Northeast India refers to the easternmost region of India consisting of the contiguous Seven Sister States (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura), Sikkim, and parts of North Bengal (districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, and Koch Bihar). Northeast India is ethnically distinct from the rest of India and has strong ethnic and cultural ties with East Asia and Southeast Asia, that had escaped Sanskritization in the most groups. Linguistically the region is distinguished by a preponderance of Tibeto-Burman languages. The states are officially recognized under North Eastern Council (NEC) constituted in 1971 as the acting agency for the development of the eight states. The North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) was incorporated on August 9, 1995 and the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) was set up in September 2001.
The Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal, with an average width of 21 km to 40 km, connects the North Eastern region with the mainland Indian sub-continent. The region shares more than 4500 kilometres of international border (about 90 per cent of its entire border area) with China (South Tibet) in the North, Mayanmar in the East, Bangladesh in the South-West, and Bhutan to the North-West.
Map of Assam state in 1950s
Earliest mention of North East India was by the Chinese explorer, Chang Kien, in 100 BC. Huen Tsang, the great Chinese traveller, visited the region in the 7th century. Throughout its history the region is known to have been an important physical and cultural bridge between India and Southeast Asia, as well as a potential location for the domestication of several important plants, and is thus an important focus area for archaeology.
Formation of North Eastern states
During the entire British colonial period in India, North East India was ruled as a part of Bengal Province. The state of Assam came into existence in 1874. After the Indian Independence from British Rule in 1947, the Northeastern region of British India consisted of Assam and the princely states of Manipur and Tripura. Subsequently, Nagaland in 1963, Meghalaya in 1972, Arunachal Pradesh in 1975 and Mizoram in 1987 were formed out of Assam. Manipur and Tripura remained as Union Territories of India between 1956 until 1972 when they attained fully-fledged statehood. Sikkim was integrated as the eighth North Eastern Council state in 2002.
The city of Shillong acted as the capital of the Assam province created during the British Rule. It remained as the capital of undivided Assam until formation of the state of Meghalaya in 1972. The capital of Assam was then shifted to Dispur, a part of Guwahati, and Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya.
Sino-Indian War (1962)
A region called South Tibet,,,, which makes up most of the land governed by Arunachal Pradesh, is claimed by China. Sino-Indian relations degraded during the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The cause of the escalation into war is still disputed by both Chinese and Indian sources. During the war in 1962, the PRC captured much of the NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency) created by India in 1954. However,China soon declared ceasfire and due to Soviet veto in UN withdrew back to the McMahon Line and returned Indian prisoners of war in 1963.
North East India is known for its unique culture, handicrafts, martial arts, and scenic beauty. Problems include insurgency, unemployment, and lack of infrastructure. Since the beginning of the economic liberalization in the 1990s, studies have shown that this region is lagging behind the others in terms of development.
States and capitals in Northeast India The Northeast region can be physiographically categorized into the Eastern Himalayas, Northeast Hills (Patkai-Naga Hills and Lushai Hills) and the Brahmaputra and the Barak Valley Plains. Northeast India (at the confluence of Indo-Malayan, Indo-Chinese, and Indian biogeographical realms) has a predominantly humid sub-tropical climate with hot, humid summers, severe monsoons and mild winters. Along with the west coast of India, this region has some of the Indian sub-continent's last remaining rain forests which supports diverse flora and fauna and several crop species. Similarly, reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the region constitute a fifth of India's total potential. The region is covered by the mighty Brahmaputra-Barak river systems and their tributaries. Geographically, apart from the Brahmaputra, Barak and Imphal valleys and some flat lands in between the hills of Meghalaya and Tripura, the remaining two-thirds of the area is hilly terrain interspersed with valleys and plains; the altitude varies from almost sea-level to over 7000 metres above MSL. The region's high rainfall averaging around 10000 millimetres and above creates problems of eco system, high seismic activity and floods. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have a montane climate with cold, snowy winters and mild summers.
