Sunday, 2 September 2012

A History of Violence

The last time I went to Assam it was unseasonably hot and humid. The roads were in bad shape, and there seemed to be little to indicate that the state was in a steady state of progress. The people seemd reasonably content with their fortune, but ominously, they had seen very little of the progress that the rest of India had made. Now this is a region of the country that is connected to it by a 20 km odd wide umbilical cord of land. The mainland seems to have very little influence here. I went there a couple of years ago, and even then the atmosphere seemed quietened into a lull that could only bode a storm.

Things have gone steadily downhill since then. A mix of despondency and apathy has beset the Seven Sisters, and Assam, as the largest, and the putative spokesperson of the group is probably the most obvious bellwether of the climate of unrest that has gripped them. Many people tend to classify the unrest as communal, or societal, but that would, in effect be too simplistic a definition. You see, we as a country have been communal ever since our inception. We were never meant to be united as one nation, for most periods in our history we have never been as such. When we have, however, our unity has been cemented by comparatively long periods of productivity and prosperity, and by a strong charismatic leader with the will power to hold us together. Neither seems to be available today.

Communalism has always been a disitnct part of the state. You need only to indulge people in casual conversation in order to confirm their deep rooted xenophobia against Muslims. But then again,this had to be  an issue in a state which is so close to Bangladesh. We are not the first country to have problems with illegal immigration. Most European countries and the US have had much worse. The immigration that Assam has witnessed is in keeping with the sort to be expected when your neighbour is unable to enocurage the sort of growth that your country takes for granted.

Coming back then, to the great leadership, adn the issue of productivity and prosperity. The government at the centre is a farce, now, and by extension, so is the government at the state level. However, the average man on the street has little to do with the government at the center or at the state levels. He is happy as long as he has some money in his pocket, and enough work to keep him busy until the end of the day as a means to earn it. This is something of a concern here, not because the state does not generate enough work opportunity, but because the people in the state are simply not skilled enough to match up to them. The chief minister had even admitted as such in a recent interview, and vowed to rectify the situation.

The idle hands, presumably would be taken care of, but then, what about the empty pockets. And this is where some of the most telling revelations take place. The Indian per capita income has been bandied about a lot in some of the more skeptical publications abroad as being a measly Rs. 33,793. This is a paltry sum when compared even to some of the African nations. However in Assam, an average worker can expect to earn only Rs. 20,500 odd. This is a sharp difference, and is probably the reason why most youths would choose to look for work elsewhere, thus leading to an exodus to more  lucrative climes.

Poverty in this country has long been the subject of academic and political debate, however, almost everyone would agree that nothing has been done in the short term to effectively ameliorate the situation. Reasons range from the very endemic nature of poverty to the fact that the government has its hands tied on absolutely any issue by the opposition. Whatever the reason may be, idle minds and empty pockets are surely fecund breeding grounds for the devil. Unemployment and monetary woes are the real devils here, not communalism or immigration.

The only effective solution is to fill people's pockets rather than prick their conscience. But then again, money has this anachronous way of getting lost in transit somehow, and it does certainly seem easier to fill people with hatred rather than put food on their plate.

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