[ If the roads are all too smooth, you won’t remember the journey: Paljor Lachungpa president,The Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS)]
Look at the picture above. What impression it creates in your mind? A beautiful NE Indian hill track, with heavy traffic under army vigil. Does it signify beauty & security? I wonder. One is not sure if he or she will be looted or kidnapped here on the way or not. So, the travelers here need security support from none other than the Indian Army. Threats are here from very native hoodlums. If you are on the way to Silchar from Guwahati, or Lumding, be it by rail or by road, you will find these personnel of Indian armed forces always alert with their weapons pointing towards the undefined, uncanny, trigger-happy native adversary to instill confidence in you. But, the story doesn’t end here. Both the route remains closed most of the time of a year, especially in the summer season due to heavy landslide in the summer season. The delays in Gauge conversion works and lack of maintenance to the decrepit MG tracks and Rail Couches in the Lumding- Silchar route have increased the traveling hazards of the people in the recent years.
It is not that this Silchar route is facilitating the land-communication to the Silcharites or Barak Valley people alone. It is the only communication available to the people of the whole of NC Hill district, the second largest and possibly the most beautiful of all districts of Assam. It connects States like Tripura, Mizoram and South Manipur to the rest of India. Still, no body there in Delhi or Dispur cares much if the rail route remains closed in most of the time of a year.
Why Dispur? Why not Aizwal, Imphal, or Agartala? Because every one here are busy with there own domestic conflicts and problems. Actually, they are apt in blame game and patting their own shoulders with self-aggrandizement. There is a body named DoNER. But, it acts just like a advisory body. Agartala is happy with its subsidized airfare and shortest air route1 and now looking after rail and road links through Bangladesh, which will minimize its communication problem almost to the zero level.
We should be sure that Mizoram also will avail itself of that route in near future and so will south Manipur. Meghalaya have another proposal through Dauki border. But, there is no reason to believe that Dima Hasao District will choose other route for Kolkata and southern parts of the country if they can avail themselves of the Agartala route. There was a popular demand for railway link between Shahbazpur in Bangladesh to Mohisashan in Karimganj district of Assam. It is also included in the DoNER agenda. But till date, Assam Government has shown no interest. It has only angered its southern part .So much so, that if anyone listen to the whisper making round there, they will come to know that that part is now dreaming for the day when they will have very little dependence on the Northern part of the state and will be in position to move forward for a bigger political paradigm shift, like demand for a separate state. Dimaraji State demand is already there. That way the present state may very soon loose another geographical and eco-political part it has gained in the year 1874 and again at the time of partition. That will mean a huge loss of revenue earning at present and possibility of prospective revenue loss in the future for the existing dispensation.
A team of blogers call ‘Concern for Silchar’ has recently wrote in their blog post, “When, the then Prime Minister HD Devegowda landed in Silchar to lay the foundation stone of the broad gauge conversion work of the Lumding – Silchar corridor in 1996, he greeted the people of Silchar with a few words in Assamese, completely ignorant of the fact that, the couple of thousands strong crowd which had gathered to listen to him did not speak the language at all. He was also shamelessly insensitive to the fact, that, the region he was visiting had a bloody yet illustrious history of struggle to safeguard their mother tongue Bengali. That insensitivity was just a symbolic representation of the insensitivity the gauge conversion project itself was to face in the years to come.”2 Very true statements, but, what I personally find irritating is that present Silchar middle class people are basically less concern about North East India as a whole. The statement made by the ex-prime minister was not at all Barak Valley specific. It’s Delhiite’s habitual attitude towards the whole NE India. Have we forgot, the famous statement once (June 26, 2009, ) made by none other than the Mizoram Chief Minister from Congress Party Lal Thanhawla on racism in mainland India? He, at an international seminar in Singapore, said, “I am a victim of racism. In India, people ask me if I am an Indian. They ask me if I am from Nepal or elsewhere. They forget that the North-East is part of India.” On April 24, 2010, during a conference in Aizawl he once again said, “You (rest of India) continue to ask for our passports at hotels and airports… It means you don’t accept us (North-Easterners) as one of you, as Indians.”3
The problem here is that none of us is free from that type of social melee. May we recall how a Mizo girl was humiliated at Guwahati itself in the first part of January this year? 4 Such incidents are very common in entire NE India. We want to travel beyond our borders for better and brighter living and future. We strive for recognition and rewards that comes from there. But, at home, we love to forget our age old traditions of entertaining guests. We just don’t want them here. We seldom think on creating an environment here, where we’ll warmly receive the outsiders, welcome them and exhibit our hospitality and friendliness in such a way, that they in turn be motivated to project our people and land in a positive and dignified way. Just like Kerala and Sikkim, one of our own NE Indian state, have chosen to do. To my mind it’s the best way to change the attitude of outsiders for rest of India and abroad towards us. How can a few of non-residents change the mind set of entire globe?
