Bangladesh And India’s Meghalaya Can Benefit From Fostering Ties – OpEd
By John Rozario
Meghalaya is one of the seven eastern states known as the Seven Sisters of India. Meghalaya is located in the north-east of Bangladesh. Meghalaya borders Sylhet, Sunamganj, Netrakona, Mymensingh, Sherpur, Jamalpur and Kurigram districts of Bangladesh.
Meghalaya means abode of clouds. Earlier Meghalaya was a part of Assam. The Khasia, Garo and Jaintia tribes had their own kingdoms in the region until it came under British administration in the 19th century. In 1835 these three regions were annexed to Assam. The territory was given semi-independent status due to a treaty signed with the British Raj.
When Bengal was partitioned in 1905, Meghalaya was merged with East Bengal and Assam. Later in 1911, when the partition of Bengal was abolished, Meghalaya again became a part of Assam province. Meghalaya was incorporated into India as part of Assam during the partition of India-Pakistan in 1947. On January 21, 1972, Meghalaya was formed by combining the two districts of Assam namely Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills.
Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya. The city is located at an altitude of 1,496 meters above sea level. During the British rule, the city was called Scotland of the East. There are numerous fountains around Shillong. 22 km from the city there is a collection of rare species of orchids.
The area of Meghalaya is 22 thousand 430 square kilometers. The current population of Meghalaya is approximately 33 lakhs. Meghalaya is a predominantly Christian state in India. 75 percent of the state’s population is Christian, 11 percent Prakriti Pujari, 9 percent Hindu, 4 percent Muslim and the remaining 1 percent Sikh, Jain and Buddhist. Khasi is the main language of Meghalaya. This language is spoken by about 9 lakh people of the state although the language has no script. The state of Meghalaya is divided into two districts of the three birth regions to form 11 districts at present.
Cherrapunji is the rainiest region in the world at an altitude of 1300 meters, 54 km away from the capital city of Shillong. Cherrapunji is famous for its orange groves, natural honey and limestone caves, apart from the rainfed region. Mausmai Falls is two kilometers from Cherrapunji. The reflection of the seven colors of the rainbow is a rare and fascinating sight as the water falls from about two thousand feet above the falls to the foot of the mountain.
The economy of Meghalaya is based on forestry and agriculture. Important crops of the state are potato, rice, maize, pineapple, orange, banana, papaya and masala. The state is geologically rich in mineral resources but its utilization is extremely limited due to constraints in extraction and marketing. Due to the inaccessibility of road communication with mainland India, no industrial plants have been developed here despite the potential. The state has about 1,170 km of national highways. If the road, rail and sea connectivity of the state is developed with Bangladesh, the economy of the state will develop rapidly, which in turn will improve the quality of life of the people of the state.
Meghalaya is a landlocked state. It is the 21st state of India. The state has scattered small settlements in remote areas. Road is the main mode of transportation. While the road connectivity of the capital Shillong is well developed, the road connectivity of other parts of the state is relatively poor. As a large part of the state’s roads are unpaved, even a little rainfall disrupts communication. The state maintains road connectivity with mainland India through Guwahati in Assam. Besides the Shillong airport, the state has another airport at Umroi, 30 km from Shillong. Apart from this, it is also connected to mainland India via Assam by rail.
Foreign tourists were previously required to obtain special permits to enter the state of Meghalaya. Although it has been relaxed at present, the arrival of tourists from other countries of the world, except Bangladeshis, is not so noticeable. The state of Meghalaya is rich in natural forests. Meghalaya has two national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries.
The state of Meghalaya has two Lok Sabha seats in India, Shillong and Tura. The number of seats in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly is 60. After the formation of the state of Meghalaya, it was under the jurisdiction of the erstwhile Gauhati present Guwahati High Court of Assam. When the Meghalaya High Court was established in 2013, the jurisdiction of the Guwahati High Court was undermined.
Although the potential of hydropower in Meghalaya is bright, it has not yet been fruitful due to neglect. The current power generation capacity of the state is very limited. It meets the electricity demand of its citizens by importing electricity from the neighboring state of Assam.
The education and health infrastructure of the state of Meghalaya is relatively backward compared to other states of mainland India. The students here are more interested in pursuing higher education than the state educational institutions in other states of main India, although in most cases it is difficult to realize the interest due to financial capability.
The common people of Meghalaya are interested in marketing their agricultural produce in Bangladesh but they are being hampered and harassed in various ways due to the legal complexities of the country. Due to this they are deprived of getting fair price for their agricultural produce. The supply of essential food products to Meghalaya from mainland India is expensive and time-consuming due to inaccessible communication system, so the people there are interested in receiving the supply of these products from Bangladesh. But even in this case, the aspirations of the people remain unfulfilled due to the reluctance of the central government.
Taking into account the economic prosperity of East Bengal at the time of Partition, Lord Curzon included Assam and Meghalaya as separate provinces. Lord Curzon’s decision was timely, correct and practical for the economic development of the people of the three regions of East Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya. The economic potential of the region was blocked when the partition of Bengal was annulled after six years due to the conspiracies of racist Hindus. It is a cruel irony of history that caste Hindus who played a leading role in the anti-Bengal movement after the partition of Bengal were the ones who took a stand in favor of the partition of India during the partition of India in 1947. Before the partition of India, the Chief Ministers of Bengal and Assam were Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sir Sadullah. Both of them were elected Chief Ministers through fair elections held in the practice of democracy with the support of the people. Both of them were in favor of forming a separate state of Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya reflecting the aspirations of the people of these three regions, but at the time of partition of India, influenced by racist Hindus, Sir Stafford Cripps and Lord Mountbatten came to a decision and divided Bengal and included Assam and Meghalaya in India. The immense potential and prosperity of the region is neglected. The people of these three regions are bound by its fence till today.
If the political leaders of any country or region can reach the right decision by considering the economic development and prosperity of the people, the door of the economic potential of the country or region is opened. Now, India should open the door again. Indian central government should pursue the concerned provincial states to strengthen ties with neighboring Bangladesh.