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Exposing The Bogey Of “Discrimination Against The Northeasterner”



Author : Subir Deb
[email protected]

So widespread is the influence of the disruptive forces in India’s North Eastern States that even the recent watershed development like launching of GST, the One India One Tax regime, on the midnight of 30th June could not, for a moment, muffle or contain the voice of racism and regionalism that is booming in that corner of our country!

On the 25th June, 2017 at Delhi Golf Club, Tailin Lyngdoh, a Khasi lady from Meghalaya, was humiliated and shown the door because her traditional costume “Jainsem” was perceived to be a maid’s uniform. This incident snowballed into a national outrage. “Can a country where class division is so sharp really call itself a democracy!” is the editorial exclamation of a popular news paper of the Northeast.

Some prominent citizens of Assam wrote to the Prime Minister seeking action against Delhi Golf Club officials. The 100 odd citizens who signed the petition included former President of Editors’ Guild of India and Guwahati University Vice-Chancellor among others. According to them, the incident violated provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. This unfortunate twisting of any undesirable incident into a racist, caste or indigenous controversy to create communal furore is sadly the trend in the Northeast.

Similar voice of protests could be heard from the NPP spokesperson, the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and many other representatives of the Northeast. The Meghalaya Pradesh Mahila Congress even took out a protest rally in Shillong demanding an end to such discrimination towards the people of NorthEast. A former Additional Advocate-General (AAG), Meghalaya, in an article, described the incident as ‘insensitivity to national unity’ and concluded with a couple of lines from Minoo Masani’s book “Our India”, ‘……before we embark enthusiastically on to the slogan ‘Make in India’, there is a direct need to “Make India” in the first place’. The Meghalaya Chief Minister met Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju to discuss this issue. Rijiju who hails from Arunachal Pradesh of the NorthEast termed the incident as “racial”. The Assam Chief Minister also called up Kiren Rijiju and indicated his Government’s eagerness to involve the National Commission for Schedule Tribes in the matter. Obviously, everybody is playing to the gallery.

Now that the heat and dust has settled down after the initial flare-up, hopefully sanity would make a come back. So, an effort is being made here to rewind and replay the tape, on a sample basis, to recollect who said what in an attempt to relate these with the ground reality – from the National perspective.

1. ‘Indians are woefully ignorant about the culture and dress of multicultural, multiracial and multi-religious country’ is a criticism by a local journalist who is the recipient of honors such as ONE India award and Padma Shri. A question naturally arises – when the majority population of India are branded as “outsiders” and where these ‘outsiders’ are discouraged to come and stay on the pretext of preserving the distinctive identity, indigenous culture etc., how then would it be possible for them to become familiar with the multitudinous life style of the people of NorthEast? This ticklish question must be addressed before embarking upon such criticism. Those who are familiar with the Northeast know how offensively the non-tribals are treated in tribal majority areas just because of their non-indigenous origins and how inhospitable the environment is for the Indians of outside of Northeast to stay in this region. The criticism that Indians are lacking in familiarity with the Northeast, where there is more than one instance of even burning human beings alive in public and in broad day light if there is a social outrage about some issue or other is simply preposterous. It merely exposes duplicity of those posing such questions.

2. Similarly, the comments like “Despite all the efforts to bring about a change in peoples’ mindset in the metropolitan cities to end racism, nothing has changed” or “This kind of negative mindset endangers the unity and integrity of India where northeasterners are being treated as second class citizens” etc. in fact REVEAL the usual tendency to instigate the indigenous Northeasterner against the “outsiders”.

3. Thousands of Indians were evicted from their ancestral home in the Northeast for their only fault of belonging to different religious groups or linguistic communities. They became refugees in their own country. It’s an irony that the representatives of the same Northeast are today delivering sermons on “Unity”, “Integrity”, “Racism”, “Culture”, and all such “goody-goody” words on the incident at Delhi Golf Club – keeping a straight face! They must learn to practice plus promote these among their own people before preaching.

