Recently I attended a seminar on ‘Media Representation of Northeast India’ organized by Department of Mass Communication, Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh at Guwahati as a Resource Person. Many scholars, who presented papers there, seem to have this opinion that North East States (which comprises of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim) do not feature prominently in mainstream media. North East states are strategically very important as they share international boundaries, even then they do not feature prominently in media probably because of its remote location or sparse population or political weight or for all the reasons in some measures. As I listened through many paper presentations I could feel that this perception of marginalization is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of people of NE.
There are two major conceptual frameworks of marginalisation: Societal marginalisation and spatial marginalisation.
Societal marginalisation deals with the social exclusion of the individuals on the basis of social stratification, class, caste, culture, gender, age. Social marginalisation does not derive its power from any social or divine law, but the powerful social agencies including the ethnic groups, governments, religious fundamentalists force a certain group of individuals to get pushed to the margins on the basis of above-mentioned criteria. This turns out to be a power play between the powerful and the powerless groups within a society.
Spatial marginalisation depends on the geographic locations of the groups of individuals irrespective of its class, caste, culture, gender, etc. The areas which are away from the power centre are normally ignored and the people living in those areas are forced to be isolated. The political or economic power centres often ignore the remote locations and do not allow the population from these areas to be an active participant in the economic or political activities. Therefore the fruits of development often do not reach these locations.
But an analysis of all indicators of development (economic growth, education, health, etc.) shows that the NE states are not lagging behind. In fact in several indicators they are far ahead of other states. The Union government has been taking special interest in the development of the NE states for years. I felt the perception of ‘being marginalised’ probably stems from a ‘victim syndrome’ that many suffer from. And different political and socio-cultural groups add to this syndrome for their vested interest.
The problem is: when a community or group feels marginalized – gradually it is alienated from the mainstream. There is then a growing tendency of looking at everything from the viewpoint of a victim. This triggers a paranoiac response to every small incident. That again snowballs into larger issue reinforcing this sense of being marginalized.
At the seminar, I presented my point of view: if you think you are marginalized, you will perpetually suffer from victim syndrome. Fight that mindset. In a federal country like India, no area, no community can remain marginalized. Wrest your place by sheer hard work.
At Guwahati I stayed at Don Bosco Institute at Kharghuli Hills, on the banks of the mighty Bramhaputra river. It offered a majestic view. In the early morning the water looked crimson, gradually the colour changed to gold and then to silver.
Just across the window of my room stood a Sonajhuri (Sunari in Odia, Hunari in Assamese. Acacia auriculiformis) tree, resplendent with gold coloured flowers. Up on the hills, away from the gaze of people. As I looked at it and took couple of photographs to capture the image, (you can capture image, but can you transmit that sense of beauty, I don’t know) this tree probably became happy. Some body at last appreciated. Or probably annoyed. Why are you intruding into my privacy? Or probably both. Simultaneously. You never know.
Beauty always comes with enigma. And that adds to its mystique.
As I wondered in downtown Guwahati I came across many identical looking places of worship- called Namghar (literally meaning a house for chanting the name of the Lord), mostly frequented by the Vaishnavas. Though Assam is known for Shakti worship, thanks to the presence of Kamakhya Temple, it has had a strong Vaishnava tradition, initiated by Sankardeva (1449–1568). A saint-scholar, poet, playwright, social-religious reformer Sankardev inspired the Bhakti movement in Assam just as Guru Nanak, Ramananda, Namdev, Kabir, Basave, Shri Chaitanya and Mahima Swami inspired it elsewhere in the India. Among many other initiative, Sankardev started Namghar- a place for community worship, religious discourse, cultural practices like dance and drama and also social interaction including conflict resolution.
The Nāmghar is a living institution and for over 500 years, its impact on Assamese society and culture has been tremendous. I am told that the Nāmghar is a common feature of every Assamese village. In the villages, in addition to serving as the common prayer hall, it also serves as the village stage and the meeting place of the village panchāyat. It has continued to be the centre of social and religious activities.
Furthermore, both the Satras and the Namghars led to the creation and development of drama, music and the stage. These three have been the most powerful instruments for popularising culture in Assam.
As I was wondering, I saw a bottle with some blue – violet liquid tied to the front gate of a house. I saw this in several other houses in that area. I enquired and was told that it’s purpose was to ward off evil eyes of a particularly naughty spirit. I could not understand what was there in that liquid that had the power to scare off evil spirit’s eyes.
Days later my student Ripunjay told me that “the liquid is plain water mixed with blue; and the purpose is to keep away evil dogs from shitting near the gate”.
I liked the evil spirit story.
Assam, particularly Kamakhya Temple is said to be associated with tantric and occult practices. The most important event at Kamakhya Temple is Ambubachi Mela. The Ambubachi is a ritual of asceses observed with “Tantrik means”. It is believed that the presiding goddess of the temple, Devi Kamakhya, the Mother Shakti, goes through her annual cycle of menstruation during this time stretch. The doors of the Kamakhya Temple remain closed for three days. It is believed that the Mother Earth becomes unclean for three days. During this time any kind of farming work is not taken on. Daily worships and other religious performances are also stopped during these days. After the completion of three days, the doors of the Kamakhya Temple are reopened after Devi Kamakhya is bathed and the other rituals are executed. It is then believed that the Mother Earth has retrieved her purity.
Thousands of pilgrims and tantric babas and swamis from all over the country throng to the Ambubachi Mela. This year the mela is from 22 to 26 June.
As such there are many babas and swamis with long beards and hair at the vicinity of Kamakhya Temple. They look quite menacing with long tilaks and colours pasted on their foreheads and beads hanging from their necks and wrists. Many of them wear multiple number of rings on their fingers. Most of them are more than willing to get photographed.
Food is an important part of the culture of a country or state or community. North East States have over 200 tribal community. Every community has its own food habit and cuisine. The sheer variety is mind boggling.
It is a good development that in Guwahati different tribal communities are opening restaurants offering their own cuisine.
A restaurant called Rabha Kitchen serves cuisine of Rabha tribe as well as other food. Mising Kitchen serves cuisine of Mising trinbe. Mainly traditional thali. A restaurant called Nagameez- it serving mainly Naga food. These kind of restaurants, I am told, are becoming very popular now.
Tailpiece: Sorround Sound System
Define Surround Sound System?
Award winning answer- Wife in the front seat of the car, her mother and sister in the back seat!!
The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town of Dhenkanal. An anthology of his weekly column Window Seat, published in 2018 has been published as a book. Write to him to get a free e-copy. [email protected]