Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mother, Where's My Country - A Much Needed Intervention


The tyranny of distance is an easy excuse that editors based out of metropolitan cities cite when asked why they neglect the North Eastern states. Fact of the matter is that they are not willing to learn and understand a region that has a rich history, a rich cultural heritage and a complex socio-political structure. With its rich human resource base, the North East contributes to a significant chunk of the service sector work force in the rest of mainland India; however, within the North-East, they fail to secure economic opportunities unless it is a government job for which they bribe through their noses or join an insurgent group that is an extortion gang in reality. This is a layer of a complex problem with many more layers in a state that is recognized either by its atheletes like M C Mary Kom, The Devendro brother-sister duo, or only by that state at the corner with an exotic dance and a terrible insurgency form.
When one picks up the book "Mother, Where's My Country?" written by Anubha Bhonsle, there are several questions that comes to one's mind. The choice of Manipur as a subject matter will be questioned by many who will see this book as another attempt to fantasize about the insurgency issues of Manipur and its schizophrenic relation with Nagaland. However, it is befitting that Anubha Bhonsle, who still works with CNN-IBN, has written on this book, as it points out to the very least the outright dumbness of the mainstream electronic media of India in reporting on the North-East, as if there is a black hole there in which everything gets sucked in, never to come out. The book is many years of field notes, as one can judge from the narrative of the book. Much of what is written in the book particularly points out to the absolutely ghastly and shoddy work that India's news channels otherwise do on the North-East, and how so much work that Anubha has written has not been brought out even in the print medium. It is sad to see that she was working at the same time with Rajdeep Sardesai, whose attitude towards the other parts of the country was visible in his stint as the head of the channel through his questionable obsession with Narendra Modi and the 2002 riots of Gujarat for twelve years, especially when so many moments of absolute chaos hit Manipur during that period, which could have gotten much, much worse. Here is an insurgency where thousands more have died than the riots in Gujarat put together, and it has taken so long for people to be told just why the issue of identity, rampant corruption, lack of will to govern and the excesses of Indian paramilitary forces and insurgent groups has lulled an otherwise vibrant people into a weird storm of silence. Two incidents that strike you in the book, and which the author dwells on in detail are striking - the amnesia of the Indian government towards a bravery award winner killed in crossfire, and the heartbreaking life struggle of Irom Sharmila Chanu, who does not have an exit strategy anymore. The problems of Manipur, like any other conflict state, have no heroes - there are only villains waiting to extract their moment under the sun. A game of dice turned Russian roulette is what Manipur's daily life was reduced to in many senses. A historic Naga Peace Accord's shadow looms large over Manipur that does not want to compromise any more, if only to salvage something of a wounded pride. There are layers and layers of issues in a matriarchal society that complicate the matter further. Moreover, repeated governments in the state and the Center seems blissfully unaware of what to do, and hold on to a tenuous peace like a vaunted prize.
Anubha Bhonsle's book is a timely intervention in the almost dead discourse on Manipur, and while not necessarily reflective of the entire North East, does give a headstart on common issues plaguing all the states in the region. It is a pity that reportage has to come through a book rather than on television for greater impact and wider reach. Crisp editing of the book ensures that one does not feel weighed down at any moment while getting a hang on the facts. It would have been interesting had the author also delved deeper in to the history of the state, because much of history does repeat itself in ways we cannot imagine. I personally recommend this book for those trying to familiarize themselves with the state's problems through a primer. There is much more to be known about Manipur, least of which are its problems. Most people forget that the traditional sankirtanas of Manipur are on the UNESCO World List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and include both the dance and music. The Loktak lake wetlands, man-made entirely, can put to pale the beautiful scenery of Siem Reap in Cambodia. However, all this beauty is meaningless if meaningful lasting peace cannot be found. Please read this book instead of self-glorifying rubbish written by some 'eminent journalists' recently. This is solid reportage at its best.

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