When the Go To Hills was first announced, I had commented and shared with hope and happiness that, in a path-breaking way, Geography was now entering into the development articulation of the governance in Manipur. Development was in Geography, and Geography was in Development – I thought it like this. In a popular language in the context of Manipur, it would be Development in Hills and Hills in Development.
By Amar Yumnam
Southeast and East Asia are now the regions the scholars of the world focus on for reasons of international political economy. By the very same token, India’s North East too happens to come within this area of attention for cultural, demographic, history and geographic reasons. When I observed recently that the Go to Hills policy of the Manipur Government has turned out to be nothing more than a Hegemonic Exercise, a few of my friends from East and Southeast Asia, America and Europe are asking of me to be a little more detailed.
I understand why this surprise on the part of my friends across the globe. When the Go To Hills was first announced, I had commented and shared with hope and happiness that, in a path-breaking way, Geography was now entering into the development articulation of the governance in Manipur. Development was in Geography, and Geography was in Development – I thought it like this. In a popular language in the context of Manipur, it would be Development in Hills and Hills in Development.
But on hindsight based on the unfolding happenings in the name of so-called Go to Hills, it has turned out that the pronouncement was made only for the sake of popularity and without any understanding of what the Hills/Geography imply in the context of Development. William Shakespeare said that the world is a stage where the humans play their drama; the stage becomes meaningful only when the actors come into the scene. The stage as a stage is only a Quantitative dimension, but the significance arises when the actors come into play and the Qualitative dimensions get incorporated.
Geography is the physical space, but the physical properties are not uniform across the globe. By the same token, the Hill is also a physical space whose properties are not uniform across. The variations in physical properties lead to variations in the qualitative dimensions of environmental properties.
Now the Geography/Hill does not stand alone. From the angle of policy, there is the urgency to appreciate that there are people settling therein. Whenever and wherever there is settlement of people, two innate desires of personal happiness and social well-being are also present. From the angle of governance, it is of primary responsibility to ensure that there is a provision for health and survival to begin with. Given the scenario of the Health Sector in the mountains of Manipur, a policy for a time-bound delivery of health-sector infrastructure should have accompanied the Go to Hills slogan. It did not happen.
Since there is settlement of population, families also necessarily exist. Since families naturally produce children, the individual happiness, social well-being and the prevailing anguish for negligence by governance can be addressed only by ensuring provision for primary education to begin with. It is already an established fact that the mountains are behind by many decades vis-à-vis the valley in the education sector indicators. The Go To Hills to be of any meaning should have been accompanied by a targeted and contextualised education policy. It did not happen.
The settlements in the mountains need a two-dimensional connectivity framework – one to facilitate the communication among the settlements and another to communicate with the valley. The mountain population have waited for this primary provision to endeavour for personal happiness and shared social well-being. The Go to Hills should have incorporated such a programme for reasons of community and political economy. It did not happen.
The mountains of Manipur are marked by Ethnic Diversity. But the inter-ethnic relationships are by no means as healthy as mythological history tell us about. There is a necessity for an Ethnic Policy for synchronisation of interests and do away with the current fragmentation of strategies. The Go to Hills project should have had such a policy as a foundation for reasons of State and people. It did not happen.
The diversity of Ethnicity necessarily implies that there is rich grounding for pride in the differential genealogy of the cultural characteristics of each. These again would have different mythological and practical relationships with the forest ecology of the mountains. While appreciating these inherited qualities, a policy should also be there for incorporating modern landscape and environmental knowledge into these social and spatial dimensions of the various ethnicities. The Go to Hills should have been alive to this to be of any significance. It did not happen either with culture or landscape ecology.
The diversity in Ethnicity and Culture necessarily implies that the institutional characteristics (social norms, traditions and characteristics) of each should be possessing certain uniqueness. The Go to Hills should have been accompanied by an intention for understanding these as to how they relate with the forest ecology on the natural environment front. These would give an idea of the evolving history of forest landscape in each ethnicity context. Second, this would have given the wider world on how to interact each other with a higher understanding. The Go to Hills did not have any of these commitments.
While some socio-spatial points have been mentioned, there has been one very common manifestation of the Go to Hills propaganda. We have been witnessing photographs of Government officials visiting the mountains and being honoured with the coveted status symbols of each ethnicity – the costly (in terms of both time and money) symbolic shawls of the concerned ethnicity. The visiting official feels elated with the honour. There ends the story; while the needed policy components were not there in the beginning and have not emerged even later.
The understanding of incorporating geography (hills in Manipur) in framing development policy has been with us for quite some time; economists contributing to New Economic Geography have been awarded the Nobel Prize and the World Bank had produced an issue of the World Development Report on this. Arthur Morris in his Geography and Development (1998) wrote: “Now there is some recognition that each region does have a special mix of economy, society and environment, and in each region a separate cultural history is to be sought. These differences can be aligned with differences in aims for development between regions, so that planning for regions in their own right can be undertaken, combining knowledge of special problems and special aims of the population, and linking all of these to possible plans or policies for the future.”
We understand that development cannot be achieved overnight; it is not free lunch. We also know that the honour being provided with the presentation of the Royal Ethnic Shawls cannot be the end of the relationship between government and the mountains. Going beyond the shawls, we need to frame a Unified Development Policy for the mountains of Manipur in lieu of the current fragmented approaches.
(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor at CESS: Hyderabad)