India is a diverse sub-continent with different regions having their own distinctive features in terms of economy, culture and geography.
In this sub-continent, it can be explored how three different products – cow dung, coconut and bamboo – are connected with different parts of the Indian sub-continent.
Cow dung is widely used as a bio-resource for various purposes in North India, especially in rural areas. It is used as a fuel for cooking, as a fertilizer for crops, as a plastering material for walls and floors, and as a source of biogas and bio-fertilizers.
Cow dung also has its cultural significance, as it is considered sacred and auspicious by Hindus, and is used in rituals and ceremonies.
Cow dung contributes to the rural economy by providing income and employment opportunities to farmers, especially women, who are involved in collecting, processing and selling cow dung products. Hence, North India can be affirmed as the cow-dung region of the Indian Sub-Continent.
Coconut is a major crop in South India, especially in the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It is used for various purposes such as food, oil, fiber, coir, shell, charcoal and handicrafts.
Coconut too has its cultural importance, as it is offered to Gods and Goddesses in temples and festivals, and is considered a symbol of prosperity and fertility.
Coconut plays a vital role in the economy of South India by providing livelihoods to millions of farmers, traders, processors and exporters. Coconut also supports other sectors such as tourism, health and beauty. Thus, it can be stated that South India is the coconut region of the Indian Sub-Continent.
Bamboo is a versatile plant that grows abundantly in Northeast part of Indian Sub-Continent, especially in the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
It is used for various purposes such as construction, furniture, handicrafts, paper, musical instruments and food. Bamboo also has its cultural relevance, as it is associated with the identity and traditions of various ethnic groups in the region. Bamboo contributes to the economy of Northeast India by providing income and employment opportunities to local communities, especially the tribal people, who depend on bamboo for their livelihoods.
Bamboo also helps in conserving the environment by preventing soil erosion, enhancing biodiversity and sequestering carbon. Hence, ‘North East’ can be considered as the bamboo region of Indian sub-continent.
Thus, it is significantly evident how cow dung in North of Indian Sub-Continent, coconut South of Indian Sub-Continent and bamboo in the Northeast of Indian Sub-Continent are connected with the economy, culture and geography of these regions.
The Bamboo ‘Northeast’ Region
One of the most strategic and vulnerable regions of Indian sub-continent is the bamboo region, or our so called ‘Northeast’ (Northeast of British India), which shares borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The only way to access this bamboo region by land is through a thin strip of territory known as the Siliguri Corridor or the ‘chicken neck‘.
This corridor is about 60 km long and 20/22 km wide at its narrowest point, and it runs between the sovereign nations of Bhutan and Bangladesh. Except for the Goalpara region of Assam, the rest did not become part of political India until the 19th century and later. The Brahmaputra valley area of Assam became a part of British India in 1824, with the hill regions annexed later.
Sikkim was annexed to the Indian union through a referendum in 1975; it was recognized as part of ‘Northeast India’ in the 1990s.
The corridor connects the bamboo region with the rest of Indian sub-continent and facilitates the movement of goods, people and security forces of the Indian State. However, it also poses a serious challenge for India’s defense and security, as any disruption or blockade of the corridor could isolate and endanger the bamboo region or ‘Northeast’.
Therefore, ‘India’ is contemplating on taking notable measures like ‘Look-East’ or ‘Act-East’ policies from time to time (even though the Indian State machinery has failed to undertake ‘Look- Manipur’ in times of crisis) to strengthen India’s presence and infrastructure in the region, as well as to improve its relations with the neighboring countries.
The Bamboo Region or ‘Northeast India’ is a region of great diversity and complexity, with over hundreds of ethnic groups and dialects. These groups have distinct cultures, religions, languages, and histories, and they often live in relative isolation from each other. The region is also home to some of the world’s most endangered wildlife, such as the one-horned rhinoceros, the red panda, and the hoolock gibbon.
Although the Bamboo region is rich in natural resources, such as oil, gas, coal and tea, but it is also engulfed with numerous challenges, such as poverty, insurgency, environmental degradation, and lack of infrastructure. The region has been historically neglected by the government of India and has experienced frequent conflicts among different groups and with the state.
Despite these difficulties, Northeast India has shown remarkable resilience and creativity, producing some of the Indian-subcontinent’s finest writers, musicians, artists, and activists.
In terms of industry and communications, and India’s human development index, the Bamboo region or ‘NE’ is relatively poor and backward. Since the beginning of the last century, when imperialist British annexation culminated in the establishment of the frontiers, and frontier outposts, there have been many groups and communities which claimed to be ‘native’ to the region and started to feel alarmed at the rapid influx of ‘outsiders’ from across the frontier.
The fear of being in a minority or being reduced to one in the near future in what one imagines as one’s homeland opens up a new era of ethnic politics in the NE India region.
After the discovery of tea in British India’s colony or British’s colony, Assam, in 1821 by the imperialist, the bamboo region witnessed a rapid increase in the demand for plantation and labor participation, and that demand was met by encouraging migration of the people from the Chotanagpur plateau of the then central India of the British India.
After the establishment of colonial rule in 1826, in the pretext of the Yandaboo treaty, Bengali clerks and officers acquainted with the English language and experiences of British Administration- were brought into Assam, particularly from the neighboring Bengal. And, the bamboo region saw the emergence of other communities such as Marwaris from Rajasthan, Biharis from Bihar.
The wheels of history stirred to the other direction – to fulfill the dreams of the Englishmen, the Bengalis, the Marwaris etc., while coercing the indigenous peoples of the bamboo region into being helpless spectators!
