ByÂ Shibayan Raha:
Nido Tania, the young boy from Arunachal Pradesh joins the long list of northeast Indians who came to mainstream Indian cities, faced harassment and then lost their precious lives. People from Northeast India facing racial discrimination in mainstream cities is nothing new, it has happened before and someone is facing it right now as I write this.
What is also not new is how we as a nation react to the word “racism”. For many, racism doesn’t exist in India, because this country and its people are so great or multicultural. When an Indian film star is frisked at a US airport, when a diplomat is taken to jail on maid abuse charges; we Indians raise a hue and cry, saying see how racist that particular country is. Then why can’t we accept that we as Indians are racist too. We have been racist towards people who don’t fit into our stereotypical Indian mentality, especially towards people from the eight states of Northeast India. The rising crime against these people in India’s capital city in a testimony to the fact that we as a society have failed to be as multicultural as we should have been. Ignoring racism is also a higher form of racism.
My experience in Delhi and elsewhere in India
I come from the city of Kolkata, shifted more or less to Delhi seven years back. Delhi was a struggle for me as soon as I stepped in. My Hindi was not great; it was difficult to move around the city. There were only two metro lines which made it more difficult. Wearing harem pants and sporting long hair which are naturally white was another reason for Delhiites to mock me at regular intervals or give me long stares. This was definitely not a problem for me as I was used to face the same in Kolkata. What shocked me, were slurs against my Tibetan friends and my friends from Northeast India. I was asked by a cop who gave me better sex, Indians or these Tibetans/northeast girls. In Green Park as I walked with my Tibetan friend wearing short skirts we were tailed by a Delhi police van with cops staring at both of us. I have travelled far and wide in India and Delhi has always been difficult for me on these issues which I call racial discrimination, because it is what it is.
Here lies the problem, at least for me. Our history books in school don’t include anything on Northeast India or even if they do, it is just a paragraph. Mainstream India only talks about Northeast India when there is some violence, attacks on army positions by insurgents or about inter community clashes. The problem is further complicated with the difficulties we face if we want to visit Northeast India. With bad roads and permit system which at times is difficult to get, it is impossible for people like me to know more about the region.
Do people face racial discrimination in Northeast India as well?
I know my answer here will raise quite a few eyebrows. But as I said earlier, I will call it by its name. “Racism”. Yes even though it might be surprising, racial discrimination has a presence there too. The minority communities face it every day. People of Bengali origin who have been staying in Assam since pre-independence times are labelled as illegal immigrants; the chakmas face the same problem in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh while Bru refugees are still languishing in camps in Tripura even after a decade of fleeing their native home in Mizoram. While waiting for inner line permit for Mizoram, I was asked to produce a local contact’s name in Aizwal. When I gave a chakma friend’s name I was told, no this won’t work as he is not a Mizo. Not surprised I replied back saying why is he not a Mizo? Without replying I was given a permit.
A close friend from Manipur whom I email at times on issues related to the region wrote the following when I asked her about the rise in recruitment of child soldiers in the region:
“In the case of Mizoram, there are Â hardly any human rights activists ready to raise their voice for communities who are suffering, even Churches don’t come forward to help in spite of being a Christian, it’s quite appalling. I have experienced so much in Mizoram, when I was on a campaign trip to talk about the issue of Burmese refugees, they really look down on them, I am not surprised with the attitude of MZP and Young Mizo Association. My experience in Shillong too was not very good. When I just passed out 10+2, I came to Shillong where I witnessed Khasis attacking the Bengalis. I saw group of Khasi youth stoning a Bengali store and later they burnt it down. That was shocking. They are barbaric. Even in graduation days, I remember one khasi guy got down from the car near our hostel and he shouted to my Mizo friend “Bitch”. In the northeast when such things happen we don’t have a place to complain. Though we face discrimination and attacks in mainland India, this is a much better place for me. I have been through many things in my own state and region and never thought they are even better than people out here.”
“Racism” exists very much in this country. Be it north, south, east or west, our very own people indulge in racial prejudice against each other. If we face racism in one place, we raise a hue and cry but we practice it in our own home. If we as a nation have to progress then we have to call it by its name, name and shame the ones who commit it and make sure no one faces challenges due to different looks or lifestyle. Let us not call people by their looks but by their name.
Though I am from mainstream India but Northeast India will always be home for me. I feel safe there, I have travelled to some of the most remote regions in Northeast India without any difficulty or prejudice, I have eaten at stranger homes and been showered with as much love as anywhere else. 2014 should be the year when we start practicing what we preach; we should at least make an effort to root out racism from our mind, body and heart.
“We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity.”Â â€• Fred Hampton