Leader Writer: Svovado Kangleicha
The death of Nido Taniam has brought to the fore the widespread racism prevalent in what one calls ‘the largest democracy on earth’. The extermination of the Arunachali youth with extreme prejudice has for once highlighted in popular discourse across India the discrimination a person from the North East is subjected to in other parts of the country.
The condescension, the patronizing attitude towards the people of northeast is nothing new and will continue. Aftermath the unfortunate incident, there’s a demand for an anti-racism law. But how effective the proposed legislation will be is anybody’s guess as there’s already a law in place that has made the use of the racist slur ‘ Chinky’ punishable for five years.
Political parties which have for far too long chosen to ignore the prevalence of such incidents, perhaps discomfited by the fact that such incidents run counter to the projection of India as a unique model of tolerance and pluralism, are now seen jostling for space promising swift actions and lasting solutions to the social malaise that afflicts the modern Indian state. Such political one-upmanship is understandable as the Lok Sabha polls are around the corner and which in turn makes the sincerity of such contrition suspect. Behind all the media coverage and promised political actions, the moot point today is how safe a North-Easterner is in other parts of India.
Social commentators like Pratap Bhanu Mehta has suggested that such intolerant behavior is rooted in the fact that the idea of India as a nation state has not made the progression from territoriality to people. His suggestion brings to mind the desperate attempts from many quarters within Manipur to align ethnicity and territoriality that has led to many incidents of violence and displacement in the past and will continue to do so even if such demands are met.
Others like Lawrence Liang, a Bangalore based lawyer and activist of Chinese extractions, finds disturbing the recurring slogans of ‘We are Indians too’ whenever such incidents happens as it casts a burden on people from the northeast to prove their sameness rather than assert the right to be different. He made a valid point when he writes that framing the experience of racism within a limited rubric of citizenship alone run the risk of obfuscating questions of national identity with questions of belonging.
It also brings to mind the increasing trend among young professionals working outside the state who undergo Blepharoplasty to blend in seamlessly with their so called Indo-Aryan and Dravidian counterparts. One can’t also help reminiscing about many instances when leading luminaries from the region instead of asserting their cultural difference made painstaking efforts to prove their similarity with people from other parts of India. Such desperation to fit in or belong reminds us of the trend among African-American men to conk their frizzy hairs in the United States of yore. Malcolm X in his autobiography has revealed the reason of his admiration for Sidney Poitiers as the actor’s refusal to conk his head.
A democracy that could not give the right of being different to a sizeable number of its citizens is in essence a tyranny of the majority. The road ahead for people from the region in the metropolises of the subcontinent looks bleaker than rosy but on trying times like these the stoical inhabitants of the seven sisters must not fell into that abyss of helplessness which Timothy Mo would have put it as ‘the redundancy of courage’.