Robin Hibu, DCP West Delhi, security tips booklet that was particularly prepared for the progressive population of North East in Delhi severely ired the targeted group. The booklet is seen as an ignorance of the treasured culture and identity of the diverse North East people with blind unfounded accusation that seeps out of imagined notions. The booklet cannot be ignored as a threat as the population have been continuously disturbed with their experienced of the wrath of unquestioned imagined notions fixed upon them. It would be a mistake to merely ignore the booklet as an “elder brother’s advice”, when the population from the region are, if not silently then helplessly, negotiating and braving the “discrimination”, “alienation”, and “racial profiling” that was imposed on them. Even though it was not intended, the booklet reflects the underlying worms that remain untouched. The Delhi Police security tips booklet is seen as an attempt to deliberately exert unnecessary pressure to undermined and deprived the living strength of the progressive population from the region who are also silently negotiating and battling the varied differences in the Capital city, which is new to them. The “information booklet”, which Robin Hibu said was intended as “an elder brother’s advice” has ired the targeted group even as the author said, “I was not trying to interfere in their lives.” The booklet with its strong negative introduction, where the boys from the region are unsparingly portrayed as “drug addict” frequenting in “drunken brawl” and girls of North East with ever “revealing dress” “molested and thrown out of the moving vehicle”, missed the reality and the envied ladder of the progressive population who are, otherwise, carving significant place in diverse avenues in the Capital city. While the exaggerations are not convincing, the sight from the rusted steel frame does not seem to appear any greener.
Despite the “good intention” behind the booklet, it has acted like salt to fresh wounds as the people from the North East negotiate with the inevitable differences attached to the cultural diversity, which is worsened by the different features that the people from the region bear. If one recalls the year, 2005, when a girl from the North-East was raped in Delhi, the Vice Principal of Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi boldly said that there should be a separate dress code for North East students, particularly girls. According to sources, many pubs and discotheques in the capital city are closing their doors to people of the North East, which was usually done by judging the features and colours that the people carry. Besides that the endless restrictions imposed upon their food habits and lifestyle by the landlords, the expectations that were demanded of them and the prejudices that has been attached to them by people outside the region have been raising silent concern on their part. The experience of the people from the North East has been that of a cultural struggle in a clogged space, which the booklet failed to reflect.
In the context of the larger diversity and plurality of the country’s reality, the need for a separate security tips booklet for people from the North East is seen as “unwise and discriminatory” by the acclaimed writer and former diplomat L Keivom. “I sympathise with the intention, but this is not the way to do it,” L Keivom said. He also said that it is not unusual to see a booklet on do’s and don’ts. “The main purpose”, he said. “is to educate and instruct newcomers so that they respect the cultural sensitivities of the people. For example, there is a very useful booklet on Saudi Arabia, which gives basic norms on how to behave while in the country so that one does not unwittingly offend the cultural sensitivities of the people. But the booklet is universal and not targeted for any particular people or region. It is also applicable to all Arab inhabited regions. But the booklet in question is not only an insult to the targeted people and the region but also to the basic intelligence of those who have thought it necessary to issue such patronistic piece of advice.” L Keivom also adds: “It is prerogative of any administration to issue advice on any subject within the bounds of their jurisdiction and purview. But some of the contents of the booklet in question are vicious, misdirected, insulting and discriminatory. It should be condemned by all.”
Moses Kharbithai, a JNU research scholar and convenor of Forum for People’s Rights personally felt that the spirit in which the booklet has been written in which North East girls are unfoundedly accused of returning “as drug addict”, boys caught in “drunken brawl” and girls with “revealing dressed up” for which she is her own reason for being “molested and thrown out of the moving vehicle” shows how the so-called “mainstream people” have justified themselves whenever people from the North East are victimised in the Capital city. Moses said, “Such ethnic profiling should be condemned in the strongest term by all the students’ community and the public. Such booklet I don’t think is a security booklet at all, but a dangerous assumption that will only make us more vulnerable to the uncontrollable crimes in the city. If it was intended for the security of the North East students, such booklet should have rather been addressed and distributed to auto and taxi drivers, landlords, property dealers, etc., warning them against discrimination to any North East student who might be facing language and cultural barriers in Delhi.” Moses added that if such booklet is at all required it should be brought with full consultation and unanimous support of the elders in the most unsegregated manner.
Moses also said that food habit to a great extent defines culture. “Dictates on food habit is a dictate on culture”, Moses added. “This is very imperial in approach. If Delhi Police want us to inculturate, they should simultaneously encourage the people of Delhi to acculturate”, Moses said. He also felt that the booklet is one of the most racial and discriminating booklets ever distributed in the pretext of security. “It is a shame for the police of a Capital city to act so unprofessional on such sensitive issues”, Moses said.
Lalparmawi Varte, a lecturer, said: “We are not from Mars to require a separate security handbook. I am not sure with the intention of the Delhi Police with the booklet, but with all due respect I think they have forgotten that we are living in a democratic country.” She also opined that it would rather help if the Delhi police could invest their time in doing more productive work than indulging in further deteriorating the rift between people from the North East and the mainland Indians. Lalparmawi said, “The booklet will do more harm than good. It would rather subject us to a feeling of hurt and further alienation which we are already facing in the Capital city.”
Zuchamo Yanthan, a lecturer in IGNOU, said that the intention of the writer may be positive, but, “unfortunately, the booklet is reflecting a very poor understanding of the writer on the young generation of the North East. Almost 80 per cent of the guidelines are irrelevant to the young generation. The people of this generation are intelligent and smart enough to adapt with the changing times much better than anyone else.” Zuchamo felt that differences should be respected and everyone should strive to accommodate one another. K Yhome, Associate Fellow in Observer Research Foundation, said that there are huge differences between the two worlds and therefore a few tips would be good if not necessary. But Yhome opines that food habits and dress culture are sensitive issues and need to be seen in the context of individual rights. He also said that in dressing matter, “the debate here is around responding to the sensibility of the local people. There are two dimensions to this issue- insider or the locals and the migrants or outsiders. The best way to understand this proposition is to see oneself as a local.” Yhome felt that there are other ways to deal with these issues, rather than issuing a booklet. “One way of doing it is to inform through community meetings and social gatherings. I think such approach would carry more weight and avoid the risk of running into a controversy as the current one is embroiled in”, Yhome said.
Alana Golmei, a research scholar, said that people from the North East are not different human beings to be singled out and impose with strict rules. “The booklet is to defame and discriminate the indigenous people of the North Eastern region”, Alana said.
L Keivom strongly felt the need to understand the multi-cultural context of the country. He believed that the mingling and blending of all the diverse cultures would slowly but surely form a beautiful mainstream, but that the process would take a long time. “We are a nation of 60 years young only and the process of integration is progressing well due not only to what we have been doing but also to external and other factors too”, Keivom said. He also adds: “The booklet in question is an evil distraction and will not help our national integration.” Keivom also believed that education and social integration would only bridge the big gap of ignorance and understanding that is missing in the face of India’s reality of plurality and diversity. “The people of North East India understand the people outside the region much more than the people outside their region understand them. This cultural as well as psychological gap is born out of ignorance and lack of close contacts. It took me 20 years to accept and enjoy the taste of chapatti and masala-based preparations, but my preference as well as of my children living in different parts of the world is always our home food that originates from the North East. Sense of smell is perhaps a genetically ingrained sense which has been passed on from generation to generation”, Keivom said. He also said that the people of North East India are blessed with various sense of smell and taste, which he said, “Delhi should respect.” Keivom also adds: “Delhi should also know that racially and culturally the people of North East India are our bridge with the rest of Asia.” B Lalzarliana, president of Mizo Zirlai Pawl said: “To bridge the gap, an endeavour from both sides should be made to understand and know more about the other. Lack of knowledge about others helps creates lots of misconception and stereotyping. To avoid this, more social and cultural intercourse is needed.”
Moses Kharbithai also opines that for the rest of India to understand North East culture, food habits and way of life, “The writings on North East should find more space in the Indian school text books so that the new generation would learn more from our rich culture, history, tradition and our democratic values.” Moses also said that people of North East are the most honest and sincere people in India. “However, for one reason, the booklet has made us realize that our political leaders are extremely irresponsible and helpless not to have reacted in the interest of the people they represent. Not even a single MP from the region has come forward till today to condemn such controversial booklet on the floor of Parliament”, Moses said.
While Lalparmawi Varte believed that the booklet, with its racial profiling, is merely a waste of time and effort, K Yhome opines, “It is a humble attempt to make people aware of celebrating difference. It was done with a good intention but everything in it should not be taken seriously. It need to be seen as a guideline from an experienced person and does not in any way impose rules on anyone.” Grace Don Nemching, president of Siamsinpawlpi and a lecturer in Jesus and Mary College felt that the booklet has many good points, “which is why it should not be limited to only North East students but also to other students from other parts of the country who come to study in Delhi. The booklet, i feel, is regionally biased which should not have been because it is not only northeast students who face security problems but other students as well.”
Moses Kharbithai, on the other hand, felt that the booklet has become an instrument for more discrimination. “In its present form”, L Keivom said, “It will invite only anger. It provokes a clash of civilisations. I do not doubt the sincerity of purpose of those who issued the booklet. But you do not win people by insulting them.” L Keivom also feels that if the administration is really keen to deliver such messages, “they should better contact the heads of various community, church and student organisations, brief them and appeal to them to convey their concern to their respective members. It will work.” He also said that Delhi as India’s Capital city does not belong to any particular community. It is also the seat of representation of all countries in the world. “Delhi should be treated as it should be and not as a colony of a particular community”, Keivom said. He also adds: “The booklet will not serve its well intended purpose. It is a mistake, a cultural breach and the product of a misguided enthusiasm.”
As the booklet written with “good intention” stirs concern, it raised the need for a constructive debate and discourse on the underlying but disturbing prejudices that have been associated with the people of the North East. The imagined notions percepted by people outside the region are in the process of getting unquestionably fixed. While there is a challenging role for education, the issue hinges on a larger cultural context, which should be discussed and debated to secure the unity in the midst of diversity. Otherwise, people of the North East would continue to appear to be the “strange tribe.”