By: Falakyar Askari

Racism is a prevalent and seemingly natural practice in India. Racial discrimination against people from North-Eastern states is widespread and an important part of academic discussion. The racial discrimination ranges from the casual use of the word “chinki” as a descriptive label to outright physical assault as in the case of Nido Tania, the son of a Congress MLA from Arunachal Pradesh, who was beaten to death in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi.

Unite against RacismBut to say that people from this part of the country are only victims and not perpetrators of racism would be to be blind to the other side of racism in India. Have they never discriminated against the people from the mainland? The revelations are startling. If one thinks that discrimination is a prerogative of those living in the mainland then one is indeed wrong. But the branding is so strong that most people from North-East India moan the moment they hear the word. Many people from this region, who are made to feel like outsiders in the mainland, target the people from the ‘mainland’ – dkhars in Shillong, mayangs in Manipur, bangars in the Garo Hills, Y-pa in Mizoram and plain mannu in Nagaland.[1] “If ‘Chinese’ is used pejoratively for northeasterners, ‘Indian’ is also used as a term of derogation in the northeast. It signifies a mainland culture that is derisible and unwanted; a relinquishing of common bonds… Those who have lived in the northeast understand the implications.”[2] A situation has been created which forces the lawfully settled non-tribals to leave.

“The most violent xenophobic attacks have been recorded in North-East India where systematic ethnic cleansing has been practised from Meghalaya to Arunachal Pradesh.”[3] “The population of ‘non-tribals’ in Meghalaya has declined from 20 percent in 1971 to 13 percent in 2011.”[4] Manas Chaudhuri, the former Editor of The Shillong Times (the largest circulated English daily in the state of Meghalaya) explains that “in the past 40 years, the population of the minority (non-tribals) has declined by 2 percent every 10 years. When the state was formed, non-tribals constituted 20 percent of the state’s population which has now fallen below 10 percent.”[5] In fact, if one checks the pattern of municipality holdings, one will notice that non-tribal holdings have come down from 80 percent to 20 percent.[6]

In Shillong, the rock capital of India, shopkeepers from the mainland are bullied and petrol bombs hurled at their shops. Perhaps the worst setback to people’s democratic rights, denying them the right to vote, is also a common occurrence.[7]

We are not Outsiders“In Meghalaya, in the late 1970s, the Khasi Students union – a body that is anything but student-like and has in its fold members who have either dropped out of school or are too long in the tooth to be considered students – launched an insidious attack on the Bengalis living in Shillong. Their reason for doing so is the simplistic belief that the non-tribals are responsible for all the ills that afflict Khasi society. So attractive was the slogan “Khasi by birth, Indian by accident” that the words were splattered across public walls in the city. Claiming to be vanguard of Khasi society, the KSU then went on a rampage, pulling non-tribals out of buses and lynching them. A pregnant woman, Gouri Dey, was lynched in public but no one was nabbed and the case died a natural death since no one would give evidence. The next phase of communal violence saw a new set of victims – the Nepali settlers who have also lived in the State since it was part of Assam, and the Biharis who kept cows and supplied milk to the residents. Another time, a number of Bihari families were burnt alive in the dead of night. The culprits were never caught and no one has been indicted in any of the acts of communal carnage that happened in Meghalaya.”[8]

The inaction of the government has only strengthened the resolve of the hate mongers. People from the mainland live as second class citizens with rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India remaining nearly suspended in practice in this part of India. The non-tribals continue to remain insecure and vulnerable.[9]

Demands for introduction of the ‘Inner Line Permit, (ILP), a travel permit (conceived in colonial times) that all ‘outsiders’, i.e., residents of other states in the country, would need to enter Meghalaya, continue to be made. However, during September and December 2013, the state witnessed several rounds of violence which specifically targeted the ‘mainlanders’. At least two non-tribals were burnt to death.[10] Two clothes shops belonging to a family from mainland India were set ablaze in the heart of the city in the month of September.[11] The family’s house was just above the shop; a male member of the family was beaten and an old lady died due to entrapment in the fire.

In a still more horrific attack in October,

“… a man called Vikash Nandwal, the owner of a machineries store, was set ablaze. He was sitting at the counter of his shop when some miscreants entered, poured petrol over him and set him alight. He died of burn injuries in hospital a few weeks later. In November, tea-stall owner Bisheshwar Das was set on fire inside his store. Police made arrests relating to each of the cases but several demands were made for the release of those detained. Various cases of arson and torching of vehicles were reported during these months. Paramilitary patrol parties were attacked with bombs. At the crux of the violence was the question of the ‘outsider’.”[12]

“Non-tribals have lost the right to speak up and dissent.”[13] Those who live here are at the mercy of the tribals.

