“Demanding me to lick his boots, he said, you deserve it only because you are a dirty tribal from the North East.” Higio Gungte, Arunachal Pradesh.
I am an Indian, an optimistic Indian, but a critical one. Today, after 25 years of contemplation of the society and self, I claim, I am a despondent citizen of India. I started as an optimist. However, it was short-lived. Racism and its prejudices made me a sceptic regarding the idea of India. My first encounter with racism was in India, my own country. Racism wore superiority with pride. It walked loud and bold on the streets, in the shopping malls, in the airports and everywhere I walked.
I encountered it up close one evening in one of the subways of Delhi in the year 2009. As I walked into the packed metro, I was rebuffed by many eyes. Unhappy with my presence, many eyes examined me. Jittery, I turned away to one of the corners, only to allow my space to be corroded by two men slowly. They offered me money and asked, “How much do you charge for the night?” I was stunned by the question and didn’t know how to respond. However, I did respond. Gathering courage, I said, “You should watch your words!” To which, he replied, “Why don’t you go back to where you belong!”
Ever since 2009, racism and I have had frequent encounters. On some days, they have been like coffee, rather light, but most of the days, they’ve been like the morning breakfast, extensively heavy. On my first visit to the prestigious Jaipur Lit Fest, my friends and I, all Indians, but yes, from the North East, were denied entry into a hotel. We were asked to prove our nationality on arrival at a hotel. The manager demanded us to show our passports! We asserted that we were Indians! We all spoke excellent Hindi and thought that it would just suffice. I mean, does it even matter?
Since then, I have been looking for a home!
Through this article, I speak from, of, and to, my country. I write to speak of the country, the states and the cities, and of the many identities and individuals that come with it. There is diversity in the colours, features, names, languages, foods, songs, dances, etc. that this country has to offer. Most vividly, I write to question the idea of ‘Indianness’. Honestly, I don’t even know if this word exists, but time has taught me that such ideas have dwelt here, uncontested. Some of us have lived here, at risk, unfree, assaulted and erased.
Slogans like – ‘Racism Down Down’! ‘We Want Justice’! ‘We Are Indians’! are almost an everyday tune to our tongues now. One does not need to be reminded of the many past incidents of racial attacks and similar bigotries perpetrated against certain communities in India, that do not fit the Indian design. Either one is not ‘enough’ Indian or rather, doesn’t ‘look’ like an Indian! On January 29, 2014, when Nido Tania, a 20-year-old Student from Arunachal Pradesh was murdered in the Lajpat Nagar area of Delhi, it triggered widespread protests across the country. Many political parties joined in and some of them also gave an assurance that there would be no more atrocities of similar kinds.
However, in the same year, in October 2014, there were two separate but parallel incidents, one in which a 26-year-old engineering student was beaten by three men in Bangalore for not speaking Kannada. Second, where two students from Nagaland, Awang Newmei and Aloto Chishi were beaten and tortured brutally for hours by few local men in Gurgaon. What was terrifying was their intent. The perpetrators then chopped off one of their hair, saying, “We want to send a message to all of you in the North East. If you guys from Manipur or Nagaland come here, we will kill you.” These are only some of the incidents. There are so many more, brutal and inhumane in nature. Besides, many of us are fighting a battle every day, trying to find ways of how to tackle the racism that we are subjected to almost every day.
On March 15 and March 16, another protest-peace march was organised. Once again the old slogans like, we want justice! And Racism Down Down’ Took over the streets of Bangalore, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh. Reason? Hemanth Kumar, a lawyer residing in Bangalore, allegedly made a 19-year-old tenant from Arunachal Pradesh lick his shoe. I am aghast at the incident that happened on March 6 to a young boy named Higio Gungte from Arunachal Pradesh, a college student of Christ College. He was living as a tenant in one of Mr Hemanth’s properties for almost a year. I am sad to learn about the physical pain and the emotional trauma this little boy was inflicted with, over the issue of excessive use of water. Gungte’s family is a close relative of mine and after the tragic incident, I had spoken to both his mother and sister. From their long conversation, one thing that troubled me was the question his mom asked me. “What wrong has my son done to him (Landlord)?” This is a clear case of racism and a hate crime. A police complaint has been lodged against the landlord at the Hulimavu police station in Bangalore.
