A forgotten terrain!
Atul K Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist, literary critic and editor of ‘India Since 1947′. He can be reached at: summertickets[at]gmail.com.
Review of Sudeep Chakravarty’s Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land (Fourth Estate/Harper Collins, New Delhi/2012)
Once Highway 39 was a footpath with a long past until the Naga Hills was occupied by the Britishers. In the further course, the endemic political conflicts made this historic route dominated by the cycle of violence. The wave of violence took off unusually, as neither the State agencies nor the countering armed groups were seen doing any rational exercises. Consequently, political turmoil substantiated at greater scale and later damaged the conventional social pattern of the adjoining regions, making Highway39 a perfect synonymous of ‘troublesome way’.
Sudeep Chakravarty heavily relies on the collective memories and political developments that made the highway less normal and more an odd stretch of Northeast. The merit of his argument comes through taking into account of the Centre’s lackluster approach towards the Northeastern States. Though he fails to elaborate, why technicalities of term- ‘Northeast’ is the too easy definition of wider truths that begins with India’s independence and the merging of the States of this region in a confused stream called, ‘mainstream’.
The plights of these seven states are mostly generated by the unresolved issues of ‘integration’, whose processes intensified post1947. Though the level of disagreement is not uniform in all these States, as a State like Arunachal Pradesh presents much calmer picture than the fantasies of gross evaluation, abundantly available lighter research offers. This book strongly presents a narrative in this regard through going in deep behind the actual reasons, which makes State, a less competent authority than otherwise it should have in actual.
Highway39 is a sort passage for these States to converge with rest of the India. This convergence with the outside world brings, both sense of the achievement and humiliation for the people of this region-but lately now, the convergence is taking place for good as it providing the chances of assimilation in the developmental process and also empowerment to migrants with better economic benefits. Earlier, this region was never given the kind of planning that could have made it ease with the broader national framework.
The chapter on Manipur brings in to attention the State’s natural insensitivity towards the peacefully protesting activist, Irom Sharmila and others. Irom has spent more than a decade without the real taste of life opposing the AFSPA in State-if the situation would be normal with sidelining such ambiguous powers from the hand of State authority, then a thought for change must be given by the center over this issue.
After all, more than the provisions of administrative rules, a fair delivery of justice would make rather a fair sense. As a nation, India has made significant advancement in last six decades, now the time is more suitable for a looking back to approach fresh on some of the contentious issues, which requires straight dealing. Overcoming the internal hurdles in Northeast will allow India to play a formidable role in the East Asian region. This thought should essentially leverage India for making balanced strides.
The book forwards the plight of the Northeast to the readers in clear tones and also keeping itself shy away from the popular way of seeing things with pre-occupation. So, it establishes with examples and opinions, how the correction in policies and end of regional marginalization can do real well in this region of high potential. Sudeep makes vital points by showing belief in the positive changes, which have came in the course of time. Probably, Highway39 would be known for better reasons, if atleast for once, given a normal status to function!