The frontier region of India’s Northeast has devised a unique way of making the government listen to its long-standing demands.
On June 4, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time, a large number of students, professionals, academics, and activists across the country’s northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura – bombarded Twitter with a “storm” via hashtag campaigns such as #NortheastMatters and #AchapterforNE.
The objective was to make an appeal to the central government for a mandatory chapter on the region in the textbooks taught in schools, which are published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
The campaign tagged the offices of the prime minister, home minister, and NCERT, besides other central ministries. More than 25 students’ organizations and well-known personalities across the Northeast and elsewhere in the country lent their support to the campaign.
The “Twitter storm” was given shape by Mayur Jyoti Kaushik, president of the North East Student Union (NESU) in Vadodara, and its advisor Debonil Baruah, who were of the firm opinion that the campaign would motivate the central government to accept the long-standing demand.
The unique event was triggered when the Punjab-based YouTuber Paras Singh used a racial slur to ridicule Ninong Ering, a legislator from the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, for appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban “Battlegrounds Mobile India,” a variant of PUBG, a Chinese-developed game already banned on national security grounds. Singh was arrested and brought to Arunachal Pradesh, where the police reportedly offered him lessons on geography, history, and other aspects of the state.
Allegations of discrimination and neglect by residents and civil society groups from the Northeast have regularly surfaced over the past several decades. Students and professionals from the region too often suffer racial abuse and humiliation in different states of the country. In one of the worst incidents, a student from Arunachal Pradesh named Nido Tania was killed in the capital a few years ago after he was beaten by some shopkeepers.
The common assumption among a large section of people is that the mainland states of India are ignorant about the culture and ethos of the northeastern states. In 2017, Ering, then a member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha on the inclusion of the culture and history of the region in the school curriculum.
In 2014, following the killing of Tania, the Home Ministry constituted a 11-member committee under the chairmanship of M.P. Bezbaruah to examine the concerns of the citizens hailing from the Northeast who are living in different parts of the country. Its mandate was to suggest remedial steps, including legal measures, which could be implemented by the government.
The 82-page report depicted the nature and extent of the discrimination and attacks facing communities from the Northeast. It recommended a comprehensive list of short and long-term measures to be executed by the government to counter the discrimination, including promulgation of a new law as well as mandatory lessons and projects on the region in schools and universities.
Months later, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced that universities had been advised to teach the history of the Northeast and its role in the freedom movement of the country. He informed that several recommendations of the committee had been accepted by the government, including a decision to amend the Indian Penal Code.
In 2017, for the first time, NCERT published a book on the Northeast with separate chapters on its history, geography, and culture as supplementary reading for students from Class 9 to 12.