WWF has identified the entire Eastern Himalayas as a priority Global 200 Ecoregion while Conservation International has upscaled the Eastern Himalaya Hotspot which initially covered the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Darjeeling Hills, Bhutan, and Southern China to the Indo Burma Hotspot (Myers 2000) which now includes all the eight states of North-East India, along with the neighbouring countries of Bhutan, southern China and Myanmar. The richness of the region s avifauna largely reflects the diversity of habitats associated with a wide altitudinal range. North East India supports some of the highest bird diversities in the orient with about 850 bird species. The Eastern Himalaya and the Assam plains have been identified as an Endemic Bird Area by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, (ICBP 1992). The global distribution of 24 Restricted-range species is limited to the region. The region s lowland and montane moist to wet tropical evergreen forests are considered to be the northernmost limit of true tropical rainforests in the world (Proctor et al. 1998). The region has been identified by the Indian Council of Agricultural ResearchICAR) as a centre of rice germplasm while the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), India, has highlighted the region as being rich in wild relatives of crop plants. It is the centre of origin of citrus fruits. Two primitive variety of maize, Sikkim Primitive 1 and 2 have also been reported from Sikkim (Dhawan, 1964). Although jhum cultivation, a traditional system of agriculture, is often cited as a reason for the loss of forest cover of the region this primary agricultural economic activity practiced by local tribes reflects the usage of 35 varieties of crops. The region is rich in medicinal plants and many other rare and endangered taxa. Its high endemism in both higher plants, vertebrates and avian diversity has qualified it to be a biodiversity hotspot and this aspect has been elaborated in details in the subsequent sections. IUCN in 1995 identified Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh as a centre of plant diversity.
The following figures highlight the biodiersity significance of the region ( Hedge 2000, FSI 2003):
- 51 forest types are found in the region broadly classified into six major types - tropical moist deciduous forests, tropical semi evergreen forests, tropical wet evergreen forests, subtropical forests, temperate forests and alpine forests.
- Out of the nine important vegetation types of India, six are found in the North Eastern region.
- These forests harbour 80,000 out of 15,000 species of flowering plants. In terms of floral species richness the highest diversity is reported from the states of Arunachal Pradesh (5000 species) and Sikkim (4500 species) amongst the North Eastern States.
- According to the Indian Red data book published by the Botanical Survey of India, 10 per cent of the total flowering plants in the country are endangered. Of the 1500 endangered floral species, 800 are reported from North East India.
- Most of the North Eastern states have more than 60% of their geographical area under forest cover, a minimum suggested coverage for the hill states in the country.
North East India is a part of Indo Burma 'hotspot'. The hotspot is, the second largest and next only to the Mediterranean basin with an area 2,20,60,000 km2 among the 25 identified globally.
- The International Council for Bird Preservation, UK identified the Assam plains and the Eastern Himalaya as an Endemic Bird Area (EBA). The EBA has an area of 220,000 sq kilometre following the Himalayan range in the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Myanmar and the Indian states of Sikkim, northern West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, southern Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Because of a southward occurrence of this mountain range in comparison to other Himalayan ranges, this region has a distinctly different climate with warmer mean temperatures and fewer days with frost and have much higher rainfall. This has resulted in the occurrence of a rich array of restricted range bird species and more than two critically endangered species, three endangered species and 14 vulnerable species of birds within this EBA. Stattersfield et al. (1998) identified 22 restricted range species out of which 19 are confined to this region and the remaining three are also present in other endemic and secondary areas. Eleven out of the 22 restricted range species found in this region are considered as threatened (Birdlife International 2001), a number greater than in any other EBA of India.
