North East Desk

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From the Northeast Desk

To build upon and re-conceptualise NFI’s two decades of work in Northeast, an exclusive northeast desk was carved out from NFI’s Peace and Justice portfolio in 2015. The idea is to create a robust space on Northeast that should concern itself about doing cutting edge work from Delhi including galvanizing serious discussions and exercises around the region.

Core objectives are to improve the understanding of civil society, state and public on social, economic, and political dimensions of the region. Efforts are on to amplify these objectives by using various instruments.

The core strategy has been to make grants toNGOs, CBOs to work with affected communities and women for constructive work. Other instruments used are Awards for building capacities and facilitating regional networks of NGOs and youth engaged in constructive work besides supporting Research, documentation, conferences, seminars, workshops, publication and improved media coverage.

The Northeast Desk is expected to give much momentum andvisibility to NFI’s two decades of work in the region. In this span, since 1996, NFI had supported 60 organizations, many by way of seeding and offered fellowships to 70 journalists. In so doing it developed a feel for the nature of civil society in the region and helped better the sensitivity of media towards sensible and development journalism. It played a phenomenal role in creating and nurturing some of the most professional and plural-democratic organisations that intersperse the civil society domain of this Northeast. Donors who come to invest in Northeast's social and economic development today often choose to work with these organisations that NFI helped germinate. It was only a matter of time that NFI would create this desk to commission more research, make films, organize seminars, hold events, publish monographs, channelize partners’ work on digital media and write papers for wider dissemination. The Northeast desk provides just that kind of space to amplify all of above.

Activities in recent past (2015-16)

The activities have been broadly around strengthening and powering the Northeast Desk by consolidating past work, strategizing future work , giving momentum to existing efforts in terms of visibility and expansion.

  • Awards: NFI instituted the Peace Awards thatwent to ten youth from Bodoland in Assam in the last two years; their mentoring by local civil society organisation laid the ground for more intense capacity building work for peace and constructive work in the region.

  • Research: A Northeast Working group (NEWG) was formed with eminent representatives from Delhi and Northeast for Civil Society Action Research. The Group has brought out a substantive volumethat reviews the various governance mechanisms in the Northeastern states. Another research happened to understand the Look East policy by taking Mizoram as case study. A mapping of Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste Management situation was also done for the city of Guwahati (this has been followed up with action since). A monograph on classroom politics surrounding the language dynamics in Bodoland has been worked upon.

  • Engaging the Media:

  • In collaboration with Reachout Foundation, a high powered Roundtable was hosted with Rajdeep Sardesai, a leading media personality as chair. Both Civil Society representatives and very senior media representatives engaged with the notion of “tyranny of distance” – something that keeps regions like northeast and the work by civil society therein out of reach and visibility.

  • In collaboration with University of Westminster and Reachout Foundation, NFI hosted the Digital Media Program in Northeast

  • A Panelon South Asia and Media was organized in collaboration with India International Centre that had senior journalists and former ambassadors as panelists

  • NFI Conversations:

A new series that brings public intellectuals to discuss issues of relevance for Northeast and makes them interact with civil society in Delhi as well as grassroots organisations in Northeast through virtual space.

  1. Migration and Discrimination:

In collaboration with Reachout Foundation, NFI hosted a series of multi stakeholder roundtables in Delhi to understand what leads to discrimination of people who migrate from less privileged regions and how best to achieve multiple narratives from less reported regions.

On 6th May 2015 we brought in the academia and state to discuss discrimination and migration and the need for challenging stereotypes.

The second in the Migration and Discrimination series was held in May 2016 where we had actor Adil Hussain with us. In the session Uncharted Journeys: From Goalpara to Hollywood, Adil , who comes from Goalpara in Assam poignantly brought home the journey of a small town, Muslim boy from a lower middle class home aspiring to be an actor against the wishes of the family, growing up in a violently polarized state during the agitation against Muslim immigrants. The conversation was attended by a large number of participants from different sectors.

  1. Diversity and Multiculturalism:

 The conversation titled Diversity and Multiculturalism was held on March 29th 2016. This episode was addressed by Jess Dutton, Deputy High Commissioner, High Commission Canada and Mira Chatt, First Secretary, Political Affairs, High Commission of Canada and was attended by a large number of students and youth organisations from north-eastern India and other places.

