Do Separate Time Zones in a Country Promote Harmony or Dissent?

The sunrise times in central and northeast India vary by more than one hour. But are separate time zones a good idea in a country already…

Do Separate Time Zones in a Country Promote Harmony or Dissent?
The author dressed in a Mekhela Sador — the traditional outfit for the women of Assam (Image source: Anangsha Alammyan on Instagram)

The sunrise times in central and northeast India vary by more than one hour. But are separate time zones a good idea in a country already scarred by internal racism?

“Okay bye, I’ll call you later,” I gush to my friend, as I place the phone between my ear and shoulder, locking the door and stepping out. “It’s going to get dark soon and I want to make the most of the last daylight hours.”

“But yaar, I thought you’d go for a walk before sunset,” my friend complained.

“Yes, and it’s going to be dark in an hour,” I tell her, rushing down the stairs.

“But it’s only 5 PM.”

And then it hit me why my friend was finding it so hard to believe. She lives in New Delhi, the capital of India, while I’m from Assam — a state in the northeastern part of India. Our country has a single time zone for all the states, but Assam and New Delhi have a longitudinal difference of 15.85.

Just to brush up some high school geography, the twenty-four hours of a day are divided by 360 degrees — a complete revolution of the earth on its axis. Hence, a distance of 15 degrees on the map amounts to a time difference of one hour. This calculation makes the difference in the times of sunrise between Assam and New Delhi a whopping 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 24 seconds.

For someone living in mainland India, it’s hard to believe that even in early May, the sun can go down as early as 6 PM. But it does, and that’s one of the many ways why life in northeast India is incomprehensible to someone who has never been to this part of the country.

Aside from being a tactical disadvantage, several other issues aside from this early sunset, namely:

  • Fewer daylight hours leading to more electricity usage.
  • Traveling from the northeast to other parts of the country and vice versa can require a resetting of the biological clocks, leading to a few days of a jetlag-like effect.

In fact, there were talks of instating a separate time for the northeastern part of India. In 2018, the CSIR-National Physical Laboratory and the National Measurement Institute of India proposed the implementation of two time zones for the country, namely IST-I (UTC +5:30) and IST-II (UTC +6:30).

But experts predict that having a separate time zone for this region could lead to problems as well, such as:

  • The possibility of human error in changing time when crossing the time zone by railway and aviation employees may result in accidents.
  • Offices and banks that need to be constantly interconnected would find it difficult to operate in the same sphere.

These are all minor issues and can be easily solved. After all, separate time zones within a country are not unheard of. The United States has six time zones and Russia has as many as eleven.

The biggest problem is, in a country like India where the people from the northeast are already discriminated against and called “Chinese”, having a separate time zone may enhance the sense of alienation of people belonging to the region.

Assam and the rest of the northeastern states are regularly under-represented in national media, with the people treated like strangers in their own country. There have been several instances of violence against the people of this region in different parts of India because they looked different or couldn’t speak the local language properly.

In such a landscape, I fear a separate time zone might make the situation even worse.

I’ve had friends treat me differently when I went to live with them, often using the phrase “In your homeland” to emphasize how the language, culture, and traditions are different from what they are used to.

If the time zones are different as well, people who aren’t familiar with life in this region might take it as an excuse to further treat the locals like strangers.

It might be even worse because, as a country, India has always had one time zone throughout its breadth. And since it is a tropical country, we don’t have daylight savings as well (the practice of advancing clocks typically by one hour during warmer months so that darkness falls at a later clock time).

In essence, the concept of time has pretty much always been static in my country. In such a situation, if a separate time zone is introduced in a region that’s already been discriminated against so much, it might cause a chasm too vast to ever bridge.

Sure, there might be several benefits to coming back from the office at 6 PM and still being able to go for a walk when it’s not pitch dark. But that might not be a sufficient price to pay for the barrage of internal racism that might follow.

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