The pages of History being the witness – between 1911 and 1921, the tea industry engaged 7,69,000 laborers in Assam, and 4,22,000 laborers migrated in the next decade. The 1931 census informed that 14,00,000 tea garden laborers were present in Assam (Weiner 1978; 81).
Gradually, a section of Assamese leaders felt unsecured and alarmed at the incessant immigration from outside the bamboo region. In the meantime, immigration started in a large scale from the Bengal province (now Bangladesh) to Assam to fulfill a few politicians’ dreams!
Hence, Indigenous peoples of this region started to feel more insecure and alarmed – not only with the issue of immigration, but economic exploitation, cultural invasions, historical invasion, geographical conspiracy, human-rights violations, cheating, non-implementation of many accords – including Assam Accord, and many more after British rule until now!
C.S. Mullan – a British census commissioner expressed in his census report of 1931 the apprehension that immigration would destroy the structure of Assamese culture and civilization and permanently the demographic future of Assam.
C.S. Mullan was right! The results are evident in Assam, and in the whole bamboo region too.
Also, following the fall of Bomdila to the Chinese during the Chinese aggression, Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on All India Radio (AIR) caused an uproar in the heart and soul of the Assamese people then, and even today. Assam was almost given away to China when Nehru announced ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam’ on the radio. There was chaos everywhere, people of Tezpur became hysteric and started fleeing.
Just how Nehru abandoned Assam to the mercy of the Chinese, PM Modi now has left stranded the people of Manipur to be butchered, with his lifeless remark ‘my heart is filled with pain and anger’ after months of tongue-tied silence. North-east as a region has always been a story of neglect and apathy by the mainstream consciousness of heartland India, and these leaders’ blatant disregard to the atrocities of this region, time and again, is nothing unexpected. Sigh!
It is known to us all that though immigration remain at the heart of most of the conflicts in the region, the transformation of these conflicts into insurgencies, particularly in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and Tripura – coincides with a radical interpretation of their respective independent histories, in which the Indian state is considered an “external agent”, and often a ‘colonial power’ like imperialist British – who once exploited the bamboo region only to fill their treasury in England, and same happened after 1947 too!
As a consequence, we were compelled to take part in the six yearlong Assam agitation – and the reason for others of this bamboo region – who took part in the different struggles, protests, movements!
And, that’s why Self-Determination is an important issue for bamboo region too!
‘Self-determination’ means having the confidence and the competence to pursue one’s own goals and aspirations, regardless of the obstacles or challenges that may arise. Self-determination can be fostered by providing opportunities for choice, autonomy, and self-expression, as well as by offering support, guidance, and feedback. Self-determination is not only beneficial for individuals, but also for organizations and society as a whole.
The right of self-determination, as a fundamental right, as per the UN charter, allows people to choose their own political and legal status in the world – a community has the freedom to decide its own form of government, its own economic and social policies, and its own cultural and linguistic identity.
Self-determination also means that a community can freely associate with or secede from a larger state, if it so wishes. Hence, self-determination can be considered as a positive and empowering concept that promotes democracy, peace, and justice in the world.
Now, the question arises, who will stand for self-determination in the bamboo region, or in this so-called ‘north East’!
Answer is simple: The Indigenous Youth.
Yes, the indigenous youth as agent of change for self-determination for this bamboo region!
Indigenous youth are playing a vital role in advancing the self-determination of their communities and nations. They are not only preserving and revitalizing their cultures, languages and traditions, but also creating new spaces for dialogue, collaboration and innovation. Indigenous youth are challenging the colonial structures and systems that have oppressed and marginalized their peoples for generations.
They are asserting their rights, identities and aspirations in various domains, such as education, health, environment, justice, media and arts. Indigenous youth are also building bridges with other movements and allies, both locally and globally, to amplify their voices and influence change. They are not passive victims or beneficiaries of development, but active agents of change for self-determination.
They are shaping their own futures and contributing to the well-being of their families, communities and nations. Indigenous youth are a source of hope, resilience and inspiration for all people who value diversity, justice and peace.
Yet, indigenous youths are facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities in the modern world, which is rapidly changing due to technology, innovation, and globalization – artificial intelligence, digital transformation, and scientific innovation.
Although, these youths possess the potential to contribute to the development of their communities and the world, as well as to preserve and revitalize their cultural heritage and identity, but, they also need to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate and thrive in the rapidly changing technological landscape.
Therefore, it is essential that indigenous youths have access to quality education and training, and be well equipped in AI, digital world, IT, science, and other relevant fields, while also maintaining their roots intact.
Besides, indigenous youth often encounter various obstacles, conflicts, and influences that make them adopt an identity that does not reflect their original culture and place. This can be a way of avoiding discrimination and racism, but it can also lead to losing their culture, language, and ancestral customs, which are vital for their well-being and sense of belonging.
Even though these youths struggle to balance their traditional values and cultures with the demands and opportunities of the modern world, yet, they are using their unique perspectives and experiences to contribute to global efforts, towards climate change mitigation, peace building and digital cooperation.
They are harnessing cutting-edge technologies and developing new skills to offer solutions and participation that respect the right of indigenous people to self-determination and their enjoyment of collective and individual human rights. They are promoting peaceful co-existence and ensuring equality for all. Indigenous youth are not only adapting to change, but also leading it with creativity and resilience.
By means of their involvement with various actors, such as governments, international organizations, civil society and media, indigenous youth are drawing attention to their rights, challenges and contributions to climate action. They are also undertaking innovative projects in their communities, such as restoring native forests, revitalizing traditional technologies, managing natural resources and promoting cultural values.
These practices not only contribute to the enhancement of resilience by the youth, but also safeguard the rich diversity of life on our bamboo region , and earth.
Images from different sources
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