  1. Breaking Stereotypes:

This conversation was held at NFI on July 5th 2016 where we were joined by people involved with education- from RTE Forum and NGOs working with children and education and principals of schools like Sardar Patel School, Delhi to brainstorm on how to approach a survey to ascertain how classrooms are fighting to break stereotypes.

  1. Conversation with Mr. G K Pillai:

On 10th January 2017, MrGopal K Pillai, Former Home Secretary and Jt Secy, Northeast Division addressed the CS fraternity including our partners in Bodoland and Manipur ( on skype) on security and governance in India’s Northeast. A large number of CS representatives attended the conversation

  1. Conversation with Mr P C Haldar:

On 18th August 2016, Mr P C Haldar, Peace Interlocutor for Manipur and Assam addressed a conversation on the synergy between state and civil society: understanding conflicts. A large number of participants were there including NGOs from Assam and Manipur (on skype).

  1. Brown Bag Seminars in 2015

These dealt withChallenging Stereotypes through comics and all about the Chinese Internment of 1962

The Capacity Building Programfor Youth led NGOs:

The first Capacity building workshop on Program Management for youth of Assam was held from 14th to 16th September, 2016. The workshop was organized at FST office that saw participation by seven selected Peace awardees from Assam besides 15 others. The workshop had sessions on project planning & implementation, reporting & documentation, monitoring & evaluation, developing project proposal, understanding of project budget & Finance management. There was a discussion on the concept of change and how they as peace awardees were the agents of change for their respective communities.


NFI became the Knowledge Partner of, a web portal for amplifying stories from Northeast and periphery. NFI also became an Institutional partner and served on the Jury of e-Northeast Awards and Social Innovations Awards (2015 and 2016) thatrecognizes exemplary social change agents in the Northeast .

Earlier initiatives (before 2015-16)

Film: Assam-a landscape of Neglect:

The documentary film, Assam-a landscape of Neglect, made by Pankaj Butalia in association with NFI, was screened on February 27, 2015 at India International Centre in Delhi. The film made a nuanced attempt at unearthing the current circumstances in Assam that define its realities more as a story of chaos than hope. The event was organised by Zubaan, a publishing house for women. A discussion, post screening, provided audience with a platform to talk about challenges, issues and the recent events pertaining to the Northeast.

Understanding North east initiatives:

In December 2013, the “Understanding North east initiatives” got rooted at NFI with a strategy to take initiatives beyond grant making and have a collective approach to grant making. In the meeting, some Delhi based donor organisations shared their experiences and future thoughts about the northeast. The donor groups felt the need for having a platform for better engagement of donors and explore collaboration between civil society, state and industry.

Re-granting role of NFI to the PSAARC secretariat:

The re-granting role of NFI to PSAARC secretariat was started in 2014 with the participation of 35 people from various fields. After the meeting the relationship of NFI and PSSARC was evolved to the extent of NFI playing the role of a collaborator and resource partner to one of the focus ideas of PSAARC and jointly discussed the idea of “initiating dialogues on the Look East policy through the Northeast.

Peace Conference:

A peace conference was organised in Assam in 2013 that mobilized some 100 youth who were instrumental in peace building and reconciliation activities during and after the BTAD riot of 2012. Post consultation, a memorandum was submitted to Governor of Assam for establishing peace centres in selected districts and constituting ‘Friends of Northeast’ to draw support for people of Northeast in Delhi and other cities.

Campaign by World Comics India (WCI):

In order to challenge the racist and discriminatory nature of alienation of the North eastern community in Delhi and other metro cities, a campaign was initiated by World Comics India through cultural intervention in Delhi and certain Northeastern states. We used comics as the main art form and other media tools including social media to make people aware about the Northeast, their issues, terrain, problems and culture in a creative and interactive manner.

Northeast Rising Campaign: NFI Co-hosted a fundraising event at Delhi for Northeast Rising Campaign in February 2015.

Forthcoming Events (2017):

NFI-IIC lecture Series: Beyond Borders: India’s Northeast India connecting South and South East Asia

South Asia and South East Asia between themselves comprise two of the most populous regions of the world. The region is fractious and studies on it are primarily driven by disasters and conflict. India’s Northeast is one such area until not long back marginal to Indian history, that has been caught in the throes of imperial expansion, nationalism, partition, isolation and dependence in the 20th century. This series of lectures hopes to shed light on the people and places that are caught in these larger forces and bridge atleast some gaps in understanding between and within the two regions.

