If our momos can be accepted, why not us? A northeasterner's lament
Four years in the national capital, apart from all other things I have developed immunity against the word "chinky" though I consider it extremely offensive and derogatory. I have ignored it while walking past people, thinking they were naive when they have called me "chinky" right to my face. But now, with Nido Tania, the 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, being beaten to death in the capital, the thought kept nagging me-- was I right in ignoring the name-calling or should I have given it back to them?
However, how many people will I fight and in how many places? Whether it is the bylanes of the place I live in (Lajpat Nagar, the residential-cum-commercial area in south Delhi where this incident happened) or the market places that I visit? There is no end to these names being hurled at you. For people it might be just a word to laugh about but for us (the female community from northeast particularly) it is a "racial slur".
According to the dictionary, "chinky" is an English ethnic word describing a person of Chinese ethnicity, but for people here it has become a word to describe girls from the northeast with amusing connotations like "chilli chicken" and "chowmein".
Not just boys, who are much younger than you but seemingly well educated, well dressed men pass these remarks. Once, on my way back home from the office, a man probably my dad's age came close and said "Chinky is so sexy". Left startled I could barely react, my eyes welled (due to anger) but I could only just walk away helplessly.
Is it our fault that our ancestors belonged to a certain race and had certain facial features? Why are we being branded this way?
Feeling helpless like I was, a friend from Arunachal Pradesh narrated an incident from a busy market place. It was immediately after Nido Tania's news, that she was teased and young boys called her "Chinese".
If young boys, from seemingly well off families, make such remarks who is to be blamed? People in the heartland of the country should know we also hold the same citizenship and we also feel the same thrill when we hear our national anthem.
Having different facial features (from people in the heartland), speaking in a different way and our region being a little disconnected due to lack of communication, has saddled us with a label that we find hard to live down.
We accept we like to follow fashion and are genetically built differently, so what is wrong in that? Why are we stereotyped? The gaze and the comments being made because of our dress is something I have failed to understand. Is it out of jealousy or do we look like aliens?
However this apathy is not restricted to streets or public places but even on the professional front. Many have had to lose out even after having competitive talent and capability. A friend shared with me that a leading apparel brand that she knows rejected a strong contender for a fashion shoot only because she had different facial features. Off the record she was told she was "chinky", hence not suitable for the assignment.
So when one's talent takes a back seat to facial features, what more are we to expect?
We do not have good educational facilities in our region and there are not enough good jobs because of which we are forced to travel far away from home. And Delhi is as much ours as of the others. Delhi opens up to you with opportunities but then there is another battle to fight.
So what is the middle path for us? Is it our fault that our region is neglected and the government recognised the need to develop the area very late?
Having certain facial features, the hurdle doesn't end there. It also creates difficulties in finding a place to live in. There are instances of prospective tenants being told bluntly that if you are from Mizoram, Manipur and other places from the northeast you can't rent a place. House brokers ask your place of origin first - as if we are from outside India - even much before they want to know our names.
We are also told that we do not mingle and interact with people and stay confined to ourselves. How can one be friends when the people on the other side are already judgemental about you? Moreover, we do not want to be an object of mockery.
We do not want to feel insecure so it is better to stay happy among ourselves. Once in a while one can tolerate or be indifferent or deaf to street insults and ignorant racial barbs, but not when it becomes a regular feature.
These are only a few recalled instances, but in some way or the other this is a part of my everyday life and of many others like me who hail from the northeast - comprising no less than eight states of India. I do not know whether things will ever change. But I am left with one lingering thought: when the cuisine from our place, the tasty and succulent momo, has been accepted so widely why not the people who introduced it?
(Shradha Chettri is a journalist at IANS. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 01-02-2014)