On Racism

PARTHA PRAWAL GOSWAMI feels that racism, like charity, begins at home

Chapter 1-99

Few days back, towards the last week of January, ‘Racial attack on an Arunachalee student in Delhi’ was the headlines in the entire media world, especially those from the North East Region (NER). A 19-year old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam, was beaten badly by some shop keepers at Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area. The poor student later succumbed to his injuries and what followed next was a series of protests, mostly from the student bodies of NER.

Social networking sites were filled with forums and discussions on the issues of NE students being racially abused in the metros like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore etc. If someone was called a ‘Chinky’, someone was doubted if he was actually from North East as he did not look like a ‘Chinky’. Someone was even forced out of their rented rooms as they were from the North East and some, on the other hand, did not even get a room for days as they were from the North East.

“What do you eat, dogs?” is what many said they were asked when they said they came from the North East.

“So you are not a terrorist?” said some students from NER when they introduced themselves to their senior that they were from the NER.

(Yes, I am from North East and I am not a terrorist as all Delhiites are not rapist!)

Shame on you Delhiites, for you not know that Kaziranga National Park is in Assam, a part of North East India. Its obscene of you the Kannadas, as you do not know where in earth is Loktak lake, when hundreds of your children aspiring to become actors rush to the National School of Drama (NSD) and NSD’s present chairman is Ratan Thiyam, a great exponent of Manipuri theatre and Loktak lake belongs to this same very Manipur which is again a part of North East.

Ahh…Leave it, why to get so serious. To not know about NER by one from Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, or Haryana is not a big deal at all. I mean, how much of them do we know? How many of us have heard about Shri Devnarayan, an ancient Gurjar warrior from Rajasthan who is believed to have been an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is worshipped as a folk deity, mostly in Rajasthan and north-western Madhya Pradesh? Well until the time I decided to google, even I was oblivious to the name. Shri Devnarayan is just one name as there are many more about whom I don’t know and there are thousands and hundreds like me in my own NER. If ‘They’ don’t know about us, ‘We’ also don’t know about them. If ‘They’ call us CHINKY, we also call them ‘Bihari’, ‘Bangalee’, ‘Panyaa], and ‘Jat’.

We often say that the NER has been deprived from Central funds, but Odisha MP Jay Panda, in an interview to me said how the Government has deprived Odisha from releasing funds, just like it has done to NE.

“Not only Odisha or NE, but the situation of deprivation exists for several other States as well,” he had said in this 2013 interview given to me in Kohima, Nagaland.

Chapter 0

Back in Guwahati, few days ago, I was out with my friends for some shopping at the busy Fancy Bazar area. After some hours of tedious search and buy, when our legs refused to carry our heavy bodies any further, we decided to have tea at a tea-stall out there, somewhere in Fancy Bazar.

“This shop is known for its hot and spicy samosas, let’s try,” said Alfred, my friend from the Khasi Hills.

And so accordingly we entered the stall, took our seats and ordered for two cups of tea and two samosas.

“Oye Kalu, bring two cups of tea and two samosas at table number 4,” the man looking after the cash ordered someone.

After a while a boy, may be in his early teens, brought us our order. I just looked at him. He had an innocent smile, bright eyes, shabby hair, and dark toned skin. Hmmm, so he is called KALU, means BLACKY!

KALU…why KALU, I mean does he not have a name? Surely he does and it is Aniruddh, he said when I enquired. But, why KALU…? Is calling a fat guy ‘fatso’, a short guy ‘shorty’ or a dark complexioned person as ‘Kalu’ not racial and not at par racially when an NER student is called CHINKY in elsewhere India?

I remember how Preity Didi went through a depressive phase, when because of her weight she did not find a suitable groom for years! Why, is this not racial that a girl or a boy remains unmarried, unwanted because of their weight and body colour?

Back in Northeast, who is not a racist, I guess each and every one of us? This might sound as a controversial statement but if we look closely and introspect, we can see that even within NE, students and young professionals from one State are being misbehaved in other States. But such incidents mostly go unreported or even if they are reported they are given a different colour-the political colour. Politicising incidents, which would have been termed racial if had occurred in Delhi, isn’t racial? To fight with people if they do not use our local dialects- are they not racial? Regionalism or caste based prejudices are just the broader form of racism.

NER, does it exists in reality or it is formed only when some youth gets into a brawl with someone in Delhi or Bangalore, he/she is beaten and for some broader vested interest, we colour it as racial. If NER exists then why people of one NE State discriminates the people of another? Why the Aryan featured community call the Mongoloid featured community as CHINKY?

A friend of mine, who has been residing in Delhi for a decade once said, “You know what, when most of the local girls try to cover themselves with maximum clothes, our girls from NE reveals maximum. When visiting certain street, even in broad daylight, forces one to think thrice, our boys dare roaming there late at night. And now if something happens to them, they simply say that since they are from NE, they are being ill-treated. But Partha, trust me, every time, every attack labelled as racial is not true. A large section of youths from the region that comes here to study, does everything expect study. If they create nuisance day-in and day-out, will they be not thrown out? By the way, we complain that the mainland Indians are unaware regarding the glorious history and culture of NE. But how much are the North Eastern aware of the history and culture of their neighbouring States?”

A senior journalist, who has won several National and International Awards, once said that she was denied a room for rent in Guwahati as because she is a Muslim and she always had her veil on.

“Once during the reporting of an India-Australia international cricket match here in Guwahati, a fellow Assamese journalist asked me- are you Pakistani? I replied a no with a smile and said that I am an Assamese just like you,” she said.

So…what is this…is this not racial? No, we would say it is ‘communal’ but racism gives birth to Communalism…I strongly believe.

Meanwhile, just on February 23, 2014, Sunday, two guys from Tezpur raped a girl, who also happens to be from Tezpur. Had the two youths been from Delhi, we would have called it RACIST, isn’t it?

I still remember how a girl was disrobed in the busy Guwahati-Shillong road here in Guwahati by 13-men, all from Assam. What was it? It wasn’t called racial?

We cry that NE history has been less told to the ‘main-stream’ India, but are we aware of the history of Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat….or of our neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur?

Murky, the world of racial abuse is murky. We, in general forget the fact as how much racial we are (remember KALU, FATSO). Racial abuses are not only confined to physical assaults or lewd comments, but every small thing that is against ones dignity and pride is racial. Hope that in the coming time we will witness some good times and taboo of racial abuses and slurs will be completely thrown out.

All we need is a will and an introspective understanding and have a clear idea of our own stand. Anti-racial laws are simply waste of energy, time, and money.

Partha p Goswami

Partha p Goswami

Partha Prawal Goswami began his journalistic career in 2010 as a staff reporter for The Assam Post. Have also worked with the UB Photos as a caption writer and later in July 2011 he joined the Eclectic Publications and worked there as a features writer till March 2013. Within this period he had also received the Laadli Media Award for gender sensitivity for his article,Switching The Witch Perception. After leaving Eclectic Publications, he is associated with The Sentinel as sub-editor. He likes doing stories on art, culture, and heritage. He is interested in travelogues and also on human interest stories. He likes to share everything that’s on his mind through writing and his blog is prawalprawal19.wordpress.com