The Risk of Looking Different in India


Bikram Vohra on racial discrimination in India. “If we don’t address this now, it won’t be long before it is too late. This description tells us how tenuous it is…

Monika Khangembam
Monika Khangembam- Snap rom Facebook

Now that India and Tanzania have agreed to fight the war against terrorism, we can all sleep more peacefully. That was what was needed. Tanzania was missing. But with that settled, what is now worrying is the racism card that is rife in the US at present with India a close second.

Have you heard of Monika Khangembam? Founder of Women and Youth for Peace and Development (WYPD), and vice-curator of Global Shapers Imphal Hub, an initiative by World Economic Forum? Of course you haven’t. Why would you? She isn’t a muscle-bound star or some religious fanatic spouting drivel. She is a highly accomplished lady. Borrringggg. So she is invited to Seoul to give a talk to the Global Empowerment Programme as India’s representative.

So she arrives in New Delhi from the northeastern state and checks in at Indira Gandhi International. At immigration, it all begins to unravel. The officer she approaches starts leering at her and being racially offensive. Giving her a hard time is putting it mildly. Tells her she doesn’t look Indian. Checks each page of her passport. Keeps her waiting. Minutes pass and he is having his fun. Keep in mind this is our official rep.

Finally, fed up and tired of the insults, she pulls out her laptop and sends this message on her FB page while waiting there: “The bloody racist immigration desk is at it again! Looks at my Passport and says, “Indian toh nahi lagti ho”. I get that all the time so don’t react much to it but then he goes on, “Pakka Indian ho?” with a smirk. I still don’t react. What really got me was when he said, “See… You yourself need to know your Indianness. How many states are there in India?”

The lady at the next counter is giggling. I tell him I am really running late. He goes, “nahi nahi bolo bolo”. I helplessly answer him as he is not proceeding with the process. And then he carries on “kaha se ho”. I said Manipur and he is like, “so tell me how many states Manipur shares borders with. Name them”. I totally lose it and I look away and roll my eyes and don’t answer. And he is still insisting me to answer.

This moron has all the time to ask all this. I said I was really getting late and he goes like, “aircraft aapko chodke kahi nahi jaa rahi. Aaram se jawab do”. What a bully and never felt so humiliated. It was like it was his mission to make me realise my ‘Indianness’ and he thought he was being funny. I was running late and felt I was giving in to the bully. Spoiled my night.”

I fully empathise. I have my sister in Delhi who has Multiple Sclerosis and we have two nurses who come from that region of India and they are part of the family but I have to hire security to go with them in south Delhi even if it is just to shop or get milk. If I take them on an outing wheelchair and all, I cannot even risk letting them out of my site. The men, in majority, stare openly, ogle, make gestures and send out suggestive mumbled comments. It is like walking an ugly audio-visual gauntlet.

Why are we doing this? Don’t we have enough alienation in Kashmir that we have to create another front and give the Chinese a whole segment of our nation on a plate? This won’t be the weak underbelly of a country, this will be the carotid artery. And it will make the Kashmir insurgency look like Sunday gambol in the park.

The sheer stupidity of it is breathtaking. Manipur students are hassled in Bengaluru. Landlords in Delhi won’t rent them a room. Nido Taniam was shopping in Lajpat Nagar and was beaten to death for looking ‘different’.
How people feel is vital. Make them feel small or belittled and the bitterness builds. Burhan Wani held a grudge because he and his brother were beaten up while on a picnic. Not a quantum leap. Thing is that while more of us are overt and covert racist streak even as we preach piously to the US what is done about it in real terms. There is a Northeastern Forum Against Racism, can you believe it.

Take this guy behind the counter. His conduct is on record. Will any action be taken against him or will he and his buddies amble for chai and chat and he will regale them with this ‘chinky’ jisko seeda kiya.
That is the problem. We do not resolve the problem. There will always be a bureaucratic cop out. Oh, she did not make an official complaint. Immigration has to be careful. Her papers were not in order. Her passport picture did not resemble her.

Suspend this guy. Ask him for an explanation. Send out a message. We don’t address this now, it won’t be long before it is too late. This description tells us how tenuous it is: The seven northeastern states — troubled by separatist conflict, military presence and chronic underdevelopment — are close to China but connected to India by a sliver of land arched north over Bangladesh.

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