WE ARE INDIANS NOT CHINKIS!
Who do you call a ‘chinki’? The racist term ‘chinki’ has become synonymous with the northeastern people (owing to their ethnicity) to ‘mainland’ Indians. They are distinguished for their distinct features. The north east people have come across such racist remarks all their life, especially in the capital city. The recent decision of the Union Home Ministry to put anyone behind bars for five years for calling a person a ‘chinki’ has come as a relief for the beleaguered community after their silent battle for years.
The decision, however, has solicited a mixed response among the people of the seven sister states of the country. In many ways, they believe their prospects for a better life in the capital city have been churned because of such racial discrimination. Many have expressed that the racist term is used not only for their Mongoloid features, but also on many other grounds. To add to it, they are also considered as an easy target for sex. The word ‘chinki’ is a colloquial referred to a person of Chinese ethnicity.
Poonam Pait, a student of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “The localites call me and my friends ‘chinki log’, we always felt like fighting back. But recalling the number of times the north east girls are victims of rape and molestation, this fear stops us from reacting and we just glare at them to make them understand our displeasure. The new law by the government is something that we have needed for a long time; we are elated with the decision.”
Talking about the insensitivity of the television channels, Payal Thapa, who was a part of Splitsvilla 4, a reality show aired on MTV asserted, “During a verbal fight on the sets of the show with Aakriti Bhambri (another contestant and a model from Delhi), she used the racist term ‘chinki’ at which the other contestants started laughing… It was later aired on television. The incident left a lot of bottled up emotions and anger on being humiliated this way. I am strongly in favour of the law. I personally can not think of anything better. The law might not completely eliminate the problem, but the ruling would at least force a person to think twice before using this racist term.”
While narrating an instance of the people’s ignorance of the geographical demarcation of the country and its states, Lujairu Theodora Gangmei, a former student of Delhi University and a native of Nagaland said, “I have faced such derogatory remarks a lot of times from them (the localites) because I am from the north east. Some people here don’t even know that there is a state called Nagaland… I feel pity for those mainland Indians for their limited knowledge.”
She further added, “The recent judgment is justified. But five years of imprisonment is too long. Instead they should be made to pay a heavy fine with a maximum of one year in jail.”
Thapa, also an ex senior flight attendant with Jet Airways and Indigo said that on the job she had travelled a lot within and outside the country. But she has faced such racial remarks mostly in Delhi and Kolkata. My colleagues who belong to the north east experienced the same thing.”
Azmat Amanullah, advocate in Delhi High Court said, “A person is liable to three years of imprisonment if he is found guilty under Section 153 A and B of the Indian Penal Code. According to these sections anybody promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and whoever, by words either spoken or written or by signs make such representations….. but no laws have been framed earlier to ban the use of such racist words in the country.”
The northeasterners not only face racial discrimination for their features, questions are also raised to them if they do not fall into the stereotyped category. Dr. Ratnottama Das, Associate Professor in Delhi University’s Department of Modern Indian Language and Literary Studies said, “I have often faced the question here, if you are from the north east, why don’t you have chinki features?”
Though the decision of the home ministry was lauded by the people, there are a few who have expressed their complete dissatisfaction over it. An economics honours student in St. Stephens College belonging to Meghalaya states, “The law is preposterous. There is no point of framing such laws which leave people with more opportunities to create havoc in our daily life. If a group of people violate the rule then how many of them can be arrested, which is strongly prevalent here?” The jails in India will be overflowing if the police start arresting the violators. Dr. Das has rightly said, “Law can not control everything. If they (people) express such discrimination with their gestures, what will the law do?”
The discrimination lens of the word ‘chinki’ is much wider. It is an amalgamation of how the north east people carry themselves, their inability to pronounce certain words because of the impact of their regional language and most importantly their identity as Indians is questioned.
Kimberley Nokimbe G. Momin, who is interning at Observer Researcher Foundation said, “Nobody has ever called me a chinki to my face. The people look at me differently because I look different. There are people who have asked me if I am a Japanese, Chinese or Nepali. They believe that we can neither speak in Hindi nor understand the language and pass lewd comments most of the time. They also discriminate against the way we dress, which also falls under the ‘chinki dressing style purview’… So, they alienate us.”
“I personally can not think of anything better. The law might not completely eliminate the problem, but the ruling would at least force a person to think twice before using this racist term”
- Payal Thapa
As the physical features of the people of the seven sisters and Sikkim and Darjeeling are similar, so the country people tend to use chinki as a common term for them. A PhD scholar from Delhi University’s Department of Anthropology, who belongs to the Mao Naga Community said, “I have never faced the word chinki, instead a few times I was asked if I am a ‘Bahadur’, a derogatory term used for Nepali people. They do not consider us Indians. The shopkeepers, auto rickshaw pullers, vendors and landlords charge us high rates while mistaking us to be of foreign origin.”
“On the very first day one of my hostel mates came to me and asked me about my home state. To my amazement, when she came to know that I belong to the north east, she expressed her strong desire for us to take a picture together and treated me as somebody from abroad,” asserted Bandana Shyam Chatterjee, a financial analyst in a US based company in Delhi.
There had been a never ending debate on social networking sites like Facebook and Tweeter on the ruling. To this, Dr. Das said that at least the matter has come to notice after the Union Home Ministry’s judgment.”
She has a unique solution to the entire problem or the crisis that has arisen due to this animosity. She said, “There are certain terminologies that affect people’s psychology like Black, Niger, Chinki etc., which the people of those communities do not appreciate or like to entertain. So, it is better to avoid the use of such words and try not to hurt anybody.”
Amanullah further added, “I personally believe that to penalize somebody by imprisoning him/ her for five years for using the racist word is too harsh, rather there should be social awareness programmes to educate people.” Nevertheless, the Central Government’s decision has brought to the public eye the inappropriate practices towards the northeastern people which was widespread in the society for a long time. The decision has come as a ray of hope to the natives of the seven states residing across the country. Instead of banning the word followed by imprisonment, concerted efforts should have been made to increase public awareness and knowledge of the diversity of India, make interventions to teach the public to treat different people with dignity and tolerance.
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