In light of the recent attacks on people from the northeast, here are a few guidelines.
Quite a bit has been focused on the whys and whats of this curious beast called Indian racism that we have started to acknowledge only in recent years. But increasingly, because of the shrill cacophony of people who don’t want to accept that we are racists, it has become impossible to talk about it. Indians are not racists, are we white? There is no racism towards people from the northeast; even people from ‘Madras’ were targeted years ago! For better, healthier, safer conversations, we need to have some guidelines.
First, apologise on behalf of militants and xenophobic groups for targeting ‘outsiders’ in Meghalaya, in Assam, in Arunachal or any other places that “sound northeastern”. Only after that, you will earn the right to talk about the racism towards northeasterns. Otherwise, no one will listen to you. Don’t try to drive home the point that Reverse Racism is a myth, and is a term that has always been used by privileged groups to deflect conversation about racism.
If you are a person from Arunachal or Manipur or any other state beyond Bengal, always carry a map with you. Nowadays there are smartphones where you can download Map-apps. If you look closely in the markets of Chawri Bazar or Connaught Place, you will also find pocket atlases. You will need those, because when you explain racism, you will have to first locate for your audience where the northeast is.
Aside: Never dye your hair. You might get beaten to death. Even if you do, and if someone makes a comment about your hair, you should remain quiet. Don’t vindicate their suspicion that you are the beast from the jungles of the northeast by speaking up. In fact, by the time you even start talking about how raced communities have always been viewed as Submissive Children and are put to place (by beating to death) when that role is violated, you might have at least a broken arm or a leg if you are lucky. In modern India, it is difficult to sport blonde, red, or brown hair if you are from the northeast.
When people call you chinki, you should smile and try not to react; because if you do, you will be branded as an “oversensitive northeastern”. After all, there are jokes on Punjabis too, why should you feel offended? Don’t try to debate with them that cracking a joke about the funny, jolly, Punjabi and the fish-loving, Marxist Bengali is not the same as cracking a joke about the dog-eating, rhino-rearing, sexually-promiscuous, drug-addicted northeastern. Clearly show that you are also guilty of racism. Never even try to prove that racist slurs against a historically marginalised and raced group of people used by the racist group and the epithets and stereotypes used by the raced group are racially unequal.
Do not try to remind anyone that ‘even you are racist towards outsiders in Assam and Meghalaya’. These are Conversation Blockers. If you do, you will be reminded that you are anti-Indian and that is why you deserve to be governed with laws such as AFSPA that allows your lovely sainik bhaiyon to shoot at sight, rape at will, arrest without warrant. Never try to tell anyone that those laws are undemocratic and turns you into unequal citizens with lesser civil rights because then you will be reminded how we have always been the (non-submissive) Problem Child of Mother India and the cane called AFSPA is required to keep us in a straight line like schoolchildren attending morning assembly.
Lastly, always remember to use words such as “remote”, “far-flung”, “new heart of darkness” and “conflict-ridden” when you start talking about Northeast India or racism towards it. If you don’t start the conversation that way, no one will understand you. They will think you are talking about China. Or Vietnam. And yes, always carry your passport around. If you don’t have one, apply for one ASAP.
Aruni Kashyap is the author of The House with a Thousand Stories.