“Demanding me to lick his boots, he said, you deserve it only because you are a dirty tribal from the north east”. -Higio Gungte, Arunachal Pradesh.
I am an Indian, an optimist Indian, albeit a critical one. Today, after 25 years of contemplation of society and self, I claim I am a despondent citizen of India. I started as an optimist, however that lasted a short while, when the racism and its consequential prejudices by those who I called my own made me an Indian sceptic.
My first encounter with the animal called Racism was in India, in my own country. Racism wore superiority with pride. It walked loud and bold in the streets, in the shopping malls, in the airports and everywhere I walked.
But I met it, up close one evening in one the subways of Delhi in the year 2009. As I walked into the packed metro, I was rebuff by many eyes and disdained at my presence, their eyes examined me. Jittery, I turned away to one of the corners, only to allow my space felt corrode by two men slowly, but surely advancing.
They offered me money and it ascended – asking me discreetly: “how much do you charge for the night?” I was stunned at the question and didn’t know how to respond. Yet I did! Gathering courage, I said, “You should watch your words!” Well, he reprimanded, “Why don’t you go back to where you belong!”
Well 2009 onward, racism and I had a frequent encounter – someday for coffee rather light but most days, like a morning breakfast, extensively heavy.
On my first visit to the prestigious Jaipur Lit Fest, my friends and I, all Indians but yes, from the northeastern part of the country, were denied entry into a hotel, and were asked to ‘prove our nationality’ on arriving at a hotel. The manager demanded that he see our passports! We asserted we were Indians! We all speak excellent Hindi, and thought that it would just suffice. I mean, does it even matter?
Since then, I have been looking for home!
Through this article, I speak from, and of, and to, my country; to speak of a prerogative, gambled by few of my fellow Indians, for reasons known to them and unknown to me and to my brothers and sisters from the eight northeastern states of India. I write to speak of the county, the states and the cities, and of the many individuals and identities that come with it, conditioned by the colours, features, names, languages, foods, songs, dances and others. Most vividly, I write to question on the idea of ‘Indianness.’ Honestly, I don’t even know if this word exists, but time has taught me that such ideas have dwelt here, uncontested. And some of us have lived here, at risk, unfree, assaulted and erased.
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Hate Crimes and Dharnas
Slogans like – Racism down down! We want justice! We are Indians! are almost an everyday tune to our tongues now. One does not need to be reminded of the many past incidents of racial attacks and its similar bigotries perpetrated to certain communities of India, that do not fit in the ‘Indian’ design.
Either one is ‘not enough Indian’ or rather ‘you don’t look like an Indian!’ On January 29, 2014, when Nido Tania, a 20-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, was murdered in the Lajpat Nagar area of Delhi, it triggered widespread protests across the country. Many political parties joined in and some of them also assured, there will be no more Nido Tanias and atrocities of similar kinds.
But, only few months later in October 2014, there were two separate but parallel incidents, one in which a 26 year-old engineering student was beaten by three men in Bengaluru for not speaking Kannada. Second, where two students from Nagaland, Awang Newmei and Aloto Chishi, were beaten and tortured brutally for hours by few local men in Gurgaon. What’s terrifying is their intent. The perpetrators then chopped off one of their hair saying, “We want to send a message to all of you in the northeast. If you guys from Manipur or Nagaland come here, we will kill you.”
These are only few of the incidents; there are so many more – brutal and inhumane in nature. Besides, many of us are fighting a battle every day, trying to find ways to tackle the incessant subtle cynicism that we are subjected to almost every day.Yet another attack.
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March 15 and 16, 2017, another protest-peace march was organized. Once again the old slogans like, ‘we want justice!’ ‘racism down down!’ Took over the streets of Bengaluru, Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh. Reason? A criminal lawyer, Mr. B. Hemant Kumar (Landlord) in Bengaluru thinks that tribal people from the northeast are best kept at his boots, preferably to lick them.
I am aghast at the incident that happened on March 6 on a young boy named Higio Gungte from Arunachal Pradesh, a college student of Christ College who was a tenant in one of Mr. Hemant’s buildings for almost a year.
I am sad to learn about the physical pain and the emotional trauma this little boy was inflicted with over a petty issue – excessive use of water.
Gungte’s family is closely related to mine, and after the tragic incident I had spoken to both his mother and sister. From their long conversation, one thing that troubled me was the question his mom asked me: “What wrong has my son done to him (landlord)?” This is a clear case of Racism – a hate crime and an FIR has been lodged against the landlord at the Hulimavu police station in Bengaluru but he is out on bail now.
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Allow me to share with you few important details from the FIR in Gungte’s words.
