One things Indians are very proud of is their democracy. Apart for two years in the seventies, India has resolutely stuck to its commitment to provide a free and secular country for its people since independence. Given the nature of the country’s birth, its cultural make-up and the sheer corruption of the people at the top (please click that link – it is hilarious!), this is fantastic achievement for the country.
And it does make travel around the country a lot easier. I have travelled extensively in Asia, and I can tell you that compared to much of the continent, India is easy. Not because of its infrastructure, nor due to the amount of English spoken, and not due to the hand of officialdom extended to tourists. It is easy because it is free. I have travelled extensively in the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Sri Lanka and the amount of harassment that the local forces put on the traveller is ridiculous. And don’t get me started on China – a beautiful country, but you are always being watched. India on the other hand takes a far more relaxed view to the tourist in terms of where they go and what they want to do.
Now while North East India is not as troublesome as Kashmir, at the same time it is not exactly a stable region, with its own insurgencies that take place throughout the area. However, for a part of India that is under attack from within, getting round is pretty easy, and I have travelled in messed up areas. North East India is not that plagued. Yes, there are certain hoops you have to ump through (to be revealed next week), but the country is easy for the foreigner to travel around. Now, guidebooks will tell you that you must register with the police while in Assam, Meghalaya, and even the state government of Tripura asks you to register with them.
I will be blunt, no one even bothered with me. I was left alone to wander freely. Not once was I asked to walk into a police station to register myself with officials. In fact, other than the airport, no other India official looked at my passport. Even when flitting with the border of Bangladesh, the guards were quite happy to let me walk around. I was just asked not to take photos of the border fence (a reasonable request) and not to walk into the army base (another very reasonable request). In fact, I think the guards were quite surprised that I asked them for permission. They just did not care about what I did.
And that is why Democracy works in India. It is not the (re)election of parasites that matters, but the freedom of the individual. It was one very stress free holiday, precisely as I was not goaded by the forces of officials, but by my own decisions. India’s democracies and freedoms may not be perfect. But compared to the countries surrounding it, it really is a shining light of individuality and liberty. I hope that evolves into something even more beneficial to society, and for the traveller to North East India, relax, it’s a free country!