A recent ruling by the government of India makes it amply clear that anyone addressing the people of India, distinguished by Asian or South-East Asian physical countenance and a culture unique to the north eastern region of India — as ‘Chinks’, would be a proud recipient of 5 years in prison.
I have to admit that I have, in the past, used this term quite a few times myself (although I never use it now — out of sensitivity, not forced compulsion). To me, this was no different than being called ‘bandh-gobhi’ (cauliflower) for being Punjabi. I was a plump child when young, and my cousins apparently derived pleasure in calling me ‘Moti’ (meaning fat). They do so to this day, the tones of their voices still varying over a range of expressions, including derogatory. I learnt to live with it, and found my own ways to be pointedly derogatory with each of them in return.
During the first few months of my undergrad education, I lived in a hostel which was predominantly populated with girls and women from NE of India. I admit that while there was a certain cohesive tendency within their circles of ‘stick with your own kind’, I was made a part of their groups nevertheless — sans any form of notable discrimination. This reflects the resilience of a people who have been historically made victims of random violence, administrative, economic and infrastructural neglect from the Central Government. I would playfully abuse them for their SC/ST status that made it easier for them to attain admissions in premier institutions, while helping them fill forms and frame their official letters, and they’d make fun of how I’m to go crazy at approximately 12 o’ clock. Not much different from regular light-hearted banter based on different cultural backgrounds. I sometimes even found that they made better friends than other more typically Indian classes of people.
The point that I am trying to drive at is – our society has been historically cultural-biased. From where I come from, south Indians would be ‘khattas’, Bengalis would be a class of submissive, scared and perpetually sick individuals, and Punjabis were supposed to be laughed with/at. The way I see it, the problem of being called ‘chinks’ is not based on race — it is more regarding a cultural difference. However, people have always (give or take a few anomalies) known where to draw a line. The fact that for the case in hand, people in India have grown accustomed to cross this line and enter the shady area of heavy-handed discrimination, is a direct consequence of the economic and social neglect meted out to the NE population by the authorities in the first place. How much has been done about the many instances of CRPF abuse to civilian population of the region (representing 3.8 per cent of the total population and approximately 4.6 per cent in Lok Sabha), I find, is a critical determinant of how the region is placed on the government’s priority list. Banning a name from usage is hardly going to fix anything.
Do I then approve of this most recent half-hearted attempt by the government? Half-heartedly.
The number of people migrating from NE India to other more economic (constitutes as a reason for a minor proportion) and educational (is a reason for major proportion) centric parts of India was 414,850 in 2010. There is a lack of good educational infrastructure to provide higher studies to students who typically like any other youth of India aspire for the best. Moreover, there is a lack of sufficient infrastructure to facilitate economic growth — a thing needed most desperately in times of upwardly mobile prices of basic necessities like food as well as all other commodities. This makes underserved, under-educated people from this region give themselves more easily to harsh conditions outside of their native states — just so they have some money rolling in. This makes men more susceptible to get caught up in bonded labour, and women more susceptible to sexual harassment.
The change in this trend would obviously come from making the area more economically independent — and to ideally become economically prosperous, even, given its strategic geographical positioning. Once this is achieved, it will then be interesting to observe how the attitude of the rest of abusive India — which feels it has the right to kill (the Richard Loitum case) and to discriminate (Dana Sangma case — where whether the insults were sexually discriminative in nature or not, has not been ascertained) against people with lesser aggregate economic privileges than their own mainland aggregate, will change.
The point here is to curb the violence and high-levels of (sometimes sexual) discrimination directed at students and citizens of the North-Eastern states of India. What the government has effectively done by this is issued an unofficial notice to the rest of India — we have vested economic interests in this region, we do not want rebellious groups in the regions to escalate their activities, so please behave, and if you don’t we might (or might not — it’s still too early to tell) send you to jail. That’s equivalent to giving a hungry child a small crust of bread, instead a full meal. Moreover, there is a large section of people which believes that the enforcers of law are themselves staunch believers of their superiority and hence the right to violate. This is clearly not the right approach.
What would work is a combination of capital punishment for the recent crimes committed, a hefty fine (to the tune of upwards of a quarter million INR), and a well-thought out economic upliftment strategy (without further implementation-al delays). Government’s decision to carry out this three-pronged approach would be the correct response to this, not banning names.