Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PATRICIA MUKHIM - Politics of identity and location

The people from India’s northeast face severe discrimination in Delhi and elsewhere. But how does the northeast treat the ‘outsiders’?
(in the late 70's).. claiming to be the vanguard of Khasi society, the Khasi Students Union went on a rampage, pulling non-tribals out of buses and lynching them. A pregnant woman, Gouri Dey was lynched in public but no one was nabbed and the case died a natural death since no one would give evidence. The next phase of communal violence saw a new set of victims — the Nepali settlers who have also lived in the State since it was a part of Assam, and the Biharis who kept cows and supplied milk to the residents. Another time, a number of Bihari families were burnt alive in the dead of night. The culprits were never caught and no one has been indicted in any of the acts of communal carnage that happened in Meghalaya.

Every now and again we hear of a person from one or the other of the north-eastern States of India being harassed, sexually molested or beaten up by irate landlords, mostly in Delhi. If we go by statistics then it appears that people from Manipur are most discriminated against in Delhi. But it is also true that every second north-easterner in Delhi, working in malls and retail outlets or the hospitality services is from Manipur. The protracted militancy and complete failure of the Manipur government to create meaningful employment for its youth have pushed them to a desperate edge from where the only escape route is a ticket to Delhi to find some job; any job to keep body and soul together.

The last horrific crime against a person of north-eastern origin happened on January 29 this year when Nido Tania, a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, was beaten black and blue because he protested against being ridiculed for his hairstyle. Nido succumbed to his injuries. Following this incident, a beleaguered UPA government set up a committee to inquire into this incident and suggest measures to prevent similar outrageous acts against people from the eight north-eastern States working and studying in Delhi. Funnily, the committee consists of retired bureaucrats, many of whom don’t have any inkling about what it is to be a woman travelling through the dark lanes of Delhi’s non-Lutyens’ areas.

For the first time a television channel labelled the Nido Tania episode a racial crime. After that the word “racism” gained currency in the media. And that is not far from the truth. The people of the northeast are racially different. They look different; they have different eating habits and cuisines that can be scrumptious for some and repulsive to others. Their dances are myriad and their socialisation processes are different too. They choose their own life partners and dowry is unknown. Racially there are the Tibeto-Burman groups such as the Nagas, Mizos, Bodos, Garos, etc, and the Mon-Khmer group (Khasis and Jaintias). This is the reason why India is called a diverse country. But while it is easy to use jargon like “celebrating diversity,” or to term northeast a “rainbow country” it is much more difficult to assimilate and appreciate these diverse cultures and not to be disdainful of the cultural mores of people from this region.
The plight of ‘outsiders’

But people of the eight north-eastern States are themselves ethnically divided. There are major tribes and minor tribes. The so-called major tribes such as the Nyishis of Arunachal Pradesh or the Ao and Angami tribes of Nagaland lord it over the smaller tribes who live on the peripheries of development because even development is skewed and happens along these ethno-centric fault-lines. It would be erroneous to assume that the people of the eight States are socially homogenous and that they coexist happily with each other. Within the States there are ferments for greater autonomy. For instance, Meghalaya has three major tribes — the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. The first two are of Mon-Khmer origin and the last a part of the Tibeto-Burman race. The Garos have always felt neglected and have now demanded a separate State. These demands for greater autonomy are not always peaceful. In fact the idiom of engagement with the state has always been violent and insurrectionary because the insurgents claim that the state does not understand the language and metaphor of non-violent assertions.

And in this horrifyingly complex situation we have the non-tribals who have lived in the region for three to four generations and have contributed their mite to the local economy. In Meghalaya, in the late 1970s, the Khasi Students Union — a body that is anything but student-like and has in its fold members who have either dropped out of school or are too long in the tooth to be considered students — launched an insidious attack on the Bengalis living in Shillong. Their reason for doing so is simplistic — the non-tribals are responsible for all the ills that afflict Khasi society. So attractive was the slogan “Khasi by birth, Indian by accident” that the words were splattered across public walls in the city. Claiming to be the vanguard of Khasi society, the KSU then went on a rampage, pulling non-tribals out of buses and lynching them. A pregnant woman, Gouri Dey was lynched in public but no one was nabbed and the case died a natural death since no one would give evidence. The next phase of communal violence saw a new set of victims — the Nepali settlers who have also lived in the State since it was a part of Assam, and the Biharis who kept cows and supplied milk to the residents. Another time, a number of Bihari families were burnt alive in the dead of night. The culprits were never caught and no one has been indicted in any of the acts of communal carnage that happened in Meghalaya.


The rise of civil society
The KSU is avowedly political, having spawned a political party — the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM). The acronym actually means an arrow and the expanded term means the “awakening of the children of the seven huts.” The Khasis believe they used to move freely between heaven and earth over a divine umbilical cord, until one day sin entered the world and the cord was snapped. Of the 16 families that were originally a part of the whole, seven families remained on earth and nine families continued to live in the sinless world. The word “Hynniewtrep” is a much-used jargon by politicians and all sorts of self-appointed guardians of Khasi society. It’s a word that ignites jingoistic feelings and motivates young people to commit excesses against “others” who don’t belong to the Hynniewtrep fold.

The KSU stance against non-tribals had to have an alibi. The alibi is simplistic. Raucous public meetings where the non-tribals are accused of taking away all “our” jobs, “our” land and “our” women became the order of the day. A non-tribal seen with a Khasi woman is taboo. Such a person would be beaten up immediately. At one point the KSU warned Khasi women not to wear the “salwar kameez.” Those who wore them were stopped and their clothes torn. This was in the early 1990s. Thankfully at the time, a leading women’s organisation, Synjuk Kynthei challenged this diktat by the KSU and warned it not to lay its hands on any Khasi girl. It was the first time that anyone had stood up to what the media terms as the “powerful students union.” But it worked and the KSU has since then not dared to tread into the domain of setting a dress code for women.

Ironically, the Synjuk Kynthei comprising some renowned women leaders, who have made a mark for themselves, did not assert itself when the violence was directed at non-tribals although they discussed the matter in their meetings and condemned the violence...

read more: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/politics-of-identity-and-location/article5948473.ece

Violence against non-tribals in Meghalaya - Shame on you Shillong! // Patricia Mukhim on non tribals in Meghalaya – non citizens or half citizens?

NB: Meghalaya has an overwhelmingly tribal population. Its Christian population is over 70%, including Baptists, Catholics and Presbyterians. We may assume that the clergy have a significant ethical status in tribal society. It is the moral duty of Meghalaya's churches to announce their clear and unequivocal condemnation of the hate-speeches, violence & intimidation being directed at non-tribals by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) & its affiliates. Failure to campaign against it is an indication of complicity. It is disgraceful for the Christian clergy to passively encourage such fascist and racist behaviour by people owing allegiance to their faith. As the writer of a letter below says: Shame on your Church elders for turning a blind eye to such evil acts. According to local reports the police, administration and political leadership made matters worse by their ineptness and/or complicity in the violence. This is in line with the sad Indian tradition of state encouragement of vigilantism. Peace loving citizens must ask all these political, administrative and religious leaders whether they stand for law and the non-violent resolution of conflicts or the handing over of social interests to hooligans. DS

Non-tribal trader set on fire in Shillong