By- Paritosh Chakma
(Rewritten on 10 June 2009)
New Delhi: What irritate me in Delhi most are two things: (1) Ignorance about my native state, Mizoram, and (2) ignorance and insensitivity towards my physical attributes.
1. Ignorance about Mizoram
The North East people’s struggle as they land in Delhi is more of cultural. This stems partly from the fact that most people here even do not know the map of North East India. They are totally ignorant about "peaceful" states like Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. People know Assam and to some extent have heard of Nagaland because of the bloody insurgencies there. But Mizoram is a peaceful state and in terms of business it is not a state where you can earn in billions, so who cares to know the profile of this tiny state, except perhaps for those who are eyeing the civil services.
When we (Mizos, Chakmas and other ethnic groups) come to study outside Mizoram we carry the pride of Mizoram; we represent Mizoram. Hence we are like a community. I feel most irritated when I am asked where Mizoram is and I am required to explain the north east in the map of India.
Recently, I took an auto-rickshaw to go to a book stall. First the driver looked at me in a curious way which made me conscious of my “different look”. After five-minute drive, he asked me in Hindi:
“Are you from Nepal?”
“No”, I replied. “From Mizoram”
“Where is it, is it in Nepal?” – Another usual question
Not surprised, I replied – “No”. “In the North East. Haven’t you heard of Mizoram?” I wanted to know.
“I know it is in Nepal”, he tried to outplay me.
Irritated, I retorted at him - “Could be, because the entire India is in Nepal”
“It cannot be so. India is bigger than Nepal”
“If Mizoram, which is in India, is in Nepal according to you, then India must be inside Nepal” – I mocked at him. He became amused.
“Is Mizoram your village name?” He meekly asked me, almost surrendering to my arrogance.
“Mizoram is not a village. It is one of the 28 states of India. It is much bigger than Delhi” – I explained.
There were a few minutes of silence.
Then I asked, “Do you know Assam?”
“Yes, it is near Bhutan”, he said.
The man who knows Bhutan is ignorant about a part of his own country.
Later on, in the course of our conversion, he told me that he had completed his Class XII but due to bad circumstances he had to quit studies and took to driving auto for a living. I took pity on his inability to pursue higher education but certainly could not pardon him for his ignorance about my state, Mizoram after studying up to Class XII. Why, in my Class III standards, we were were required to memorise the capitals of all the 25 states (at that time) of India and were punished by our Geography teacher for our inability to correctly name them.
The ignorance of North Eastern states is so much so that even the Honourable Members of Parliament/ Council of Ministers are said to be oblivious of these states. Shri Swaraj Kaushal, who was governor of Mizoram from 8 February 1990 to 9 February 1993, during a Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) debate on 17 May 2000 made the following statement -
"Much has been said about the ignorance of the North-East. I remember when I was the Governor I used to visit Delhi. I am very sorry to share with this House that some of the Ministers used to ask me--I was the Governor of Mizoram--"how was Mr.Gegon Apang?", little realising that Mr. Gegong Apang was the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Sometimes, I was told that I was staying at a beautiful place called Shillong. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya and I was the Governor of Mizoram."
He stated further, “I will find it very commendable if people in authority, people who are entrusted with the responsibility of deciding matters for the North- East, know the names of seven States, alongwith their Capitals and can name the Chief Ministers of those States. …….. How many of us know as to where the Polo started? Who gave a boost to Polo? We find princes playing it. It was Manipur. The NCERT books are silent on the North- East. ……………. it will be worth examining as to how many Ministers have visited the North- East during the last three, four or five years. I find them paying only helicopter visit. They visit the helipad and they believe that they have visited the States.”
(2) My physical attributes
The people of North East India have different set of physical attributes in comparison to the mainland Indians. To the mainland Indians we look like Chinese or Japanese or Thais or Korean or even Nepalese; but certainly not like "Indians".
This world is like a garden with variety of flowers. Diverse cultures, religions, languages, nationalities, colours, sex identities, ethnic origin and decent. Hence, in a harmonious existence this world would look like a beautiful garden of paradise. But we often do not respect the differences, the diversity.
To the people of North East India, who come to cities like Delhi for studies or jobs, mongoloid features are object for discrimination by the mainland Indians who like to refer themselves as “mainstream people”. I had thought Delhi being the capital of India should be more receptive and people are ahead of their times.
I still remember the day when I first went to the Delhi University (South Campus) to collect admission form in 2003. I was suppose to collect form for Masters degree. But as I was not aware of anything about the admission process and so nervous with none around whom I know, to help me, it was only after the officer at the counter stamped the backside of my ST certificate that I came to know I was in the wrong counter and at wrong time. Actually the admission process for the post-graduate courses did not start and I had collected ST registration form for a graduation course. Oh my God. It is like Ripley's believe it or not.
The entire fault was also not mine, actually. Before taking the form, I had repeatedly asked the officer to confirm whether I was collecting a registration form for Master degree course. Certainly, he saw my face and was in no mood to help. “All forms are available here”, he bluntly replied and asked my ST certificate. He put a stump on the back of it.
When I pointed out the mistake after reading the form, he took back my ST certificate and crossed the stamp with so heavy hand that my ST certificate still bears the ugly cross mark whose imprints are visible from the front. Whenever, I did a photocopy of my tribal certificate, cross mark appeared which looked ugly but fortunately did not create hurdle anywhere.
As I cleared the MA (English) entrance test I had to taste the bitter pill of discrimination first hand in the college again. As I went to the admission counter of the college, I spoke in English to enquire about the procedures. The person sitting at the counter stared at my face and roared at me - “Angres ke baacchee” (Son of Englishman), and he asked me to speak in Hindi. Luckily for me, I had taken Hindi subject in Class X and scored handsomely – above 60 in the board exam.
Another day, I was taking an evening walk near a park where some big boys were playing volleyball at a corner. It so happened that the ball jumped over the fence as I was passing by. Immediately, one of the youths came to the fence and yelled at me “Hei chinki, ball denaa” (pass the ball to me). I took offence being called a "chinki" whose meaning I still do not understand but I heard his friend telling him not to call such names. I decided to pass the ball over the fence.
Don't we have right to be different? Then why are we made fun of?
Certainly, some changes should be made in the school curriculum to make the children more aware about India’s geography and cultures and to respect other's cultures. Unfortunately, our education system is more teaching-based where how to crack certain examination is the ultimate aim. It should be more enquiry-based.
It is not only schools to be blamed, even various TV channels often run advertisements endorsing racism. For example, see the “Amway” company’s ad wherein a flat-nosed boy is shown begging “muje maaf koro” (forgive me) with folded hands while a dirty car and a water bucket are beside him. It appears that the boy (could be portrayed as one of those Nepali labourers who are engaged in cleaning people’s cars in Delhi residential colonies) has committed some serious mistake and was therefore asking for forgiveness.
The question which needs some credible answers is why is that a flat-nosed, mongoloid featured boy has been shown in such poor taste in the ad?