Top News

Friday, Apr 03, 2020 12:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Apr 03, 2020 06:38 [IST]

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Damodar Modi

Dear Mr. Prime Minister of India,
I am writing this letter with a deep-seated conviction that in an emergency situation such as this, nothing should distract your attention. But when the overriding concern of our northeastern people being wrongly singled out and stereotyped as “Covid-19 spreaders” in some parts of the country could no longer be contained, I took this step to address you.
Before I zero in on the issues, I, as an ordinary citizen, would like to record my heartfelt appreciation of and complete solidarity with your lockdown decision. I am proud of your courage and I hope that India’s hitherto victorious battle will only get better in the days to come.
Sir, the humiliation of such typecasting in our own homeland has been our longstanding experience. I need hardly say that the agony of being profiled as ‘corona’ when we are sharing the same horror and terror as the rest of humanity is beyond description. What some of our fellow citizens are saying about NE Indians (some of the most racist remarks we have ever heard) does not pain us as much as the general national silence about it does. Except for a few instants of condemnation here and there, the rest of the country doesn’t say a word. The appropriate action by the government has been disappointingly small, if not non-existent.
India must battle such recognizably malignant stereotyping right now with the same degree of passion as we are showing in our national battle against the CV pandemic. I, therefore, humbly request you to kindly condemn such an attitude, ask the nation to condemn such acts and the people who do them, and ask them to rise up from their narrow understanding of ‘who are Indians’ in your next Mann Ki Baat or Address to the Nation.
As a long term solution, I would like to make the following humble suggestions:
Firstly, India must construct a meta-narrative of Indianness which can eventually broaden the general perception of who are Indians. Nothing much has been done to close the chasm between ‘NE Indianness’ and ‘Desi Indianness’. Such profiling more than questions the root of our Indian life. It betrays the lack of acceptance of diversity on the part of many in the supposed ‘mainland’. Being called “chinky” “momo”, “chowmein” and now “Corona” by mean and small-minded Indians is not the real issue. It is only a symptom of a lack of acceptance which is central to the Indianness of the NE people. Our historical and ethnic diversity and atypical appearance still do not seem to have been fully absorbed into the perceived Indian mainstream.
Sir, such a notion of Indianness defies the idea of India that our founding fathers had crafted with great care. We can now recall with irresistible nostalgia that the rigorous political and academic engagement that began with the commencement of the Gandhian era in 1919-20 had birthed the idea of India. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation and other founding fathers inculcated and developed an inclusive framework for nationalism  by advocating for an Indian nationalism that was both horizontally and vertically inclusive. Every native tongue, for example, was given due recognition. The idea of Indian nationalism penetrated deeper than ever before, covering the entire linguistic, religious, social, economic and ethnic spectrums of the Indian population. Through such political discourse, the term ‘Indian’ was dejargonized to mean every native of the land, irrespective of caste, ethnicity, religion or sex. They smartly figured out that the creation of a new political entity called India would only be possible when it was premised on a political pluralism that encompassed diversity of all kinds. But after so many years of independence, the people of NE India are still meted out step-motherly treatment time and time again. It is high time that the idea of Indian diversity is raised to a newer level of implementation and realization.
Secondly, India must create enough space for NE history, culture and language in national academia. Our history is a part of greater India. The nation must know how the NE became a part of India. What historical background we have. The nation can also offer one NE language as an optional language in school systems.
We grapple with innumerable questions and the answers are not forthcoming. Will Bollywood’s sweeping assertion of Indianness eventually give way to a more liberal and inclusive approach? Will the concept of a heroic look in movies be accommodative of NE looks? Will the new generation Danny Denzongpas be cast in a lead role in Hindi films?  Will another biopic of an icon from North East feature a North Eastern actor in the main role? Will NE music be categorized as mainstream Indian music? Will some NE tribals who do not consider the country to be their “mother” (mata) be allowed to stick to their own kind of patriotism? Will local dietary traditions be respected, even if they don’t fit into the “mainstream” India diet? NE students know more about Maharana Pratap Singh and Akbar than they do about their own principalities. Will the non-NE Indians get to learn about their NE heroes?
Sir, attack on our regional identity come in different forms. Apart from ordinary people, even some leaders make remarks that betray an utter disrespect for our regional food culture. In 2012, somebody in Haryana had advocated a ban on chowmein, branding it as a cause for rape. His theory was that chowmein causes a hormonal imbalance which increases sexual urges. Another leader in Jammu and Kashmir was once busily persuading his state’s health minister, Bali Bhagat, to ban momos saying that momos are the root cause of several life-threatening diseases including memory loss and cancer.
I really believe that these issues must be brought to your notice. The nation will hopefully give an adequate hearing to these matters when a leader of your pan-nation recognition raises them.
With Best Regards
Yours Faithfully
Jiwan Rai
Gangtok, Sikkim

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi