Concern For Silchar takes this opportunity to wish all its readers a very happy Independence Day. It is an occasion for all of us to remember the supreme sacrifices made by our leaders to earn freedom for us. In fact, for the younger generation, who got independence on a platter, this day is an opportunity to remind ourselves that taking India forward in the right direction is our responsibility and we should do whatever it takes to take our country to the top.
However, for the people of Barak Valley, while independence brought the much awaited relief from the autocratic rule of the British, it left scars which, unfortunately, have not been healed even after 65 years. Due to partition, it was left cut off from the Sylhet plains. Barak Valley suddenly became an almost unreachable remote pocket surrounded by hills on all sides. The connectivity was left at the mercy of a treacherous rail journey traversing the North Cachar Hills and the road connectivity was dependent on the heavily landslide prone Jaintia hills.
Linguistically and culturally also, its natural extension, the Sylhet district was now another country. The then undivided Cachar, was now a minority district which did not have any cultural or linguistic similarity with the rest of the state of Assam. The seeds of continuous misadministration, neglect and apathy towards the valley were sown right then and even today after so many years, there has been no change on the ground.
Due to all these reasons, the question of autonomy for Barak Valley has raised its head again. The Union Territory Demand Committee (UTDC) has been revived after many years. Recently, the committee also toured different parts of the valley to create awareness about the cause. There are other non governmental socio cultural organisations such as Barak Banga, which are demanding a separate economic council for the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.
The UTDC is putting up very genuine arguments suggesting that the valley never had any similarities with the rest of Assam and the British incorporated Cachar into Assam only to make the state financially stable. Therefore, according to them, there is no justification for Barak Valley to remain with Assam and face partial treatment.
In a diverse nation like ours, such demands are not new. The Gorkhaland agitation in West Bengal, the Telangana issue in Andhra Pradesh are making headlines everyday. In Assam, the Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas are demanding statehood for a long time through violent and non violent agitations.
If analysed closely, the root cause of all such separatist tendencies lie in the continuous economic and cultural marginalization of minority areas/groups by the ruling governments. The governments, mostly dominated by representatives from the majority community ignore the legitimate demands of the minorities leading to such agitations. The case of Barak Valley is no different. In fact, in the entire country, Assam has been the most callous in dealing with such issues.
Right during independence, it was well known that the geographic entity of Assam was a multilingual, multicultural state where various tribes, different nontribal linguistic and religious groups co-existed. In such a scenario, ultra regionalism and attempts to enforce any particular language or culture on the people was simply undesirable. For the progress of the state, the politics had to be directed towards assimilation of all groups rather than their isolation. Unfortunately, just the opposite happened. The tribal communities increasingly felt ignored and isolated from the mainstream. Meghalaya and Mizoram were carved out of the state. However, the powers that be, have not yet realised this. Ultra regionalism continues to be the political mantra of many political parties in the state today. Just wonder what would be left in Assam if the Bodo areas, Karbi and Dimasa areas and Barak Valley break away from it.
However, just as the autonomy chorus gains momentum, we should also introspect and look at ourselves. Blaming the Assam government for all our problems has almost become a pastime for us. But is it not true that, most of the state government babus and contractors who shamelessly usurp all the money sanctioned for our development are our own people from the valley? Is it not true that institutions such as the Assam University where the state government has no interference is also neck deep in corruption and incompetence? Is it not true that in 65 years of independent India, we the people of Barak Valley have not shown any entrepreneurial skills in setting up industries and beefing up the economy of the area?
Most parents in the valley encourage their wards to go outside for greener pastures. I have not come across one parent or teacher who tells the youth to stay on and make a difference. “Ikhano thakiya kita hoito”, is the common refrain everywhere. How do we expect to take our motherland forward if we do not even bother to stay there?
We will need answers to all these questions before we demand a separate entity out of Assam. If the core problems of corruption, nepotism and incompetence continue to grip us, then even a separate state may not make any difference to the lives of the people. This article does not support or oppose the cause of autonomy for Barak Valley. We have just tried to highlight the malaises that need to be corrected if we want our land to become developed and at par with the rest of the country.