When a family member suffers a mishap or a tragedy, we all rush to offer support and assistance. We don’t wait for or expect the government to offer help and compensation. There is a sense of oneness and belonging, a sense of duty and responsibility. There is no expectation of gratitude. And all of this results in a healing touch which is more valuable than anything that money can buy. This is what builds resilience and goes a long way in helping victims get back on their feet.
As a nation and a community, we have responded as such in the aftermath of national tragedies- whether natural disasters such as quakes and tsunamis, or terror attacks as in Mumbai after 26/11.
Much pain and inconvenience has been caused to Indians from the North-east by the recent bout of sms-driven rumour-mongering and stray incidents of assault on north-easterners in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Think of the enormous distress caused to those who were sick or invalid, and their families, as thousands of people from the north-eastern states fled to the safety of their home states amidst rumours of being attacked. The greatest relief from this episode is that not a single life was lost.
The Union government has traced the origins of this Internet and sms-driven rumour mongering to the on-going proxy war unleashed by terror groups in Pakistan against India. As a nation, India must deal with this firmly and decisively at the diplomatic level and take the necessary steps on the home front to deal with such rumour mongering in the future.
As a people, we have work on our hands. Although Hindu and Muslim community leaders repeatedly reassured north-easterners and urged them to stay calm and not panic, the fact is that these assurances weren’t effective. The reason for this is the deep sense of alienation that the north-easterners have towards mainland India.
Throughout the decades since Independence we have been slow in making north-easterners feel Indian- a part of the larger Indian community and have often taunted them as “Chinese” or “chinki”. It is a matter of shame that the thousands of north-easterners who fled Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mysore and other cities did so because they and their families did not have any faith in the police and the people of the cities they were living in.
The local community bonding was absent and they had no one to fall back on other than people from their stock who had also panicked and were fleeing.
The least that mainland Indians can do- and must do- is start working towards changing this through community initiatives that specifically involve north-easterners and make them feel at home, even when they are away from home.
In whichever city they lived, the north-easterners have been contributing to the local economy in a big way. Their departure has affected businesses and especially their small scale employers want them back, desperately. As a goodwill gesture, all employers should not only restore their jobs but also ensure that there are no deductions in salary and wages.
This may be hard on those who have lost business, but such a gesture- in whatever form- is necessary as a part of our patriotic responsibility towards our fellow citizens and to demonstrate our sense of unity as a nation. It would be far easier for educational institutions in Maharashtra and Karnataka not to mark their north-eastern students as absent during the period of the crisis and also conduct extra tutorials to cover the curriculum that may have been missed.
There are numerous other ways that people can think of to do what is of utmost necessity: take steps to create bonds and community relationships with Indians from the north-east.
The north-easterners represent a minority community in India and the next time any minority is targeted, it is necessary that the rest of the community- which includes other minorities- steps in promptly to provide protection and a sense of security.
There are lessons to be drawn from what has happened in the recent past because such episodes will continue to recur with unfailing regularity given the intensity of the enemy’s resolve to break and destroy India. While the government and the security agencies have their role and responsibility, we as a people have our responsibility too, which is to contribute to building resilience and community bonding throughout the nation and across minorities of different shades.