By Niharika Awasthi
On the face of it, to an outsider bunch of energetic students giggling, discussing, drawing caricatures might appear a banal affair however if one makes a closer gaze at them, one gets to know the serious work they are engaged in. These students are engrossed in making comics to beat the stereotypes against Northeastern people.
Keeping in mind twin objectives of changing attitude and fostering responsible citizenry, students from various universities in Delhi and North east are brought together to sit and talk, under ‘No stereotype plz’ a campaign against stereotyping of northeastern states people. The campaign was started by World Comics India in collaboration with National Foundation of India to bring a positive change in the situation through the most innovative medium called grassroots comics.
Sharad Sharma, founder World Comics India who conceptualized the campaign says, “Several studies and social theories point out that people fear or dislike people from other community because of different food habits, looks and cultural differences. We are the nation that celebrates of unity in diversity in books, but it’s time when we need to practice it in our lives as well. The existence of peaceful society is only possible when a country and its citizens respect the plurality of the society. The discrimination against the northeastern is not the exclusive case but people from different cultural identity have been facing it everywhere.”
In one of the workshops held at Jamia Millia Islamia with students of Development Communication, participants showed keen interest in spreading the message via grassroots comics. Piyusha Gupta, one of the participants says “We were bunch of students from varied backgrounds thrilled to discuss serious issue of discrimination against northeast, issue which was not there even in our remotest of thoughts. I thoroughly enjoyed the process as it was not lecture or seminar on the theme but an interesting medium of grassroots comics. The power lies in the process and not the product. The medium engaged us in empowering process of sharing life experiences and reflecting on our behavior, which we would have not done otherwise.”
Students of Jamia Milia Islamia University later took exhibition of these comics in the public spaces like Rahigiri day, different university departments etc, interacted with strangers and shared their stories with them. The onlookers of the exhibition in process of reading, listening realize what these comics say is actually how they think of north easterners. This change is miraculous as these comics are not just medium of self expression but agent of social change and introspection too.
“Genuinity,” says Munnawar Iqbal student of Development Communication Jamia Millia Islamia, “of the comics on stereotypes lies in the fact that these are drawn by students themselves and written in the language they speak. Iqbal who studied ‘grassroots comics campaign against stereotyping of north east people in Delhi says “one of the major findings of the research has been that the process of sitting together, discussing, getting to know each other better and later making comics on it, transformed students in such a way that these students became advocates of the issue.”
Prayas Parmar, in his comics titled ‘if only you knew’ tells story of two friends. Ricky and Prayas while they are walking together, some boys on road comment on the hair of Ricky. Prayas gets puzzled and interrogates “why people say wired things to you, when you are just like me”. Ricky says “may be because we have grown up together, studied, and played together that’s why you don’t feel that I am different”. Comics conclude with these lines “I believe if everyone was willing to interact with people of north east, there would be an end to all sorts of stereotypes”.
In other comics by John Emeo, he describes cultural differences that people face in North India. In his comics two men scoff at Kaikho, a Manipuri student and call him ‘Chinki’. They say that he doesn’t know Hindi thus cannot fight back. After listening to these men, Kaikho thinks just because he is not reacting it doesn’t mean that he is not hurt, reacting adversersely is not part of his culture.
Indifference and ignorance at personal level compounds to institutional discrimination, this is can be explained through Ruth’s comics titled ‘A lesson for teacher’ where a teacher asks students about the French revolution and when Lizzy doesn’t respond ,teacher says ‘This northeast girl never speaks, how dumb’. However once the results are disclosed Lizzy gets highest marks and it was then only teacher got her lesson in ‘acceptance’.
‘No stereotype plz’ along with holding workshops for students in Lady Irwin College and Indian Institute of Mass Communication, also engaged with volunteers at North East Cell of the Delhi Police where the issue was discussed at the institutional level. T Romeo Hmar, volunteer with the cell said “Nearly eighty percent people who come from Northeast face one or other kind of discrimination, therefore need for such cells is mandatory. It is also necessary that people listen to the stories of people from north east and their stereotyping so that it deters them from repeating it”.
This campaign not just works to break stereotypes of people in Delhi against northeasterners, but it also delves into the prejudices and discrimination that persists with in northeast. Many workshops are run in colleges in Shillong and other parts of north east where people discuss pre conceived thoughts they have about different tribes in the land, outsiders who migrate to north east and against rest of the India. It helps people from north east come out of the victim mode and work on themselves as well. Students hence trained in these workshops, engage with people in other areas of northeast and carry forward the momentum of breaking stereotypes.
Father Jerry, Director Bosco Institute, Jorhat, Assam says, “Prejudices and stereotypes put human being into imagined categories- with no recognizable individual faces and no unique names – robbing them of humanity. These comics ‘narrated ‘by individuals belonging to the ‘categorized’ and ‘labeled’ communities from the north eastern corner of India is an appeal to all of to rediscover ourselves as human beings”.
“It happens here too” Comics by Kamsuan Mark is about the preconceived idea that women in north east are empowered. A Delhiite tells his friend from North east that “I have heard women in northeast are empowered” Latter thinks that his friend is not aware of the reality. In the name of empowerment women are made to toil harder to keep family together. They have to manage chores, work outside, suffer from ill health and bear blunt of husbands.
Comics by Liza, revolves around consequences of conflict between Asssamese and Biharis in Assam. Bihari migrants leave Assam after the conflict emerged between them and locals. Few days into this conflict Robin goes to the market and this is what he hears from people “Where have all the rickshaw pullers disappeared”, “Who will shave our beards?”
If local people stand by side, outsiders will definitely not feel alienated. This is what Ramayi’s Collective battle summarizes. A boy calls a north east girl chinki, A Sardar comes to the rescue and gives him the hearing “It’s not the way you address our sisters, either you apologize or else I will call the police”. She thanks the man for this gesture” to which man replied “It is my duty to fight against such discrimination towards citizens of our country”.
Binalaksmi Nepram, Co-founder, Gun Survivor Network who is also associated with the campaign thinks, “Such efforts in tackling the issue of stereotyping North east India. will go a long way in ensuring that the issue is addressed and change will happen.”
Anyone can become part of this campaign by joining the workshops that the organization would conduct in the beginning of new session in various universities of Delhi including JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia.
One can also join its Facebook page ‘No stereotypes plz ‘to get the regular updates.
(Niharika Awasthi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)