The phrase ‘tyranny of distance’ is a tool for the government and
media to justify the denial of democracy to a large majority of Indians
The Media Rumble, held at Delhi, on July 21 and 22, 2017, was a sort of coming face-to-face with what I assume to be some perceptions and perspectives of “mainland” India’s media vis-à-vis the Northeast. The tyranny of distance was definitely evident during the Rumble – so no, it wasn’t by accident that I was a panelist in the session, ‘Tyranny of Distance: From Kashmir & Chhattisgarh to Northeast and the South of Vindhyas’, on July 21. The session wasn’t what I had expected but it wasn’t a disappointment either although I had hoped to say much more than what I did, and what I could. And, what I had hoped to say was not about my experience as a media person in Nagaland but draw the attention of the national media to issues confronting Nagaland, the Northeast – particularly the demand for Gorkhaland. What I had hoped to say was to introduce to the national media numerous other issues that are so much larger than insurgencies in my region – about issues that spawn insurgencies and fan the fires of insurgencies. And issues so much more than the spectacular scenic beauty of our hills and dales, or the curse of floods and landslides that visit us every monsoon, or of the deluge of illegal immigrants and few such issues the national media somehow associate the Northeast with.
I had put down my thoughts in 681 words to introduce some of the issues we feel strongly about in the Northeast, which doesn’t seem to have occurred to the national media to focus on or highlight, even when it occasionally reports on insurgency-related and/or political events. You see, these do not occur in vacuums; after all, we too have centuries of history (and culture and traditions), which continue to cast their long and dark shadows over us. And when newer histories, cultures and traditions started casting their long and dark shadows simultaneously with the old, the result is an inscrutable Northeast – to the rest of the country and evidently to the national media. It is interesting, and significant, that the perceptions and perspectives of the national media à propos the Northeast is strikingly similar to that of the governments at the Centre since Independence.
This may sound like playing the victim but it is actually an assertion that the present national and international scenario demand both the central government and the national media unlearn and re-learn about the Northeast. We are not just the gateway to eastern countries for Corporate India to do business with, as envisaged by the Act East Policy ostensibly – more importantly, we are the principal theatre of India’s aspirations, and necessity, to be the foremost Asian leader – and, naturally a major global power. Perhaps because of knowledge-deficit about the geography, history, politics, economics, cultures and socio-psychological profiles of this region, Northeast’s import to the Indian Union is not fully comprehended therefore in-depth study and analyses of our issues have not been prioritised?
So, what did my 681-word thoughts say? Here they are:
“Somebody came up with this poetic phrase – tyranny of distance – and we immured ourselves to it. It became our comfort zone from which we justified our failures to uphold the tenets of democracy, of a free, open, tolerant and forward-looking society so today we find ourselves in the most embarrassing situation of being the world’s largest democracy but jostling each other to get a seat on the cart that would take us back much beyond the times when democracy and the idea of nationhood were nebulous aspirations of this nation.
“The tyranny of distance is a very convenient rationalisation and validation of those in governance and the media to explain why the majority of Indians has been denied and deprived the fruits of democracy – why the majority of Indians still await our “tryst with destiny”. It is the tyranny of our minds that creates distance within this country, not distance that creates this tyranny.
“And so let us talk of the tyranny of economics, politics and the culture of classism and casteism that define and dictate the fundamental interface in this nation. Let us talk of the tyranny of the culture of building walls on the foundations of our belief-systems, which have set the trajectories of our economics and politics, our systems, structures and quality of governance and the biases and prejudices thereof. Let us talk of the tyranny of this culture of majoritarianism permeating into every structure and system of democracy – not least the media, which unfortunately we have reinforced and perpetuated by being followers, not leaders of thoughts, ideas, concepts, ideologies and opinions.