I can recall one prominent MLA from present Dima Hasao District once denounced the construction of BG rail track and Super National High way on this supposition that it will attract many outsiders there who will make them minority and degrade the cultural traditions of the land and people. I can’t take his name because I don’t have handy proof now. But, we have circumstantial evidence on such sentiments of a section of people there. Such a belief only can explain why DHD often dared to bomb the rail track there and disrupt the construction works. Though, it is believed that they were being used as tools by people from some transport lobby, competing contractors and political persona associated with them. The 1000 crores scams have every chance to be linked with such misadventures. Those who are making hue and cry here at Brahmaputra Valley on the scam they are not talking on that aspect, nor have they earlier talked about the plight of the people of NC Hills. It’s just like main land media’s attitude, while they remain silent on our achievements, but make breaking news on our wrong doings. People here in Brahmaputra valley is very much concern about Ujoni and Namoni, Sadiya to Dhubri. This is what Assam means to them--- neither north nor south, nor the Barak and the Brahmaputra, neither Sadia to Silchar nor Dhubri to Dhalai Even in the state government’s site on tourism; one will find no reference about Barak Valley. It closes its chapter at Jatinga. No reffrence of Khashpur, the capital of last Dimacha kings, Sidhewswar Siva Mandir, Buwan Pahar Cave, Bhuwan Shiva and Pabuwan Mandir, Shah Adam Khaki Mokam at Badarpur , nothing. All places we mentioned here are of historical importance. 5
We can develop a mechanism to save our, languages, identities, folk-traditions, including traditional eco-political system, but can not be resistant to the outsiders for ever. They will not come here for a day or two to make parties. They will come for uncountable reasons and not all of them will be from distant places, but our neighboring districts and states. We must be prepare for that from our core of heart. Any type of exploitation by the Bureaucrats and Industrial houses here should be opposed. But, the way Bishal Megamart was treated throughout the sate while a phone taping report on seeing huge amount of donation by a student leader was leaked and published a few months back was not the right way. These incidents send wrong massages to the outer world. These in turn make an irritating situation for those of our own people who work and live in other parts of the country. This type of politics also means that these exploiters can easily do what ever they want to do here, if only such organizations are made happy. No body is here to protest if those business firms cheat their local employees and customers.
Silcharites normally feel proud to be call as residents of ‘Island of Peace’ (Swantir Dweep) --- a term coined by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. That famous political term only helped them to feel alien to the other parts of the region. It was simply a tricky politics. But, do they make any exception? Ask any Mizo man or woman. They will describe the way they are being treated at the Markets and Hotels in and around Silchar. There are numbers of regular cases of rape, molestation of Mizo women in and around Silchar. 6 Though it is true that the Silcharites have never tried to push Mizos settlers back accept once in the late seventies during MNF uprisings at Mizoram. Silcharites feels proud that they never behaved such a way with any communities including Assamese. But, it’s only the overwhelming majority of local Bengali population that easily explain why they never feel threatened to be outnumbered and marginalized there. Middle class majoritarian outlook is no different from their counterpart in Brahmaputra Valley. When the middle class in Barak Valley instead of striving to initiate a discourse for evolving a way out for mutual co-existence thinks that they can’t trust and depend on Dispur anymore vis-à-vis the Assamese Middle Class opinion makers on the basis of the actual state of affairs of discrimination, disdain and ill-treatment, it can also be concluded that they, too, replicating the mindset of the Assamese middle class, won’t be ready to invite and receive the Assamese people there and project themselves in a better manner. A separate eco-political arrangement, demand for which is gaining ground, in no way will take them out of the North East Part of the Country. They will have to live with Assamese, Mizo, Manipuri, Khashi People and so on. Like present writer, a large section of population there will continue to serve and enter into business terms with the neighboring places here at rest of NE India , as they are doing now. It will be interesting to write here that very few here in Assam, from both the valley, are keen on listening the Meghalaya’s demand for rail linkup from Jogighopa via Tikrikilla,
Ampati, Dalu, Baghmara, Dawki and Badarpur through the southern slope of Meghalaya 7. It is declared in this year’s railway budget that survey on that route is complete by now and survey on another route from Shillong to Chandranathpur will be started this year. If these plans translates into a reality, the divide between two valleys is going to lessen beyond any expectation and that way this will deceive any plan for fleeing of the conservatives from their respective responsibility to uphold the spirit of unity in diversity.
Had there been a process of development narratives on and around tourism prospects of Barak Valley along with its neighboring districts and states, that would have proved itself to be a convincing tool for people at Delhi and Dispur in particular and Assamese Middle Class opinion makers of Brahmaputra Valley in general. Tourism means hospitality. Hospitality means positive mindset and attitude. No business proposal other than tourism can so effectively involve the local communities. I’m very much aware that some will suggest I’m talking about a utopia. They might doubt and consider the prospect of tourism industry a day dream in such a remote place with such a worst connectivity with outer world. In reply, I’d like to suggest that it’s all about attitude. A great example of such attitude was once expressed by Paljor Lachungpa, the president of the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS). In an interview on May 18, 2010 he was asked on the permits that required getting into restricted areas like North Sikkim. The Interview was taken by Andrew Dana Hudson, an International Travel wittier. He replied, “Our clients shouldn’t feel harassed about getting into the restricted areas, but if you make it free for everyone, people will lose their curiosity,” He again said, “If the roads are all too smooth, you won’t remember the journey.” 8
I don’t know if, there are any such other beautiful routes to travel in the state of Assam. I don’t know if there are any green and beautiful rivers like Jatinga and Dayang elsewhere in Assam. I don’t know if there is another huge and deep cave like Bhuwan hill cave in Assam. Leave alone, its other hills, Jungles, rivers, flora and fauna, places of cultural, religious and historical importance. On which I may choose to write some other time in near future.
This bloggers also denouncing the fact that a large share of population there does not speak Bengali at home. It’s not there mother tongue. ‘Lumding to Silchar : The story of an endless tunnel’;http://concernforsilchar.blogspot.com/2011/01/lumding-to-silchar-story-of-endless_30.html.
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Arup Baisya and Amitabha Dev Choudhury for helping me in editing the article.