A sense of disillusionment and despondency rules the streets of Barak Valley today. If anyone is asked about the future of the valley, the answer invariably indicates towards pessimism and hopelessness. Absolutely nobody seems willing to stay here and make a difference.
“Ikhano thakiya kichchu hoito na” – is the common sentiment everywhere. So, youths brimming with exuberance and confidence, often decorated with fancy degrees, are all making a beeline for the bigger cities thousands of kilometres away from home. This exodus is not only limited to the educated middle classes. In fact, a huge number of people from the economically underprivileged classes are also migrating to the cities in search of greener pastures.
While the valley continues to languish in backwardness in the absence of proper political or social leadership, individuals from the valley are doing extremely well for themselves in all professional spheres across the globe. There are innumerable successful engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, journalists and other professionals in various corners of the world who have carved a niche for themselves in their chosen fields.
To be precise, rather than being a prosperous community, we are a bunch of successful individuals. It is difficult to analyse why people from Barak Valley tend to do very well professionally or academically as individuals but fail to come together as a community and address the problems facing their motherland. Why these individual success stories do not translate to become success stories for the entire valley?
There can be a million answers to this question, but, in my view, the main reason behind this attitude is the lack of pride in our roots and origin. In today’s world, when comparatively smaller ethnic communities are also asserting their micro identities for greater economic and political powers like never before, we are constantly deviating away from our roots and culture.
We do not love our language, we do not love our own land, then how do we expect to excel as a community and be prosperous?
Today, parents teach their children the refined version of Bengali showing absolute disdain towards our dialect, ‘Sylheti’ almost suggesting that speaking ‘Kolkati’ will bring them greater acceptance. When the child goes to school, Hindi is often preferred over Bengali as the ‘Modern Indian Language’. So, if this is our mindset towards our mother tongue, how do we expect the prejudiced leaders and bureaucrats sitting in Dispur to respect our language and identity?
Contrast this with the people of Mizoram. With a population less than half of Barak Valley, they are a state. They proudly speak and learn their language and assert their identity. Everyone listens to them including the central government.
No parent or teacher in Barak Valley teaches his child or student the history of the valley I am sure, no kid from the present generation knows who Arun Kumar Chanda was. Nobody asks the youth to stay in the valley and work together towards solving the problems confronting the people. Rather those parents are seen preparing the children for academic excellence so that they can get a ticket to any of the prestigious educational institutes outside and ensure a comfortable future. Academic excellence or success without awareness about social responsibilities is more dangerous and counter productive than illiteracy.
As residents of Barak Valley, we often complain of identity crisis. Nobody seems to know anything about us. Our Assamese friends often wonder why we do not speak their language fluently despite being from a part of Assam. Our Bengali friends from Bengal wonder how Assam has so many Bengali speaking people and people from the rest of the country are simply not bothered.
This pathetic state is mostly self inflicted. In 66 years of independent India, we have neither been able to create a political force representing our interests, nor have we done much to develop our own indigenous literature and music. We have simply not tried to assert our identity.
While I do not support or subscribe to the recent tendency shown by some regional parties which, in their attempt to rake up regional sentiments, indulge in violent measures against the other communities especially linguistic and religious minorities, I do feel that we must feel proud of our language and origin. Unless, we create a feeling of pride about who we are, we will always try to migrate to greener pastures and camouflage with the developed communities there.