A subtle revival of North-Easterners’ double identities at the time of COVID-19

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Courtesy: The Better India

 As a person belonging to the North East of India, the inevitable state of having two identities is imbibed in us the moment we realise the very existence of our identity in India. The major realisation of our two conflicting yet unique identities comes in full totality when we start living in spaces where our voices occupy a lower floor inside the tall hierarchal building called Indian society. This has forcefully pushed us into the black hole of psychological dilemma, where on one hand we are constantly trying to fit inside of this hollow mould which is walled with ignorance and mainland conformity, in order to prove our ‘Indian-ness’ whereas, on the other hand, we are then pigeonholed into racist stereotypes and subjected to countless prejudices by the same majority who had earlier crafted that insignificant mould.

                  Our invisibility in mass media and major policy formation has further intensified our problems as we search for our single identity as an Indian citizen devoid of societal labels and racial differences. As a matter of fact, there is a continuous battle being fought inside our minds between our two identities. Sadly, in this fruitless battle for the search of our just and singular identity, there is no winner but only a lost indefinable identity positioning itself as a tightrope walker carefully walking on a thin rope of societal acceptance as it balances the two identity poles located at each end of the stick with the added fear of slipping and falling deep into the dark abysmal heap of disparity where all the lost identities go to die. Our society’s problematic approach in labelling group definitions against its own powerless citizens has stigmatised our whole identity as a North Eastern. Furthermore, this utopian thought of our existence is included in the mainland normative is hard to fathom considering the mass systematic racism functioning in our society which is there to check and filter out any racial identity which does not coincide with their vision of a homogenous Indian society.

                  So, how does COVID-19, a virus which has no correlation with our primary identity as an Indian citizen affect us so gravely that it has re-ignited the thought of “double identities” among us? The answer to this question has everything to do with our other identity as an individual from the North East and us having similar facial features with the people of China, where the virus first originated. Due to the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, there has also been a sharp increase in racially motivated attacks on people of East Asian descent being reported every day. Likewise, the racist and ignorant lot of our own country has also left no stones unturned in harbouring this innumerable barrage of hateful sentiments, partly borne out of ignorance and massive misinformation. In India, these attacks are not only limited to foreigners but shockingly also towards their own citizens belonging to the North East of India. The onset of these racist attack towards us isn’t something that has come up recently; In fact, these attacks on us are so rampant that it has been normalised to an extent that we are conditioned and reduced to as secondary citizens in our own country.

                 These disgraceful recent racial attacks that are being inflicted on our people from the North East who are residing in our country’s major metropolis is downright humiliating and also very unbecoming for a nation that market itself on it’s diversity and inclusivity to the world. The significant rise in racially motivated attacks due to the outbreak of this virus has also taken a toll on our mental health as not only are we in a constant state of anxiety because of the virus but moreover, there’s also been a deep underlying psychological fear for our vulnerable identity as a North Eastern, that is bound to beget a series of racial profiling by people that dominates the popular narratives. Whenever we step outside and move into the suffocating spaces of our large cities, the air of racial bigotry which was earlier hidden under the faux blanket of inclusivity; seems to now waft freely and with full impunity, slowly engulfing us as we helplessly stand amidst the attitude of indifference by people in power who have shamelessly been unable to tackle this age-old issue of racism towards their own citizens. The prying eyes of the passer-by’s that glares at us with hostility adds an imminent danger to our already battered North Eastern identity, as we mentally prepare ourselves for what is to come out of their poisonous mouth.

                    In this trying times when we are in a desperate need of acceptability and social integration from the masses, it is with utter annoyance and disgrace that we are being shunned and racially profiled in this despicable manner. With these added obstacles that are present in our society, it has made it really difficult for us to identify with our single identity as an Indian citizen. So, in order for us to bridge the gap and defy the societal labels and group definitions that govern us so that our coming generations don’t have to fall into this perplexity of double identities as we have. It should be our individual responsibility as a North Eastern to unapologetically make our voices heard and our stories told by our own people so that we can challenge the institutions that have unabashedly devoid us of our visibility and our true identity for years.

By Lobsang Norbu Bhutia. The author pursuing his graduation at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is a resident of Martam, East Sikkim. he can be reached via his email, lobsangnorbu1690@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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