The discrimination is experienced by people at an altogether different level in Manipur and Mizoram (India’s second most literate state). Curfews are imposed which specifically target the people from mainland India.[14]

While the Mizos make a hue and cry against discrimination they take pride in calling bandhs which are also community specific and target the mainlanders – better known as the ‘Y-pa bandh/curfew’. Mr. Lalthanhawla (the Chief Minister of the State of Mizoram), on 26 June, 2009 in Singapore said that he was racially maltreated in his own country while conveniently overlooking his inability to control several illegal curfews imposed on the people hailing from mainland India in the same month. Mr. Lalthanhawla, who looked for support from the international community and had sought to justify the racist attacks against Indians in Australia, may never have experienced such racist discrimination and attacks as he allows in his home state. He failed to realise that the ‘mainlanders’ are lynched in the state governed by him.

Assam, the economic hub of the North-East India has fared no better than the rest of the North-Eastern states. In the year 2014 alone 39 outsiders (people from the mainland) have been killed (Table A). In the years 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007, two (2), eighteen (18), five (5), six (6) and ninety eight (98) outsiders have been killed (Tables B, C, D, E and F).

Table A and B

Table C and D


Table E

Table F

The North-East exists outside the conscious mind-space of the average Indian and “chinki” is how people in ‘mainland’ often greet visitors from this region. Without wanting to sound defensive of either side of racism, I would like to add that the word ‘chinki’ is not used as a racial slur- it is derogatory in that it creates a divide between Indians on the basis of their physical features, but nonetheless is employed by a group of people who fail to understand the cultural and linguistic distinctions between north-eastern communities and states, and thus end up ignorantly clubbing them all together under this term.

What is alarming is that the self-righteous media fails to even think about the discrimination inflicted against several innocent citizens, all the while roaring in outrage over the experiences of the people from the North-eastern states. The entire nation is held to ransom, leaving the people who face discrimination on a daily basis in the remote parts of North-East, bewildered.

As India discusses the racism which people from North-East India face in Delhi or elsewhere in the rest of India, let us not neglect the discrimination and violence that the so called “outsiders” face in the North-East. The people from North-East must actively take cognizance of the fact that members of their communities too are guilty of racism. It is unfortunate that the media has continued to mislead the nation by keeping the national discussion on the other end of the continuum of exclusionary behaviour in oblivion. Indeed, let us not ignore these acts of discrimination or racism only because they concern a remote corner of the country.

It is often alleged that the sufferings of the people from the North-East India are not given adequate space for discourse in the media. However, the fact remains that almost no space is given by the media to the sufferings of the mainlanders in the north-east. At least in Delhi, north-easterners have the freedom to protest the government’s acts. The killers of Nido Tania are in jail. But what about the many killings of the non- tribals in the Northeast? Will the souls of the dead ever get justice? Calling someone ‘Y-pa’ or ‘dkhar’ is okay but being called ‘chinki’ is racially offensive! This hints at the double standards propagated by the media and believed by the gullible public.


[1] Langer, Avalok (2012): “Northeast’s reverse racism”, Tehelka,Vol. 9, Issue 29 (21 July). Viewed on 23 April 2014 (http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main53.asp?filename=Ne210712Northeast.asp).

[2] Rajkhowa, Arjun (2014): “Racism and the NE – Exclusion and Prejudice”, Kafila, (15 February). Viewed on 17 June 2014 (http://kafila.org/2014/02/15/racism-and-the-ne-exclusion-and-prejudice-arjun-rajkhowa/).

[3] Bhattacharjee, Kishalay (2014): “Reporting on Nido’s Death”, Newslaundry.com, (1 February). Viewed on 23 April 2014 (http://www.newslaundry.com/2014/02/01/reporting-on-nidos-death/).

[4] Rajkhowa, Arjun (2014), Note 2.

[5] Langer, Avalok (2012), Note 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] There have been instances when people have told me that they have been threatened to return home without casing votes.

[8] Mukim, Patricia (2014): “Politics of identity and location”, The Hindu (26 April). Viewed on 16 June 2014 (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/politics-of-identity-and-location/article5948473.ece).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rajkhowa, Arjun (2014), Note 2.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Mukim, Patricia (2014), Note 8.

