We live in a diverse country. But more often then not, we find ourselves fighting over our differences rather than celebrating them. We have found a reason to discriminate against each other because of differences in language, culture, and upbringing. In spite of chanting “Unity in Diversity”, we do not see its manifestation in real life.
Early in June 2017, on the first day of the new semester, a professor in a well-reputed college in Bangalore asked the northeast Indian students in the class to stand up. She asked the others to look at them and told them to not be influenced by the northeastern students’ fashion sense or their lifestyle choices. She then addressed the northeastern students, telling them that she knew that they had come to the city to party and to dress up and warned them that she will not let that happen while they are on her watch.
It has become an accepted practice to categorise northeastern individuals as influenced by the worst of the ‘western’ lifestyle. We find people using derogatory terms like “chinky” and “momos” and then justifying this behaviour by arguing that northeastern individuals do have such facial features. Some northeastern individuals, too, have begun to agree with this assessment in an effort to reclaim the terms, to remove the negative connotations they carry and give them new power. But is this the right thing to do? Why is there a need to reclaim these terms in the first place?
It is mandatory to sensitise the way we communicate with people from various ethnic backgrounds, especially in academic institutions. Acts like the one mentioned above, if not monitored, allow people to belittle others based on how they dress and what they do. With discriminative actions like these going unreported, professors and many others in the academic space are emboldened to demean these students even more. And when stereotypes become normalised, no one is punished for exploiting them.
It is important for educational institutions to sensitise their staff members and at the same time, organize events that can lead to the promotion as well as awareness of all types of communities. In a diverse country like India, we must remember to not be threatened by differences. We must remind ourselves that being an Indian has no one, rigid definition. We must embrace and accept each other’s differences.
Written by Catherine Shadap.