For a while now, the question of identity to North Easterners living in the city such as Delhi and Bangalore has been a subject of interest to many regional as well as national news channels. This interest stems out as a result of the various cases of discrimination against the people from the region which seem to have momentum in recent times. Every morning, as I read the news, new incident reminds me that discrimination against the people of the region in the city is a reality and not just a topic of discussion on TV shows.
I came from a border village in Manipur and I grew up with the idea that I was an “Indian”. In school, we were taught about the history of our great empires and dynasties, the history of our freedom struggles and independence from the British’s rule and the life of Gandhi and so on. Every year on 26th January, we’d watch the Republic Day ceremony at New Delhi on TV. Oh, how proud I felt when it was time for my state to showcase its culture on that big day. Likewise, on Independence Day, it was a satisfying experience to sing the national anthem with pride.
When I first came to Delhi in early 2012, it was a completely different experience from what I was used to in the state. I was one of those many enthusiastic youngsters who came to Delhi searching for opportunities which we do not have access to in the region. To be in the city was a dream come true to many. New Delhi as the capital has by default a multi-diverse culture and I didn’t sense initially that the difference of my culture will be enough to label me as an “outsider” in my own country.
It didn’t take me long to realise that I was wrong. The events happening around me clearly seem to suggest that the North Eastern states of India were not really a part of India. North East India was supposedly a region in Nepal or China.
Up until then, I never felt I was different. I saw my mongoloid eyes and the stinky food I ate as normal and nothing out of the ordinary. I never imagine that I would be label as an “outsider” because of the way I look and the food I ate in my own country.
This is not my story alone, but it is the collective experience of a thousand souls who come to the city with high hopes and expectations of a brighter life.
When I started college at a prestigious college at the University of Delhi, a top university in the country, I never imagine that my fellow educated classmates would label me as an “outsider”, a “foreigner”, a “Nepali”, a “chinky” and questioned my identity. When I tell others that I cannot speak Hindi, I did not imagine that I would be mocked and laughed at, asked about the country where I come from and other such derogatory questions.
I am not trying to be overly sensitive or trying to play the victim card but everything has a limit till where it can go. I don’t identify every experience as racist or derogatory. I don’t resent being called a “Nepali” or “chinky” by someone who is illiterate and doesn’t know the demography of our country. I don’t mind correcting and teaching my illiterate landlord when he called me a “Nepali” when I first moved in, or when the local grocer identifies me as the “chinky” on building 7. Apart from being slightly annoyed, I tell them that I am as much Indian as they are and that I am from the Indian state of Manipur.
Life in Delhi has been exciting and pleasant for the most part. Much unlike life in the state where I came from, Delhi offers an option where I can grow. I love the city; the good, the bad and everything that is in it. I have been fortunate to not have faced any incident worthy of making the headlines but not everyone shares the same story. Cases of racial discrimination from the region popped up in the news regularly.
There is a saying that ignorance is bliss and I have been trying to stay quiet on purpose many times, but how long shall we remain silent? Should I continue to remain silent when I get teased intentionally? Should I be ignorant when an educated fellow called me names?
To further bring the point home, I’ve had my shares of experiencing the of racism. In my first year of college, I had to fill a form and I must have missed a signature in the form. I was told something in Hindi which I didn’t quite understand. I told him to repeat in English as I don’t understand Hindi. Instead of repeating, he asked me which country I came from to which I responded India, but he didn’t believe me and make a joke out of it. Just because I couldn’t speak Hindi, I was treated like an “outsider”. To them, an Indian should know how to speak Hindi. I have my mother-tongue and sadly it just happened that it is not Hindi. Being from a land where Hindi is not spoken, my knowledge of the language is limited.
Taking public transport is a spot to experience the difference. At any point of time, there will be people glancing at me like they have never seen me before. Every day after college, I have to take the bus or the metro to reach home. At bus-stops, every auto drivers would ask me where I was going because they thought I was a “foreigner” who does not prefer public transport. The same happened when I stepped out of metro stations, all because I don’t look like an Indian.
I have an amazing college experience and I am fortunate to be in a class where we understand each another’s differences. But this is in no way exhaustive, there are few spoilt potatoes who will not stop making fun at my eyes, my home, or my knowledge of the language. There have been questions such as, why did you come to my country? aren’t there any college in your country? even when they knew well where I am from.
I am tired. Let it be what it is. I am proud to be who I am. I am proud of my looks. I am not a proud Indian. I am not proud to be an Indian. Maybe I am wrong to call myself an Indian.
- [TIME] It was Taniam’s East Asian features that marked him out for attack and his death highlighted the racism that many from India’s beautiful but impoverished northeastern states are subjected to.
- [SPOTLIGHT MAG] ‘Foreigners’ in Own Country
- [E-PAO MANIPUR] Being a ‘Chinky’ in Delhi
- [SOUTH ASIA CITIZENS WEB] India and its Northeast: A new politics of race