4. The Nation is grappling with a million dollar question that arises from the write-up of the former AAG – who should “Make India”? Obviously, it is not some alien that would drop from heaven or come from an outer space to “Make India”. It must be “we, the people of India” – that also includes the personalities of the Northeast. But, by pointing their accusing fingers to the Indian population in general, are they helping or doing just the opposite to the cause of “national unity”? It should be remembered that collective right always comes with the price tag of collective responsibility that is conspicuously scarce in the so-called “prominent” people of the NorthEast.

In the past also some Clubs in India made headline news for similar happenings of prejudice against traditional Indian dress. But, nobody related these to the discrimination against any specific community. The incidents involved personalities like a sitting judge of Madras High Court, a famous Bengali artist to name a few. The lukewarm protests that followed immediately after those awful occurrences were not enough to eradicate such nuisance. It is, therefore, essential to put an end to this evil tradition for good.

Against this backdrop, when the entire Nation rallied behind Tailin Lyngdoh raising their voice in unison against the deplorable treatment meted out to her, this Indian lady could have been portrayed as an ICON of National Protests by waging a Pan-India movement in her name against the institutions that still practise the appalling British Raj class-divide-mentality – which was the REAL reason behind the incident. Tailin Lyngdoh could become the “All India Face” of the movement to demolish this hangover of the colonial bigotry. Instead, the opinion makers of the Northeast projected Tailin Lyngdoh just as another victim of so-called discrimination against the “Indigenous Northeasterner” and came out strongly with some sweeping statements which not only showed fellow Indians in poor light but also increased the existing divide between the Indian “outsiders” and the “indigenous” Northeasterners. They may reap some personal gain by twisting the incident into a case of discrimination against the Northeasterner but the real victim of their dereliction is the concept of India’s National Integration – as always. Hence a paradigm shift from the preconceived notion of inequity is extremely important. It’s high time for the people of Northeast to come out of the self-exiled (and at times self perceived) regime of discrimination and join the National mainstream for participation in India’s growth story – as equals.
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This is a sequel to “DON’T CALL US ‘CHINKI’: The history of discrimination of the people in the NorthEast India” (DCUC). you can read the previous story here

Post Script:

I have been accused of being untruthful in depicting the role of Christian missionary in “DON’T CALL US CHINKI : The history of discrimination of the people in the NorthEast India”. One Mizo gentleman commented in the Facebook, “Analysis of Mizoram’s relationship with the Reangs needs to be updated. It has nothing to do with acceptance or non acceptance of Christianity. The analogy to religious beliefs of the average Mizo is simplistic and lacks substance.”

In my defense, I only request the readers to visit Koenraad Elst’s Indology Site wherefrom I got the information. Dr. Koenraad Elst is a Dutch-speaking Belgian who is from a Catholic family. He graduated in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. His research on the ideological development of Hindu revivalism earned him his Ph.D. in Leuven in 1998. He has also published about multiculturalism, language policy issues, ancient Chinese history and philosophy, comparative religion, and the Aryan invasion debate. It speaks volumes of his impeccable credentials.

I rest my case by quoting below the relevant paragraph from the same Koenraad Elst’s Indology site on which my analysis about the Reangs was based on:-

“The Christian-dominated parts of India’s North-East have witnessed several instances of Hindu-cleansing. Hindu organizations like the Ramakrishna Mission and the RSS have been targeted for elimination from the region through pressure or violence. In the 1990s, tens of thousands of Riang tribals who rejected conversion were expelled from Christian-dominated Mizoram. The death toll of Hindus eliminated by Christian separatists dwarfs that of the much-publicized Hindu violence against Christians, which has killed only a handful since 1947, including in the supposed “wave” of anti-Christian riots in 1998-99. The killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons by Orissa tribals who were angry at the divisive effect of conversions on their society, was front-page news in the whole world and remains a constant point of reference in the dominant discourse on communalism. By contrast, when shortly after that, four RSS workers were kidnapped by Christian separatists in the North-East and their mutilated bodies were subsequently found, it was hardly reported in the Indian press and not at all in the international media.”


Subir Deb
[email protected]
11th July, 2017
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