Let me begin by explaining the word ‘chinky’. The word ‘chinky’ (‘chinkie’, ‘chink’, ‘chinka’ being the other variations of this word) basically refers to a person of Chinese descent. However, the term is usually used as an ethnic slur. Hence, the use of this term is considered offensive and catches media attention, whenever it is used.
There are a number of theories regarding the evolution of this term. Of these, the most widely accepted proposals are:
1. That it is derived from the name of China itself.
2. An alteration of the name of the Chinese ‘Qing’ dynasty.
3. That it is a derivative of ‘chink’ – the Indo-Iranian word for China – which has a similar pronunciation in languages like Persian.
Moreover, the word is still used in Britain where it stands for Chinese food. The word ‘chinky’ was most probably first used in 1878. Due to its offensiveness and controversial re-appropriation , the word ‘chinky’ is often put in the same bracket with terms like ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’. Rarely is the word used in a positive sense.
In India, the word is extensively used as an ethnic slur, to say the least. Indians from the rest of the country refer to people from the northeastern states collectively as ‘chinkies‘. They even include persons with Mongoloid features under their definition of this term.
These people visualise their existence as proud, ‘responsible’ countrymen by showing their racist views. They think that they are ‘preventing’ Chinese immigration into the country (and therefore being ‘responsible’ citizens) by singling out their fellow citizens and calling them ‘chinkies‘.
Hence, people from northeast India may be termed Chinese, Nepalese, Korean, Bhutanese outside their home states. However, rarely are they called Indian. It is indeed after a lot of struggle that these people are identified at least as ‘northeasterns’.
For the repeated misappropriation of this term, which constantly hurt the emotions of many communities, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs finally put forward a law which states that the use of the term ‘chinky‘ is a punishable offense that may be lead to imprisonment for a maximum period of five years.
The following are some of the most dreadful (mis)conceptions on the people from northeast India:
1. They eat dogs:
Yes, that may be a tradition or food habit of some tribal groups in northeast India. But that hardly suggests that ‘all’ people from the northeast are ‘dog-eaters’!
2. They are all tribal people:
Well, there are currently eight states in India’s northeast, all of which consist of people from diverse cultures, communities and ethnicities. The names of the eight states are listed below for the sake of the forgetful public:
3. They are illiterate:
In 2013, Tripura held the highest literacy rate in the country, exceeding even Kerala’s literacy rate. Before making a judgement, one should also look at our infrastructure and quality of education.
4. They are Christians:
The northeastern states consist of people from diverse religions. A single religious identity should not be stamped just because most of us here have ‘uniform’ looks.
5. Women here are ‘easy’:
Women here have the freedom to dress in gorgeous traditional dresses, participate in ‘inter-sex’ mingling, and live independently with smiles on their faces. This doesn’t mean that they are ‘easy’.
6. They can’t speak Hindi:
I agree that we are not perfect in everything. However, when it comes to speaking in Hindi, despite being a ‘northeastern’ myself, I invite anyone and everyone to have a conversation in Hindi with me.
7. There are wild animals ‘everywhere’:
To clarify things at the very beginning, we do not dwell in forests. Furthermore, the animals can be found in their places in the forests and sanctuaries. Besides, we take pride in our animals – the spectacled monkey, the one-horned rhinoceros, and many more.
8. They are all ‘cannibals’:
Again, stop abusing your fertile imaginations. Rarely is such a massive, wholesale cultural misrepresentation visible.
9. There is nothing to visit, and travelling there is costly:
The paradox here is that the northeast states do get a large number of ‘foreign’ visitors. On the other hand, we have mostly ceased to exist as Indians in the eyes of our fellow citizens. In that case, which category of ‘foreigner’ do you belong to?
10. They are chinkies:
As mentioned before, nothing can be more disrespectful and hurting to us than this term. And there does exist variety in our facial features, myself included. Personally speaking, I identify myself as a proud ‘northeastern’.
11. They are the ‘immigrants’:
We also have our voter identity cards issued by the Government of India. Furthermore, we also pay annual taxes for the development of India’s economy.
You should all learn to look around you and accept the Indian-ness of people from the northeast. We are not outsiders. All it takes is to view us with a broad and open mentality.
Moreover, how can you term us ‘ignorant’ when most of you don’t even know the geography and the states comprising India’s northeastern territories? A citizen’s responsibility doesn’t end at casting votes and paying taxes. They should also inculcate knowledge of the country and its people within themselves and also impart this knowledge to future generations.
After all, celebrating the victories of Dipa Karmakar, Mary Kom and Somdev Devvarman, and listening to the soothing compositions and songs of S D Burman and Papon isn’t all you should end up doing. You should also have a look at the cultural roots of these national icons.
Some facts need to be reiterated. Northeast India doesn’t begin and end in Assam. Also, the way people react to the word ‘northeast’ ironically reinforces my feeling of ‘innocence’ regarding my ‘Indian’ identity.
We are Indians. The northeast portion of the Indian map is still considered as an integral part of India. Therefore, we the residents of the northeast also need to be considered and treated as Indians!