Prejudices Against North East Indians: The ‘Othering’ Of A National Identity And Normalisation Of Suppression!

Posted on February 3, 2014 in Racism, Society, Taboos

By Mahitha Kasireddi:

“Punjab Sind Gujarat Maratha Dravida Utkala Banga, Vindya Himachala Yamuna Ganga Uchchala Jaladi Tharanga”

These are the lines from our national anthem representing the vast stretching area of the Indian peninsula. But, have you observed something? The song has missed to represent the states we are most proud of having them as part of India – Kashmir and the entire North East India. The only spirit that drives us as a nation is pluralism, but pluralism in a selected and biased manner. Recent incidents are disappointing, they stagnate India as a nation always-in-the-making. Why aren’t we inclusive in our perspective towards our country?

Nido Tania

The academic text books of NCERT, CBSE, ICSE and State boards do not have history of the North East. The subjective approach of teaching Indian History again hardly mentions places beyond Bengal when we talk of East. What happens when you do not know the history, geography and polity of a state or a country? You develop prejudices, you tend to stereotype the people with the little information you know, you assume, you judge, you taunt, you superimpose, you categorise them as ‘others’. If India is a collaboration of different cultures, communities and religions, then why is it that the North East isn’t being accommodated as equally as others? The case of North East is not one culture overplaying on the other, but it the case of no familiarity, no fusion.

What is the perspective of an average Indian about North East India? He can probably name only Assam. On thinking of Assam, he can only think of only the wide areas of tea gardens and a peculiar attire of women working on the fields. The region is vaguely termed as a passage between China and India and thus the theory of their mongoloid looks. One cannot confidently name all the states, their capital cities and Chief Ministers. He presumes Buddhism is the majority religion. These apart, he is confident that people there are all drug addicts and women easily available for sex.

Our brothers and sisters from North East are facing a day to day battle just to assert their identity as Indians, they fear to occupy public places or carry on their daily activities, a pathetic situation which no citizen should ever be subjected to. Probably they’ll have to carry their passports wherever they go to avoid unnecessary scrutiny, especially by the police who mistake every North Eastern to be a Chinese or Tibetan refugee. Isn’t it unfair to grill someone for their physical appearance? They struggle to represent their culture and language at par with the others and for livelihood opportunities in metro-cities. A non-profit organisation called Manipur Women Gun Survivors is working towards achieving this inclusivity. They bear the brunt of our ignorance with high patience. They are held as foreigners in our views and start getting inquisitive. We glance at them at public places, jeer and taunt them.

The reason I am addressing us collectively is because ‘we’ are part of a hidden phenomenon which is difficult to prove — racism. It is invisible, but the presence is always felt. It did not always exist but was taught by the society. It is time we first acknowledge with honesty that racism is very much prevalent in India. It is time we leave behind the myth that racism is a Western phenomenon or that it can happen with an individual only in a foreign land.

Loitam Richard, Ramchanphy Hongray, Dana Sangam and today yet another story of prejudice, hate and discrimination hits the headlines. Nido Taniam from Arunachal Pradesh succumbed to a racist attack by a bunch of his compatriots. He was the son of an MLA, his story proves how one’s class plays no blanket cover in rescuing from a societal evil. With incidents of similar fashion reoccurring, it highlights the gravity of the issue on how the differential attitude towards people belonging to a particular part of the country cannot be overlooked as just normalized behaviour.

Nido’s death has sparked a considerably strong reaction from the North East community, mainly students. Protests were held at Lajpat Nagar in the wake of the tragic incident. The students have demanded the fast tracking of Nido’s case and all other registered cases regarding discrimination against people from North East India. The students have further demanded to devise a program for sensitization of the police force , in order to remove the hostile treatment that is usually meted out to them. The police have a lot to explain in Nido’s death case. An important point that was raised here is the AFSPA that is imposed in the North Eastern States which has given rise to secessionist sentiments within those states. This further sends a negative message to the mainland about their differential treatment, thus inducing further ‘otherness’. The demand to repeal AFSPA is gaining ground. The government shall also take responsibility in educating the citizens about harmonious living and promote pluralism in its complete form.

In 2011, the Indian government had ordered all States and Union Territories to take legal action against anyone who addresses the north eastern people as ‘chinki’. The jail term could be as long as five years. This is apparently not the method to react to such crisis. The racist mentality should be treated with spreading awareness, and education regarding diverse cultures and people should be included in school curriculum. Any racist action should be condemned on the spot. The fact that diverse culture, face features, skin colour, hair style and other outward factors should not be taken for character assessment should be indoctrinated in the society. Do not feel amused when your child spots someone from North East and calls him a Chinese or Japanese. You may say that a community stereotype is a harmless one, but we are yet to rise to a position as to be able to love a ‘chinki ‘as much as we admire and love a bong, a madras, a ghaati, a bawa or a miyan.