For a landlocked militancy-prone region lagging behind the growth story of ‘mainland’ India, utilising manpower resources is a major concern. The worry doubles when violence and its backlash render 50,000 people temporarily jobless, as is the case with the exodus of northeasterners from metros in southern and western India.
According to a November 2010 survey by North Eastern Hills University, the percentage of unemployed youths (15-23 years) in the Northeast was 9.04 compared to the all-India average of 8.57. Assam topped the unemployment list with 11.44%, explaining why the state was fertile ground for myriad militant groups seeking youth energy to fight ‘colonial India’.
However, communal violence in Assam and fears of a backlash made these workers head back home in droves since August 15. “I have been working in a Bangalore restaurant since July 2010. Free food and lodging meant I could save more than half of the R5,500 I made to be sent home every month. I want to go back because my family needs the money,” said Mantu Daimary, 26, of Naokata village in Baska district.
TR Singh, employee of a Bangalore-based financial company, is confident of getting his job back. “I am treating this as a break from work,” he said after reaching Imphal.
While the exodus has elicited a gloomy forecast from the ordinary Northeast resident, experts think the phase is temporary.
“Barring a countable few, the returnees will go back to the metros. This is because it is difficult to find jobs in the Northeast, which according to the National Institute of Fiscal Planning has to attain an annual growth rate of 13% from its present sub-5% to catch up with the rest of India by 2020,” said former professor of economics Dilip Barua.
The Assam government too thinks the crisis will tide over. “The focus of our relief and rehabilitation operations is on the victims of the violence. We are yet to draw up a plan for the returnees,” a government spokesperson said.
Manipur home minister Gaikhangam said the way ahead was to dispel fear from the minds of the returnees. “We will ensure their protection once they get back to work,” he said.