‘Attacks on northeasterners due to lack of knowledge of region’

By Raymond Kharmujai,

Shillong : The language barrier and lack of knowledge of the culture and identity of the people of the eight northeastern states are among the major reasons for the incidents against them in the Indian capital and other metropolitan cities, experts said.

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Former Nagaland chief secretary Alemtemshi Jamir stressed the importance of assimilation and awareness about the culture of the northeastern community to avoid any discrimination against them.

“Frankly, people residing in other parts of India are yet to understand the culture and way of life of a northeasterner. Even if the government enacts an anti-racist law, as long as people don’t understand other cultures within its own territory it won’t help in solving this issue. Therefore, the government should work out a policy to help the people know about northeast,” Jamir told IANS.

He was one of the members in the Bezbaruah panel that looked into the issues pertaining to the people of northeastern states living in different parts of the country following the barbaric murder in January of Nido Tania in New Delhi.

Sanjeev Kakoty, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong, felt that the struggle for employment in economic liberalization India is a major aspect that ignites tensions.

“The acute competition for the jobs in the job market creates tremendous tension when people from the northeast are seen as dominating certain sectors of the job markets. A northeasterner is assured of his job in any corporate house not only because of his qualifications but also of his skills,” Kakoty explained.

“It is apparent that the liberal way of life of the northeasterners is in some conflict with the ultra conservative mindset of some sections in other part of the country. This has led to a stereotyping of the people from the northeast and has made them an easy prey for all types of racial crimes,” he added.

Sociologist Rekha M. Shanpliang said if the ethnic and racial crimes continue, this “may prove to be unhealthy for the unity of India”.

“Sociologists would, therefore, observe the issue as a case of ethnic differences which may not always be linked to ethnic violence on a large scale but this could generate wider differences and conflicts. Moreover it requires a deeper understanding of how racism and ethnicity works,” Shangpliang, who teaches Sociology at Shillong’s North Eastern Hill University, told IANS.

Naga author Susan Waten felt that the attacks on northeasterners were mainly because of the age-old caste system practiced by some sections of people in parts of India.

“This irrational hatred and violence against us is like a scary sociological trend. At the root of the matter, the Indian mindset is still driven by the age-old caste system and its accompanying effects of discrimination and chauvinism,” Waten told IANS.

The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim refrained from terming every attack on northeasterners as a hate crime or a racist attack, saying such random acts of crime happen every day in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and other metros.

“Is it that they are specifically targetting people from the northeast or are they criminals per se and are the attacks at random? What’s the psychology behind such attacks? When it happens to a person of the northeastern origin it gets publicity because we take it up with gusto. We have never delved into the mental makeup of the people who commit these crimes against northeasterners,” Mukhim told IANS.

“Perhaps it is also because many more of us are living outside the region that we are more visible. This is a social change which the rest of India has not yet learnt to live with. They must therefore also be provided the awareness tools through different media to understand that India is a huge mosaic of people of different races.”

“Our identity is given. We cannot change it but we can learn the life skills to help us cope with the big bad world outside our safe enclaves within the region. Hence we urgently need a counselling centre for students wishing to pursue their studies or work outside the region. They must learn and imbibe the right attitude to deal with different kinds of people (fellow Indians) who have no understanding of our cultures,” Mukhim said.

Mukhim said she does not believe that more stringent laws will help because those who break the laws don’t care about the consequences.

(Raymond Kharmujai can be contacted at [email protected])