Notes on Indian Chauvinism – 1

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Chauvinism – regional, cultural, religious and linguistic – is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche. I’ve felt strongly about this since my college years in Delhi. Growing up in Ahmedabad, which pretends to be a big city, but is really a small town with all the trappings that come with being one, I’d been largely sheltered from unsavoury attitudes. I had friends who were Hindu, Muslim, Punjabi, Bengali, Marwari, Kayastha, Khatri – in short, representing various castes, communities and religions. Of course, I was aware that religion was a touchy issue and that certain communities were perpetually looked upon with distrust, and just before I left for Delhi this fact was brought home to me with sickening force. But more about that later.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Notes on Indian Chauvinism – 1

  1. >bravo!I like it whn people say it like it is…of course we are racist…we r the most racist bunch of people there is…personally i find people from north east beautiful…i studied in ooty and had a lot of friends from northeast..they were the best people to hang arnd with …and they were also the best people to have arnd u, whn u get into a fite…majority of the gud boxers in school were from northeast…sometimes we dont seem to see the beauty in our diversity, only the differences…and thats really sad coz those morons dont know wht they are missing..

  2. >Hmmm. I think it’s the whole idea of playing the big brother to everyone. If it’s the neighbouring countries, they become intruding enemies. If it’s someone from a remote corner of the country, they are asked to go ‘back’ to the closest country on that side of India. And well, if you’re a ‘chinky’ girl, you’re ‘easy’ or ‘loose’. And I’m not even sure what can be done about this kind of an attitude. Because, again, the problem lies in the mind. And that’s a rather difficult thing to change!Oh, and I love the way you’ve ended!

  3. >Very, very true, I’ve heard this from so many people, especially people from delhi. I think this point about north-eastern girls was also well portrayed in the hindi movie Chak De India.

  4. >Well said!I’ve seen the same kind of politics between North Indians & South Indians too. If its Chinky for the NE, then its Mallu, Malabari or Pandi for the South. You are right, we’re a racist bunch and most of the time, we don’t even realise it.

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