WWF has identified the following priority ecoregions in North-East India:
- Brahmaputra Valley Semi Evergreen Forests
- The Eastern Himalayan Broadleaved Forests
- The Eastern Himalayan Sub-alpine Coniferous Forests
- India Myanmar Pine Forests
Forest reserves of North East India
Namdapha National Park Spread over an area of 1985 sq. kilometres in Arunachal Pradesh, Namdapha National Park is the largest national park of the northeast region. Situated 150 kilometres from Miao (district headquarter on the Indo-Burma border), Namdapha National Park is also one of the largest wildlife protected areas in India. The landscape altitude rises from 200 metres to 4500 metres in the snow capped mountains. The ecosystem abounds in more than 150 species of timber. Important rare fauna species include Pinus Merkusi, Abies Delavavi, Blue Vanda and Mishimi Teeta. The Namdapha Tiger reserve in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh, spread in an area of 1850 sq. kilometres rugged terrain, is home to feline species such as Tiger, Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lesser cats. Primates such as Assamese Macaque, pig-tailed Macaque, stump-tailed Macaque, Hoolock Gibbon, Ape besides other mammals (Elephant, Asian black bear, Indian bison, Deer), birds (White-winged wood duck, Great Indian hornbill, Jungle fowl, Pheasant) and reptiles also add to the rich fauna diversity.
Manas National Park Wildlife sanctuary and a World Heritage Site (declared by UNESCO), situated in the Barpeta district of Assam and partly along Bhutan foothills, the Manas National Park is shelter to rare species of as many as 55 mammals, 50 reptiles, 380 birds and 3 amphibians. Besides tiger, elephant, rhinoceros and wild water buffalo, leopard, pigmy hog, red panda, swamp deer, capped langur, sambar, hispid hare, golden langur, fowl, bulbul, brahminy duck, Indian Grey Hornbill and roofed turtle are protected in the Manas National Park. It is also an Elephant Reserve and Biosphere Reserve.
Kaziranga National Park Spread over an area of approximately 430 sq. kilometres, at a distance of 217 kilometres from Guwahati, with annual rainrfall of 2300 mm, Kaziranga National Park on the bank of Brahmaputra river with its swamps and tall thickets of elephant-grass, is home to world's largest population of Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, largest of the three Asian rhinos. The grasslands of semi-evergreen forest is also inhabited by leopard, elephant, barasingha or swamp deer, barking deer, wild boar, hog deer, bison, otter, Hoolock Gibbon, Golden langur, wild water buffalo, capped langur, pygmy hog, bear, grey-headed fish eagle, Pallas's Fish Eagle, Crested serpent eagle, Swamp partridge, Red jungle fowl, Bengal florican, Whistling Teal, Pelican, Red-breasted Parakeet, Black-necked stork, Adjutant Stork, Open-bill stork, Egret, Heron, White-winged wood duck, Rock python, monitor lizard, turtle and other commonly found species.
Orang National Park Also known as 'Mini Kaziranga', the Orang National Park is situated on the northern bank of the river Brahmaputra, in the state of Assam, covering an area of 78.81 sq. kilometres. Established as a sanctuary in 1985 and declared a National Park in 1999, it is 32 kilometres from Tezpur and 120 kilometres from Guwahati. The terrain slopes gently from north to south covered with natural forest vegetation like Bombax ceiba, Dalbergia sisoo, Sterculia villosa, Trewia nudiflora, Zizypphus jujuba, Litsaea polyantha and other non-aquatic grassland species. One-horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic elephant, hog deer, wild boar, civet, leopard, hare, porcupines and commonly found birds and reptiles in the region. Orang National Park is an important habitat of the Bengal florican.
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary Situated in the Morigaon district of Assam, at a distance of about 50 kilometres from Guwahati, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 38.8 sq. kilometres and is famous for Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. The sanctuary also protects Asian Buffalo, Leopard, Wild bear, civet, various reptiles and some 2000 migratory birds.
Keibul Lamjoa National Park
Keibul Lamjao National Park is about 53 kilometres from Imphal in Manipur. Temperatures range from a maximum of 34.4 C to a minimum of 1.7 C. Established as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1966, it became a National Park in 1977. The whole area of the park, about 40 sq. kilometre, mostly comprises wetlands overgrown with 1.5 metre deep floating vegetation called Phumdi. Loktak lake, the largest fresh water lake in India, also falls primarily within the park. Brow-antlered deer (sangai in Meitei dialect) is particularly popular among the different species of deer that abounds here. Extremely rare lesser cats like the marbled cat and Temminck's golden cat, Himalayan black bear, Malayan Bear, Black eagle, Shaheen Falcon, Great white pelican, Bamboo-partridge and Green Peafowl, Hooded Crane, Brown Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Great Pied Hornbill (Great Indian Hornbill) constitute the diverse fauna in the park.
