I’ve seen racism in my audiences. For example, I’ve seen people laugh at every other group, but then clam up when it comes to their community. You can’t laugh at everyone else and then not laugh at yourself. You shouldn’t be at my show if you can’t laugh at yourself. ~ Russell Peters
“Woh chinkylog aagaya kya?“, I could hear the broker over the loudspeaker that his help-boy had accidentally put on. After they hung up, I chuckled and told the boy “Chinkylog haan?“. I didn’t pursue it further because I knew that they were ignorant and it was a word that came out of their mouth as frequent as ‘b***c**d’; all muscles and no brainers!
Years ago in Chennai, I was asked by a college mate if we lived in bamboo huts with thatched roof. I was also asked if we had to dodge bullets every day on the streets. I took offence then, but thinking back I realised they only wanted to learn more because their information was limited only to what the mainstream media reported. Or would it be more politically correct to say that the school textbooks had run out of space to add more information on North-East India?
Just last year, a colleague asked me the same, if I lived in huts while he chuckled about it. I took offence because there was contempt in his tone. During my early days in Delhi, one of my classmates made fun of me as the ‘dog eating‘ race. I argued because I knew it was an insult and an intentional attack on me.
While pursuing my post grad, I decided to look for a rented house with the help of a broker. I was turned down a dozen times when the owners realised I was of a different ethnicity. I settled into a PG because I realised I had infiltrated into a local area and I must adapt first to raise awareness. I was really fortunate to have friends like Vishv and Supamma Chatterjee in college who stood by me.
A lot of you are thinking this is pretty normal, right? I have seen the darker complexion South Indians face a similar discrimination and those from Bihar too. So, you start putting the dots together and come to realise what a screwed up state of affairs India is wedded to.
In Bangalore, April 17, 2012, Loitam Richard was found murdered in his hostel room, a case of racial discrimination vehemently denied by the college authorities. The North-east community protested because it was an act of intolerance for another race, from the crime perpetrators as well as the college authorities.
In New Delhi, Jan 29, 2014, Nido Tania was thrashed and subsequently succumbed to his injury; all because the localities in the area find it hard to accept people who looked nothing like them. The whole North-East community protested because it was a hate crime. It took the loss of a life to get attention from the central government.
I took my anger to my blog too, writing how we eat, breathe, and sleep racism in Delhi.
The following months of Nido Tania’s death, I was in CCD with my friend. Then we saw two girls from NE walk in order some pastry. A few minutes later, we could hear the woman scream at the waiter on how he didn’t give her a fork. She called it racism and threatened the waiter that she was the daughter of a very influential person. That was clearly an over-reaction when Nido Tania’s death hyped the sentiments of discrimination.
Then again, on July 21, 2014, Salouni fell victim to a road rage where his neck was wrung mercilessly with a cloth towel by five assailants. The need for a stronger anti-racial law was demanded.
Fast forward July 9, 2016, my senior, Monika Khangembam, wrote about a racist treatment from an immigration officer. The nation reacted differently. Some questioned her reaction, claiming it was a farce, but the majority of us who experienced what she did, sided with her. The thing with discrimination is, when you are subjected to this treatment more times than you can count, it gets easy for you to identify the contempt and mockery. You can sense it in the tone, the eyes, and the body language. It is saddening rather than alarming that majority of us in India have acquired this expertise.
I could go on and on, I mean, we could go on and on about these incidents but that’s not my intention. The point is, these deaths and discriminations have (fortunately, or unfortunately) brought an unwanted limelight on the bigoted side of India(ns).
The attempt of Mary Kom and Priyanka Chopra (through the movie ‘MARY KOM’) and its likes to fill in the void of connecting North-East India with the rest of the country have given birth to phoney allies. Meaning, the racial slurs slapped on the mongoloid featured people are now more subtle, calculative and shrewd. We know that being openly racist will get us into trouble so we hide behind the facade of law and unleash this thing I call ‘passive aggressive racism‘. We deny being racist and pretend to not understand what it even means.
For instance, the immigration office defended that Monika Khangembam was given a routine question, not a racist set of questions. Instead of the violent outburst and the open slurs, we get subtle verbal taunts. Oh well, we have switched from being called Chinky to MOMOs. On an optimistic front, that’s quite a progression.
But truth be told, we are all a passive aggressive racist, one way or the other. At least I am, I admit, to my utter disappointment.
Sometimes I find myself sneering at the South Africans I meet in Delhi, an unconscious act administered by the biased notion that South Africans here are mostly drug peddlers. I can swear, it’s not intentional and I always take back the thought as soon as it surfaces. I envy the liberals (if there exist) who have rid themselves of such biasedness, consciously or unconsciously.
I was once travelling in a metro with Vishv when I saw a typical Rajasthani, an old man with his turban and his lathi. The moment I caught his glance, I thought to myself “Jaat!!” and stared at him wondering how many honour killing he must’ve consented to. The second I thought about it I recoiled in shame! I sensed I was as racist as everyone else, just a little bit more educated and well dressed. But, aren’t we all?
Will we ever get out of this maze?