“Let us also talk about the tyranny of ignorance of the politics, the economics, the cultures, the agony and the ecstasies of Indians living in the peripheries of the nation – and delve into the tyranny of disinterest to know us. Yes, let us talk about the tyranny of the politics and economics of our disenfranchisement, the tyranny of fringing us and the tyranny of not acknowledging our existence, our personhood. Let’s talk about the tyranny of disallowing, thus disowning us from the table of governance and development. Let us talk about the tyranny of the abandonment of our peripheralised citizens to the tyranny of small town economic and political tyrants, who not surprisingly also double up as the repositories and custodians of regressive and repressive cultures, customs and traditions. Let us talk about the tyranny of the gun that threatens, kills and silences, and is empowered to rape the human spirit, brutally and repeatedly, in the name of national interest – which must necessarily make us talk of the tyranny of racism and the tyranny of corruption that breed in the polluted waters of unaddressed discrepancies and discrimination, as also in the contaminated stagnant swamps of unresolved discords.
“These are some of the tyrannies that the comfort zone of the tyranny of distance distance us from – to conveniently situate our justifications for our failures to uphold the tenets of democracy, of a free, open, tolerant and forward-looking society and to enable and empower all Indians have their “trysts with destiny”. If we are talking of the tyranny of distance from the geographical perspective, with the technology at our disposal today, we really have no case – unless we are now looking at creating the tyranny of technology.
“All travelers, to and fro Dimapur-Kohima, are forced to divert from the highway to the byways passing through numerous little villages where no boundaries exist between the picturesque terraced rice fields and what passes off for roads. Popping up and down like popcorn in my vehicle on these pretend-roads on my way down from Kohima the other day, while I drank in the elegantly insolent feral Nagaland, the theme of this session hit me. It then occurred to me that distance is not the tyranny but our fear, reluctance, refusal, cowardice and our lack of the courage of conviction to believe in the infinite possibilities to build roads to bridge this distance. These are the real tyrannies and tyrants we need to vanquish.”
While each Northeastern state has its own set of seemingly unbridgeable “tyrannies of distance” that are so much more than the few issues we are identified and associated with by the central government and, unfortunately, the national media, perhaps at the moment what requires the national media’s undivided attention is the “tyranny of distance” the movement for Gorkhaland is confronting. History, politics, economics, culture and plain common sense side with and support the movement of the people who live in the entire Darjeeling-Kalimpong-Dooars region, which history has tragically tied to the state of Bengal since Independence. Lives have been lost and life has come to a standstill because of the desire for a homeland – which must be underscored “within the Indian Union”. Yet, neither the central government nor the national media has paid the attention this movement deserves. Yes, understandably, in the larger scheme of national power-politics, we the peripheralised, we the disenfranchised, do not matter but in the larger interest of the Indian Union, we the peripheralised, we the disenfranchised, must matter for we stand in the first line of fire, literally and otherwise. Perhaps, more so the desired, the demanded, Gorkhaland – a land which has no medical and engineering schools, no central university, no institutes to impart scientific knowledge and expertise to develop agriculture and allied activities – in short, a land infrastructure and human development has circumvented. A land and a people, whose desire and demand for a homeland has been reduced to a mere law and order problem, whose issues and grievances are being dealt with the gun, like all issues of the Northeastern regions are inevitably reduced to and dealt with.
It is very easy, most convenient – normal – for state political dispensations to cite “foreign hands” when their inefficiency and ineffectiveness in governance are exposed – consequently development-deficit, resulting in protests against the various dimensions of the “tyrannies of distance”. It is also very normal for electoral politics to take precedence over constitutional guarantees, safeguards and obligations – for such has become the characteristic of the Indian polity. But these are the very “normals” that are the critical threats to the Indian Union – not peoples’ movements and demands for homelands, which are upshots of disregarding constitutional guarantees, safeguards and obligations. India is a huge country, a nation that must continually keep its tryst with destiny, which can be done only by bridging the tyranny of distance in the form of the tyrannies of insensitivity and majoritarian machismo. The national media must rumble to vanquish these tyrannies because the small people, the little people in the country’s peripheries need their voices to be amplified by and through the national media.