The 39 million people of Northeast India constitute only about 3.8 per cent of the total population of the country (2001 census). Over 68 per cent of this population (26.64 million) live in the state of Assam alone. Mizoram has the lowest population of less than a million, i.e. only 0.891 million. The density of population varies from 13 per sq. kilometre in Arunachal Pradesh to 340 per sq. kilometre in Assam. The predominantly hilly terrain in all the states exceptAssam is host to an overwhelming proportion of tribal population ranging from 19.3 per cent in Assam to 94.5 per cent in Mizoram. The region has over 160 Scheduled Tribes and over 400 other sub-tribal communities and groups. It is predominantly rural with over 84 per cent of the population living in the countryside. According to 2001 census, the total literacy rate of the population in the region at 68.5 per cent, with female literacy rate at 61.5 per cent, is higher than the country's average of 64.8 per cent and 53.7 per cent respectively. Of course, there are significant variations in the literacy rates among different states with Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya below the national average.
The economy in the entire Northeast India is agrarian in nature, although little land is available for settled agriculture. The inaccessible terrain has made rapid industrialization difficult in the region. Along with settled agriculture, jhum(shifting cultivation) is still practiced by a few indigenous groups of people.
Largest cities according to population of census 2011 -
Naga tribal dancer Bihu dance of Assam Rasa Lila in Manipuri dance style The North-east India with over 220 ethnic groups and equal number of dialects makes it a hugely diverse region. The hills states in the region like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are predominantly inhabited by tribal people with a fair degree of diversity even within the tribal groups. Besides the indigenous inhabitants people form Tibet, Burma, Thailand, West Bengal and Bangladesh have migrated into the region at various periods of history.
The isolation of the Northeastern states began earlier as a result of British imperialism, when the region was cut-off from its traditional trading partners (Bhutan, Myanmar and Indo-China). In 1947 Indian independence and partition made this a landlocked region, exacerbating the isolation that is being recognized lately, but not studied yet. Soon it became a captive market for mainstream India.
The northeastern states, having a comparatively small electorate (3.8% of India's total population) are alloted just 25 out of a total of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (4.6% of the total number of seats).
The northeastern states are home to many ethnic groups, that are engaged in self-preservation. In the early days of Indian independence, there were serious revolts for independence due to religious, cultural and ethnic differences. The insurgencies were suppressed by the Indian army, but remained active. In recent times, some of these struggles have turned more violent again, leading to proliferation of armed insurgent groups, like the ULFA, NLFT., NDFB and NSCN. Soon after the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and especially after the rise of insurgency in the region, security influence on policies has increased.
Of late there is a wide recognition among policy makers and economists of the region that the main stumbling block for economic development of the Northeastern region is the disadvantageous geographical location. The coming of globalisation propagates deterritorialisation and a borderless world which is often associated with economic integration. With 98 percent of its borders with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, Northeast India has better scope for development in the era of globalisation. As a result, a new policy developed among intellectuals and politicians that one direction the Northeastern region must be looking to as a new way of development lies with political integration with the rest of India and economic integration with the rest of Asia, with East and Southeast Asia in particular as the policy of economic integration with the rest of India did not yield much dividends. With the development of this new policy the Government of India directed its Look East policy towards developing the Northeastern region. This policy is reflected in the Year End Review 2004 of the Ministry of External Affairs, which stated that: India s Look East Policy has now been given a new dimension by the UPA Government. India is now looking towards a partnership with the ASEAN countries, both within BIMSTEC and the India-ASEAN Summit dialogue as integrally linked to economic and security interests, particularly for India s East and North East region. 
However, the heavy and privileged status of the security forces in Northeast India, as well as seeming discriminatory treatment against Northeast Indians remain factors that contribute to tensions in the region. For example, the hunger strike by Irom Chanu Sharmila following the "Malom Massacre" has not received wide-spread coverage in India. Rituparna Chatterjee (20 April 2011). "Spot the Difference: Hazare vs. Irom Sharmila". Sinlung. Retrieved 30 April 2011
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