By 1826 the region part of British India, Northeast is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse regions in the world. Comprising of seven sister states, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh were created from land within Assam after independence. Manipur and Tripura were distinct entities ruled by Hindu rulers for centuries. Ancient Assam, known as Kamrupa, included roughly the Brahmaputra valley, Bhutan, the Rangpur region (now in Bangladesh) and Koch Bihar (now in West Bengal). King Narakasura and his son Bhagadatta were famous rulers of Kamarupa in the Mahabharata period (at least as early as 1000 BC). Ahom, a Chinese tribe who migrated into Indochina and Myanmar in the 1st centuries AD, established a strong kingdom in Assam in the 13th century. The Ahom rule reached its peak during the reign of King Rudra Singh (1696–1714). In 1816 Myanmar invaded Assam and ruled an oppressive rule. Assam was taken over by the British rule in 1826. Manipur’s earliest recorded history goes back to AD 900. The Raja Jai Singh concluded a treaty with the British in 1762 to repel an invasion from Myanmar. The British administered the area in the 1890s, but in 1907 a local government briefly ruled. Tripura was a Hindu kingdom ruled by Tribal kings for more than 1,000 years before it became part of the Mughal Empire (17th century). After 1808 it was under the influence of the British.
The population of Assam consists of Indo-Iranian and Asian peoples. The tribal hill people of Meghalaya trace their origin to pre-Aryan times. The Nagas, the Indo-Asiatic people of Nagaland, form more than 20 tribes, and numerous sub-tribes, each having a specific geographic distribution. The various ethnic groups of Mizoram, known collectively as the Mizo (Lushai), speak a variety of Tibeto-Burman dialects. These tribes migrated (1750-1850) from the nearby Chin Hills and subjugated (later assimilated) the indigenous population. The Asiatic population of Arunachal Pradesh consists of many ethnic groups, each with a specific geographic distribution, who speak dialects of the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family. Majority of the people of Manipur are the Meithei, who occupy the Manipur valley. Indigenous hill tribes, such as the Nagas in the north and the Kukis in the south, make up the rest of the population. About one-third of the people of Tripura are indigenous hill tribes belonging to at least 19 tribes of Mongoloid origin; rest are mainly Bengalis, most coming as refugees from Bangladesh after independence.
Why is Northeast India so restive?
Due to its strategic geopolitical location, Northeast is a highly sensitive region sharing over 2,000 km of border with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh and connected to the rest of India by a narrow 20-km wide corridor of land. Isolation coupled with economic backwardness despite great potential has caused much frustration among the people, particularly the youths. Today, the lack of development has become a highly emotive issue vis-à-vis Indian democracy. The region has become a fertile recruiting ground for separatist groups fighting for causes ranging from autonomy to independence. Recent years have also seen the growth of conflicting demands for independent homelands between various ethnic groups, which have resulted in ethnic clashes and much bloodshed. The separatists find easy shelter in across the borders in Burma, Bangladesh and Bhutan, particularly in the remote hill regions. The peaceful people of the region do not condone violence in any form. They know violence has no role to play in pursuing political demands. It is not surprising that most separatist groups have failed to win over people they are allegedly fighting for demonstrating people’s revulsion to violence. After years of bloody campaigns, people are tired and desperate for peace. Today, encouragingly, civil society groups in the region are more active than ever before. They are playing a leading role in initiating dialogues and sustaining the peace process. The government has taken initiatives to accelerate economic development and opened dialogues with many of these groups to politically resolve causes of grievances and conflicts.
Addressing today’s Challenges
It is vital that effort is made to strengthen civil society and promote rational values helping the community to build capacity and participate fully and effectively in all spheres of democratic life. People need to be able to influence decision-making processes having bearing on their future. The society needs to keep vigil against corruption to ensure that funds allotted for development are used appropriately. The businesses need to be efficient in generating employment and providing much needed critical services to the people. Only a vibrant civic society could rise up to difficult challenges like these.
Our aim is to improve the opportunities for the community to ensure that people enjoy the benefits of globalization and economic growth while preserving its culture and traditions. Our strategy is simple – invest in the people, stimulate creativity, confidence and self-expression using knowledge and information as a medium. We will establish projects that have a powerful multiplier effect.