Long time back, a Pakistani journalist on an India visit was asked about the similarities and differences between her country and India. She said while the sounds, sights, attire and language were familiar, one major distinction was that while here, she was referred to as a Pakistani, back home, she was called a Mohajir, a contemptuous term for the refugees who migrated from India post-partition.
In the 60s and 70s, in Delhi and other parts of northern India, any person coming from South of the Vindhyas was called a ‘Madrasi’, an apparent allusion to the Madras Presidency during the British Raj. But people from Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu detested this description which they felt, and justifiably so, was derogatory as they had their own distinct culture and language. How would a Punjabi feel if he is called a Bihari, they countered.
Much water has flowed down the Ganges and Cauvery since then. Now the nicknames are state specific and more confined to college campuses etc. So, a Bengali is referred to as a ‘Bong’ and a Malayalee as a ‘Mallu’, a Gujarati as a ‘Gujju’ and a Punjabi as a “Panju’ or simply ‘Punj’. And not only that nobody takes offence to such dulcet calls but also proudly identify themselves as one.
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However, people from one region of the country who have been clubbed together and singled out and that too for their racial features have been our countrymen from the North East. Often, they are mistaken to be Chinese or from South East Asia and referred to even by the educated as ‘Chinkies’ because of their Mongoloid features. Forced to migrate from their idyllic but underdeveloped states for education and job opportunities, these people, mostly women and youngsters, are not only discriminated against but also have often been victims of eve teasing and attempts at outraging modesty. This has led to a sense of alienation among these people, many of who become susceptible and vulnerable to separatist propaganda. They want to be treated like any other Indian citizen. They have hitched their wagon to our common destiny and they have an equal right over our resources.
Not that there have not been efforts to build bridges of understanding between North-East and other parts of the country, but they have been few and far between. Few Gandhians, some Hindi activists, initiatives such as ‘Ekal Vidyalaya’, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Ramakrishna Mission, cultural centres of the Union Government and even state controlled media have been contributing their bit in this direction.
Of late, there have been some citizen driven initiatives such as My Home India, run by Mumbai based social activist Sunil Deodhar, which seeks to bridge the chasm by helping students and others from North Eastern region in Metropolises such as Mumbai and Delhi, in their hour of need. “We not only strive to help the people from the North East but also sensitize locals about the beautiful region”, says Deodhar.
The organization’s activities include running a helpline for medical services, academics, accommodation, hospitality and social justice, creating awareness about the region through programmes at educational institutions, business organizations and community groups across the country as also through media and internet, cultural exchanges and sports involving students from North East and other regions and an annual award for people contributing to the national cause in the region.
The Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India), an Eastern initiative for conflict avoidance, is working on a documentary film in association with My Home India and with the support of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations under its intra country migration video project series, to remove misunderstanding and strengthen the bonds between the people of North East and the rest of India.
There are many more such silent efforts taking place.
It’s all about creating ONE India, ONE standing for Our North East.