The first of the lecture series titled “North East and Act East” was delivered, to a jam packed audience by Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar on January 31st, 2017 (

Ambassador Mukhopadhaya started by clarifying some of the misconceptions of Look East Policy (LEP) and Act East; for many in the region, the LEP is just another slogan and it is bypassing Northeast India (NE) and at best it is well intended but has nothing in it for NE and there are no tangible benefits for the region. The lecture went on to map a series of reality checks in understanding LEP. While making a case for LEP, the speaker cautions against the tyranny of geography of the region, and argues that while culturally the NE may like to look east, the imperatives of geography, economics and physical connectivity oblige most of the NE, certainly the plains of NE to look south and not so much to the east. If that is the case the perhaps NE should ‘look south’ while rest of India should ‘look east’. Bangladesh then should be part of India’s LEP. This is extremely significant and a very fresh perspective. He then presented an outline action plan for the whole NE where he conceived 7 clusters based on preparedness, opportunity, urgency and gestation period. Education, Health and Culture; Information and Communication technology; Connectivity; Tourism, Environment and Architecture; Agriculture, Horticulture, Livestock and Fisheries; Trade and Industry; Urban design, Planning, Sanitation, Parks, Sports. Before he ended his talk, he mentioned ‘governance’ where he talked about a culture of dependence at grass root that serves only a patron- client relationship that political parties are eager to nourish. The single biggest change, he believes, that can happen is if north easterners were to take their economic future in their own hands with ownership of projects.

Next in the series is Shri Shekhar Pathak, noted environmentalist on the Himalayan region.


The Masked Island:

NFI recently commissioned a film, tentatively titledThe Masked Island” that would delve on threat of habitat loss as well as livelihood from the world’s largest river island, Majuli, in Assam. The film will explore the challenges in preserving the island physically and its culture of mask making that is as threatened as the island itself. Environmental changes forced upon the disappearing island juxtaposed with a culture that grew in a place where the tribal and the non tribal identities exist alongside but are grappling together for survival. It is a searing narrative of survival of art and life itself, told through masked characters drawing from mythology that may not be indigenous but has come to symbolize a home grown culture. The film then is representation of a predicament that people of Majuli are confronting every day; survival of the river island, holding on to an art form and livelihood itself. Screening of the film shall be a prominent highlight at the forthcoming festival “ArtEast”

ARTEAST - A festival to celebrate diversity and raise issues of India’s Northeast:

ArtEast- a two days festival brings to you Installations Exhibitions Workshop Cinema Performance Discussions Adda Music Majuli Masks Pottery Root-bridge Mukhabhaona Tea-tasting Partition, Art, Livelihood, Governance, Philanthropy and Climate Change - diverse issues curated through diverse medium. Arteast is thus an initiative of NFI to raise pertinent questions through a series of engagements on livelihood, social justice, climate change, communication, history- past and present, issues that have a far reaching impact on everyday lives of people in the region.

The dates for Arteast are March 24 and 25, 2017. India International Centre, New Delhi is collaborating with us and is also the venue for the series of events planned for the festival.

We would like to begin the event on the 24th with a performance by the “Mukhabhaona” artists (as a tribute to Sanjoy Ghose) followed by a film on Majuli. There will be art installations and other art forms on Majuli as well. Our highlighting Majuli has roots in the riverine island, now a district, threatened by erosion and climate change and its centuries old tradition of mask-making also under threat with displacement and migration. On the 24th, there will be a session on Philanthropy followed by a sit down dinner at the Fountain Lawns. On 25th we have sessions titled “Of Other Partitions” that focuses on Eastern India’s stories of Partition that somehow remain outside the general narrative of Partition of India and “The Ground Beneath: Governance and Civil Society in India's Northeast” . Later in the day we will have a session called Adda: The Lost Art of Conversation. The Adda will carry on to an intimate music gathering with songs by Moushumi Bhowmik, a songwriter and singer who chronicles oral history on homelessness and Tajdar Junaid who is an accomplished multi instrumentalist. We will end the day with a tea tasting ceremony from Assam and high tea.



Facebook page: arteast

Facebook event page: Arteast installations photo expositions discussions music film

Twitter handle: @ArtEast_NFI


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