India is a land of diversity where many people from different castes and creeds live together. Most people around the globe see our India as " the epitome of diversity in the world" with great admiration. But this is the rhetoric that people in the "mainland" subscribe to, or the textbook description that we've been exposed to since our childhood. However, the reality is totally different and it might be difficult for some people to accept the truth.
Historically speaking ethnic relations in India have been complex. The attitude and behaviour towards people of other ethnicities or races has always been different in one way or the other. For instance, the discrimination faced by the Northeast Indian in their very own country is undeniable. Northeast India comprises 8 states, having its own kind of scenic beauty and culture but the rest of India doesn't care much to know anything about the history and culture of the North-Eastern region.
In our country, among other disciplines in the school, history textbooks play a key role in making students understand the idea of a nation as the subject effectively communicates the narrative of a shared group memory: a collective identity, a common historical territory, common myths of origin and symbols. Now the history textbooks we read in school sing praises of the heroic sacrifices made by people in mainland India, such as, Bhagat Singh, Jhansi ki Rani, Mangal Pandey and many more. However, the heroic sacrifices made by the people from Northeast India are ignored, such as – Gomdhar Konwar, the Ahom prince of Assam; Kiang Nongbah from Meghalaya; Major Paona Brajabashi, the heroic soldier and martyr from Manipur kingdom; Rani Gaidinliu from Assam and many more.
The news that the mainstream media usually shows about Northeast India is also diabolical. More often than not, the coverage features kidnappings, bomb blasts, ambushes and so on. But that very mainstream media fails to shine the light on the beauty, harmony and progressive culture of Northeast India. However, I'm grateful to the vloggers and also politicians who only remember to pay a visit before elections, for showing the other side of the coin to the world too.
But this is not the end, many Northeast Indians move to mainland India for better education and job opportunities but what they get in return is an unfair value system, gender inequality and caste prejudices. Following are some critical cases that our brothers and sisters from Northeast India have faced while living in mainland India:
In 2014 a support group for northeast students alleged that two young men Awang Newmei and Aloto Chishi from Nagaland were brutally beaten up with a cricket bat and hockey stick by a gang of locals in Gurgaon. The attackers said, "We want to send a message to all of you in the northeast. If you guys from Manipur or Nagaland come here, we will kill you."
Again in 2014 leader of Manipur Students Union of Bangalore, Michael Lamjathang Haokip was threatened and attacked by three men in Bangalore who allegedly said "Speak in Kannada language or get out".
In March 23, 2020, a 25 years old manipuri woman alleged that a man riding a scooter spat all over her face, shirt and hair and called her “corona”. The woman further stated “While the incident did hurt my modesty as a woman, it was more of a racially-motivated crime. Being called a ‘coronavirus’ or watching people cover their mouth as we walk by have become a norm now.”
In Gujarat, Cathy Chakhesang along with 8 of her colleagues were forced to spend the night in a government quarantine facility despite no travel and no symptoms. Cathy further stated “Police told the owner of the company that some public had complained about us – that we are carrying the virus because we look like Chinese."
In March 2020, a video went viral of an argument between a Manipuri girl Hmingtei Chhangte and a woman in the Reliance Mall in Pune. The manipuri girl in the video was seen claiming that the woman keeps covering her face around her. Chhangte further stated “The woman at the mall kept rudely gesturing like I am infected and commenting ‘baap re’. When I asked what was wrong, she screamed so loudly that mall staff had to intervene. I left without buying anything.”
There are many more incidents that the Northeast Indian have faced in mainland India and the list goes on forever. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic has reinforced racism against Northeast Indians, which the Northeasterners have always had to deal with anyway. In India during the pandemic, individuals with Southeast Asian facial or physical features have been stigmatized as suspect carriers of the COVID-19 virus.
Also I'm grateful to Dr. Alana Golmei who is fighting against discrimination in major Indian cities against people from Northeastern states, with her private helpline for Northeastern people, the North East Support Centre and Helpline (NESCH). NESCH has handled around 600 cases of crimes against people from the Northeast, including harassment at the workplace, assault, and rape.
The country should also not forget the contribution that the Northeast Indian have made in the field of sports by representing the country in the international arena. Also, mainland filmmakers are welcome to explore stories in Northeast India as it still remains a relatively unexplored part of the country.
From Chinki, Momos, Chinese, to Coronavirus, the Northeast Indian have faced a lot. I also grew up listening to the same comments like Chinese and Chinki, but eventually it was hard to stop each and everyone who passed such racial slurs. I also wish that incidents like the one involving the MLA of Arunachal Pradesh, Ninong Ering who was racially insulted by a 21-year-old YouTuber Paras Singh a few days back, never happen again in the history of India.
What remains in this beautiful Northeast India is the land with beautiful people filled with beautiful culture, people who are artistic and eager to be heard as an Indian like any other. Let's also quit this denial of racial discrimination that exists in mainland India. We always welcome people in this region wholeheartedly and in return we expect the same from our countrymates.
Views are personal.