[14] Sanga, Z. and K. Thokchom (2014): “China slogan in Nido backlash”, The Telegraph, (13 February). Viewed on 17 June 2014 (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140213/jsp/northeast/story_17929762.jsp#.U58k3_mSy2I).

[15] “Militant Attacks on Non-Locals in Assam”, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Viewed on 17 June 2014 (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/data_sheets/militenetattack.htm).




  1. This is a rejoinder in regard to your article “Hypocrisy on racial prejudice”.

    First let me state a fact. There are eight North-eastern states as you may well know for a fact people from outside the region call us north-easterners with pure disregard to Indian geography because they do not know the fact i have stated in the preceding lines so they take the region as a whole unit comprising of a state.
    The literal meaning of the plain maanu means people from the plains, its as simple as that. So there is no derogatory element in that word but the word chinky is an ethnic slur, a racial offence/abuse. Since i do not know what is the literal meaning of dkhars, mayangs, bangars , Y-pa i will not comment on it.
    What happened down south a year ago, isn’t that what is termed as racial profiling? And of course with no fault of the so called chinkies we were targeted because they were shown pictures of Buddhist monks in front of the bodies of the dead Rohingya people in Myanmar. If we talk about the violence in Shillong against the so called Dkhars, by the Khasi Students Organisation isn’t the main reason if to curb the illegal Bangladeshi influx in the state? What about the Jaintias and the Garos they virtually did nothing against the so called Dkhars so why brand the entire state? One thing to be kept in mind is that the biggest shopping establishments belong to the Sindhis and Marawari communities around Shillong. So how are they still surviving for more than three generations in this so called communally active city?
    As in the case of Assam, the crux of these ethnic classes is between the illegal migrants from the neighbouring country and the indigenous inhabitants of the state. The so called killings are carried out by the insurgent groups of the state, they are anti state elements and so not to be confused with the ordinary citizens turning racially intolerant as in the case of Nido Tania.
    According to the statistics and the data that you have given, it pertains only to the state of Assam. What about the rest of the seven states that you have clubbed together in the so termed “North-eastern states”?
    A little justification in the state of Mizoram and its CM you have not stated any case regarding the lynching of mainlanders. With such superficial knowledge you cannot brand anyone to be on the discriminatory note. Here is a reminder of the history of Mizoram that the Indian government aerial bombed the Mizo people during the peak of their insurgency “THEY AERIAL BOMBED AGAINST THEIR OWN CITIZENS” and who is talking about that atrocity… none. Unlike the coverage of the atrocities against the Sikhs way back in the early eighties after our then prime minister was assassinated.
    How much national coverage do the states from the North-east get in the national media? It does only when the Gandhi family or an eminent politician visits the state. So how much do people know about us? Nada!!! How much of this regions’ history is studied in the NCERT texts? We study all of their history from the Indus valley civilisation, the Dravidians, the coming of the Aryans till the histories that is being created every passing movement.
    Maybe when the media or the nation as a whole considers this region news worthy, then such incidents that you have mentioned would get a nation’s coverage otherwise even if it lands by chance in the editors desk, the reel of that coverage would be cut-off so as the cut-offs of the news unworthy region and the people.


    • Dear Malcolm,
      I am extremely happy to see you leave a reply to my article which I insist is the truth. But I am bit hurt to see that you mistook me as anti NE. I can assure you that I am one person who stands by the nation as a whole. I shall try to rebut each point made by you and hopefully to your satisfaction.

      1) If you meant I am not aware of the geography of the region then let me tell you that every Indian knows the number of States in the Indian Union. It is very childish on your part to think that people are unaware of this fact. In the earliest stages of primary education we are taught these things. And if you meant that I am unaware of the fact then let me tell you that I have spent all my life being brought up in the Northeast. I have lived for 12 long years in Aizawl (Mizoram) and approx. 10 years in Shillong (Meghalaya). And I am fortunate enough to have studied the history of the present day Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Assam in some detail.

      2) ‘Plain mannu’ literally means residents of the plains. And as pointed out by you, the NE is not only comprised of hilly region but also encompasses vast plains. Agreed. But let me draw an analogy to explain that words are not often used so plainly and innocently. People from the mainland are known as ‘Y-pa’ or ‘Vai-pa’. And it is well known that the root word from which ‘Y-pa’ is derived is ‘bhai’ which in Hindi means ‘brother’. As because the Mizos found difficult to pronounce the word ‘bhai’ it came to used as ‘Vai’. The origin of the word was pristine with absolutely no racial colour attached to it, it is presently the most derogatory term which a person from mainland India can possibly be subjected to. Similarly, the term ‘plain mannu’ has assumed racial connotations.

