Many disturbing videos and posts have been doing rounds on social media in which racist slurs were meted out against people from North East India, in almost all the major metropolitan cities. As if listening to stories of everyday racial discrimination was not enough, now we have coronavirus to make things even worse! This is a vicious cycle and it continues because we don’t speak out collectively, and there have not been major policy interventions against racism in India.
On 20th March, I was on my way back home from Vizag to Guwahati, and someone happened to misplace their luggage at the Vizag airport. The CISF personnel checked the list of passengers, read out to his colleague and said, “Yeh pakka North East ka banda hoga. Badi dikkat hain yaar inhe pehechanne main. Sab toh ek jaise dikhte hain, choti aankh, ghumte hain mask lagakar (He must be from the North East. It’s so difficult to identify them. All of them look the same, with their tiny eyes and masks on their face).” I couldn’t help but just stare at him.
I have personally undergone a lot along with a former roommate and friend. I’ve heard blatant abuses and racist slurs at the drop of the hat. It was only after I got to hear this particular statement from an obnoxious landlord in Delhi that I had to drag him to the Sarojini Nagar Police Station. I fought it out all alone. He said, “Pata nahi room main baithke kya illegal kaam karte hoge tum log! Waise bhi tum North East ki ladkiyon ki hessiyat Rs 3,000-4,000 ke kamro main rehne ki hain. Bolte ho acche gharane ke, ladko ke saath ghumte ho and bhagwaan jaane kya kya karte honge.”
(I don’t know what all illegal activities you must be up to. You North East girls are only worth living in a Rs 3,000-4,000 room. You say you are from well-reputed families, but you roam around with boys and god knows, what all you’re upto.)
He obviously had issues with our eating habits. My friend had to listen to even more trash, given her mongoloid features, and I can’t even fathom what she must have gone through! It was only during this time when I got to know that there is a ‘North East Cell’ in every police station in Delhi. It was reassuring when I got in touch with the North East representatives who encouraged me to report to the police. I was very vulnerable and just out of college, broke and with no political backing. I intentionally use political backing because most of the landlords in Delhi are so rich and corrupt that often times, they have a political affiliation to some party or the other.
I was vulnerable because I am a woman from the North East and a Muslim. And all this was happening when mob lynching cases against minorities were at their peak. Believe me, it is scary! Even in the police station, the landlord and his wife were continuously trying to malign us. They went to the extent of complaining to the concerned authorities that I owe them Rs 30,000 for painting the house, because I had put up the map of India on one of the walls, thereby damaging the property!
It does not stop there. Just a couple of months earlier, I saw Angellica Aribam speak at the YKA Summit in Delhi. She tweeted very disturbing visuals and other racist tweets that were thrown at her on Twitter, that she immediately had to go and file a zero FIR. And not to forget the recent incident, wherein a young Manipuri woman was spat on in North campus in Delhi.
The spread of the coronavirus has led the global community to speak against the Chinese and their eating habits, but that does not give any of us the right to promote racism. In the Indian context, racism is one of the major hindrances for national integration and creates contempt amongst communities, giving rise to more hate crimes!