Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What irritate me most in Delhi

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?



Nice post….thanks for sharing.I'd like to add one more point - represention of the region in the mainstream media.

Recently, students from the eight states of North East India studying in University of Hyderabad conducted a survey in the university campus, 90% of the respondents admitted that their knowledge is all based on school text books, media and contact with people from the region. (Insight, 2008.) apparently, the media has shaped the mainstream Indian’s perception of the North East. Many a mainstream Indian acquaint themselves with North East through these news reports only. of course, some journalists have tried their best to provide accurate information about the communities of North East India of which many Indian readers know little about. However, many mainstream media frequently fail in making accurate reports on the communities of the North East.Tehelka in 2006 said " The North East India is on the Map, but off the mind" (cited in Sanjib Baruah; Postfrontier Blues: Toward a new policy framework for Northeast India. East-west Centre Washington & Centre for Policy Research, Policy studies. No.33, New delhi.2007.p.4) It has been noted that foreign journalists and scholars are hardly granted visas to study the North East. (Baruah. Postfrontier Blues, p.4)

Little is known about the cultural history of the region mainly due to neglect, distortion, misrepresentation and lack of accurate press reports. Insurgency, weird cultural practices and dirty politics have been the favorite topics of the mainstream reporters. Their reports are mainly written with the intention to capture the imaginations of the mainstream people. Lack of cultural understanding coupled by superimposition of their own constructed ideas about the North East people result in suppression and distortion of truth or ground realities. Until recently there was no any visible effort either to change the undesirable situation in the region or methods in depicting the identity of the people. These images soon become ingrained in the consciousness of the mainstream Indian citizens. Occasionally, stories about cultural activities appear in some newspapers but these are usually not given too much emphasis. Insurgency, ethnic conflicts and crises get reported but the stories of genuine people are rarely published. Such attitudes and practices sowed the seeds of suspicion in the minds of the North East people. Any North Easterner will be easily annoyed by the oversimplification, overgeneralization and sensationalism with which North East is reported. And they outwardly reject any suspicious attempts to sabotage their cultural prominence.

Why do people in this region contest popular entertainment industry like Bollywood as a threat to their society but not to Korean movies? The popularity of Korean movies in all the Hill states and on the other hand lack of apathy to Bollywood movies also indicates “the inadequate representation of cultural identity”. Maneka Gandhi's writing on pork eating tradition in Mizoram (The Pioneer, Feb. 2003) fuelled discontentment amongst many young Mizos. Without giving due consideration or respect to the people's culture, she outwardly challenged it. Her interpretation on tribal culture has no solid foundation. Baruah suggests “Our policies have an impact on the way the Northeast and its people are represented….The battle for the future of Northeast India is also a battle over images”.(Baruah, 2006) Mutual understanding between north east and national media is an important pre-requisite when one talks about “unity in diversity” and “national integration”.

Paritosh Chakma said...

@ Epistemology: Yes, you are right. There is no coverage of North East in the mainstream media. Only the incidents of brutal terrorist attacks are given a little space in the front pages, if at all. That is why peaceful states like Mizoram are little known in other parts of India. Whenever a small incident happens in Kashmir or Rajasthan or UP, the TV news channel will run the news throughout the day but major incidents in the NE go unreported. This made some NE journalists write "How far is Delhi?"

I also wrote about it in my article "Rights, Violence and Indian Democracy" in the Hindu, 22 June 2008, which is available at http://www.hindu.com/op/2008/06/22/stories/2008062250011600.htm

Preetam Rai said...

I think it also depends on the interest of the individual. Back in the late 70s, I studied about the North East in my school textbook and was immensely curious and wanted to learn more but there were hardly any resources - I mean books with photographs, travel tales, folklores etc.

These days things are a bit easier. When I miss the region, I can look up the blogs, the Flickr images etc.

That is why I would urge you guys to keep updating Wikipedia, write more about your districts and post more images. Forget about mainstream media, please continue uploading more music videos from the region on YouTube.

