Thursday, February 1, 2007

Pride and Prejudice: Indian Edition

I almost spent twelve years in Delhi and NCR, and in these twelve years there was never a time I was asked if I was Indian except by a white man who was from Hong Kong. As a matter of fact, there were few people who actually knew that Arunachal is a part of India. Even educated people would ask if Arunachal is in China. Once, a friend of mine who came to Delhi from Manipur was asked, “Where is this Manipur?” May be, my friend was sick of answering the most obvious and perennial question, so he simply told him, “It is somewhere in the United States of America.” That gentleman nodded in acknowledgement and told my friend how he adores USA.

Twelve years of staying in Delhi enable me to learn and speak Hindi language like one of them. And I never hesitated to use it in Arunachal, but to make a conversation in Hindi language with Delhite means you are sure to be branded as Nepali. And to be called Nepali or Daaju or Kancha or Bahadur strike a wrong note to us. It is like a Tamilian or Punjabi or for that matter even U.Pites being called Bihari or vice versa. Besides, we, the people of Arunachal, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya grasp it as derogative, not a derogative word though. We abhor it because we weren’t Nepali. Secondly, for most North Indian, Nepali were synonymous with gatekeeper and domestic helper, which they consider as a menial job and are looked down or hold a little respect for the person who do this job. It is in the psyche of Indians that all the mongoloid who doesn’t look like Japanese or Chinese and those who doesn’t speak English-is a Nepali and therefore a gatekeeper or domestic helper. To justify my statement, let me cite an example of my encounter with a Rajasthani fellow at an antique shop in Jaipur where I was buying some memento for my relatives when this guy approached me and shocked me out and out. And without any formal introduction he rudely told me whenever we see (circling my face with index finger) people like you we call them Nepali. After almost 200 years of being ruled by English, the Indian were made to think that the English is superior. Thus, to command over English language not only makes you a part of privileged class but also induce people to think before they mock us. Perhaps, that’s why I preferred English language to Hindi, and a foreigner term is better, if not Indian.

What makes me much sadder is the discrimination I experienced while staying in Delhi. For instance, I had a saving account at Punjab National Bank (Moti Bagh Branch), and one particular gentleman, possibly a racist, almost always refused to realize my bank draft even though the teller confirmed that my bank draft had already realized. If I would turn up on Monday, he would say Tuesday. And on Tuesday, he would say not today, Friday and so on. I swear, I didn’t lay my eye on his daughter. I don’t even know if he had any. And how could I forget the dealing clerk at my college, he dilly-dallied to process my stipend form and prevented me from getting the scholarship. I don’t know why he hated me so much. During my final year, I gave him quite a shock with my Hindi as he always ridiculed me in Hindi under his breath. Auto rickshaw driver, taxi driver, shopkeeper, coolie they all look at us as we are some kind of prey, a “walking-coffer” would be more appropriate term-always ready to swindle our hard-earned meager money.

A lot of friend from Delhi asked me, “Why the North-Eastern folks keep so aloof?” Instead of answering their question, I asked them how they would react if they live their life under stress. How would they retaliate if their own government allows the army to bombard aerially on its own civilian population as happened in Mizoram in February 1966? Would their life remain as same if the draconian law like Armed Force (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFPSA) extended to their state which gives unlimited power to armed forces where even a non-commissioned officer has license to kill anyone, anytime and anywhere based on mere suspicion. I also reminded them that it took 12 days for the parliament to pass the bill when the women reservation bill is still pending even after more than a year. They were horrified by what they heard and said, “It is unjust, a human right violation.” True, would they realize it if we didn’t start our powwow? It is really very easy to make remarks from a distance unless we experience it. And the people in the metropolitan city will never comprehend the pain and humiliation as they are brought up in that way-cocooned in luxury and ample of opportunities to hone their career.

Even a mad dog that goes on biting spree can make headlines in city (courtesy Aaj Tak and Star News), not to mention of Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta’s pet, Editor, who always manage to makes a cameo appearance in the magazine. I really envy those dogs as our lives look cheaper vis-à-vis their life. When a child called ‘Prince’ falls into a pit, a bunch of neo-journalists gathered around the pit and reported the rescue attempt like some commentator giving commentary at a cricket match whereas they don’t even bother to find out the atrocities that go unreported in the North-East. I am not saying that child ‘Prince’ shouldn’t be saved and dog should be stoned. I am just implying that we too need their attention and that we should respect each other irrespective of what race you may be. It’s hard not to think of ourselves as foreigner when alienation and prejudice persists.

- Roto Chobin


  • Ravi Chhedi Srinivasan

    Quite True. Though I would say that this trend is changing. More and more of us indians on this side are getting concerned about the North East and Arunachal Pradesh. More and more of youngsters come to study from that side of the country to the more deceloped one. And perhaps not all will return, but the ones who do will strive to make the NE developed too. I am not saying NE is getting all its due, but the present is certainly better than the past. And we can hope the future would witness a rate better than present. And almost all of of it has been achieved by people like you who come here and spread the awareness... so keep at it!

  • FiFo

    The prejudice displayed against the people from the Northeast is really unfortunate :( Like Chhedi posted above, I hope that things will be better in the future than they have been and are currently.

  • roto chobin

    I was indeed irked by the Shilpa-Goody brawl and the discrimination meted out to Shilpa that I heard and saw on TV some time ago, which reminds me of the recent past when I, too, was a butt. Then again, she was getting paid for it - more than 120 million and she must have known that it was a part and parcel of publicity gimmick for the show. Besides, many Indian people come out in the street to protest against the comments and to support her. And I felt happy for her when she returned home in triumph. Ironically, only a fraction of people really remonstrate the discrimination within the nation, viz. Dalit suppression, Kashmir, etc. However, it’s heartening to know people like Mr. Chhedi and FiFo who can really be a bridge of understanding among Indian states. I wish your army might grow.

  • Diganta

    As I am from a migrant family, I sypathise your case. The awareness of people should be increase to wipe out these racist attitudes.

    However, this story should have two parts - North-Eastern in Delhi and Delhiite in North-East.

  • raka

    Please elaborate on partII Mr Diganta?

    The conditions of Delhiites in NE is 100times better than NE in Delhi(We have to leave out political conflict here for obvious reasons).

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