No, I’m Not Made in China

POV

No, I’m Not Made in China

Illustration: Saachi/Arré

I

f you’ve never managed to successfully offend your northeastern friend at a suburban after-party, this comprehensive guide will help you tick it off your to-do list. As a northeasterner (nordeasterner) I have complete authority (self-proclaimed) over everything northeastern. I have covered everything you need to know before you hang out with David from Shillong, who, by the way, is not an outstanding guitarist and did not play as a winger for your college football team.

For starters, you have to know that the most reviled and over-used derogatory term for a person from the northeast has to be “chinky”. It prompted the Government of India to announce that anyone found using the term on a person from the northeast could end up in jail for five years. That is three years more than what you could get if you tried to assault or use criminal force on a woman with the intent of outraging her modesty.

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Now I bet this doesn’t seem right to anyone – there seems to be an issue of proportionality of punishments here. Even causing grievous hurt to someone and endangering their life or personal safety carries a sentence of two years in jail and a thousand rupee fine, or both. This tells us two things about our government’s policy toward the fight against racism. On paper, they want to be on the right side, which is somewhat reassuring. But it’s pretty clear that they aren’t serious about putting in any groundwork to actually go out and make sure that northeastern Indians don’t face discrimination at home. If they were, I’d assume they’d start with Indian immigration officials, who demand spot-quiz proofs of our nationality because, apparently, our passports aren’t enough.

There are shades and degrees to the racism I have experienced. I am sick of telling people that they don’t have to lock up their pet dogs in the storeroom when I go over to their house. I’ve witnessed institutionalised racism, where employers don’t trust northeast Indians for substantial positions as their equally qualified counterparts from other parts of the country. And then there is “considerate racism”. Once, a waiter served my Manipuri friend noodles, and rice to everybody else because he just assumed my friend loved noodles. Was that super offensive? Not really, but it surely told you how deep-rooted the problem is.

I personally don’t get offended by the terms “chinky”, “cheeni”, and “Nepali”, but that’s probably because I’ve been called far worse things by my girlfriend in the past. (“You’re like elevator music and I don’t need it right now,” tops my list.) This makes you wonder if the word is more important or the context in which it is being used. You can offend a person by calling him, “aloo”. Remember Inzi? Should we ban “aloo” now?

The fact is that we’ve been waiting really long for our turn at the bat. And we don’t even like cricket.

What we need to do is strip these slurs of the power they possess. We could start with societal and educational reforms to establish how integral a part this side of the country is, so that in the future 10-year-olds recognise traditional Mizo attire and don’t end up guessing China when they see a woman in a Puanchei. Just like how kids nowadays would instantly know a Sardar man when they see one. Having said that, you still aren’t allowed to use either of these terms unless you’re a close friend and have been given a free pass to use them with love.

Our history textbooks don’t have much mention of northeastern history and culture, purely because it’s not important in the bigger picture of Indian history. What future generations need is exposure to northeastern life and culture. Mainlanders have a tough time picturing what goes on inside a northeastern household. In the past, I’ve overheard my flatmate’s mum saying, “Tum theek se khaana, yeh to pahadi hai, kuch bhi kha lenge.” (You eat properly, these hill people will eat anything.) I thought it was cute of her to care about her son’s diet, and ensuring it doesn’t include snails. Of course she didn’t know that the northeast has its share of pure vegetarians and even Vaishnavs.

We really need to dig deeper and find out why mainland India finds it hard to accept that people from Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Assam are Indians. I was pretty precise there sneaking in all the names, just as a reminder that we’re talking about a huge region with diverse culture and not just a collection of Mongoloid headhunters.

Before the British arrived, India was almost like a huge playground, where everyone was doing their own thing. The colonials came with their cricket and played test matches on the ground, but never really let Indians bat for long, coming up with absurd rules like LBW to get them out. (It is believed that the Nawab of Pataudi was the first one to understand that if it pitches outside leg stump you can’t get out, but our source is unknown.)

Soon the Brits were shooed away and the ground was bully-free. “Yay!” said the men in power, who wanted to continue playing. But this time around, there weren’t enough players. “We need fielders,” they thought and someone suggested that maybe they should reach out to those guys in the northeast and convince them to be a part of Modern India.

Now the problem is, that we were promised that we would get to bat at some point but it doesn’t look like the guy who owns the bat will get out anytime in the future. Northeastern states have been put on the boundary lines by the captain, New Delhi, to pick up mistimed shots and throw it back to the bowler. Occasionally, he asks us to warm up a little because he wants to hand us the ball for an over or two, but then ends up giving it to Gujarat.

The fact is that we’ve been waiting really long for our turn at the bat. And we don’t even like cricket. Ever seen a northeastern cricketer? Thought not.

Just remember that when a 16-year-old leaves his cloud-filled room in Meghalaya and moves to Bengaluru, discrimination, just on the basis of his looks, is the last thing he wants. I promise you that he will give you enough chances to make fun of his “accent”, “food”, and “culture”, but he just doesn’t want to listen to “Go back to China” chants.

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