After the upsetting news of the recent mob violence against African nationals in Delhi came out, I, a Northeasterner, and many of my friends from the region, feared that we would be next on the hit list of those who are intolerant to cultures that are different from their own.
The murder of a young student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Taniam, also spelt as Tania, in Lajpat Nagar, on Thursday night only proved our fears right.
If the Ugandans and Nigerians are routinely jeered at in Delhi, people from the Northeast, especially those with Mongoloid features, are in no better a situation.
Discrimination and strange queries are daily features of our lives. Africa is still a different part of the world (though that does not justify the daily humiliation its people face in India), but it’s strange that though the Northeastern states are a part of the country, people in other states know so little about that region and its people.
Worse, there is even very little effort on their part to know us and the states.
My first job interview in Delhi went like this: "You are a Bengali. So how come you come from the Northeast?" I had to explain the obvious: Indians have the right to stay anywhere in the country and that the Northeast is also home to people from different parts of the country.
Many don’t even know that there are seven states in the Northeast, with Sikkim being the eighth and latest entrant in the group. In fact, people from the so-called mainland India also tend to categorise people from the southern states either as ‘South Indians’ or ‘Madrasis’.
There is also many misconceptions about the food habits of Northeasterners. Much like the perception of people from the West that India is still a land of snake charmers, many Indians think that the Northeast is nothing but a jungle and that people there eat everything and anything.
We loudly complain when Indians face discrimination outside the country but we are no better.
Only State policies cannot change mindsets. The central as well as the state governments must do more than broadcasting advertisements about ‘Incredible North-East’. Together, they need to encourage non-Northeasterners to explore and understand the Northeast.
Kakoli Thakur is a freelance journalist
The views expressed by the author are personal