Yes I used the ‘C’ word. It’s not for ‘coup’ or ‘corruption’ as you may suppose (or may be led to suppose), but it’s the single most common cultural slur used across the nation: chinki. If we have to get rid of this slur, we should not hide it in the closets of our minds or the backrooms of our vocabulary, but bring it out in the open just as we cannot win the fight against HIV or caste for that matter by abstaining from saying ‘HIV’ or ‘Caste’.
I am writing you this letter in order to highlight the sense and extent of alienation and suffering that has been instilled in the minds of the people coming from the North Eastern part of our country, especially those whose facial features do not match the facial features of a person coming from mainland India. Yes, chinkis they are – chinkis with pride, respect, a profound love for their culture and their land. But why are they made to pay a price for looking like what they do? Let me state at the outset that I have no answers. I am only going to ask you questions about things that your government or your party’s government should have done long ago, but failed to do.
I could have addressed this letter to someone else. Maybe UPA chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi who allegedly calls the shots in your government or Delhi Chief Minister Mrs. Sheila Dikshit who has for the past several years taken no steps at all in order to arrest this sense of discrimination among the North East students even and especially in the country’s capital. However, I have chosen to write to you because you happen to represent Assam in the country’s upper house of the parliament, a state, which happens to be in the North East.
Sir, 65% of our country’s population is under 35 years of age. Yet, if I may ask you, how many among those 65% not belonging to the North East can name the seven sisters and their capitals? How many of them, the so called nationalists and patriots, can even trace a north eastern state correctly on the country’s map? If my experience is anything to go by, except for some of the ardent students of geography, none, not even one, can do so. And right now, even as they read this letter, they are busy fumbling through the country’s map in order to memorize the seven sisters.
I do not intend to point fingers at anyone. Actually, I do not have that many fingers to point if I am asked who is responsible for this situation. However, the recent protest at Jantar Mantar against the killing of Richard Loitam, an architecture student studying in Bangalore and the suicide of Dana Sangma, the niece of the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, in her hostel room due to the discrimination she faced in her college speaks volumes about the extent to which the situation has deteriorated (I can bet those cultural nationalists can’t even name the Chief Minister of Meghalaya).
Nowhere could have a 119 day blockade of a constituent state gone unnoticed except in a country like India. The Indian state skips a heartbeat every time there is a demand for secession from the Indian Union by a state from the North East. And these demands are justified. Who would like to remain in a country where the government treats the residents of a particular state as ‘guests’? Who would like to remain in a country where you are discriminated against day in and day out?
As a recent article by our columnist Purnett Moirnagtham pointed out, the administration of this country takes care in giving the students from the North East a good headache by making them memorize all about the mainland India and making them learn Hindi — a language completely alien to them. Yet the people from the mainland do not know much about their North Eastern counterparts. I have been asked on occasion whether Bihu was the name of a bird and have been completely stumped on other occasions on being asked the capital of Imphal. What does one answer in these situations? What does one answer when she/he is asked whether she/he is from China?
As a student, my experience with my north eastern counterparts has been enriching and educating to say the least. But how does one deal with those culturally insensitive people who do not at all wish to interact with them by saying “they all look alike!” As a nation which goes ballistic when an incident of racism occurs against “Indians” abroad, how do we tackle this gigantic magnitude of racism that we ourselves perpetuate at home? According to a statistic, 78 out of 100 people in Delhi face racism. If the extent of discrimination is so high in the country’s capital, what does one say about the country as a whole?
Respected Sir, we are a country which takes pride in its cultural diversity. Yet, nowhere in the country is culture as diverse as in the North East. I haven’t personally visited that part of our country, yet even the description of Bihu makes me want to dance, even a syllable of Assamese makes me want to learn it and even the mention of Bhoot Jolokia makes me rush for a glass of water. Yet, for most of the “Indians”, north east remains a place where “they” eat dogs. This deliberate cultivation of the cultural other has happened over a period of time, and exponentially during the time when you have been in power.
I appeal to you to urgently take measures in order to stop the discrimination against the seven sisters by their testosterone pumping counterparts in the mainland. Unless serious steps are taken for the correction of the same starting from speedy delivery of justice for the families of Dana and Richard, I, personally, and the people of North East collectively, would continue to blame your government and especially you, for failing to improve this situation.
Anshul Kumar Pandey
Editor at Large
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