In China, I have started seeing Han Chinese kids take to some elements of popular culture (music and fashion) of the Tibetans and other nationalities as they perceive them as cool.

Going back to the Korean example, Korean culture wasn't considered cool in Asia until the 80s when Korea started showing up on the tech sector and the olympics happened in late 80s. I remember people making jokes about kimchi back then.

The fact is that mainstream India will not find any interest in say Mizo music until it starts gaining international recognition.

I once saw a thang-ta performance in Singapore by a visiting group in Manipur. What was more interesting is how proud the expatriate Indians were and how they were treating the group like stars after the performance.

As you guys point out, a lot of perception of people in India about the North East or even more far away place such as Nicobar Islands is what mainstream media provides. Thankfully, the online world is not dependent on their ignorance.

burgerstud2005 said...

Hey..nice post..I also came across such kind of 'abuse' several times when I was a student...keep blogging and your posts are really inretesting

Maraland said...

A very relevant blog post. Though it will take some more decades but I can see changes coming through people like you and others from the region. If they will not do it for us, we must do it ourselves with blogs, wikipedia, and others like Preetam has just said.

I hope more Chakma friends will also come forward and blog like you.

Keep blogging!

Sabu said...

Very nice post..Many Indians lack knowledge of geography/culture of India. They believe what they see around and in bollywood is the only India. I am a keralite by origin living in Mumbai/Pune and me too had the first-hand experience of poor geography of people here.

ruolngulworld said...

nice blog you have here. excellent posts and relevant topics. will come back again when i have time.
keep on blogging

Paritosh Chakma said...

I thank you for and appreciate your comments. Such racism in any form, anywhere must end to exist. Keep in touch.

Aadhaar said...

Greetings from a North Indian! :)

Firstly, let me thank you on making such a nice post. It was very interesting and insightful (somewhat, I will confess that most of the North East is an enigma to me; thankfully with blogs like yours I will be able to understand it a lot better as I continue to read it).

Now for the discrimination bit: Hate to break it you, but I am guessing that such behaviour is but to be expected. I was grinning through your account of the Auto Rickshaw incident - most of the people in North India (and I mean people like auto drivers, maids, shopkeepers etc.) are not very literate - so much so that some of them don't even know the chief ministers of their states. Its sad but that is the way it is. :( So, the fact that the auto driver did not know Mizoram was not particularly surprising. On the other hand, the school students and college students would know of Mizoram but I can bet you that many people would not be to mark all the seven sister states on a political map of India. This would not include me because I just saw the political map of India 10 minutes ago. I swear I will remember it from now on. Promise.

Now for the college certificate bit: I can't find the link but I remember reading once that Delhi was the rudest city in India. As for "angrej ke bacche", you won't believe it - even when I talk in English (in the north ofocurse) to most of my friends who are not so proficient in English - I get that same remark pelted at me. Just hear it and move on dude - bygones will be bygones. Now for the chinki bit: In case you still don't know it - by "chinki" the boys meant "Chinese". The word originates from the Hindi word for China: "Chin". Consequently, a person from China: Chinki...

Anyways, I think Preetam is right: the last time I learnt about the seven sister states was in my 6th standard geography class. After that, nothing. The only reason why I know some bits about the NE is because my father was part of the BRO durings the early 70's, so I know a bit of the culture from him. As for TV, well - you know that it is an Idiot Box. Apart from the usual bollywood masala news and some pakistani bomb threats, they don't cover anything else. With no information to guide people, it is the fault of the India state for the lack of knowledge. Which is why I was delighted when I first read your blog because I was very curious to find out about NE from an individual rather than some newspaper. :)

Perhaps one way people would become more knowlegable about the NE would be if newspapers started carrying a one page dedicated to the news about NE. Somehow, I dont think that is ever going to happen. :(

btw, a bit about myself - even though I am a north indian (I was born near Nainital), I have primarly stayed in Maharashtra, Gujrat, Karantaka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. So I can somewhat relate to the feeling you had when you visited Delhi as an outsider. Of course the intesnity of isolation in your case would have been many magnitudes greater than mine.