My University is located in the eastern fringe of India known internally as the Northeast. Heterogeneous in topography, climatic conditions, habitation and ethnic composition, the region was bound into a compact geographical landmass in 1947 as a result of partition of India at the time of independence. Surrounded by Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, it is connected to the rest of India through a narrow corridor often referred to as the ‘chicken’s neck’. The region accounts for about 8 percent area, 4 percent of population and 2.5 percent of the economy of India. Despite its small size, it derives considerable attention because of its strategic location and the ethnic diversity of its population. Indeed some scholars insist that Southeast Asia begins in Northeast India.
This region, which had prospered and found its place in global economic map under colonial rule, especially for its tea production, had its connectivity with the outside world snapped by the partition. The resulting geographical isolation had a telling effect on its economy in the post independence decades. Moreover, the surging identity aspirations of its different ethnic communities had often spilt over to fuel inter-community conflict and insurgency.
Gauhati University, the oldest university of the region, came into existence soon after independence of India as a result popular aspiration for facilities for higher learning within the region. For decades this university had remained the principal centre of higher learning for the entire region till several other universities and institutions started coming up in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The pedagogy, curricula and research activities expanded over time in terms of disciplines and branches. But the orientation remained more or less conventional till recently.
Through the turn of the century India underwent major economic reorientation and emerged in the global scene as a country of significant economic potential. The reforms that brought these changes however affected different aspect of life differently. The system of higher education was also made to respond to the requirements of the globalised market oriented economy. The initial over-corrections, however, got retracted following the recommendations of the national Knowledge Commission. The balance between technology and management on one hand and basic science, social sciences and humanities on the other was largely restored in the first decade of this century. Meanwhile, inspired by the rise of East and Southeast Asia, India set out to broaden and deepen its engagement eastward with its ‘Look East‘ policy. As a result, the socio-economic woes of the Northeast region started getting greater effective attention of the federal government. Meanwhile, positive changes in Bangladesh and Myanmar have eased the geopolitical situation of the surrounding, promising softening of the border and some melting of the geographical isolation of the region.
In keeping with the changing environment, universities in the region have also refurbished their outlook with an outward orientation. My own university has sought to strengthen engagements with universities in the west and the east by fostering tie-ups and exchange programmers. Establishment of Gauhati University Institute of North-East India studies (GUINIES), which I currently head and represent in this forum, is an initiative of the University to promote scholarly and solution oriented discourse on issues concerning human beings at the ground level with a holistic approach cutting across conventional boundaries of academic disciplines. The institute is mandated ‘to facilitate, support and promote inter-disciplinary discourse and research on issues related to the land, nature and people of Northeast India, and disseminate the output for the benefit of all stakeholders including policy makers’. With the physical, social, economic and ethnographic diversity within, and the changing political-economic surrounding, the region, the issues concerning its land and people are best analyzed with a composite crossdisciplinary perspective.
By way of fulfilling the mandate, the process of setting out an inter-disciplinary course curriculum and agenda for research has been initiated in the institute. We expect that participation in the conclave of scholars from various parts of the world for furthering ‘humanities across borders’ of countries and disciplines will serve my university’s aspiration to reach out and connect with peer institutions all over the globe in the common pursuit of knowledge and wisdom for betterment of the mankind.
Madhujya Prasad Bezbaruah
Bio: Born in Shillong (India) in 1959, M P Bezbaruah is MA in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and Ph D of Gauhati University. Currently a Professor of Economic; Director, Institute of Northeast India Studies and Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts of Gauhati University. Publications include 3 books, 2 edited volumes, 48 papers in journals and 28 book chapters. A recently completed work is the edited volume on ‘Indian Agriculture since the Green Revolution: Changes and challenges’ being published by Rutledge.