By Azra Qaisar:
In 2014, a young man, Nido Tania, from Arunachal Pradesh became the victim of a hate crime in New Delhi. The young student’s death led to a series of protests in the capital and across many regions of India. The incident sparked many debates about hate crimes and discrimination faced by the people from the North East of India, which led to the Delhi Government forming a North East cell in Nanakpura, in south-west Delhi, and a helpline number 1093. However, this leads to an important question. Are these measures helping or doing more harm?
One of the ways that Delhi is attempting to stop discrimination is by celebrating the ‘culture’ of the region. This celebration of the region’s ‘culture’ comes with its own set of problems. It leads to exoticization of a region and its people which leads to the phenomenon of ‘othering’. When you celebrate just a particular region in a country it brings in the dichotomy of ‘us’ v/s ‘them’.
Secondly, these festivals have a fault in the way they represent the region. The North East of India, just like any other region, is comprised of innumerable people from different tribes, different religions, different communities and thus, different cultures. These festivals barely manage to cover most of them. Many people even take an issue with just celebrating the North Eastern region.
“What is the purpose of these fests? Is awareness and understanding of only these eight regions is important? Shouldn’t other cultures and regions be celebrated too? When you have it just for the North East that becomes a problem”, says Amelia Melva from Shillong, a student of political science.
The Government of Delhi also tried to create awareness to curb ignorance. It called for an inclusion of the ‘North Eastern culture’ in the curriculum of government-run schools. The Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, asked the people from North East to help design the syllabus and also tried putting them in touch with the education department. Here again, the same problem arises. There is no one culture of North East India. Also, it does not make sense to educate students about one region in depth and ignore the rest. It adds to the problem of ‘othering’. Another problem with how representation is going to work is that only the good side will be shown. The other side – which is comprised of conflict, internal and external – is eliminated and not talked about.
The Delhi Government tried to help the people from the North East by creating special cells, but these cells are the beginning of a new problem altogether. Labelling a cell as ‘North East’ is homogenising a large body of people and seeing them as a single mass of people. Rabika Gurung, a student from Sikkim, studying in University of Delhi believes that the North East community needs to understand that these cells actually isolate the people rather than integrate them. “People can’t alienate themselves and then expect not to be alienated by the rest. The whole idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ has to come to an end”, she says.
Instead of having a separate North East Cell in colleges, a cell for anti-discrimination can be created. It would cover a broader range of issues and also succeed in not isolating one particular region.
It is indeed true that people from the North east of India face discrimination but if that has to be stopped, celebrating ‘cultures’ or creating special cells would not go a long way in helping. Attitudes need to be changed. Calling people “Chinky” has to be stopped. These measures at making people feel at home in their homeland is something that needs to be thought about. Will integrating the people of a region, into a country that’s their own, actually be helpful in the long run?