpu managed “to bring his life back on track” by setting up Young Club, an NGO that reaches out to dropouts, drug and alcohol abusers, as well as children affected by HIV/AIDS.
He says, “The political scenario in my state is dismal. The people who are in power are getting richer, while the rest of the population is battling serious hardships.”
Despite the fact that all the eight northeastern states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim – have been blessed with nature’s bounty, the region remains largely unexplored and untapped.
Contributing to the underdevelopment further are the frequent economic blockades and conflict outbreaks that bring normal life to a standstill.
Sarah Phangchopi, who lives in the Karbi Anglong area of Assam, which is often in the news for violent clashes between different ethnic groups, speaks bitterly about the incompetence of the local administration to address the problem.
“For me, conflict between communities is a major concern. But what is even more frustrating is that the administration does not do enough to get to the root cause of these endless episodes of violence. It chooses to remain a mute spectator to the destruction,” she laments.
Murchana Barkakati, 26, a clinical researcher in Guwahati, agrees, “Equilibrium and harmony between different sections of the society, whether tribal and non-tribal or diverse religious groups, is the need of the hour.”
Negotiations and ceasefires between various militant outfits, state governments and the Centre have been a constant feature for decades now though examples of lasting solutions are few and far between.
Only two successful instances come to mind – the Mizo insurgency that culminated with an accord in 1986, and the Bodo insurgency led by the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) that ended with the disbandment of the outfit in 2003.
At present, one of the most publicised peace talks involving the banned United Liberation Force of Asom (ULFA) in Assam are in progress, though no resolution is in sight yet.
Of course, this ‘work in progress’ attitude is no longer acceptable to the region’s young population.
Interestingly, the rise of the fledgling political party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has fired their imagination and given a new hope for politics that is corruption-free, pro-young and pro-development.
Lienboi Haokip, who works for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Manipur, remarks, “For me, preserving the region’s environment is an issue that’s very important because it is a source of livelihood for many. I am optimistic that things will change in my state if the youth participation in the political process increases.”
Murchana also wishes for a “whiff of fresh air like the AAP despite the fact that they are surrounded by controversies”.
Going by the results of the recent assembly elections held in four states, the one trend that has emerged clearly is that participation of the youth can definitely change the tide of popular politics as well as the manner in which key issues are pitched and prioritised.
Attempting to channelise their energies and passion into creating that change is a national campaign, ‘My Space, My unManifesto’ that is working in 15 states to put together a crowd sourced youth manifesto for the coming 2014 general elections.
In the northeastern states, Father Jerry of the Guwahati-based Bosco Institute is leading the initiative.
He observes, “On the basis of a study we conducted recently, I can say that while youngsters here put high value on politics being able to bring about change, they shy away from active political involvement.” He adds that while “agitations by different groups see a lot of young people joining in, they are mostly told what to do”.
Violence forced Jenpu’s mother to close down her small fast food joint and his brother succumbed to the pressures of unemployment.
But if Lanu, Murchana, Sarah, Joutishman and others have it their way then good governance, allocation of funds and resources for creating adequate work opportunities and a conflict free existence may soon become a lived reality. - Women's Feature Service