The other day, a private security guard resorted to firing to scare away a group of local activists who came to a labour camp in Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills region to ‘verify’ their antecedents. The activists wanted to chase away a few labourers who ‘failed’ to produce documents to prove their identity. The anti-outsider sentiment has been rife in the state for a long time. These labourers were engaged in construction of a vital road. There were many incidents of torture and harassment on outsiders since the birth of the state in 1972. Every ruling party appeals to the people to be tolerant towards outsiders while the opposition always tries to stoke the fire of anti-outsider sentiment.
‘Outsiders’ played great roles in every civilization. There is no golden era in history in any part of the world without outsiders’ contribution. Every developed society has a history of influence of outsiders. The glaring example is 500-year-old America, discovered by Columbus. The ‘discovery’ has changed the history of the twin continent and the world as well. The original Indians would not have been able to take the region, at least the US, to this present level. Migrated population from Middle-East had a major contribution towards building Europe. The Jews – despite Hitler nearly eliminated the race – are still considered a formidable race across Europe and America holding affairs of the world. In India, the small kings of broken kingdoms would not have been able to create the mighty image the Mughal gave to the country.
Yet, they hate ‘outsiders’. There are reasons. Outsiders plundered resources and undermine rights of aborigines. But the concept of outsiders has undergone a lot of change in the past centuries. Gone are the days when a race shifted their base to another region or invaded another race. People’s movement from place to place for non-military purpose increased in India since the British era. They have major contribution towards changing the face of many untouched parts of the north-eastern region. The region’s mostly hill states saw outsiders (Indians) coming along with the British to build roads, set up office, do logging, mining etc.
Outsiders are still coming, many more times the movement of people from this region towards the rest of the country. Now, should the indigenous people complain always about violation of rights? Should they always ignore the fact that present shape of their respective state is mostly because of the contribution of outsiders in the past decades or centuries? Or it is that they are developed and self-sufficient now and no need of the outsiders anymore. If not entirely, such kind of a feeling has developed in many parts of the region. If history is anything to go by, Meghalaya is at a crossroads with options of choosing between indigenous rights and development.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 17, 2015)