The cold-blooded murder of Nido Tania, a college student from Arunachal Pradesh, in a busy South Delhi market is a chilling indicator of the widespread bias against Indians from the North East. The mass exodus of North Eastern students from Bangalore back in 2012, prompted by rumors of possible attacks against their community, shows that they don’t feel safe and sound anywhere outside their home states.
Though Mumbai hasn’t seen cases of ragging or racist violence in recent times, can we dismiss the undercurrents of a bias that exists? For example, there is a preposterous assumption that anyone with Mongoloid features is ‘Chinese’ or ‘Nepali’. By doing so, deliberately or not, they get labeled as ‘others’, as outsiders. There could be nothing worse than questioning their national identity and making them feel like foreigners. One of the most used racist slurs against them is the deplorable term, ‘Chinki’. It is because they are made to feel different from the ‘regular’ people that they are compelled to move in packs among their own.
Large-scale ignorance with regard to North East India is one reason why there is a shameful tendency to club Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and N. E. Indians together as one and the same. I wonder how many Indians can name each of the seven states in the region without confusing their capital cities with each other. And while Mary Kom has become a household name all over the country as a boxing champion, how many Indians can confidently name her home state as Manipur and not Mizoram or Meghalaya?
While North East students know everything about the freedom struggle of India and its rich heritage, what do we know about the exotic nature of their culture? How many of us would consider taking a tour through the quaint hilly towns of the North East as a part of our holiday plans instead of the regular photo-op in front of the Taj Mahal and house-boat sailing in the backwaters of Kerala?
Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, has been fasting for 14 years now, to get the Armed Forces Special Powers Act repealed in Manipur. Had she undertaken her protest in Delhi or somewhere in ‘mainstream India’, would her fast have gone on for so long? I don’t think so. In the national capital, politicians and bureaucrats would have rushed to her aid and there would have been a mad scramble by the media to cover every aspect of her fast, as was the case during Anna Hazare’s agitation. But choosing a desolate location back in Manipur as her protest venue has meant that she is held in detention, force-fed through a tube by government authorities and is remembered by the Indian media, hardly once or twice in a year.
It is crucial to integrate Indians from the north east with the social fabric of the country as a whole because national integrity is our best bet against prying eyes of expansionist neighboring powers like China, waiting to get a toe-hold in Arunachal Pradesh.
So the first step is to make a conscious effort to stretch out a friendly hand the next time you encounter that classmate from the North East you always wanted to talk to. And as you initiate a conversation with that person, please don’t ask, “Are you from China?”
- Aathira Konikkara