      3) To quote you, “If we talk about the violence in Shillong against the so called Dkhars, by the Khasi Students Organisation isn’t the main reason if to curb the illegal Bangladeshi influx in the state?” PLEASE SHED YOUR IGNORANCE SIR! To assist you in understanding that the seemingly greatest threat to NE is the problem of influx (which is nothing more than a propaganda of a few sections of the political elite to mislead the people) is no issue at all, let me quote the Chief Minister of Meghalaya himself who in an interview with the Shillong Times, to a question about the unwillingness of the government to “curb [the] influx [of outsiders]”, responded:
      “First of all there is no major influx of outsider Indians or foreigners into Meghalaya unlike in some other states of the region. In fact, even Indians from other parts of the country cannot come and settle in Meghalaya because of the existing Land Transfer Act which prohibits transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals. Non-tribals, and that too mostly indigenous ones, can purchase land only in very limited pockets in Shillong. Now my Government is also introducing the Tenancy Bill which will make even taking a house on rent by (undesirable) outsiders very strict.” (Rajkhowa, Arjun (2014): “Racism and the NE – Exclusion and Prejudice”, Kafila, (15 February), para 7-8. Viewed on 21 June 2014 (http://kafila.org/2014/02/15/racism-and-the-ne-exclusion-and-prejudice-arjun-rajkhowa/).

      4) Biggest business establishments do belong to the Marwari’s and the Sindhi’s. But they pay ‘RANGDARI TAX’ better known as’PROTECTION MONEY’. In Nagaland, salaries of the employees [who hail from mainland India] are deposited in their accounts after having deducted the protection money which goes to local outfits!

      5) As regards Assam, the data which I have cited is only in respect of the Hindi speaking population. As regards the problem of influx, still maintain that it is not as great as is made out to be. Please read: Dutta, Nilim (2012): “The Myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam”, Kafila, (16 August). Viewed on 21 June 2014 (http://kafila.org/2012/08/16/the-myth-of-the-bangladeshi-and-violence-in-assam-nilim-dutta/).

      6) My knowledge about Mizoram can never be superficial brother. I have lived in Aizawl for approx. 12 long years. Just because I did not cite any record cannot be used to dismiss any of my claims. For your knowledge: (2009): “I am a Victim of Racism in India: Mizoram CM”, The Times of India, (26 June). Viewed on 21 June 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Im-a-victim-of-racism-in-India-Mizoram-CM/articleshow/4701327.cms).
      I shall provide government accounts of the criminal acts (including lynching) committed against Non-Mizos esp. the mainlanders. But for the time being please read: (2004): “Protests in Tripura against violent attacks on non-Mizos”, Deccan Herald, (11 June). Viewed on 21 June 2014 (http://archive.deccanherald.com/Deccanherald/jun112004/n3.asp).

      I remember, and the memory is still afresh, being called “Vai chhia” (disgusting outsider). I was told to behave as the Mizo wanted, as they insisted, for i was in Mizoram. Mizo people do not generally sit by an “outsider” in a bus or elsewhere. They consider us almost “untouchables”.

      And if possible do read this book (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=JlHhTlPpanIC&pg=PA201&lpg=PA201&dq=Attacks+against+outsiders+in+Mizoram&source=bl&ots=F8ZO0m3NRr&sig=hZPWhCYQfgyMLTTnuzH-ZBe-2Kk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NaGlU4nnKNC9ugT2l4GAAg&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Attacks%20against%20outsiders%20in%20Mizoram&f=false).

      7) “It is often alleged [and even by you as has been alleged today] that the sufferings of the people from the North-East India are not given adequate space for discourse in the media. However, the fact remains that almost no space is given by the media to the sufferings of the mainlanders in the north-east. At least in Delhi, north-easterners have the freedom to protest the government’s acts. The killers of Nido Tania are in jail. But what about the many killings of the non- tribals in the Northeast?” (last paragraph of my article above). I recall attacks on broters and sisters from NE India being debated on television. As regards the sufferings of the mainlanders being debated on television, I recall none.

      8) Lastly, [this one is in agreement though] I sincerely hope, as you do, that this part of our great country must get its due as regards attention and coverage.


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