Sunday, 9 February 2014

Another conference on the Northeast, this time in Delhi

The Northeast is making the news in Delhi for all the wrong reasons these days; but our little conference on the Northeast titled 'Diversities and Connections: Reconsidering ethnic boundaries in Northeast India ' at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) at Teenmurti on the 6th and 7th Feb. 2014 gave us some reason to cheer.

The setting, in the nice first floor seminar hall, was appropriate and comfortable, and the size was just right, about 20 people, to enable good interaction. The quiet efficiency of the NMML staff ensured that we, the three organisers, did not have to take care of the local organisational details. The participants were a mix of researchers from the region as well as from abroad. We had some excellent speakers, some young researchers as well as some senior and very knowledgeable academics, and a couple of dedicated community experts.

For a change, we decided  not to focus on conflict and violence in the Northeast;  rather we wanted to talk about connections and relationships between the many different communities living in the region. And it worked very well. Although we did not have representation from all the northeastern states, at the end of the day it was clear that there was much more overlap and interchange between communities in the region than one would otherwise imagine, that ethnicity does not divide the people living here into mutually exclusive watertight compartments, that it is structurally possible to 'convert' from one ethnic group to another. We saw how deep and wide-ranging  these connections were between and among groups; we got a real glimpse of how different ethnic groups negotiate these connections -- from the Khasis and the Karbis at one end, through Mayong to the Nagas and Wanchos at the other. And although locationally further afield, we had wonderful contributions on Sikkim and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh as well.

There was a lot of discussion, and a lot of exchange of contact details; we came away with the feeling that excellent work is being done, but also that a lot remains to be done before we arrive at some real understanding of this region. To get the balance right, I was personally sorry that besides NEHU, there was very little representation from the many universities in the Northeast. The fact that many universities in the region -- known to be a hotspot of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity --  do not have anthropology departments, is a sad commentary on how much we care and value what we have  and where we live, and also on what we expect from higher education. On the other hand, it was also clear, from the work done by committed young activists and senior elders from within certain communities, how much can be done even with meagre resources and little training.

We do hope that this little event will help in a small way to bridge the gap between those who can but do not care and those who care very much but do not know how; we also hope that the realisation that  there is so much inter-connectedness among ethnic categories will help to loosen the rigid and exclusionary (politically motivated) stances that many communities seem to be taking in recent times,  in order to prioritise their claims relative to those of others. For the truth is that, no matter what we might like to think or believe, as far as this region is concerned, we are all in the same boat, brother...

1 comment:

  1. My friend, Bhaskar, had this to say on reading the blog: Good to hear of a conference on the Northeast that didn't talk of conflicts but on the interconnections that have brought us all together on this rickety boat that despite the rough waters still sails ......proudly.