They are our people too...

Change the mindset

There is widespread outrage in the National Capital over the killing of a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam, who succumbed to his injuries after he was assaulted by a group of people in South Delhi.

The spontaneous demonstrations and candle marches, the angry debates on news channels and the emotional outcry of people from the Northeast have found resonance even in the Parliament. Even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has called for capital punishment for the accused and inclusion of the history of Northeast India in school syllabus. There are vociferous demands to frame an anti-racism law and a commission to ensure the safety of people from the Northeast.  But are these measures really helpful in bridging the cultural gap and changing the mindset and attitude of the people?

Time and again, these racial attacks question our parochial views. We never want to go beyond it because we are happy in our own small world or rather ‘community’ and don’t bother to look beyond that. If this ‘stick to community’ syndrome afflicts the North Indians, so does it the northeasterns as well. In a secular India, why is it difficult for people from this side of the Yamuna to mingle with their brethren from that side of the Brahmaputra and beyond?

“Language is the barrier,” says Subroto Bohra, a member of Delhi University Students Union (DUSU). “If a northeasterner goes to the police station to report for a lost mobile phone, he/she isn’t taken seriously. The problem is police don’t understand English and we don’t know Hindi.  Since we don’t belong to a Hindi-speaking belt we are considered to be from some other country,” he states with stark simplicity.
“People here are not comfortable to gel with those who don’t speak Hindi,” says Swadesh, a first year English (Hons) student at Satyawati College.

He supports Subroto’s view, “It happens in colleges. Due to uneasiness in language, there is always a lack of communication. Northeastern students who have studied in boarding schools don’t find trouble to interact with others, but someone who has spent 18 years of life in Manipur or Nagaland will face trouble in acclimatising to the culture and local dialect,” says Swadesh, who comes from Manipur.

He lists it as one of the reasons why a majority of northeastern students prefer to stay in their own groups only. Unfortunately, this gets them labelled ‘aloof’ or ‘different’.
Attributing another reason behind the standoffishness between the two communities, Swadesh says, “May be because we think differently and are a bit westernised as compared to North Indians.”

His opinion is strengthened by Indrani Phukan, a second year History (Hons) student
at Daulat Ram College and a cultural incharge of DUSU. “Being westernised directly points to our dressing sense. Last year we had an interaction with the Delhi Police where this was raised. Our ‘dressing sense’ and hair colour makes us ‘different’ from others,” says Indrani somewhat ruefully.

She accepts that owing to attitude problem, the two groups prefer to stay apart. “You cannot blame either of the two. If there are differences then somewhere both are responsible. But we don’t attack or kill someone,”
says Indrani.

And this brings one to the crucial ‘attitude problem’ which is peculiar to North Indians. “People from different communities who don’t know Hindi come to Delhi, but why only Northeasterners are always targeted? It is a question we have been asking for years,” questions Indrani.

“ It is the attitude problem,” says Newman, an advocate of Delhi High Court who comes from Nagaland. “ What can you expect from people who differentiate people on the basis of caste, states and skin colour? Things will change when people without any differences will stand up together for justice and consider Northeasterners as ‘Indian’,” he says.

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