By Anwesha Borgohain
We have always known that the people of Northeast India are looked down upon by the rest of the country. How far is this true? Is this the complete truth? Are only the people of Northeast India victims of racial discrimition?
India is known as a land of diversity. With 29 states, 7 union territories, 750 languages and over 600 ethnic tribes, we take pride in carrying the most variant, colorful cultural values in the world. But lately, the whole ‘unity in diversity’ claim seems to be coming apart at the seams.
We like to believe that the people of Northeast states are discrimited in the rest of the country. This is evident when students from the Northeast are harassed physically or mentally and sometimes these cases turn out to be fatal.
According to reports, over two lakh people from Northeast states migrated to Delhi between 2005-2013 and nearly 86% of them have faced some sort of ‘racial discrimition’. Also, this problem occurs more in the capital than any other metropolitan cities of the country. This problem becomes somewhat more humiliating and serious when it comes to women, with frequent reports of sexual harassment and assaults on women from this region. The brutal killing of Aruchal student Nido Taniam in the past year coming on top of other attacks had raised serious concerns in the minds of the people as well as the governments of the Northeast states. Thereafter an 11 member committee under MP Bezbaruah was formed to look into matters of racial discrimition against the Northeastern people living in other parts of the country.
This committee duly submitted a report to the Union government, detailing the causes of racial discrimition against Northeastern people, as well as recommendations to address the problem. Parts of the report make surprising reading.
Delhi, being the capital of the country, is the hub of opportunities. This is one of the main reasons for Delhi being the magnetic attraction to the Northeast, considerably lagging behind in opportunities. Not only the Northeast, Delhi attracts migrants from across the country, the reason again being the plethora of intertiol opportunities. When people from all over the country are aggregated in one city, it will definitely result in friction and sometimes minor clashes due to their differences. Moreover, the migrants being mostly of age between 18-25 years, lack maturity to handle situations which sometimes ignites instead of solving it.
Another reason as specified by the committee is ‘competition’. The students as well as job aspirants from the Northeast states are considered employment threats by their tive counterparts in Delhi and other cities. Due to English skills, the students and job aspirants from the Northeast have greater scope in getting employment in multitiol projects and concerns than tives. We should rather be proud of the fact that the youth from an almost isolated region of a large country like India are considered a threat to the prospects of livelihood of the people of metros!
A very shameful belief that the people of our country have about the Northeast is that the region is nothing but hills and jungles and backward ethnic tribes lagging behind in civilization. What is worse is the ignorance of the people about the rich cultural heritage and resources of the region. The seven sister-states of the Northeast add to the colorful culture of India. It’s not only the art, culture and literary wealth or tural resources but also some traditiol beliefs and practices that are nowhere to be found in the rest of the country. These practices basically include gender equality, matrilineal societies, absence of dowry system etc. Needless to say, if these practices are taken up by the rest of the country, it would set off positive reform and the need for aggressive feminism would not arise.
In spite of the large number of tribes with their age-old traditions, the Northeast has been under much greater western influence than the rest of the country. To cite reasons for this, we have to trace our history back by centuries. The Northeast region, except some parts of Assam and the rest of the country, was never under the same ruler until the advent of the British. This points to why Northeast traditions and cultures are so different from the rest of the country. Also the western influence on the Northeast is attributed to Christian missiory organizations and institutions. This resulted in somewhat more open mindsets of the Northeastern people in dressing, way of life and religious beliefs. But sadly, this very essence is not easily acceptable for the rest of the country and interpreted in a very wrong way.
Another aspect regarding the modern or exceptiol trends of fashion in this region stems from their physical features. The mongoloid features of Northeastern people makes them distinct in appearance and physical structure. This results in their different sense of dressing. They generally opt for East Asian market styles rather than the mainstream Indian market.
The Bezbaruah committee has very clearly spelled out racial discrimition against Northeast people as a punishable crime. It has suggested amending the Indian Pel Code (IPC) to hand down more stringent punishment to offenders for taunting, insulting or assaulting people from the Northeast. Special cells in police forces, legal assistance and helplines for NE victims have also been suggested.
Even though the Union government has accepted this report, promising to adopt strict measures to stop such inhuman and uncivilized behavior, it will not be easy to change public mindset and attitudes on the ground. The recent incident of racial discrimition faced by a group of girls of Handique Girls College at the entrance to the Taj Mahal complex has again embarrassed us to the core of our hearts. Such happenings need to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
It is wisely said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. In this context, we need to turn the searchlight inwards because above everything, the harsh truth is that our own state is not free from racial discrimition. We do not realize that mocking a Hindi-speaking person as ‘bihari’ or ‘marwa’ is equally offensive, and ought to be as punishable as the derogatory ‘chinki’. Have we not labeled and stereotyped different streams of outsiders as ‘bongals’, ‘mians’ and what not? We have illogical beliefs that the fair and attractively dressed young tribals coming from the hills are the sources of drugs in our state. The sooner we realize these people are the very same ones we are fighting for in another part of the country, the better for us in arriving at a lasting solution.
This is where the role of our intellectuals, the opinion makers of our society, in the popular discourse on burning social problems becomes important. We often come across prominent persons talking about ‘racial discrimition’. It is very helpful that they are concerned about the youths of their state and region in other parts of the country. But one thing we find disturbing is the emotiol extremity in most of their statements. A complicated and long-standing problem like racial discrimition requires subtle, delicate handling with long-term solutions in mind. Of course, we do not expect patience and serenity from the general public when their pride in the state or community is injured. This is why we look up to the views and opinions of the wise few. So it is very depressing when they do no better than add fuel to inflamed passions here.
Now, in a broader and a much sensible way, it is very unfair on our part to confine the issue of ‘racial discrimition’ to Assam or the Northeast region as a whole. There is no denying that some of us are humiliated and assaulted elsewhere in India. But it is equally true that it is not just the Assamese or the people from the Northeast alone who are victims of this social evil. A bit of scanning the headlines or ‘googling’ will introduce us to the numerous cases of extreme racial discrimition all over the country. It is very racial discrimition is not a problem for Assam or the Northeast, but is one of the burning tiol problems. And the responsibility to solve it does not just rest upon the Union government or NE state governments, but upon the tion as a whole and every individual in it.