For a while now, the question of identity to North Easterners living in cities such as Delhi and Bangalore has been a subject of interest to many regional as well as national media channels. This interest stems out as a result of the various cases of discrimination against the people from the region which seem to have gain momentum in recent years. New cases every alternate day forces me to believe, unwilling as I am, to the fact that discrimination to people from the region in the city is not just a topic for discussion on TV shows but a sad reality.
My home is in a small 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 the usual history lesson. Every year on 26th January, we’d watched the Republic Day ceremony at New Delhi on TV. One would never know how proud I felt when they showcase Manipur 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 totally 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 apparently a region in Nepal or China to many.
Up until then, I never felt I was different. I saw my mongoloid eyes and the food I ate as normal and nothing out of the ordinary. I never imagined that I would be label as an “outsider” because of the way I look and the food I ate in my own country. 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 or other such derogatory remarks. This is not my story alone, but it is of a thousand souls who come to the city with high hopes and expectations of a brighter life.
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 varied demography of our country. I don’t mind when my illiterate landlord called me a “Nepali”, 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 something much more. I love the city; the good, the bad and everything that is in it.
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? Is it wise to continue to remain silent when I get teased intentionally? It is wise to be ignorant when an educated fellow called me names?
To further bring the point home, I’ve had my shares of experiencing the taste of racism, though lucky enough to not have made it to headlines. Being from a land where Hindi is not spoken, my knowledge of the language is limited. I was submitting a form last year and had missed to put a signature. The staff handling the paper said something in Hindi which I didn’t quite understand. I reminded him that I don’t understand Hindi. Instead of repeating, he asked me which country I came from. I abruptly responded that I am from India. The look on his face clearly says he did not believe me. To most, an Indian should know how to speak Hindi. I have my mother-tongue and sadly it just happened that it is not Hindi.
One way to experience how it feel to be different is taking public transport, be it metro or DTC bus. 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 or metro stations, I had to manoeuvre my way through a wall of auto-drivers who would never stop to ask where I am going.
I have an amazing college experience and I am fortunate to be in a class where we understand each another’s differences. But not everyone understand the difference. 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