No matter where you are in the Northeast, you may have noticed the chill in the air. And if you are reading this in Arunachal, apologies: maybe the chill never left! But the change is not limited to the weather: the political climate is witnessing a change too. Three states – Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Tripura – head to elections in the next few months, while Mizoram will choose its next government before the end of 2023. And while climate change continues to wreak havoc with our lives, the impact of politics on our lives seems no less.
But I am not going to talk about political parties here.
It was with great pain, that I witnessed how yet another rally called by the youth organisations turned violent. As journalists, we are not supposed to get emotional and/or attached to the story: yet, one could only wonder what conspired among youths of Meghalaya marching for employment in Shillong to turn violent.
If there is one thing we have learnt in our region, it is that whenever youth organisations take the route of violence, it helps those in power to dismiss their demands. In fact, even when they do not turn violent, our governments are more than happy to let the youths remain in the dark about their future. Look at what has happened to over 10,000 teachers protesting in Tripura for the past several years. They are no closer to what they demanded, and any resolution to their issue seems unlikely for now.
And Meghalaya is faring no better: if you have followed EastMojo over the past twelve, or even six months, you would have seen that stories about teachers, or more importantly, their worsening conditions (lack of jobs, termination of contract posts, delayed salaries) have featured on our site with alarming regularity. This, in a state with no major industry, the post-pandemic recovery, and absolute lack of new employment opportunities mean the state’s youth are more disillusioned than ever. Mind you, if data is to be believed (and without data, who knows what the truth is anyway), Meghalaya has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
None of this mattered when the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People(FKJGP) took to the streets, seeking, it seems, the government’s attention to the lack of jobs for the state’s youths. FKJGP president Dundee Khongsit told EastMojo that the government was not doing enough to provide jobs to the youths and, according to their research, there were over one lakh unemployed youths in Meghalaya. Their anger was as much towards the lack of jobs as the fact that non-locals were preferred for hiring as and when (and if) employment opportunities opened.
Is this why a non-tribal labourer, who merely happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, was beaten senseless and left to bleed on the roadside. No matter how you try to spin it, the fact is this: the labourer’s identity was his biggest mistake. Unless the one who attacked the helpless worker knows better, there is no reason why the worker would have anything to do with the state’s current unemployment status. Every state has mechanisms to protect its workers: I, for example, cannot sit for a government job exam in Meghalaya, because I do not belong to the state. If the concerns are about hiring in the unorganised sector, the state government can simply bring in laws that mandate a change. And in a state where the majority is indigenous population, such a law will see no opposition. Other states like Haryana, for example, are working towards such laws.
But then again, it does not take away from the fact that attacking a helpless labourer not only hurts tribal-non-tribal relations but also weakens the credibility of those protesting. I am glad the organisers apologised for the vandalism and the attack on innocent bystanders, but that is not enough. For far too long, the poorest, local or otherwise, have suffered the worst of protests going haywire. In the mid-2000s, when goons were attacking non-Maharashtrians in the state, they did not target CEOs or bankers. Instead, it was the vegetable seller who suffered. In February 2021, eight workers were attacked by around 25 unknown miscreants at the under-construction St. Xavier’s Girls’ hostel in Umoid, South West Khasi Hills. One worker died, while four others were severely injured. When have attacks on the ‘other’ helped strengthen your cause in a country where every state and every district has people who are not local?
The demands of the Meghalaya youth are absolutely fair, and the government will be doing them a lot of wrong by not paying heed to their demands. But attacking the helpless and the poorest only helps those who promote the idea that the Northeast is hostile to one and every outsider. Let us not give them fodder. If you do wish to ‘attack’ someone, do so ideologically and with words. Not by making an innocent worker pay for something he was never guilty of.
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