Sharing an outrage is no longer restricted to television channel coverages and newspaper reports. News presently is shared via social media feeds, which has a larger reach. All of us furiously send out WhatsApp forwards. We get emotionally charged with issues that affect humanity.
The recent death of 25 years old Jayland Walker in Ohio got most of us cringing as Walker sustained more than 60 wounds. An attorney for Walker’s family said he was on the ground while officers continued to fire.
World Media makes headlines with stories of oppression. It is succinctly broadcast with well-timed protests and aggressive postings. Well-informed intelligentsia write articles. Many create posts on their social media feeds, joining in the fury. The flurry of activists and influencers created momentum by with hashtags like #blacklivesmatter #metoo#Kootoo etc. We are talking about possibly creating a hashtag for the less reported racial issues in India.
One can’t deny that one feels extremely fortunate to be witnessing this current change in the world order. People are protesting. Yet in the same breath, one feels saddened that in India, we fail to look into our own racist attitudes and behaviours.
In most countries, the majority culture naturally becomes the accepted norm. India is no different. The minorities remain in the shadows and also on the fringes.
The north-eastern part of India is considered exotic by tourism enthusiasts, but otherwise, it remains misunderstood and hidden. There is also a constant ridicule and a non-inclusive attitude towards the North-Eastern people of India.
The slur is “Chinky”.
The word was coined because the North-Eastern people have a similar set of facial features that resemble the South East Asian countries, namely China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Cambodia, Laos, and other people from these regions.
In my interview with Nancy (name changed), it was not much of a shock to me that she felt like an outsider in Delhi. I have personally witnessed the harassment and have heard conversations where people speak about their ludicrous ideas about the North-Eastern part of India.
Nancy is a Nepali from Darjeeling and laments that she is constantly mistaken for a sex worker.
She is educated, well mannered but finds it extremely difficult to be accepted by her North Indian boyfriend’s family. It hurts her. The obvious dismissal and the crude jokes about why she didn’t join the adjoining beauty parlour as a masseuse tires her out. She tries to take the humour in her stride. But she knows that this non-acceptance will forever remain her reality. She has no future with him.
She said, “most men outside our states think that we are available and work as prostitutes.”
Her Naga roommate, Lalrimpui changed her name to Kareena because no one could understand her name or pronounce it. She told me bluntly that because of the constant bias, she doesn’t want to identify herself as an Indian. She confessed that the majority of them in frustration say, “we don’t belong to India.”
As I delved further into the topic about their woes. North East India feels cut off from the rest of India. It doesn’t help that the inarticulation of the Hindi language also puts them un at ease socially.
The Nagas are especially irritated by awkward questions about their cuisine. Often they are subjected to questions like if they serve dog meat regularly at home?
Natural calamities and the political upheaval also force them to leave their states. The recent floods in North Eastern India and Bangladesh have ravaged over 9 million people in both countries. Around 150 have been killed.
The truth remains that awareness about Silchar, which is in the North East, is abysmally low. The current flood situation has paralysed the place with no drinking water. Most of those who are stranded there have no access to the internet and are boiling the flood water for drinking purposes. Little remains known to the majority in India about the calamities that happen year after year in the North East.
Students who migrate to metropolitan cities for education always complain of feeling insecure and vulnerable.
There have been many incidents of violence faced by North East youngsters during the Covid outbreak. Many say that even now, taxi drivers and shopkeepers in Delhi tell them that they must return to China.
Finding houses on rent as a North Eastern is an uphill task. Most don’t wish to give them rentals because of their food habits and the features that set them apart. According to Satish Raj, a gym trainer by profession, said that he had visited a popular bakery in Bangalore that had recently opened up. The staff who worked there were also from the North East. They were not willing to take his order and kept repeating that there were no job vacancies in the bakery.
He kept trying to tell them that he had come to have a coffee and a slice of cake. But they asked him to show his cash and credit card. Satish said that the staff were also from his home state. Apparently, they kept discouraging him, telling him that this was an expensive restaurant.
Satish mentioned that he felt sad about the incident. What brings to light is, that the North Eastern people too have subconsciously accepted the bias and the judgement that they have endured for years.
We are still a long way from complete acceptance, but athletes like Mary Kom, Baichung Butia, singer Papon, author Arundhati Roy, leaders like PA Sangma, activist Irom Sharmila, media person Arnab Goswami, and a few more have been able to bring the seven sisters of India to the forefront with their work.
Looking back at the freedom struggle of India, one can’t forget Gaidinliu Pamei popularly known as Rani Gaidinliu.
She was a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against British rule.
At the age of 13, she joined the Heraka religious movement of her cousin Haipou Jadonang. This later turned into a political movement seeking to drive out the British from Manipur and the surrounding Naga areas.
Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16 and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British rulers.
Nehru met her at Shillong Jail in 1937 and promised to pursue her release. Nehru gave her the title of Queen. But little is known about her or is written in our history textbooks.
North East India is culturally rich, with literature, arts and crafts, and its untouched natural beauty.
The people of the North East seek more inclusion and visibility within mainstream India, besides only being given a spotlight as part of the Republic Day parade.
Mohua Chinappa is an author and a podcaster of a show called The Mohua Show.