Ashley Tellis' reading of my article as an endorsement of the extra-legal not only simplifies but deliberately misreads the argument. The law can be both progressive as well as oppressive. The Armed Forces Special Power Act, under which the people of the northeast have lived for more than half a century, will testify to the latter.
How does Mr. Tellis believe that a law will come about given that India has not yet officially and/or unofficially accepted — indeed, has forcefully rejected — the existence of racism in the country? Progressive laws, as we know, are products of hard-fought struggles. Moreover, racism, particularly in the everyday, is more hegemonic than coercive in nature. This necessarily means it is difficult to prove but is felt experientially.
It is good that Mr. Tellis has brought out the issue of racism in the northeast (though his examples are not the best to illustrate this). But I fail to understand how the existence of racism in the societies of the northeastern States challenges my argument. He seems to suggest that the trauma of racism faced by the northeasterners is illegitimate because they are (potentially) racists towards others. His misreading of my article as asserting an Us and Them equation is unfortunate. In fact, I emphasised that fighting racism has to move beyond citizenship.
I would also like to add that terming a northeasterner/Tibetan/Nepali as chinky, and a ‘mainland Indian' being called mayang are not racists in the same way. To equate the two is not only (un)intentional misreading but to be complicit in the racist regime. It needs to be emphasised, here, that to equate racism with stereotypes, prejudices is not only to confuse conceptually but to derail the struggle. Furthermore, the more difficult task is to address the issue of a ‘victim's' response to the racist oppressor, ‘racially'.
Fighting racism is much more complex than a vision which looks at the law as a ‘magic wand'.
Keywords: racism issues