Dated- March 13, 2017
Hulimavu Police Station,
I, Higio Gungtey, would like to submit that I am a person belonging to the Nyishi Tribe, a schedule tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. A copy of the certificate is produced for your kind perusal. Hemant Kumar has attacked me for no reason but because I come from North East. I and two of my friends are tenants in his rent house since March 2016, with the rent amount 12000 per month and the rent agreement was made in the name of my friends Mridupawan Bharali and Rajeev Ranjan Singh (hailing from Assam and Jharkhand respectively). He told us that my name need not appear in the rent agreement. It was on Monday March 6, 2017 our landlord Mr. B. Hemanth Kumar came to our house and he started attacking my friend while I was talking to my parents over the phone in the balcony. When I saw him dragging my friend by his neck, I immediately rushed into the room and tried to stop him but instead he started beating me. He beat me mercilessly in all part of my body. While beating me he said, “you dirty tribal from North East”.
He kicked me in my stomach several times and I was choking and fell down on the floor because of the severe pain. In no time, again he kicked me on my chin and it started bleeding. My tongue got cut and it was too painful. Then I went to the bathroom to spit the blood out, he dragged me out of it and hit my right cheek, it was too painful. My mouth was full of blood. He punched me in my face. I was already very tired from the beating and dragging. He tried to kick my genitals as well but somehow, moved and escaped.
Mr. Hemanth told my two friends to slap me otherwise he will beat me more. As a result my two friends out of fear of him started slapping me.
While he was beating me, he abused verbally saying, “I will f**k your mother and sister”.
He forced me to lick his boots
While he was kicking me with his boots, one of the boots came out. He ordered me to put it back to his feet and tie the lace, and lick his boots. While licking his shoe he said, “You only deserve it because you are a dirty tribal from North East and don’t show your face again in this city”.
Please No More!
I felt my heart skipped a beat when I read his FIR. I was disappointed and disturbed by both the actions of Gungte’s two friends and Mr. Hemanth, but much more by Mr. Hemanth. He is an educated man, a lawyer by profession. Gungte, in his wildest dreams must have never imagined that he would be ever treated like that. Only if one could read MR. Hemanth’s thoughts.
You see, no man is disturbed by things, but by his opinion about things. And I fail to understand, why does he hate the ‘tribals from the north east?’ I also struggle to reason out why Gungte’s friends (roommates) gave in to Mr. Hemant’s threats. If only they could have gathered some courage, things would have been relatively calmer for Gungte and his family.
Gungte’s noiselessness is very familiar to mine and many of us who are told every day we don’t belong here. His voice is the offspring of many nations within a nation. And together our voices carry the many unheard stories of racial discrimination and its intolerance.
I believe, more than ever that the search for justice is the supreme foundation for activism in our time here and abroad, although the melody of misery and anguish has been consecrated in this country. I draw strength from the traditions of all brothers and sisters who without fear and inhibitions have dealt with racial discrimination and its biases; with every reason, have stood firm in their fight, and most remarkably to those who have lost their lives in the pursuit to finding one’s identity like Nido Tania, Richard Loitam and many more.
But, when we condemn attacks in Kansas (shooting of two Indians’ thinking they were Iranians) and Canada (Quebec mosque shooting) why do we fail to dismiss this one? They say when the horrors and pain of the people are louder than babies crying and when the cry of your neighbours make you more uncomfortable than murder itself, something is awfully wrong. And It’s time, that India, where differences were once accepted and celebrated, should introspect on this before it is too late and before our attitudes harden.
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Let me end it here:
The idea of home is so complicated to me; home isn’t here
people look at me like I am from somewhere else.
Where is home?
Writing became an expression of my discomfort
an arrangement of unbroken rage
writing poetry to question
Poetry to reclaim my identity and to be
My body is yellow, white, brown and black
Is it my skin that betrays or is it my face?
I am still looking for an answer!
You tell me
How do I respond without making you angry and uncomfortable?
How do I wear a mask that doesn’t even fit me!
Do you feel my pain?
Why can’t you, my fellow Indians respond for me?
I want all of you to speak for us.
What are words if they aren’t realized?
And realization is a distant dream
A dream to be an Indian
and here I am living despite it all
with a language that comforts me
in a language that sounds familiar.
I write to all the younger version of me, you are
Even the colour of my dreams scream
my blood is Indian
my bones are solid Indian
so, I am writing!
I am protesting as I write
I am protesting about being an outsider in my own land.
But, why am I still looking
for something that will define me?
I can’t find my belonging here.
You will often catch me and many of us
searching for it
In the books and in passports
(Letter written by Ngurang Reena)