Allow me to share with you few important details from the police complaint in Gungte’s words.
Dated – March 13, 2017
Hulimavu Police Station,
I, Higio Gungtey, would like to submit that I am a person belonging to the Nyishi Tribe, a schedule tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. A copy of the certificate is produced for your kind perusal. Hemant Kumar has attacked me for no reason but because I come from North East. I and two of my friends are tenants in his rent house since March 2016, with the rent amount 12000 per month and the rent agreement was made in the name of my friends Mridupawan Bharali and Rajeev Ranjan Singh (hailing from Assam and Jharkhand respectively). He told us that my name need not appear in the rent agreement. It was on Monday March 6, 2017 our landlord Mr. B. Hemanth Kumar came to our house and he started attacking my friend while I was talking to my parents over the phone in the balcony. When I saw him dragging my friend by his neck, I immediately rushed into the room and tried to stop him but instead he started beating me. He beat me mercilessly in all part of my body. While beating me he said, “You dirty tribal from North East”.
He kicked me in my stomach several times and I was choking and fell down on the floor because of the severe pain. In no time, again he kicked me on my chin and it started bleeding. My tongue got cut and it was too painful. Then I went to the bathroom to spit the blood out, he dragged me out of it and hit my right cheek, it was too painful. My mouth was full of blood. He punched me in my face. I was already very tired from the beating and dragging. He tried to kick my genitals as well but somehow, moved and escaped.
Mr. Hemanth told my two friends to slap me otherwise he will beat me more. As a result my two friends out of fear of him started slapping me.
While he was beating me, he abused verbally saying, “I will fuck your mother and sister”.
He forced me to lick his boots
While he was kicking me with his boots, one of the boots came out. He ordered me to put it back to his feet and tie the lace, and lick his boots. While licking his shoe he said, “You only deserve it because you are a dirty tribal from North East and don’t show your face again in this city”.
Please No More!
I felt my heart skip a beat when I read his police complaint. I was disappointed and disturbed by the alleged actions of Gungte’s two friends and Mr Hemanth. However, much more by Mr. Hemanth’s. He is an educated man, a lawyer by profession. Gungte, in his wildest dreams, must have never imagined, that he would ever be treated like that. Only if one could read Mr Hemanth’s thoughts. I fail to understand why he hates tribals from the North East. I also struggle to reason out why Gungte’s roommates gave in to Mr Hemanth’s threats. If only, they could have gathered some courage, things would have been relatively calmer for Gungte and his family.
Gungte’s quiteness is very familiar to mine and many of us who are told every day we don’t belong here. His voice is that of the offspring of many nations within a nation. Together, our voices carry the many unheard stories of racial discrimination and its intolerance.
I believe, more than ever, that the search for justice is the supreme foundation for activism in our time here and abroad, although the melody of misery and anguish has been consecrated in this country. I draw strength from brothers and sisters, who without fear and inhibitions have dealt with racial discrimination and its biases. With every reason, they have stood firm in their fight. I am inspired most by those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of finding one’s identity like Nido Tania, Richard Loitam and much more.
When we condemn attacks in Kansas (shooting of two Indians as the gunman thought they were Iranians) and Canada (Quebec mosque shooting), why do we fail to dismiss this one? They say when the horrors and pain of the people are louder than the babies crying and when the cry of your neighbours makes you more uncomfortable than the murder itself, something is awfully wrong. And it’s time, that India, where differences were once accepted and celebrated, should introspect before it is too late and before our attitudes harden.