Yesterday, I uploaded a clip from a recently released Amazon Prime Original series, Paatal Lok, as I found one particular scene to be against our community. I was soon joined by the thousands of people who share my concern, and we all want the creators to either censor or completely remove that segment, and below is the reason why:
Human perception is a very complex process, and one’s thoughts and action are greatly sculpted by what we see and hear.
Whether we like it or not, if an idea is repeated again and again, it becomes a truth, hence repetition of negative ideas is what we all need to avoid. As the underlying contexts or knowledge related to that subject, seldom matter. In psychology, this is known as the illusory truth effect.
My experiences with negatively crystallized opinions:
When I left my home state Sikkim to pursue higher education in Bangalore, a group of local strangers who were not even from my college, stopped me in the middle of a road and asked me the phone number of my North-Eastern classmate, telling me that someone from their group admired her greatly, and was willing to pay whatever amount she desired, to “get laid”. When I tried defending her, one had the audacity to say, and I quote “Don’t lie! We know ‘you people’ will do anything for money.” And this is just one instance from one person, from one city.
I believe that was the reason why, back in 2014, when a racist statement, made by a police officer from Gurgaon started making rounds on social media, which unequivocally pin-pointed at “girls from Darjeeling and Nepal” with prostitution and fake complaints of rape, I was really scared, thinking about the safety of the already vulnerable women from Nepal and the North-Eastern India, who lived there and in other cities, for higher education or regular jobs.
I am emphasizing the word North-East because basically, folks from the eight states and Districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, including Nepal (and Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) are perceived as one single community, by many in mainland India.
As I was watching that series, suddenly a scene popped up, where a cop hurls abuse on a female suspect, using the deliberate swear “Nepali Whore” (in Hindi) co-incidentally in light of a suspected prostitution charge – in such a big platform like Amazon Prime. All of my past fears re-emerged because those two words were like a demeaning catchphrase, which recapitulated what our women were already accused of and frequently branded. Anyone who has experienced bullies and unpleasant nicknames can understand – catchphrases are much “catchier” and sinks deeper, than the underlying context in which it is expressed. That’s the reason all the people who shared concern, speak one point – such targeted generalization was not needed.
The greatest example of the illusory truth effect:
This may come as a surprise to many, but a lot of studies have found Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) to be completely safe and remarkably low on toxicity. Numerous credible articles have been published about it, however, facts never matter, when a large number of people still associate “harmful” with “MSG” hence companies, still make sure our food packets are labelled.
Similarly, while we all know that North-Eastern Indian states are doing a remarkable job on controlling the spread of Coronavirus, and have maintained low numbers, particularly Sikkim, with zero infections so far. Yet, it’s us, once again, who have recently earned a new nickname “corona” because even though most of us have never visited China, we also happen to be Chinese, in the eyes of masses. A Manipuri girl was spat on, and 8 people from Nagaland, without any travel history or physical symptoms, had to spend a night in a government quarantine facility, just because of appearance. There are so many such examples of communal discrimination, so much, that the MHA had to write to all states to make sure, we are protected from hate assaults.
As there is so much of hatred towards us, even during these trying times, I am not overreacting when I say, those two “associated” words can be perceived as a catchphrase if portrayed in the light of prostitution.
I challenge an independent survey to be conducted by any reputed organization to survey women North-Easterners staying away from home, you will see how many will come up with stories of sexual demoralization, and how scared they are to walk outside. Even during broad daylight, be it during a pandemic or otherwise.
That’s the reason, Team Paatal Lok, even if you intended to uplift and raise social awareness about a vulnerable minority, you should have used carefully crafted politically correct words. We have been abused and labelled with so many nicknames, that every negative portrayal, hurts us, demeans and terrifies us.
Along with exceptional military professionals, North-Easterners are journalists, IAS officers, actors, social activists – people who are making a significant and positive contribution in the Indian and global society. I would suggest, if we are to break negative stereotyping – we can start by encouraging and giving artists from the North-East, more positive and prominent acting roles next time.
Pralakshya Sharma is the author of The Crown Of Intelligence and is from Sikkim, currently based out of Bangalore. He can be reached at email@example.com
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