Northeast India- Not Indian Enough?| Kunika Agarwal

North East India is the land of captivating scenic beauty, every frame is so beautifully carved by almighty. High hills, descending waterfalls, waving streams and its exotic wildlife are all which contribute to its beauty. It has mesmerizing places like Tsongmo Lake, NohKaliKai Falls, Kaziranga National Park, Gurudongmar Lake, Goecha La, Khecheopalri Lake, Kamakhya Temple, and Pemayangtse Monastery, but still, they aren't explored enough for general people to know about them. The North-East part of India previously comprised of seven states known as "Seven Sisters", and now after Sikkim being added they are eight, which are- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Sikkim connected to India by a sliver of land spanning over the northern top of Bangladesh and are afflicted with long term under developments and separatist conflicts.

People lack knowledge about this region, many misconceptions are floating around about North-East, some of which are- Hindus are minorities, People speak Chinese (Mandarin) as their common language, Chowmein is the staple food, People there are Chinese sympathizers and eat Bats and Snakes and majorly people think Militants are everywhere targeting non-north easterners. Whenever Indian media talks about the north-east, it always puts out some negative news in the public like about some heinous crime that happened. They never talk about how beautiful the place is, how tender-hearted people are there. People from other parts of the country don't even think of north-eastern people like Indians and the major reason in their head for this racism is north-eastern people don't look "Indian enough". In an era where stereotypes about looks, color, race are made to be broken every day in different parts of the world, North-easterners are facing racism in their own country. They are treated wrong on their own land which makes it worse for them to battle.

How Indian treat Indians?

Thousands from the north-east migrate to New Delhi and other cities of India for education and jobs every year and what they receive is blatant racism and getting called names. People commonly call them –"Chinkies" and calling them this word has become so common that even the north-easterners have become immune to it but it's still derogatory enough for the government to punish its use with five years-long jail term. Indians have normalized it to an extent where they don't even feel they are being racist towards the north-easterners. These people face harassment at their workplace, by their landlords, and around common places. Every other week there's news about fights that sparked off because of ethnic insults they face or the prejudicial treatment they get because of the way they look.

The Reach out Foundation, an organization dedicated to the cause of ending discrimination decided to find out how real is the extent of ethnic discrimination in the nation's capital? "With frequent reports of alleged racist attacks in Delhi and National capital region, Reachout Foundation perceived a lack of comprehensive data on the nature of alleged discrimination against people from North-eastern India in cities like Delhi," writes Kishalaya Bhattacharjee, director of the foundation in a new report that reveals the result of a survey." Volunteers from the foundation had a conversation with people from North-Eastern states living in the National Capital region to know what it is to be discriminated against. "Whether society can be shaken out of its apathy remains to be seen, but it cannot be allowed to inflict so much suffering in a smug trance. The first step must be to hold up a mirror up to society, and to persuade it to look into it." Bhattacharjee wrote. Nearly half of those surveyed said that they faced discrimination based on their ethnicity and the way they look which proves that discrimination against them is quite deep-rooted.

Many of these people are treated so badly that one young student from Arunachal Pradesh was killed in New Delhi in late January this year during a street brawl that fumed up and got out of control. Since his death, north-easterners have taken to the streets against the discrimination they face. Even during this pandemic, problems for these people have increased many folds. Because of their mongoloid looks they are often taunted with the slur 'Chinese' which in this covid situation is very daunting. Now, this label comes with added levels of xenophobia and insensitivity in public places. Recently, Hmingtei Chhangte, a working professional from Mizoram was subjected to humiliation when a customer created chaos and said she could be a carrier Covid-19. While the staff tried to calm the customer down, Ms. Chhangte, who lives in Pune for a decade left the store feeling disheartened.

Walk through Reality:

"We have received at least 10 reports of racist or xenophobic incidents from people of northeastern states because of their facial features. Women especially are very uncomfortable venturing out of home, they face 'coronavirus' taunts while going out to buy groceries or even taking children to a park", said S.K Suriio, former president of the North East community of Pune. At times, those creating ruckuses do not even have the courtesy to listen to the explanations and protestations of people from the northeast who say they are not Chinese citizens but Indians, he said. One more woman, said she heard taunts like 'coronavirus aagya (coronavirus has come)' when she went out to buy a protective mask in the city's Sanghvi area. Another professional, who works at a multinational company, said "Since we look different, we are anyway subjected to such xenophobic and racist insults. Now, I have sinusitis and if I sneeze in a flight or an air-conditioned room, I wonder how my co-passengers or other people will react. Will they get angry that I am not taking precautions as I am 'Chinese' or will I even get a chance to explain I hail from a north-eastern Indian state?", she said.

Recently, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to Central and all State Governments on a PIL directing them to frame new guidelines to protect the people from North-Eastern states from facing racism in other parts of the country. The bench constituted of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the authorities to respond within four weeks. At the initial levels, the apex court was reluctant on accepting the plea because a similar case was going on in the Delhi High Court but after hearing the petitioners pleading that this racial discrimination against the north easterners goes on around all parts of the country, they agreed to examine the problem. A senior advocate from the petitioners' side said that the High Court was dealing with problems in the national capital only so the apex court should take up the issue for a wider reach.

The advocates petitioning said that the Ministry of Home Affairs had no system in place to protect these people. The petition purported that north easterners who move out to other parts of the country face racial discrimination in the form of taunts and violence due to their physical appearance by the people of their own country. "Most of the people from the region, who return to their states, have one or two tales of horrid, unspeakable and imaginable proportions where they have been discriminated, taunted, molested, raped...all because of their outward appearances," it said.

Setting the Rules:

We need to recognize that maybe they have not embraced 'Indianness' as much as people from other parts of India but they are getting themselves involved with it every other day in cities and other places, even being at risk of their dignity and safety. We cannot close our eyes to the discrimination they are facing for their appearance, the humiliation and nastiness heaped over them can't be tolerated quietly. All this happening lays out the need for stricter laws against this discrimination, and not only laws, but we also need to go beyond them by creating an influence on the most sensitive tool-the human mind, which can be done by using multiple strategies like- changes in curriculum, sensitizing mohalla and RWA groups, training police and administrators, MPs and political leaders. Another thing we can do is to develop incubation centers where students of the region who want to study or do jobs in other cities get an orientation and introduction to the cultures and society, they will be encountering which will help them stay aware.

In all, I want to conclude with the fact that feeling alienated and discriminated against in your country is something no one deserves. Let's all give our fellow North-Eastern Indians the respect and the label of a proud Indian like people from other parts of the country have.


1-Bijoyeta Das, India’s North-East speaks out against racism, Features, (Dec. 10 2020, 5:02 pm), www.aljazeera.com

2-Sanjoy Hazarika, Discrimination, being North-eastern and ‘Indian-ness’, Analysis, (Dec. 10 2020, 6:15 pm), https://hindustantimes.com

3- T S Haokip, Snakes and Bat Eaters: Ten misconceptions about North East India, Opinion, (Dec. 10 2020, 6:47 pm), https://outlookindia.com

4-Shoumojit Banerjee, People from North-eastern states face racism, ‘Chinese’ slur in Pune, Other States, (Dec. 10 2020, 5:30 pm), https://thehindu.com

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