General Overview

ndia 's Northeast consists of eight States: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. It is spread over an area of 2,62,179 square kilometres. Located between 89.46 degree to 97.30 degree East longitude and 21.57 degree to 29.30 degree North latitude, the region is linked to the mainland India by a tenuous 22 kilometre land corridor, a link that has come to be referred to as the 'Chicken's Neck', in the State of West Bengal. On the other hand, the region is bound by five countries -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal -- by a 4,500 kilometre international border. With Myanmar, the northeastern States share 1643 kilometres of international border. Out of the 4096 kilometre long India-Bangladesh border, the northeastern States account for 1880 kilometres. As much as 468 kilometres of the 643 kilometre India-Bhutan border runs across the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Sikkim. Similarly, 1325 kilometres of Indo-China border runs across Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Only 85 kilometres of the 1747 kilometre long of Indo-Nepal border run across Sikkim.

The whole of the Northeast accounts for eight per cent of India’s geographical area. Its population of 39,035,582 (2001 census) is 3.80 per cent of the country's population. There are 936 females per 1000 males in the region, which is marginally better than the national ratio of 933. Population density of the region is 149 persons per square kilometre, which is far less of the national population density of 324. Assam, with a population of 26, 638,407 is the most populous State in the region and Sikkim is the least with 540,493 people. Arunachal Pradesh spread over 83743 square kilometres, is geographically the largest state of the region. Sikkim spread over 7096 square kilometres is the smallest. Mizoram has the highest literacy rate in the entire region (88.49) and Arunachal Pradesh is the least literate State with 54.74 per cent.

The Northeast is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse regions in India. The region has a high concentration of tribal population. The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are mostly inhabited by a number of ethnic groups, each tribe having a distinct tradition of art, culture, dance, music and lifestyle. For example, about 32 tribes inhabit Nagaland. There are about 220 spoken languages in the northeastern States (as per the 1971 census). Most languages, however, fall into three distinct families, Indo-Aryan, Sino-Tibetan and Austro-Asiatic. While Asomiya (spoken in Assam) is primarily Indo-Aryan, languages including Khasi (spoken in Meghalaya) are Austro-Asiatic. The population, however, have tried to overcome the problem of communication by sheer innovation. For example, tribes in Nagaland speak ‘Nagamese’, a mixture of several languages to converse among themselves. Arunachal Pradesh, home to 20 major tribes, has adopted Hindi as the lingua franca to overcome the language barriers.

Northeastern States are rich in natural resources. Tea, oil, natural gas, bamboo and other forest products are only few of the many resources that the region has been bestowed with. However, there are severe differences among the States with respect to their resource endowments, levels of industrialization and infrastructural facilities. The economy of all these States remains underdeveloped and primarily agrarian with very weak industrial sectors and inflated service sectors.

Geographical remoteness from mainland India has been a prime factor behind the region remaining underdeveloped. Partition of the country during independence closed access of the region to the natural markets and today, the region is landlocked and remains primarily dependant on the financial grants from New Delhi. Of late, there have been several suggestions of linking economy of the region with the Southeast Asian countries. However, the move is still in its infancy and needs greater debate before being translated into a policy.

Economic backwardness of the region and the resultant alienation has generated dissent in the region, which on occasions has translated into armed insurgencies against the Indian state. Such problems, being intertwined with issues such as identity politics and ethnicity, have entered into extremely complex arenas. Several such insurgencies exist in each of the northeastern states and have defied attempts by the government to solve them.

Illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals into the Northeast has been another live issue in the region. It has been seen as a demographic threat to the region impacting on the lives of the indigenous people. Such migration to Tripura has reduced the indigenous tribal population to a position of minority, thus, giving rise to insurgency in the State. Similarly, Assam’s demography and politics is said to have undergone dramatic transformation as a result of unhindered migration. Although the Assam Accord of 1985 sought to address the issue of migration, little has been achieved as far as identifying and deporting the illegal migrants. In the coming days, migration issue is expected to figure prominently in the region, including states like Nagaland and Meghalaya.