Delhi was like another world where I encountered bewilderingly new and different attitudes. Also, I took up History as my main subject and as anyone who’s seriously studied History knows, it takes the mind in totally new directions. I’ve thought more deeply and more widely in those three years of my life than any that preceded or succeeded them. It helped that my teachers were radical feminists, some of them even had leftist sympathies, and every one of them loved a good debate.
One of the things that struck me the most was the hostility that was directed at students from the North Eastern states. I’ve been reading this insightful blog on the same subject by Illusionaire. Illusionaire is from the north-eastern Indian state of Mizoram. I lived in Delhi long enough to understand what he’s talking about. The University of Delhi (DU) has many students from the north-east and when I first got there, I was a little surprised that the students were unofficially, but sharply, divided into two groups – The North Eastern students and the ‘Mainstream’ students. The two groups rarely mingled socially, led completely different lifestyles and regarded each other with mutual scorn.
It puzzled me that this was so and initially, I thought it was because of group-ism on the part of the north-eastern students. As it turned out, I was wrong. Given a chance, the NE students would’ve befriended the rest of ‘us’. But we rarely gave them the chance. The pejorative ‘chinky’ was often used by us to describe them and while I never actually heard anyone say that they should go back to China (WTF?!), I can well believe that that suggestion has been thrown into the face of many a NE student.
The lack of knowledge about and appreciation for the north-east region of India among other Indians is appalling. One of my closest friends is from Meghalaya (incidentally, she’s a Bengali) and it is from her that I’ve got some of the deepest insights into why north-easterners feel so estranged from the rest of the country. She described to me an incident that occurred when she was applying for admission to various colleges around the country. She called up a very prominent university in Pune to ask them about their admissions procedure and told them she’s calling from Shillong. The person at the other end asked her ‘Sri Lanka?’. When my friend repeated that she’s from Shillong, the response she got was ‘Where is that?’.
This wouldn’t have happened if my friend had said she’s from Mumbai or Lucknow or Chennai. Not even if she’d mentioned some smaller town like Mirzapur or Belgaum. And it’s not as if Shillong is an insignificant little place; it’s the capital of Meghalaya. Presumably, the person who answered at the university in Pune had studied about all the Indian states at school. Why then was it so difficult to remember that there’s a city in India called Shillong? This is just one incident. There were many more, like the time when some of the freshmen in our department taunted two of my classmates, calling them ‘Chinkies’. Or the time when a girl was sexually assaulted because it was assumed that girls from the north-east are ‘open to such things’.
I like to think the best of my country. It’s has a rich history, lipsmacking cuisine and a vibrant culture, and that in the face of all odds, we’ve made democracy work here. But attitudes like this make me despair. One of the most frequently heard arguments during the Bhajji-Symonds row was that Indians are not racist. What a black lie that is! We’re racist, very racist and what’s more, we’re racist to Indians.