Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas



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May/June 7995 H1MAL




example of effective local institution-building is the system of Block Development Villages in Nagaland, where locally managed schemes are working where larger top-down schemes have not.

In Delhi in early May, South Asia'sleaders decided tomoveahead with the South Asia Preferential Trade Zone (SAPTA). In fact, the region of the Far Eastern Himalaya, so diff­erent from the rest of South Asia and so much like each other across the borders, would seem to make a coherent trading block in its own right. The absurdity of national boundaries that divide similar peoples and breaks up viable economic units is nowhere more clear than it is here, which is why this eastern Himalayan stretch could constitute a suitable aTea to make regional cooperation begin to work.

A formula has to be found where it is possible to workacross the borders while maintaining the sanctity of frontiers. The possibilities are endless, if the vision exists. True, it wil 1 require the national government s which have barely begun to address some ofthese issues to put their heads together, and for moderates among the regional leadership to make a show of their strength. In the end, only regionalism spurred by the search for economic possibilities will bring peace and progress to the Far Eastern Himalaya.

A network of small and medium dam projects in parts of Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh would tap the explosive power of the rivers and streams disgorging from the Himalaya. The production of hydro energy would spur economic growth in both hill and plain. The reduction of flood damage would open up new lands for cultivation and ease some of the demographic pressures in the Bengali-speaking lowlands. Power could also be exported to other parts of India and Southeast Asia, for energy hunger isdestined to grow rapidly in the next decades as unshackled economies surge forward.

One may be forgiven for looking ahead to the day when workers from differentpartsof the region participate in economic activity under strict migrationand employment laws. The economies cannot expand without better roads, railways and commu­nication facilities, and these arteries should be intra-regional and not merely for maintaining linkswith the individual national mainlands. Opening up of port and transit facilities in Bangladesh and Burma would itself, in one stroke, provide economic fillip to the hinterland.

With a loosening up of border restrictions, numerous cross border contacts would be resumed. To use just one example, the Garo and the Khasi of Meghalaya would restart their trade routes with Bangladesh, facilities that they enjoyed for centuries before Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew the line that divided British India. Rather than transport their goods to Assam using unreliable public transport, they would, like in the past, simply march "down the hill" into Bangladesh.

Development of tourism and promotion of handicraft and handloom industries will also make an impact. In India, the marketing of products should involve much more than displaying local items at the state emporiums in New Delhi, and must involve a look at national and international possibilities. Improved agriculture and water-use strategies

will strengthen community-based economies, and there should be a major emphasis in adding value to exported items, so that it is not only raw products such as timber, and crude petroleum that exit the region.

This is not to say that insurgen­cies will end. Ethnic aspirations and questions of identity will remain. But at a time when the world has recognised that mere political independence does not necessarily lead to a better future, ultimate peace to the Far Eastern Himalaya will come when a measure of autonomy is accompanied by access to markets, and the definite possibilities of improving the economic conditions of one's life.

A period ofeducationis required, both for the regional leadership as well a s the national elites, in the search for peace and prosperity in the Far Eastern Himalaya. The people have spanned more than a thousand years in a lifetime, and they, more than anyone else, would like to see the creation of a new and revitalised region.

S. Hazarika is Delhi-based author of several books, including Strangers of the Mist (Viking), on migration and insurgencies In the Indian Northeast and Bangladesh. He has beena correspondent^ T/jeWewVorfc Times since 1989, recently co-authored The Degeneration of India (Viking) with T.N. Seshan, and is working on a follow-up book on 'the agenda for change*.



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