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Why are we afraid to sing Jana gana mana?

Why are we afraid to sing Jana gana mana?

Author: Patricia Mukhim
Publication: The Statesman
Date: September 7, 2002

Growing up at a time when the national anthem was played at the end of every film (in those days of cinemas), and sung at least once a week during the school assembly, one finds it strange that school children of today do not know Jana gana mana. Many do not know the colours of the national flag either. But why blame them? In the last decad'e, parts of the North East have not enjoyed the freedom to observe two national days - 26 January and 15 August.

A week before the Republic Day or Independence Day, newspapers, particularly the local language variety, allow themselves to be used as billboards of sundry militant groups. A bandh is duly announced. People are asked not to celebrate Independence Day or Republic Day. Those who defy the bandh call are threatened with "dire consequences".

A signal for the better has come from 'two groups in Nagaland and Meghalaya. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M), the most powerful of the insurgent groups in the North East, has stuck to last year's revocation of earlier calls for boycotts.

And this year, for the second time in succession, the Achik National Volunteer Council of the Garos, which earlier wanted independence, has clarified that it opposes bandhs on Independence Day and Republic Day because it wants a settlement within India and seeks a separate Garo state carved out of Meghalaya.

Those who do not agree with this perspective say that these actually symbolise the forced union of the region with "India".

Julius Dorphang, leader of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council - one of the militant groups in Meghalaya - has attacked the Khasi Jaintia Church Leaders Forum for trying to play the role of interlocutor between the state government and the HNLC.

Mr Dorphang accused the church leaders of religious fanaticism, self-glorification and of watching passively while societal values degenerated. Not once have the militants asked the people they want to control and whom they claim to represent whether they, too, share a sense of alienation from mainland India.

So, like it or not, citizens remain indoors, fearful of the consequences should they stir out. This should also underline the fact that a large number of troops poured into the region have failed to bring about a sense of security among ordinary people.

Political issues cannot be solved with military power. Naga discussions assert this fact. Glued to television sets, they catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister saying something like this: "We have made mistakes in Kashmir. We are ready to correct those mistakes but only through dialogues with duly elected representatives of the state." It makes every North Eastwallah sit up.

If such a noble statement can be made about Kashmir, then why not about Nagaland which never signed any Instrument of Accession with India?

At least Kashmir's Maharaja Hari Singh had signed his rights away. The Nagas would have been interested to hear Atal Behari Vajpayee say something similar. It would reduce much of their posturing. But one supposes that Delhi insists on playing politics with the North East, while Kashmir, despite the continuing bloodshed and tragedy, looks more like the proverbial girl born with a silver spoon.

This attitude is aggravating. It hardens people's stances. Militants still rule the roost, collect taxes, run our lives, even dictate our dress codes (the latest directive from one group in Manipur tells girls to wear the traditional phanik or sarong and blouse to school since they were getting too "westernised").

Do we have no option but to keep our mouths shut when the heart actually wants to sing the national anthem? If we do not overcome our fear and speak out, unitedly and clearly, as Naga civil society has done through the platform of the Hobo, our children may even forget what India is all about.

There are ways of celebrating national days with or without the bandh calls. The problem is that we in the North East appear to be too scared of even trying.

(The author is a social activist and columnist from Meghalaya.)

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