Hate runs Deep

Why are people from the Northeast so crudely branded as ‘Chinkys, Ching Chong, Mo Mo, Ping Pong, Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ in Delhi and other cities of India?

Seram Rojesh Delhi 

Once again, questions of racial profiling, racial discrimination and everyday racism against people from the Northeast have erupted in the public domain after the alleged murder of Richard Loitam and the suicide of Dana Sangma. Were they victims of racial discrimination?

Racism is "the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others". Racism is "Discrimination or prejudice based on race". It may be defined as  hatred for one person by another; or the belief that another person is less than human — because of skin colour, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person. Racist hate crimes are yet again rising across the world. India is not free from racism; hate crimes and violence against people on the basis of religion, caste, community or ethnicity is rampant in India.

Why are people from the Northeast so crudely branded as "Chinkys, Ching Chong, Mo Mo, Ping Pong, Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai" in Delhi and other cities of India? Deliberate and subconscious racism is deep-rooted in Indian society. Over the years it has been institutionalised. 

Let's take a look at the profiling of Northeast India that expresses itself in uncanny ways, most recently witnessed when students from the region were randomly picked up by Delhi Police and detained. The cops were in the midst of a crackdown on Tibetans before the arrival of the Chinese president for the BRICS summit, but had no qualms in picking up youngsters from the Northeast. 

Check this out:  “As a part of the bigger conspiracy, some Christian girls belonging to the terrorist organisations of the Northeast region roamed around naked and drunk, late at night, on the streets of Delhi. This is basically done to trap men and then falsely accuse them of rape in order to malign the image of Delhi and Delhi University. The whole gameplan is to establish an independent Christian state in the northeastern Christian-dominated regions by indulging in a massacre of the entire north Indian Hindu population living there…”.

This vicious statement was openly distributed inside Delhi University by the Dara Sena Vidyarthi Parishad/Hindu Mahasabha (with strong Rightwing Hindutva links) so as to hold “a planning meeting against the vulgarity spread by Christian girls from the Northeast in Delhi” at Kranti Chowk, Delhi University, on June 14, 2005. 

Sections of the Indian media regularly spread typical prejudices. Witness a report in a top Delhi-based English daily on September 26, 2005: “…Assam Rifles Director General, Lt. General Bhoopinder Singh, said, ‘We have received (information) from local insurgent groups who claim they will unleash women infected with HIV to spread the disease among our jawans as a way to neutralise the security forces. This is how sick some people can be... ...Insurgent groups are now trying new, less expensive ways of attacking our forces. Biological warfare has become a reality. AIDS can be quite a deadly weapon. It does not need money, sophisticated weapons or manpower. All they have to do is infect young hapless girls of the region with AIDS and let them inject our security forces with the disease.’” 

In this report, not only are women from the region portrayed as sex objects in a patriarchal society but, also, locals are shown as mindless barbarians who have no qualms about injecting their women with AIDS.Besides, the report peddles dangerous myths and brazenly crass and false information regarding AIDS. Besides, the Indian armed forces are not sent to have sex in the Northeast. They are sent to "protect" the Northeastern states, the citizens, and restore peace and normalcy. 

This kind of blinkered media coverage reproduces entrenched stereotypes: Ordinary citizens, with different cultures and social moorings in the Northeast, have been  systematically projected as anti-national, barbarians, rioters, insurgents, dog-eaters, of "loose character", uncivilised and violent. Hence, when they find themselves at the receiving end of hate crimes, everything falls in a deadly, inevitable pattern. 

Consider this typical "case" reported in a Delhi-based English daily on July 11, 2005. Leviathan (name changed) from Manipur was returning after attending church service with a friend in broad daylight, at 3.30 pm. She was beaten up, manhandled, molested and slapped repeatedly by one Rajkumar Sharma (later arrested by the Delhi Police) at Chirag Delhi. In her police complaint, she stated: “At the public toilet complex near the main road, the man started whistling at me. At first, I ignored him but when he persisted, I objected. He said something in Hindi. Sensing trouble, I decided to move away... Sharma then caught hold of her hand and slapped me repeatedly. I started crying. He came towards me again and grabbed my breasts and slapped me …” 

There is a certain entrenched hatred behind this physical and sexual assault for no rhyme or reason. Similar atrocities are routine with Dalit and adivasi women in India. These hate crimes are instigated by sustained, universal and dominant hate consciousness and cultural impunity. 

Women are often given the benefit of doubt in terms of cultural and racial impunity but they too, often, freely operate as perpetrators. “We don't want these people in our locality.” This is what Rakhi Tokas (name changed), a female resident in the neighbourhood, categorically said in a collective meeting attended by the Mohamadpur Village Panchayat, students from Northeast states and police officials of the RK Puram Sector 12 police station in New Delhi on June 27, 2011. 

Tokas had earlier shouted at Manipuri student Lembi who was staying in a rented house: “After they come to my country, they eat dirty food, wear skimpy clothes — feel like slapping them.” Lembi too reacted: “What do you mean by your country? Try slapping me.”

They slapped each other. There was a fight. The problem here is the cultural impunity that empowered Tokas to posit her own indecent behaviour as a fundamental "patriotic" right. This is a clear manifestation of racism.     

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a product of state racism, as much as the colonial mentality based on brutish subjugation of "natives" and indigenous people. It specifically targets particular groups of people, of certain race and region, specific within the "national" territory. It has been allowed to operate for more than 53 years in some areas (Kashmir, Northeast,) without affecting normal life in the rest of India. When it is implemented on the ground, for instance in Manipur, selected killings on the basis of segregating people become a reality. 

This was proved by the killings on January 7, 1995, when nine people were massacred by the CRPF, after they were attacked by suspected militants in a toilet complex attached to the Regional Medical College Hospital, Imphal. The Manipur government constituted a Commission of Inquiry, whose report said: “...One of the officers was hit and CRPF personnel subsequently ran from the toilet complex shouting: 'Hamara admi mara hai, sab Manipuri ko maro' (our man has been killed, kill all Manipuris). As they (CRPF) came out of the toilet complex, three men were making their way towards the gate of the hostel. Two of them, Momi Riba and Pradeep Sharma, were Manipuris. The third person was a non-Manipuri. They were unarmed. The CRPF allowed the non-Manipuri to pass. Although the other two men shouted that they were civilians and raised their hands, the CRPF opened fire and shot and killed the two men.” 

There is a long list of innocents killed, raped and tortured under AFSPA, including Manorama, which triggered the nude protest by mothers in Manipur outside the Assam Rifles Headquarters in Imphal in the summer of 2004. The protest shocked the nation. But the rulers remained unmoved and untouched by the magnitude of this organised terror machine, armed and legitimised by the Indian State in the ‘largest democracy’. Ask Irom Sharmila, on fast against AFSPA for over a decade. She knows it so well.  

The writer is a Manipuri student and activist, doing PhD at the Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University


This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2012