I am an Indian. I am from North-East.

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The North-Eastern part of India has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by the rest of India and beyond. Discrimination and alienation from mainland India, both geographically and economically, have constructed a firm wall between mainland India and the former in the social context too. The north-eastern region, comprising of eight states, have consuming and vivid cultures and yet have been stripped off the rights and respect within its own land. 

I hail from Assam state in the north-east. Like any other northeasterner, if I or any of my north-eastern friends ever dared to keep our feet off this land, we have been reminded of our differences very sharply with the distant gazes and the pertinent racist interrogations. No! We do not reside in forests; we do not just eat momos; many of us are vegetarians. And, we are tired of giving such answers.

Recently, Covid-19 has brought about a totally different picture of discrimination against North-East India, where North Easterns residing outside the eight North-Eastern states faced various forms of discrimination and human rights violations all over India. With discriminations taking new forms every day, one wonders if justice will ever be done with this region and offers people? When the same blood runs through all our veins-when all other cultures and food habits-why is only North East India targeted each time?

While India is unique for its cultural vividity and different varieties of traditions in its mainland states, North East India adds a certain vitality to it. North East India is an entirely natural and cultural variety that can leave anyone awestruck. Only those who have resided there or visited it know it’s real worth. Arunachal Pradesh is where the sun can be seen first in India; Assam has the largest and smallest river islands in the world. Hailing from Assam itself, I can assure you that the taste of pithas (a sweet made of jaggery and rice powder) and the soothing sound of Dhul and Pepa (musical instruments) shall take the tourist to a new land of peace and bliss. Despite accounting for the many wonders gifted to India, North East people have continued to face humiliation and discrimination by people belonging from mainland India. While we were adjusting to the old names of-“momos, chinki, and whatnot,” Covid-19 gifted us all together with a new name –”CORONA” even though North East was one of those regions which were least affected by Covid-19 during the initial stage of the breakout of this pandemic.

In a typical incident during the lockdown-a 20-year old-Manipuri girl was racially abused and physically attacked by an elderly woman, and few others were even spitted upon by random bike riders in Gurgaon(Haryana).

North-East India: The visible side of the coin

North East India is stereotypically depicted to the rest of India in the following ways-

  1. If you are from Nagaland- then you would, of course, love dogs (I don’t mean as pets!)
  2. You are from Assam, how does it feel to be hailing from the forest area? How do you survive with animals?
  3. Are there any vegetarians in the North East?
  4. Are Chinese your brothers and sisters?
  5. How could you be so fond of momos and chowmein?
  6. With those tiny eyes, can you even see anything?
  7. Why is there so much mob lynching and violence in your area?
  8. How do you look so different? Are you really Indians? Do you look like outsiders?
  9. How did you manage to crack entrance exams outside North East?
  10. Has reservation served all your means?
  11. Don’t you follow your culture? Your clothes do not portray your culture very well.

The above statements are some of the humiliations that almost every northeastern who has ever dared to step outside its borders has faced at one point in life or the other.

While many have protested against this, yet others have significantly ignored due to fear of family reputation and even life. The Indian Judicial system has, for long, remain blind towards our visible violations of Human Rights.

North-East India: The hidden side of the coin

Food

North East India is about many more things than just momos, jungles, and non-veg. Vegetarians and dog lovers are spread in the entire North East region. As many other cultures have got their unique food habits, so does North East India. Traditional Spices and immunity booster veggies with local greens are the main ingredients with which the maximum of our traditional dishes are made of. Assam’s Khorisa (Bamboo Shoot), Iromba of Manipur, Smoked Pork (Nagaland), etc. North East culinary has added new tastes and items to our Indian Cuisine. 

Nature

The Kingdom of wilderness and home to many voiceless animals called North East India lags its appropriate mention in numerous books of India. It is home to several species of Flora and Fauna and is also host to many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries apart from numerous tribal settlements. 

History and Mythology

Tribal literature and Historical evidence of Kings can still be witnessed in numerous Historical places- Rang Ghar(Assam-Ahom Dynasty) and many more. Assam has been mentioned in the Mahabharata (Hidimba was from Kamrup Rajya). Ahom kingdom, Kingdom of Manipur(Kangleipak), Kingdom of Tripura, etc. existed in North East India.

Higher Education 

Gauhati University, Tezpur University, IIT Guwahati, North-Eastern Hill University are some of the esteemed universities of North East India.

Discrimination pertaining to North-East India

Can dreaming big cost you your self-respect or even questions imposed on your identity? Well, yes, we North-Easterns have well faced this criticism whenever we step outside our native land in search of either better lifestyles, settlements, or, most importantly, EDUCATION. North-Easterns have well established their mark in numerous sports such as boxing and football. Despite having proved their worth numerous times, North Easterns face humiliation and molestation wherever they go, for they are judged for not portraying facial features of “Indianness.” 

