I was fairly young when I realised that there were people in my town who felt offended even by people’s way of walking, or seeing. So much so that those people would get beaten up for that. People like me. People who didn’t have the physical or mental makeup for a brawl. People who didn’t belong to that state.
Was it wrong? Not having the stomach for a fight with the big boys I mean. Even without hindsight, I always knew it was. It’s another matter that it won’t change a thing now. As the Three-Eyed Raven said, “The past is already written, the ink is dry.” And was the treatment me and others like me received wrong? Dude, is that even a question?
As celebrated author George R. R. Martin said about the character of Joffrey from his ASOIAF series, adolescent kids have a streak of meanness and violence about them that perhaps even they don’t realise about till much later. He didn’t know about the kind of bullying streaks I saw. More like second nature than streaks. In Arunachal Pradesh, all people who don’t have the Mongoloid features of the locals are “Biharis.” Tamilians, Punjabis, Gujaratis, everyone is fair game. Nothing big about that though. That word has been abused beyond recognition almost everywhere in India. Trouble is when “Biharis” are beaten and bullied because they have to “live in that area” and the area “doesn’t belong to them.” Yes, you read that right.
Most of the guys who bullied me back then would — probably — at least be embarrassed if they were made to revisit those episodes. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m being delusional. I can almost see the faces of a couple of them laughing at this suggestion. Disclaimer – Not all were like that! Some were as warm as anyone you’d ever meet. But what I saw and lived through was hardly a case of a few bad apples.
See, the weak children are bullied everywhere. You know, in every darned country and state. It’s almost a ritual, like ragging is in colleges. It doesn’t matter that both are evil. But when bullying is used as a tool to harass and force people into submission, something’s off. It wasn’t only kids who got bullied. Even the grown-up “Biharis” weren’t immune. Shopkeeper/Businessman? Cough-up money for the student union’s expenses. Why? Since you’re using “our” state’s resources. Standing amidst a group? Speak “respectfully” or get bashed. Wait, what? “Punch this punk.”
After his retirement, my late grandfather went to his former office to enquire about the delay in the reimbursement of his pension funds. The officer whom he met grabbed his collar and yanked him across the table, “You #%&#@*#, will you take all our money to your Bihar?,” or words to that effect. Grandpa was left with tears in his eyes, in the very same office where he worked all his life. That was what he got as a recognition of his toil. The irony is, we aren’t even from Bihar.
I always, always felt like we were second-class citizens in our own country. Citizenship and assimilation aren’t things that should be on a child’s mind, in his own country. Tribal students coming from Arunachal to Gujarat, and elsewhere in the country, are sometimes called by the slurs “Nepali” and “Chinki,” again because of their facial features. And I can’t stress enough how derogatory those terms are. This shouldn’t have to happen to anyone. This is racial profiling and it goes far beyond “mere” bullying. Imagine a black kid facing this kind of treatment in a Hollywood film. You’d not need a second to term the other person a racist there.
We are all Indians. We don’t need to divide ourselves any more than what the various Gods and our histories already have. And He knows that that is already too much.
Part-2 of this post will come soon.
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Thanks for reading.