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Updated: May 13, 2013 00:48 IST

India of a thousand dreams!

Ibu Sanjeeb Garg
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Illustration: Sateesh Vellinezhi
Illustration: Sateesh Vellinezhi

I am from the North-East — a paradise unexplored as those grandiose “Incredible India” campaigns would spell. I belong to the land of the rhino, the national parks and the dances. But I also belong to the land which is on the wrong side of the “looks” discourse. Where I come from people don’t have long noses and sharp big eyes; we have flat noses and small eyes. Colloquially, my brethren from my home are lumped together as one big racial group, “chinkis.”

We, the people of India, have never had problems with sweeping generalisations such as the loud Jats and Punjabis or the silent Tamilians, good or bad generalisations adorn our social discourse. Yet, never are they so vivid and as socially offending as with the “chinkis” and very often it spills over to those who don’t have the “chinki looks.” I must admit that never in my life have I been referred to as an exotic breed unlike my friends — that is because I share a more “mainlander” look. So the question is: why this necessity for a mainlander look to be called an Indian?

Recently, a close friend visited the Taj Mahal. He wanted to see the beauty that made India a global tourist hotspot. He had his Afghan friend along with him. They had a minor altercation with the security guards over entry for the Afghan student. Soon, the guards demanded identification proof of my friend. When he showed them his identity card, they did the unimaginable! They asked him to take a foreigner’s pass. Imagine the surprise and disgust of my friend. He had studied in Delhi almost all his college life and now he had to get a foreigner’s ticket because someone decided that he was not Indian enough to be Indian; or, perhaps, he was on the wrong side of the country.

This is not just one story. We hear thousands like this everyday. We hear of Bodo students being harassed during the Tibetan monk protests (since they looked Mongoloid). If you are a Mongoloid and girl, Delhi suddenly turns dangerous for you because there is a popular discourse that “NE girls are cheap.” This negative perception is endorsed by even neighbourhood aunties who argue that these “thin girls with short clothes” are always on the lookout for “easy money.” Sometimes, I wonder if this is really concern or disgust or merely jealousy since most of the aunties got the wrong part of the deal in the weight debate! Yet, the question remains: what does this mean for my friend and many others like him who face harassment everyday? It seems the idea of “India” still does not include them or others like them.

On the other hand, there is no denying the discrimination that runs counter in the North-East. The recent declaration of a bandh in Meghalaya against a “non-tribal” getting the Speaker’s post in the Assembly points to the bias that exists in the “egalitarian” tribal milieu. If anything, tribal society today is not egalitarian — it is mostly an exclusivist society where anything non-tribal (non-Mongoloid) is seen with suspicion and contempt.

So the story of India is one of conjoining these two systems (mainland and NE) — one which thrives on discrimination and an idea of India which is either speaking in Hindi or a south Indian techie, and the other which is inherently distrustful and exclusivist in character.

When one looks at the root of the problem, it is not the clash of these two systems but one which has a “trust deficit” in essence. The problem is both sides have not been able to bridge the trust gap.

The solution will be found when someone from Uttar Pradesh/Bihar/Tamil Nadu stands up for my friend the next time he or she is stopped at the Taj Mahal and called non-Indian. The solution will be found when a non-tribal is declared Speaker of a tribal State the people rejoice. This is very much our India, an India of a thousand dreams they may come in all shapes and sizes but one whose destiny is shared.

(The author is working with the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in Delhi looking into multilateral policy of objectives. Email:

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Well well! I am not sure if I would attach too much importance to the incident at
the Taj Mahal.

I as a "mainland" Indian had to buy a foreigner's pass at the Taj because I was
accompanying some foreigners. The fact that I looked Indian, spoke fluent Hindi or
that I actually am one was of no consequence, or are we expected to carry our
passports with us when travelling in our own country.

I suspect that this was just their way of harassing people or making some extra
money or both.

But yes, the general problem of "us" vs. "them" is widespread and why is that a
surprise? We anyway don't think of ourselves as Indians first but as UPwallahs,
Tamilians, Punjabis, and further down, as Bangaloreans, Delhiites, and further
down as Brahmins, Jats etc. etc. That reflex will take a long while to die down.

from:  Vivek
Posted on: May 14, 2013 at 14:10 IST

I am a so called "main lander" from UP, and i apologize if any one
sees NE people less Indian because of look. we are always proud of
our diversity of races and culture.
more people to people interaction would definitely decimate this
i find that whenever we go out of our town, we try to make friends
speaking our language or belonging to our area instead of mingling
with all, i think we can take this small step by mingling with people
from diff culture and places, and after roaming and staying in
various parts of India, i must say that if you extend ur hand with
warmth, every one would like that irrespective of Kashmir to
kanyakumari and Gujrat to arunachal pradesh.
Respect of differences is key to all relations :)
Jai Hind

from:  Satyendra Singh
Posted on: May 14, 2013 at 13:57 IST

I find charging foreginers differently at Taj Mahal or other National
monuments incredibly racist. Think, if we had to pay for visiting
British Museum

from:  Anurag
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 23:51 IST

this article would sound much better without that unnecessary last
paragraph. lazy clicks and cliches are for the rectum mind.

from:  democrackpot
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 14:37 IST

Dream on my friend!! It costs nothing. Who told you though that Tamilians were silent??

from:  Ramu
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 12:11 IST

A very thoughtful article...

from:  Menka
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 12:06 IST

It saddens me that in this incredibly beautiful land of ours we are not
able to celebrate diversity.I agree respect and acceptance have to be
two-sided.I for one find women from NE India very beautiful, though I
have to admit, my interaction with them as a people is very limited.Yet
I have never considered them as not Indian.

Thank you for this eye-opener.The least I could do is stand up for a
fellow citizen when situation demands.

from:  uma
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 09:36 IST

Very comprehensive,meaning a lot.Elaborated in very emotional manner...Yes there is no rivalry between author's mainland and NE,but lack of trust deficit which can be overcome by not wiping differences but uniting with differences..

from:  Tushar
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 08:59 IST

I disagree with Mr. Gard, calling N-E women cheap. Is it because they wear short dress? They wear it because they are allowed to, by their male COUNTERPART. we majority of men from N-E do not take dowry( ladies from affluent family usually have double pocket money than their brother, I bet that) neither do we terminate(honour killing) our sister if they run away with other caste, mainlander, African brothers or party every night, at the most we only excommunicate her. Neither do we practice female infanticide. We believe in "mind your own business". I am from Nagaland and I am very very proud that never in my life I have heard Naga practicing female infanticide, what pain me most is that in my 6 years in Delhi, countless autocrats against women are heard almost every day. I believe if the north, south and West Indian learns anything good from the North-East Indian and vice versa, our country can be number 1 in all spheres.

from:  jhonathan
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 08:49 IST

This problem will not go away soon. The security forces need to be educated. Just recruiting people into security forces - be it local police force or any other government machinery is not adequate, and providing uniforms and directed to go and do their job is not adequate. They need to trained, and trained on cultural, geographic and economic sensitivities. Instead most security personal are only semi-literates. One even wonders how safe India is with the quality of security personnel doing the jobs. And worse, any Security Training posts such as Director of Police Training etc are seen as inferior postings. Which explains the reason for so many people being alienated from 'Mainland' India. Clearly, the government and Politicians are not doing their bit to unify the country, but driving towards disintegrating the country for political ends.

from:  Red Cloud
Posted on: May 12, 2013 at 07:40 IST
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