Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan’s twitter faux pas has not gone down well, understandably so, with the people of the North-east (NE). Praising boxer Mary Kom, Mr Bachchan tweeted, “Mary Kom!! wins boxing bout, insured (sic) a Bronze! What a story! A Mother of two from Assam, creates moment of pride for India!!” While there was an avalanche of responses to the tweet, the majority saying that he should get his geography right, Mr Bachchan’s ignorance is embarrassing but not surprising.
The truth is there are huge number of people out there who find it difficult to even name all the states that make up the NE, let alone their capitals. Many others are even oblivious of the diversity that exists in the region, to them the NE is one solid cultural block. Then there are many, including those who are supposed to uphold the constitutional rights of the people, who actively discriminate against those who come from the NE: so if a northeasterner is raped, it must be her character, or if a young man dies, as happened in the case of a student in Bangalore recently, then it must be a drug overdose. The less said the better about the challenges that people from the region face every day when they arrive in ‘mainland’ India.
Politically too, the NE is a forgotten area even though it is crucial in terms of its resources and geopolitics. It only grabs our attention when China comes up with some reference to Arunachal Pradesh or when an agitation erupts there. But beyond that an ‘out of sight, out of mind syndrome’ plagues our leaders. Did we hear much on the recent Assam violence in Parliament? No, we did not even though many people died in the riots.
Even leaders who come from the NE and aspire for higher offices exploit their tribal roots but never talk about the region, its challenges and the need to ‘integrate’ it with the rest of the country. A case in point is Purno Sangma who talked of his tribal roots while fighting the presidential polls but not about the importance of the region or how his election could have helped us focus on this geographical area. For that matter, there are not many politicians who are interested in discussing the poor quality of governance in the NE.
Even the media is not above such biases when it comes to the NE. With Mary Kom’s success, every media house sent reporters to her home to cover the glorious moment. But what happens on ordinary days? There seems to be a blanket ban on news from the NE. Is it because there is not much scope to mop up advertising revenue in that area? While Mary Kom’s success may ensure that people look at the region with renewed interest, albeit a fleeting one, the truth is that the region has been producing good athletes for many years now.
So in that sense, sports minister Ajay Maken’s promise that his ministry would revamp the Sports Authority of India’s training centre that produced those champions is a welcome move. However, much more needs to be done to improve its ‘integration’ with ‘mainland’ India.