Why don’t we run for diversity, ever?
Every year, young people from the distant corners of the country converge on this seat of government in the hope of better prospects of education and employment. However, they soon realise that they have to wade through the sticky quagmire of intolerance, hostility, contempt and ridicule in a society that labels them as ‘different’. The point in question is the recent spate of hate-crime against people of the North-eastern community, something which leads us into questioning the very foundations of the society that we live in.
For years, the people of the North-East have been living under insurgency and economic stagnation. Lack of opportunities at home coupled with the harrowing repercussion of conflicts has caused the youth to move away from these places.
A report by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, last year stated that the number of youth from the Northeast in Delhi was around 2 lakh. The exodus, however, underlines an uncomfortable truth: that many of the migrants feel either insecure or socially unaccepted in these urban centres.
Young North-eastern men are often perceived to have a penchant for loud rock music, smoke and drink and Western culture in general; young North-eastern women usually carry the stigma of dressing amorously and being soft targets for debauchery. While these may sound flimsy and untenable, such perceptions act as impediments in matters of finding rented accommodation, gaining acceptance in community centres or making acquaintances in general. However, if rowdiness was the matter of contention, wouldn’t our Jat and Gujjar brethren closer home be more suitable contenders? And if Western ways of attire were to be judged as inappropriate, certainly the entire lot of young urban women would qualify as guilty.
Our North-eastern neighbours surely look different, speak differently and have different eating habits. But so do (to a certain extent) the Bengalis, Maharashtrians, Tamils, Malayalis and the entire spectrum of non-Hindi speaking populace. If these communities can be a part of ‘mainstream India’, then even the Northeast can. And isn’t ‘mainstream India’ to be directly blamed for not knowing enough about the north-eastern states?
Here are some ready examples of the general level of ignorance. How many of us can rattle off the names of the Seven Sisters? Do we know the names of at least two chief ministers of these seven states? Do we appreciate the ethnic and social complexity of the region, home to over 200 ethnic communities? Do our geography textbooks tell us anything about the North-Eastern terrain and climate except calling out Cherrapunji as the erstwhile wettest place on earth? The word AFSPA now rings a bell in the minds of many of us (do we know its full form?), but did we know that Manipur has been bearing its brunt since even before Kashmir? Perhaps the only times we see North-eastern people in the media is when they are protesting or rallying against some form of discrimination or racial abuse.
The MP Bezbaruah Committee, which was set up to look into problems faced by the Northeast community, reports that the BPO and hospitality industries prefer to employ people from the Northeast due to their proficiency in English. Consequently the ‘educated unemployed youth’ in the area feel threatened, resulting in friction. Language and communication difficulties add to their problems, which are further ‘accentuated as they look different with their Mongoloid features,’ the report states. However, prejudice and discrimination set aside, the recent incidents of brutal violence in the national capital region (and in urban centres in general) defy easy sociological explanations. If it is just a macabre fascination for violence, then that is definitely unsettling and makes serious legal reform the need of the hour. In the words of Bezbaruah, ‘If criminals are dealt strong punishment, then it will not only be a deterrent in the future, but will also send a signal to migrants from the north east that the state is serious about their safety and well being’.
The ‘unity in diversity’ image of Incredible India that every Indian takes delight in is bound to fall flat on its face if such reprehensible incidents continue unabated. Cultural sensitisation of society is what every conscious citizen should take upon herself. At the same time, it is important to protest against and report to authorities any form of racial abuse seen in society.
Our fervent nationalistic emotions best arise when the national anthem plays in the cinema hall or the republic day parade is broadcast on national television. It is time to channelise those emotions in the right direction and save yet another fellow citizen from yet another act of hatred.