In the age of political correctness, if rude stereotyping receives as much sympathy as outrage, maybe there is a point to reflect on. Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju has stirred controversy over northerners by suggesting that they enjoy breaking rules, and what’s more, like to boast about it. Perhaps there is something in the northern male behaviour that evokes such banter. The minister was only rephrasing what the then Delhi lieutenant governor Tejendra Khanna said in 2008, but unlike the former civil servant, he refused to retract his statement and instead used it to defend harried policemen.
An online poll at Hindustantimes.com showed 70% of those polled agreed with the minister. Rijiju, a native of Arunachal Pradesh, may have struck a chord with Indians from various parts of the country, and few would jump to join issue with him given the racist incidents targeting Northeasterners in Delhi’s underbelly. In the popular imagination across India, the stereotype of the northerner is an aggression-prone male who cites his social status as credential, usually invoking his paternal lineage. “Tu jaanta nahi main kaun hoon?” (Don’t you know who I am?), attributed to the Delhiwala, is a notorious catchphrase that sums up a law-unto-onself persona, soaked in a culture of entitlement and privilege.
There are tens of millions of northerners who will not fit into this stereotype, but that’s what a stereotype is all about — a not-necessarily-representative image that exalts or downgrades a community. And no, northerners who fit the minister’s description cannot take refuge by drawing parallels between their conduct and Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-cooperation with the law. Remember that even Gandhi was compelled to call off the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922 after his followers in what is now Uttar Pradesh burned down a police station in Chauri Chaura.