“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
Burma Times: By Maya Angelou. 29th April 2014
An average Indian perspective about North East India, I feel, does not go beyond Assam. Forget confidently mentioning all the states which constitute North East India. Thinking of Assam, they would talk about tea gardens and women working in those tea gardens. Exploring a further tangent, Indians would presume that people from the North East are all drug addicts and women easily available for sex. Welcome to the land of diversity, where Indians discriminate against Indians.
Most Indians think racism exists only in the West and see themselves as victims. But it’s time they reflect upon their own attitude towards people from the country’s North-East. Horrid but inescapable truth is that Indians are guilty of racism no matter how loudly you say the slogan “Unity in Diversity.” The North East exists outside the conscious mindspace of ‘Mainland Indian’ and people from North East are often greeted with Ignorance mixed with racial insensitivity. Not always but often, not by all but, unfortunately, by far too many.
Physical appearance is often the reason behind social profiling in India. People from North East with mongoloid features are tagged as ‘Chinkis’ or ‘Chinese’ because of stretched facial features, while those from South India are invariably madrasis because of a darker complexion. Your color, language, features says a lot about your personality even without you having to open your mouth. And to adjust in the socially determined settings, people go out of their ways. Clearly I can’t think of many countries where Fair and Lovely creams do such roaring business but only in India. This is the level of discrimination towards their own people, who have the same national language, common history and shared territorial boundaries. Let’s not even consider the torture inflicted towards other nationalities.
Discrimination is primarily of two types. First, the ability to differentiate among ethnic groups, say, between people bearing Mongoloid features and those bearing Dravidian features. In a simpler sense an ability that is as helpful in distinguishing between an Audi and a BMW. And second, there’s discrimination which leads to prejudice, this discrimination needs to be weeded out. For instance – all cultures in India find the enunciation of other cultures hilarious. I’m surprised to discover that South Indians find North Indian enunciation to be of low-status. And I’ve already highlighted what ‘Mainland Indians’ think about people from the North East.
Even the academic text books in India do not have history of the North East, just proudly highlighting the Aryans and Dravidians. If this is the subjective approach of teaching Indian history, development of prejudices, stereotype is a foregone conclusion. If India is a collaboration of different cultures, communities and religions, then why is it that the North East isn’t being accommodated as equally as others? The case of North East is not one culture overplaying on the other, but it the case of no familiarity, no fusion.
Loitam Richard, Ramchanphy Hongray, Dana Sangam and most recently Nido Taniam from Arunachal Pradesh succumbed to racist attacks by a bunch of compatriots. And class plays no barrier in these racial attacks. For instance Nido, was the son of an MLA. For most Indians, the Northeast is another country only accidentally and peripherally Indian. It may be geographically at an arm’s length from the mainland; in terms of acceptance and integration it might as well be another continent.
North East India is territorially organized in such a manner that ethnic and cultural specificities were ignored during the process of delineation of state boundaries in the 1950s, giving rise to discontentment and assertion of one’s identity. The colonial rulers took nearly a century to annex the entire region, and administered the hills as a loose ‘frontier area’, with the result, that large parts of the northeastern hill areas never came in touch with the principle of a central administration. The Indian government’s past and ongoing processes of national integration, state-building and democratic consolidation have further aggravated the conflict scenario. The AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) for instance, shows the inability and reluctance of the government to solve the conflict with adequate political measures. The regular violations of human rights have led to a radicalization and militarization of the region. According to the Human Rights Watch Report (August 2008), “The Act violates provisions of international human rights law, including the right to life, the right to be protected from arbitrary arrest and detention, and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It also denies the victims of the abuses the right to a remedy.”
The truth is till today Indian nationalism has no place for the north-eastern mongoloid culture. They have been intentionally kept as a ‘stranger.’ North East has been included as a part of India for geographical, colonial and strategic interests, but no effort has been made to make it a part of the Indian conscience. The fact that they are Indians and equal part of India’s success story is often forgotten by majority of population.