In a bold stride towards balanced socio-economic development and gender empowerment, India’s northern frontier, the Himalayan region, is emerging as a pivotal player in the country’s journey towards becoming a developed economy in the coming decades. Stretching over 2500 kilometers and spanning 13 states and union territories, this unique territory houses nearly 50 million people, encompassing a rich tapestry of demographics, economies, environments, and cultures. While some Himalayan and northeastern states have fared commendably on the Human Development Index, surpassing the national average, they still lag behind the western and southern counterparts like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The challenge lies in the region’s ecological fragility, which demands a calibrated development approach to preserve the environment while propelling growth. Adding complexity, the political landscape has been marred by corruption, impeding progress. However, in recent years the Narendra Modi government has placed a resolute emphasis on infrastructure development in the northeastern and bordering states. The construction of roads, rail networks, and tunnels is revolutionising connectivity, ensuring that even the most remote regions gain access to vital transportation links. This leap forward is not only promoting economic growth but also bolstering national security.
Northeast India, often referred to as the “Seven Sisters” along with its new brother, Sikkim, stands out with its unique geopolitical terrain. Sharing 98 percent of its international boundary with China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar, it carves a distinctive identity on India’s map. This region, home to over 220 diverse ethnic communities, spanning eight states across 262,179 square kilometers, contributes 3.76 percent to India’s population. Each state carries its own historical narrative, ethnic diversity, and power dynamics, making it an intricate mosaic. Despite its human development strides, the Northeast grapples with an infrastructural divide. Ethnic minorities in areas like Manipur, Eastern Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh suffer from poverty and crumbling infrastructure. In contrast, urban centers where dominant ethnic groups reside, such as Imphal, Guwahati, Itanagar, and Shillong, enjoy relative development. Recent efforts to invest in infrastructure are laudable but should now target areas that cry out for better facilities, fostering peace and progress.
One remarkable aspect is the status of women in this region. Northeastern women enjoy a relatively empowered status compared to their counterparts in northern states. They are educated and actively participate in various spheres, mirroring the progressive states of southern India. Conversely, in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, women, although hardworking, face educational disparities and limited societal empowerment. In Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, similar challenges exist, compounded by discrimination. Economically, both the Himalayan and northeastern states have ground to cover to catch up with the more developed states in the western and southern regions despite the recent infrastructure push. With the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, tourism and economic activities have received a much-needed boost. Improving security conditions are expected to foster trade and industrial growth. The remarkable progress in road development across northeastern states, including the construction of seven bridges over the Brahmaputra River, is set to enhance connectivity, both internally and with the rest of India. Within the northern states, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have shown promising progress. The Himalayan states are poised to bridge this gap, outpacing some of their eastern counterparts like Bihar and West Bengal. As India pushes towards becoming a developed economy, the Himalayan region is a beacon of hope, showing that progress is possible even in the most challenging of terrains.