I am not an alien!


Indian cities like Delhi and Bangalore have been in the news in recent times for the intolerance and violence shown towards people from the Northeast. Longnam W. Kharpuri from Meghalaya, who studies and lives in Delhi, says she is subjected to all sorts of racism and innuendos. But she would much rather familiarise and sensitise people, than play the victim.

I have been living in Delhi for around six years now. I started my B.A. at St. Stephens College in the year 2008. I’ve been here since then, and I’m now doing my M.Phil from the Arts Faculty of Delhi University. I’ve been living in protected environments since I came here; having lived in hostels, and the college residence. It is only since I started my M.Phil that I have taken to renting a flat. However, despite this, I have faced a number of problems with freedom of movement – being a girl and Northeastern.

Most of the times it’s ‘eve teasing’, but at other times I hear outright racist remarks like ‘chinky’. For one, I don’t really look ‘typically Northeastern’ to fit in the ‘chinky’ category, and when I have enlightened a few people that I am from the Northeast they have told me I don’t “look it”: Despite this, I was still labelled as such because of my dress, the company I keep when I go out, which gives these people a chance to use this derogatory term against me. I have realized that this name calling in public is by men primarily. Perhaps it is a type of catcalling prevalent only in India, but it has been made known that that is not the case: That in other countries racism is prevalent in both blatant and subtle ways. But personally, my case involves me being a ‘woman’ and a ‘Northeasterner’.

Labels and stereotypes

There are labels attached to Northeastern women; the stereotype for being a woman and Northeastern is one associated with sexual licentiousness besides being alien, and the stereotype of simply being Northeastern and not a woman (being a man), is everything else (smelly food, inappropriate dressing, alien behaviour, not Indian, and so on).

In Delhi, what I have mainly faced is what I would call ‘racist misogyny’. Blame it on multiple factors like patriarchy, repressed sexual expression and education, the silence of the ‘weaker sex’, and lack of awareness of the existence of other ethnic groups in India that are ‘Tribal’ but are neither ‘savage’ nor ‘primitive’. What we need is awareness and thankfully, there are various events and movements happening like the recent The North-East Festival held here in Delhi. These events and movements give a platform to display the cultural diversity of the geographical unit of the Northeast of India. Literary publications (fictional and factual) of the same also facilitate a dissemination of knowledge of the region, and the institutionalisation of Northeastern welfare groups also act as safeguards and facilitators. We now have the 1093 help line in Delhi created to exclusively cater to the needs of the Northeastern community.

Stop being the ‘victim’

However, what I personally think is that instead of adding fuel to the fire through exclusive treatment of the Northeasterners and women in general in this state and elsewhere, there should be a dynamic drive by the victims to stop being ‘victims’ and tackle the problem aggressively through such methods like familiarisation; for example, sitting in the general coach instead of the exclusively women’s coach in the train; outwardly proclaiming outrage at any wrong doing like the invasion of personal space in an otherwise un-crowded space, calling the police for any racist remark or attack.

A lasting solution to the problem is creating general awareness about the Northeasterners and their diversity of culture and history, and the promotion of healthy public debate to tackle issues and problems. Racist stereotyping is not the way to go to judge any community or individual and seeing that India is the largest democracy in the world, we as her citizens should celebrate our varied cultures and ethnicities, rather than discriminate and fight for ultimate domination and homogeneity. Gender sensitisation is core to the development of a balanced social setup that would provide a platform for reasonableness, and ultimately give way to progress socially, culturally and politically.

Also, as a Northeastern woman I admit to having developed a fear of leaving safe and secure spaces like my home: a dread of the leers, the unwanted touches, the stares and the patronising of people safer and better off than I; but I refuse to back down and give up by running away because as the days go by, I have learnt to be tougher, but also more empathetic to the people around me: I try my best to address their humanity rather than outwardly dismiss them for showing animosity to me just because I am from the Northeast.

Longnam W. Kharpuri

The writer is an M.Phil student at Delhi University.