Author: Shantanu Nandan Sharma
Northeast India is in discussion these days for two different reasons. One, the Olympic medalists there have become harbingers of hope in sports. Second, there is the interstate border conflict, which is a reminder of old wounds that are not yet healed. The first reason will accelerate the process of joining the mainstream of the region, while the second will create problems for the future by inciting sentiments. The first reason is the victory of two young women on the global stage, and secondly, the defeat of the Chief Ministers in settling the dispute properly.
But good story first. The whole country now recognizes Manipuri weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu and Assamese boxer Lovlina Borgohain. Chanu has won silver at the Tokyo Olympics, while Lovlina has confirmed her medal, but her complexion remains to be seen. These things will help the North East to mingle faster with the rest of India.
Chanu’s first name Mirabai would be familiar to most people, but her family name – Saikhom would seem foreign to them. Just as Marwaris are an ethnic group native to Rajasthan, or Konkanis are indigenous to the Konkan region in south-west India, Chanu are from Meitei, an ethnic group native to Manipur. The Meitei speak Meitilon (Manipuri), which is a Tibeto-Burman language and is one of the official languages of India under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. While Lovlina’s family name was Borgohain, a title reserved for the top advisors of the Ahom kings. Chao Lung Sukpha, who founded the Ahom dynasty in Assam in 1228, was a prince of Mong Mao, a kingdom that extended his empire to present-day Myanmar and Yunnan in China.
Today Mirabai and Lovlina are Indian Idols. Now a difficult question. Both look like Indians who are often victims of racial discrimination in the metro cities of the country, such as New Delhi and Bangalore, where they live. So how does this new attachment arise? While racial discrimination continues against the people of the Northeast, are the celebrations of Mirabai and Lovlina being celebrated as India’s new sporting icons? Be that as it may, Mirabai and Lovleena keep hope alive. Then there is also the six-time world boxing champion Mary Kom. Surely the faces of Mirabai and Lovlina can serve to make the rest of Indians more culturally aware of the diverse and geographically remote regions of the country.
Now let’s move on to the bad news. It is about the failure to deal with a sensitive border dispute between Assam and Mizoram. Something that incites anger and alienation, which are fundamental to the growth of extremism. In fact, it would be disastrous to dismiss this conflict as an isolated incident taking place somewhere far away.
Many will not remember the incident on 26 July. On this day, an IG level officer of the police asked about 200 armed personnel to ‘persuade’ the police force of the neighboring state to vacate a post. What happened after that was very sad. At Lailapur (Assam) – Wairengte (Mizoram) border, Mizoram police fired machine guns at Assam policemen from nearby hills, killing six and injuring over 50 people, including an SP rank officer. On the other hand, two people including a policeman from Mizoram were injured.
It takes a lot of sensitivity to deal with such a difficult situation. Those negotiating the issue need to explore the history of this area of conflict. In 1966, the Indian Air Force bombed the present-day capital of Mizoram, Aizawl. The reason was that the guerrillas of the Mizo National Front (MNF) had surrounded the city. This is the only example of military bombing inside independent India.
So, in the 75th year of independence, we should be clear about what we want as a nation – Lovlina or Lailapur?
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.