India is a diverse country, with numerous cultural practices, varied languages and distinct art forms and history. Within this diversity, is an entire region cordially known as the “seven-sisters and a brother”, which is named so to denote the 8 North-eastern states. Yet there are many statements used to describe northeastern states, such as “tribe populated state”, “underdeveloped” and mostly “Chinese looking people”.
The people of the North-East have descended from the mongoloid race, hence they look different from those in mainland India in terms of physical appearance, culture, language, food habits etc. But this difference has made them subject to racial discrimination and harbour a feeling of alienation in their own country. Ever since the pandemic took over most of the world, closer to home North-Eastern people living in the mainland, in metro cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore have been facing more racial discriminations and comments. The most common one is the phrase “go corona”, “Chinese hae! Momo hae! Corona lagega”.
There is a long history of racism that the community faces. Even after residing in India for several generations, we are labelled as foreigners. The most recent issue of racism that rose to prominence, was the condemnable hate against a Manipuri girl who had been spat on and called ‘corona’ in Delhi by a middle-aged man. The same night, in a different city, a few Northeastern students were attacked by their neighbour who demanded them to leave the premises. Girls are harassed, made fun of or commented on unwarrantedly regarding their way of dressing and eating habits. Boys are usually beaten up, and the majority of them are subjected to ragging which basically leads to the growth of depression and development of thought patterns like “where do I belong?”.
Questions of ‘where and why are we subjected to this violence? What is it that has made us a subject to racial discrimination?’ arises in the mind when faced with such news.Is it that people outside the North-Eastern borders don’t know about us or is it that knowledge about us is not imparted to them? It is high time we need to urge the government to work on incorporating our history in academic texts, putting northeast on the front line.
India has created laws to prevent discrimination but has lacked in its enforcement. Ever since the murder of Nido Tania, a student from Arunachal Pradesh in Delhi, where he was beaten to death by seven men in 2014, the safety of the people from North-East has been a burning issue. Tania’s killing had led to the widespread demand for anti-racial discrimination laws.
The response of politicians has shifted from denial to acknowledgement of the desire to do something about it. Racism experienced by North-East communities is framed as a problem of metropolitan India not of everyday life in the borderland occupied by the Indian armed forces and under a series of extraordinary laws and exceptional governance provisions.
Debates should be grounded in social, political and economic changes brought about by migration from the Northeast borderland to metropolitan Indian. When it comes to racial abuse, all genders face it, but women are more vulnerable since perpetrators feel that they have the upper hand. When racist remarks are made, the police don’t know how to file or which sections to file complaints under, as there is no section of the law that specifically addresses racist remarks.My elder brother, when pursuing his bachelors faced comments like; “chinkey, hakka noodles, momo, chinya, wangru”. My mother feared to send me out for higher studies, stating “mari dincha bahiro! Hepcha yah ko manchae lai/ They will kill you! You will be discriminated”. I was very young when my mother gave her advice but the worst part is that even years later, it hasn’t changed.
What is the next step forward? If we are being subject to racial discrimination, we should raise our voices not only on social media but in real-time too. The Special Police Unit for North- Eastern Region (SPUNER) team is one such attempt, which has taken up the challenge of providing safety and security to the citizens of North-East India in Delhi NCR. The unit works around the clock for the safety of the NE people, including stepping in during incidents of racial discrimination, accidents and also help in conducting post – mortem if the need arises. Other states where the NE population resides in, especially the metro states where student population are maximum, should also have such units to help and assist them. Helpline numbers should be provided and the Northeastern population should be kept aware of such violence.
The only way to tackle racism is to not let “unity in diversity” remain an empty statement – each individual should open their hearts and minds, accepting that whether from the North, South, East or West, we are all children born and raised in the same soil, pledging loyalty to the same tricolor.
(The author is pursuing English Literature from NBBDC. For queries, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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