Craving for identity

Published on November 10, 2004

By Pineng Lhouvum

November 11, 2004: The term ‘Identity’ is a unique identifier for an individual or collective, and it means different to different people .The concept of identity has broadened to include the way we see, hear and feel about ourselves. In a diverse society like India, the North Eastern natives are still looking for their ethnic identity, trying to find a ground of their own. Draconian laws like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) and RAP (Restricted Area Permit) are executed for decades to maintain law and order. Minorities grapple with their identity in the midst of a spiraling political unrest where victims of human rights violation in these regions do not make it to the “worthy victims” in the national dailies and their agitations are “deliberately silenced” or “preferably unheard”.

Pondering over this thought of identity, it became important to speak to a section of people trying to understand this issued. It is definitely an advantage to belong to the dominant race in Indian society and virtually impossible to live in the contemporary society and not be exposed to some aspects of the personal, cultural or institutional racial discrimination. It’s a battle of the dominant race as opposed to the subordinate or yellow as opposed to brown, mainstreams opposed to sideline. In the “encounter stage “individuals from the northeast region are faced with the reality of the inequality that she/he face and is forced to focus on her/his identity as a person targeted by this racial inequality. Rosy, a young student experienced a situation in Delhi where her landlord’s child called her all kinds of supposed racial slurs.

She reported feeling amused that he rattled on all the names of Chinese foods but hurt because he was persistent. Another youngster Mimi reported an instance where she was called a “*****y” by her immediate superior. She became quite upset and reacted, which only ignited the issue and eventually made her quit her job. Lien reported having being called a “bahadur” (a term used for Nepali servants/helpers) by his boss. He politely asked him to address him by his name but the boss was adamant “jo bhi ho tum to mere liya bahadur hi hain”. Most students of the northeast India reported to be victimized by subtle discrimination where teachers deliberately ignored the northeast students while handing out notes or finding fault with them at all opportunity.

This feeling alienates them and acute awareness of not belonging to the “privileged race” or dominant culture becomes more apparent. They started distancing themselves from the other groups and starts surrounding themselves with symbols of their own identity and affiliated themselves more with people of their own race. All the people belonging to the Mongoloid race reported a few brushes with overt racism. Rita talked about how people in Delhi stereotype the northeast girls as wearing tight clothes, party hoppers, “easy” and as streetwalkers. She talked about “all types of shady men pulling over and propositioning with money.” She adds that this angers her most and she wants to disassociate and deny her identity as belonging to the northeast and India.

Understanding the sensitive issues of racial discrimination and its effects and how it relates to forming a racial identity is crucial and necessary for a more holistic understanding of the experience of minorities in contemporary Indian socialization. In a diverse society racial tolerance could be attainable if extra time and energy is given to the necessary consideration and attention towards the racial minorities instead of accounting it as unfortunate fallout of an otherwise workable unity in diversity.