A classic example of such discrimination is the 2012 incidence in Bangalore, where around 30,000 people were asked to leave town, which included many North-Easterns too, whose daily wages got at stake. Anti-social and pessimistic people are present everywhere, but looks cannot solely be claimed as a symbol of tracing one’s nationality or ethnicity.

Indian movies outcaste the plight of North-Easterns

AXONE- A movie highlighting the typical Delhi outlook on how North-Easterns are treated inhumanely and stripped of their basic right to cook their traditional food. One character depicts how Naga Migrants so rich in Music and Culture are made mentally sick, due to physical violence and ragging. Other characters put up with the taunts they face from the entire neighborhood for preparing “AXONE”, a traditional dish made with rich herbs. The producer well pictured how North-East girls have to face the brunt of obscene and unfair comments on their characters and clothes based on stereotypes.

PENALTY- A movie depicting how the idea of ‘Unity in Diversity’ is fading away because of the acts of a few individuals. It highlights the tremendous efforts both North-Easterns and people belonging from U.P. go through to reach their dreams of being a national level football players and the hatred that is spread around them and prevents both the dreamers from living their dreams. The message the producer tries to put forth is that- misconceptions have led to hatred among our brothers and sisters, and only by considering each other as equal and worthy can we bring justice and change the world for better.

The Mongoloid Indian Experience

From my personal aspect, possessing mongoloid features – I too had to face discrimination. In a nearby shopping mall close to my University, when I entered the mall, all the others not belonging from North-East India started starring at me as if I were an alien. This was the first time I felt isolated and different from the rest of India, I felt uncomfortable and disguised, and this is what made me feel that yes “I am different”-as THOSE PEOPLE MADE ME FEEL SO. This is the reason why NorthEasterns do not take up time to hang out with anyone outside their native states, as news and Google and our minds are full of such scary experiences-which lead us to the point of feeling different and fearing our existence.

In Delhi, a Manipuri Woman was spat on in Public by a man on a bike in Vijay Nagar-insulting her as-“Chinese Coronavirus approaching.” 

In Mysuru, Naga Migrants were prevented from entering the supermarket who had gone to pick up groceries.

Are there existing laws to address such discrimination?

While many individual protestors have successfully brought up this issue of discrimination against North-Easterns to have National Coverage-yet negligence of Central Government is still high. Since the Nido Tania incident(2014), recommendations made by the M.P., Bezbaruah Committee remain on Paper. Hardly, any cases are filed under the relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of the Atrocities) Act 1989, Protection of Civil Rights Act,1955. Despite the existence of a few laws for the protection against racial discrimination, proper implementation of these laws is still a never-ending dream.

Various NGO’s in numerous parts of India are engaging and participating in the fight of North-Easterns against Racial Discrimination. One such NGO is “Sarvahitey,” a non-profit organization based in Delhi-which has recently initiated the campaign #NorthEastMatters for spreading knowledge about the plight of North Easterns. Having been engaged with the organization since Past two months- it has tried to engage people from all over India by bringing up numerous tweets and posters on facts on North-East and bringing out the culture of the region through sessions of renowned public figures such as Aadil Hussain (Hailing from Assam). It has tried to create Twitter storms over twitter to make the campaign reach the maximum of people and spread awareness of how North-East India matters to India.

Concluding observations

The above study has tried to bring forth a small picture of the plight of North-Easterns. Covid-19 has made it crystal clear that no matter how much North-Easterns has to gift to the rest of India, they shall always be criticised and confronted on one sphere or the other. What Indians, in general, can do is- sensitize their fellow mates on the seriousness of the issue and educate themselves and also the rest of India for standing against such forms of discrimination. The Central Government and Print Media should be more inclusive while making laws for the North-Easterns and policy pertaining to fines or police custody, or even imprisonment for racial harassment should be initiated.

While we North-Easterns have always looked upon the rest of India to accept us and stop making us feel as if we are Aliens.

What is your perspective? Am I a “chinki” to you or another “INDIAN”?


Bibliography

  • Aier, R. (2018, December 18). Being an Indian from the North-East, My Thoughts on Social Inclusion.
  • Ashwini. (2019, May 13). Interesting Facts About North-East India You Did Not Know.
  • Covid-19: Indians from the North-East region victims of racial and regional prejudice. (2020). OUTLOOK.
  • Das, S. (2019, Sep 7). 15 Best National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in North-East India.
  • Kandpal, A. (2014, Sep 22). 15 Dishes from North -East India That Will Definitely Make You Drool.

Featured Image Credits: Deeksha Bordoloi

Deeksha Bordoloi
Deeksha studies M.A. Political Science at Pondicherry Central University. She has interned under Foreign Policy Research Centre, and Institute of Leadership and Governance. Her basic areas of Interest include gender relations, women studies, global terrorism. She hails from Assam.

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