The North-east of India constitutes seven distinct and diverse states viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. These seven states are known as seven sisters and the region today is more popular by this name. The region is bordered by China, Tibet, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar and is physiographically categorized into Eastern Himalayas, North-east hills (Patkai-Naga and Lushai Hills) and the Brahmaputra and Barak Valley plains.
In 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India and the eighth sister (some say brother) state thus adding to the richness of the North-east region. The sobriquet seven sisters, which has however stuck, is somewhat suitable to define the North-east region for it is seen to speak, albeit incorrectly, about the commonalities in the culture, traditions, diversity and ethnicity of NE India. A 21 km long chicken neck corridor connects the vast, pristine and unexplored Northeast India with the so called mainland India.
This richly vibrant region in the sub-continent, blessed with cultural as well as biodiversity is the abode of approximately 225 tribes in India, out of a total of 450 in the country. This is remarkable especially because the total population of the seven sister (plus one) states constitutes less than 4% of the country’s population. The region truly represents the Indian ethos of unity in diversity as it has been the meeting place of several communities, cultures and faiths since time immemorial.
It is a common practice to talk about issues like insurgency, terrorism, drug-trafficking, illegal-migration, environmental deterioration and cross-border problems while referring to the NE. However, what often gets missed in these talks is the continuity of pristine customs, manners, value systems, attire and the environment & biodiversity along with the acceptance of formal education and other benefits of development.
When it comes to the natural resource wealth of our country it is usually seen that the most resource rich states are economically the poorest. This is also true for the NE which is a region of low per-capita income with major growth requirements. For years now, the North-east region has been relatively unexplored and isolated from “mainland” India. Challenges like ethnic diversity and the insurgency problem have kept many away from NE and the larger benefits of India’s rapidly developing economy have so far not been able to reach here.
This has pressurized the youth of the region to migrate to other parts of the country in search of better education and employment opportunities. Development measures, as and when they come from the Center, are either not properly planned or look at the region as one entity and fall flat. Half-hearted and ill-planned policies, programmes and projects have never worked and will never work in the diversity rich, culturally complex seven sister states of India.
The North-east is one of the few biodiversity hotspots in the world. The large number of species the North-east supports and the fact that the region is the ‘center of origin’ of several economically important plant species makes it an open repository of Mother Nature which needs careful protection and preservation. In case of orchids alone, of the 1,150 species known to exist in India, about 825 orchid species are found in the NE. And yet little is known of the region to the scientific community and to the people from other parts of the country.
Lately, many scientists are reporting ‘discoveries’ of several animal and plant species, their uses and importance, all of which has been well known to the people of the region since ages. And even this traditional knowledge is now endangered, is getting intermixed with quackism and losing its value. The reported increasing forest cover in the region, even when most other parts of India are losing the greens, clearly makes the North-east the green lungs of India.