OPINION | Racism against Northeast Indians: A persistent fight against ignorant mindsets

The recent racial slur on Arunachal MLA Ninong Ering only reflects people's judgment, their lack of geographical knowledge or maybe simply ignorance. 
By Ibankyntiew Mawrie | SHILLONG: 

My fellow countrymen, India is a vast nation, known for its cultural and linguistic diversity. We are proud to call ourselves Indians - but reality check - how much do we really know about our country? 

The recent racial slur on Arunachal MLA Ninong Ering only reflects people's judgment, their lack of geographical knowledge or maybe simply ignorance. 

Recently, a YouTuber from Punjab, Paras Singh, landed in trouble for hurling abusive language and racial remarks at Arunachal politician Ninong Ering, calling him Chinese and also referring to Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. The criticism did not end there, the YouTuber zoomed into the map of India and mockingly tried looking for Arunachal Pradesh, terming the region to be surrounded by the Chinese population.

The YouTuber lashed out at the politician after the latter took to Twitter and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him not to lift the ban on popular mobile game Battlegrounds Mobile India or PUBG, "as it poses a threat to the country's security and privacy."

As expected, the remarks did not go down well with the citizens in the northeast. Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Union Minister in charge of Sports and Youth Affairs Kiren Rijiju (also from Arunachal), Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma and North East Students' Organisation (NESO) leader Dr Samujjal Bhattacharjya, among others have condemned the incident. 

The NESO advisor took to Twitter and wrote - "NE ‘India’ has borne the brunt of remorseless exclusion, racism & discrimination. I condemn the comments made by #ParasOfficial & stand in solidarity with @ninong_erring & the people of Arunachal Pradesh. Such comments are a projection of mainlands inability to see beyond Chicken’s Neck."

For everybody's information - Arunachal Pradesh is an Indian state located in the Northeast which is very much part and parcel of this great nation we call India. The northeast consists of eight states - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim. 

The region shares an international border with several neighbouring countries – like China in the north, Myanmar in the east, Bangladesh in the south-west, Nepal in the west, and Bhutan in the north-west.

Each state is unique in its own way, something we should be proud of. As the saying goes - From Jammu & Kashmir to Kanyakumari - India is a country beaming with culture, diversity and tradition. But unfortunately, some people refuse to acknowledge the vastness and uniqueness of our country or maybe they are just ignorant. 

This is not the first time that people from the northeast are subjected to racial abuse and harassment by the so-called mainland Indians - who think that people with small eyes (or how they like to call - chinkies) are all Chinese. 

It's amusing to note that whenever there are reports of China's claim over Arunachal Pradesh calling it South Tibet, everybody seems to become patriotic all of a sudden, asserting time and again that Arunachal is part and parcel of India. Does it take China's repeated claims for us to acknowledge the existence of Arunachal Pradesh or for that matter the entire Northeast?

In 2014, a 20-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam was beaten to death in the Lajpat Nagar area of Delhi, triggering widespread protests. Nido Taniam was studying at Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar.

This was not a one-off case. Many northeasterners face similar abuse because of the way they look, the way they talk and the way they dress. 

In 2017, a woman from Meghalaya was shunted out of the Delhi Golf Club for wearing a Jainsem, a dress worn by the indigenous Khasi women. The club later issued an “unconditional apology” after the racial incident sparked widespread anger across the country, especially in the Northeast. 

In 2020, when COVID-19 struck India, many students from the northeast - mostly from Nagaland and Manipur, were subjected to racial abuse and harassment and were held responsible for bringing coronavirus to India even as they were mistakenly taken to be Chinese. 

Last but not least - My nationality is Indian. I am not Chinese. But for people who casually or blatantly pass racist remarks, what is the true meaning of patriotism when you yourselves create divisions in society?

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